Philosophy of Religion

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1 1 Philosophy of Religion EDExcel A2 Philosophy of Religion Unit 4: Implications [Textual Source 3 of 3] R.I. Kueh

2 2 Donovan, Can we know God by experience? IN A NUTSHELL R. I. Kueh, 2009 Paragraph Number 1. It is of course accepted that theists have tried to prove the existence of God by appealing to religious experiences. Some theists, however, could also appeal to one specific dimension of religious experience: INTUITION. This is the sense of knowledge arising from inner conviction. 2. This is, however, risky, because the theist cannot give support for this belief. 3. But, it would seem, we all do it in different ways as a part of ordinary experience. 4. Is this the case in the instances of religious experiences too? Knowledge from Intuition 5. A number of theologians have argued that religious experiences are valid forms of knowledge that arise, not from reason or argument, but from intuition. 6. These writers firstly appeal to other undisputed areas of knowledge 7. E.g. Owen, who said that intuition is necessary to understand the world around us 8. Donovan gives 4 examples of similarity between ordinary and religious intuitions 9. These intuitions have mediated immediacy 10. First and foremost, God is known through religious experiences by intuition 11. Quote from Owen to support this. 12. So Owen treats genuine religious experiences as a form of this type of knowledge 13. In all Christian experience there is a sense of God s reality (note Schleiermacher) 14. Quote from Owen to support this. 15. Owen s idea God known by intuition through religious experience is consistent with biblical ideas (e.g. God communicates and makes Himself known through the natural to people in their experiences). 16. Quote from Baillie to support this. 17. This idea of intuition fits in very well with the Christian idea of faith. 18. Quote from Farmer to support this. 19. Quote from Farmer to support this. 20. Since knowledge of this sort is both direct and intuitive (like faith) it requires no further argument of support, the theist might argue. (Note Swinburne). Feeling Certain and Being Right 21. This view is quite unconvincing to philosophical critics. (For 2 reasons, A and B) (A) There is a fatal weakness: it rests on the idea of intuition as genuine knowledge. 22. We must make a distinction between 2 types of certainty: Psychological certainty = feeling certain Rational certainty = being right 23. It is possible to feel certain (psychological) without being right (rational), for example thinking it s a certain time of the day without looking at one s watch. 24. Being right does not equal feeling certain but it does equal agreeing with a true set of affairs. 25. Feeling certain (psychological) is fundamentally similar to intuitional knowledge. It similarly shares a number of weaknesses. 26. Raises the following question: how do you know that your intuition is actually operating correctly? (You can t appeal to intuition to try to justify your point of view!) 27. The reliability of intuition should not be taken for granted.

3 3 28. Quote from Russell to support this, e.g. falling in love shows fallibility 29. Mini-conclusion to (A). Firstly, intuition had a number of problems as a form of knowledge and, secondly, it is not enough to emphasise one s own certainty is support! (B) Examples cited as proof that intuition is a valid form of knowledge are false. 30. Owen s examples are not sufficient proof to demonstrate that intuition is a separate form of knowledge. Owen s example of sense experience is actually a special case and actually uses a number of subconscious non-intuitional checks! 31. Other examples are equally problematic (e.g. gardening, investment, fortune telling) because there seems to be a whole range of different intuitions by a number of different people. 32. Simply because intuition appears to work in a small number of cases, it does not prove that there is a whole intuitive way of knowing things. 33. The theists possible counter argument to (A) and (B) Owen (and other theistic thinkers who propose that intuition is valid) do not intend to short-cut to proving a whole intuitive way of knowing things, they just highlight the complex interplay of experiences, interpretations, belief, doctrine, etc. 34. Despite this, Donovan claims, the theists basic-not-argued-for-intuition of God invites a number of criticisms from philosophers. 35. However, the objections of philosophers (A) and (B) may undermine intuitional grounds for believing in God, but they do not disprove religious experiences altogether and they certainly do not show that they are illusionary. 36. Some theologians argue that God is known by immediate encounter. These theologians argue from the phenomenon of person-to-person knowledge. 37. An example of this is Martin Buber. 38. Buber talks about I-You (sometimes known in old-fashioned terms as I-Thou) and I-It. 39. I-You and I-It are two forms of classifying relationships between entities. 40. This model appeals to a personalistic view of relationships, especially of God, which are evident in the Bible (since God is personal). Therefore we must think of God in terms of I-You (personal), not I-It. 41. Thus there is a distinction between: Knowing about = Factual/Propositional = I-It Experience of = Personal = I-You 42. I-You is personal encounter that cannot be put into words. The theist could ask, why should we expect any less of God than a person-to-person encounter? 43. A number of criticisms arise from this claim. 44. There are three criticisms: Criticism 1: The sense that an encounter is taking place may be mistaken. Criticism 2: Having experience of presupposes having knowledge about. Criticism 3: Experience of is not in itself knowledge. 45. Criticism 1: The sense that an encounter is taking place may be mistaken. 46. Russell points out that intuition of people can be wrong. Also, how do we know the difference between I-It and I You? When does one become the other? 47. Even soaps like Neighbours or Home and Away show the distinction between I-You and I-It is quite blurry. 48. This is not just a cautionary warning, but part of a larger scheme of criticisms. 49. Criticism 2: Having experience of (I-You) presupposes having knowledge about (I-It). Theists claim that I-You is deeper than I-It, e.g. the case of Adam and Eve. 50. Some theists claim that I-You is characterised by love, trust, reverence, etc., and must therefore be seen, not scientifically, but existentially.

4 4 51. Some theists claim that it would be inappropriate to consider the existential (personal, I-You) in terms of the scientific (factual, I-It). 52. However, the philosopher would reply, there is always the scientific in the background. 53. Factual-scientific-I-It is still important, even to existential-personal-i-you. 54. For the philosopher, knowledge about (factual-scientific-i-it) is the thing in question. 55. The theist might say that God is totally different and cannot be known as It, only You. 56. However, we can have I-It without I-You, but can we really have I-You without some appeal to I-It? Especially since a number of factual elements about God: creator, judge, Father. 57. Criticism 3: Experience of is not in itself knowledge. Donovan asks, what s so good about first hand experience? 58. Plenty of instances where first hand experience is not important, e.g. does a male doctor truly have less understanding of pregnancy just because he cannot become pregnant? 59. Or, to be more precise, does a male doctor have any less knowledge about childbirth than a female doctor who has already given birth to a child? 60. Actually, experience of could simply be available by additional facts about 61. The philosopher might then say that first-hand experience is not really knowledge at all, just an opportunity to increase our factual knowledge of the world. 62. Theistic counter-argument: there is too much emphasis here on learning. This is not the same as having a relationship, or knowing love, which are experiences in themselves. 63. Donovan thinks this counter-argument is sound, but that the philosopher s criticisms show that the claim of intuition as knowledge is inadequate. 64. Mini-conclusion to Criticism 1, Criticism 2 and Criticism 3. These criticisms do not show that God is an illusion or that experience of God is an illusion. They just show that there are difficulties in giving good reason to believe so! Awareness of God 65. Intuition of God seems vital for religious belief. They certainly generate a sense of knowing God. 66. Philosophical difficulties do not detract from their importance for religion. Theists should not, however, abandon the debate and just say that philosophers are worse off and that it is their own fault. 67. This would very much be a mistake, if not only because there are still a number of modern philosophers who are theists and who also regard the fact of God a central one in their lives. 68. Some theists believe that intuition is a form of knowledge, but some philosophers disagree. 69. However, if philosophers are right to disagree with this claim (that intuition is a form of knowledge), should religious experiences be rejected altogether and be considered illusionary? 70. No! We cannot take an all-or-nothing view of religious experiences.

5 5 Some Detailed Notes for Donovan s Can we know God by experience? Paragraphs 1 & 2 KEY IDEAS of PARAGRAPHS 1 and 2 Donovan begins by noting that some philosophers try to prove God s existence by using the evidence of religious experiences (Swinburne). However, whereas other philosophers think try to disprove the argument for religious experience (Wittgenstein, R.M. Hare) and others still try to show that religious experiences are altogether meaningless (Ayer; Logical Positivism), Donovan speaks of yet another group. Instead, Donovan considers the view of the theist who says that religious believers do not need to use the evidence of religious experiences as proof. This type of argument appeals to the fact that people just know that God is the object of their experience, and so do not have to show proof to support their belief. Their belief arises from a type of inner knowledge or intuition. Donovan wants to analyse this claim in his article. Why all this talk about arguing from religious experience? AO1: Donovan recognises that a number of philosophers want to argue for the existence of God from the point of view of Religious Experience. The argument from RE is an a posteriori, synthetic and inductive argument, because it argues from claimed experiences, not definitions. CLARIFY what is meant by the argument from religious experience. Look through Tyler and Reid, pp In your answer, state what you think a religious experience is, and describe various types of religious experiences. AO2: Do you think that the argument from religious experience is a good or a bad argument? Is it even possible to prove God s existence from the evidence of RE? someone may be asking, If you really experience God you don t have to argue, you know he s real, and that s all there is to it. AO1: CLAIRFY who is this someone? This someone is the religious believer who thinks that proving God s existence through the evidence of religious experiences is pointless. The reason for this is because most believers would claim that they just knew that God was the source of their religious experiences. Therefore the religious believer knows that God exists, but does not need to prove God s existence. AO1: What is the difference between intuitional knowledge and other kinds of experiential knowledge? Intuitional knowledge arises from within; experimental knowledge arises from external experiences of the world, through science, sensory experience, etc. Give examples. AO2: Do you agree? Do you think that theists do not need to argue for God s existence because they just know He s there? It may be sufficient for them, but often people want to prove God s existence to others, because they want others to convert to their religion. So if we are trying to do justice to the varieties of religious experience, we must take seriously this particular type, the sense of knowledge arising from inner conviction. AO1: CLARFIY the varieties of RE? Discuss the claims of William James & Rudolf Otto. AO2: Should we take seriously the sense of knowledge arising from inner conviction? It is different from other types of knowledge (e.g. evidence that everyone can see) because it is internal. There are many weaknesses of taking this type of knowledge seriously (not everyone can see it, not a very firm evidential basis), but there are also some strengths (everyone has some type of intuitional belief, I know my mum loves me [emotional], I know I have two hands [sensory], I know that I ve met you before [memory], I know it s wrong for children to starve [moral].) USE EXAMPLES

6 6 It is a risky business, of course, to claim to know something and to act as though one knows for sure, if one can t give much in the way of reasons for one s claim AO1: Why is it a risky business to claim to know something and to act as though you know for sure even when you cannot give reasons for your claim? Note a number of examples that Donovan gives: o irrational and misguided things have been said and done at times with apparent certainty and complete conviction by tyrants and dictators o ordinary people confused by ignorance or blinded by prejudice AO2: Do you think it really is a risky business? Give some examples which expand upon Donovan s ideas. To have no doubts at all about one s beliefs may sometimes be more a symptom of insanity or arrogant irresponsibility than of sound thinking. Yet believers, aware of all these risks, may still feel they have a right to say they know because they experience God s reality for themselves AO1: What is Donovan saying? He is saying that in some cases, intuitional knowledge can seem insane or arrogant, but that religious believers nonetheless might want to use this argument. AO1/AO2: Why do religious believers think that it is acceptable to use intuitional knowledge? It is helpful to note two strands of epistemological (meaning the study of knowledge) philosophy: 1. The view of William Clifford. Knowledge can only count as knowledge if it is supported with strong evidential justification (i.e. you can show evidence somehow). One must not only be able to belief in a fact, but also must be able to justify it. 2. The view of William James. In the absence of counter-evidence, an individual needs minimal grounds to belief. Before you think that the Cliffordian view is much better, Richard Swinburne notes that most beliefs that you or I hold simply do not use Cliffordian justification. For instance, you walk past a room and glance and see a table. That is sufficient enough for you to believe that there is a table in the room. You do not need to do (as Clifford might expect) to go into the room and touch it to prove that it s there. AO2: Do you think that this is good enough reason for religious believers to use this type of argument? I would think that this is a bit of a YES and NO kind of answer. For instance, you could argue that it is acceptable for the religious believer to believe because of inner conviction, but that it would never persuade others to believe e.g. to convert to the religion.

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