Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

6.2.7: Argument from Experience- Direct

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)


    Arguments or proofs based upon experience come in two basic forms

    A. Direct Experience

    i.       Encounter with the supernatural

    ii.     Mystical experience- union with the deity/ supernatural

    B. Indirect Experience


    The heart of religion is in the religious experience. Just what is it and what can be deduced from it?

    For many religious people there is in the center of their religious nature the feeling that there is something more than their individual consciousness could contact. There is a sense of something "more" or bigger than anything in the known universe. This issues into a hypothesis or idea of a supernatural reality or dimension of reality beyond that which normal sensation can encounter.

     A Religious experience is an encounter of a human being with a supernatural being, be it a deity or an emissary or intermediary for the deity, nevertheless a spiritual entity.

    It is a numinal experience. Religious experiences are for the most part, individual and esoteric.

     The MYSTICAL experience is a particular variety of religious experience in which the subject is transformed and reports the loss of individuality, the oneness of all reality, union with the deity, the unity of the subject of the experience with the object of the experience.

    The commonalities in such experience around the world is termed the consensus mysticum.

    It has been described by Rudolph Otto as involving an experience characterized as being tremendum et fascinans

    The Questions

    The questions are:

    Is the subject of a religious experience justified inferring from the psychological experience to the existential or the ontological reality of the object of that experience: the supernatural being?

    Is anyone else justified in reaching the conclusion that a supernatural being exists based upon the report of the individual who has made the claim to have had the religious experience?

    Does the accumulation of reports from such witnesses to religious experiences justify the claim that a supernatural or spiritual being, a deity, a transcendent reality , exists?

    See below for examples of people who claim that they experienced a deity or devil who gave them commands: GOD MADE ME DO IT.

    The Mystical Experience

    The MYSTICAL experience is a particular variety of religious experience in which the subject is transformed and reports the loss of individuality, the oneness of all reality, union with the deity, the unity of the subject of the experience with the object of the experience. It is an experience which posits the oneness of all reality and the unity of all. In particular, the Mystical Experience involves the unity of the subject with its object (the deity, the totality).

     The commonalities in such experience around the world is termed the consensus mysticum.

    It has been described by Rudolph Otto as involving an experience characterized as being tremendum et fascinans

    William James has described such experiences as having the following characteristics:

    • Ineffable noetic
    • Antinaturalistic transient
    • Passive pantheistic
    • optimistic

    James held that such experiences are powerful and lead the subject of such an experience to a belief in a supernatural entity.

    James held:

    1. Mystical states are authoritative over the individual who has the experience

    2. Mystical states have NO authority over individuals who have not had such an experience

    3. Mystical states break down the authority of ordinary consciousness and sense knowledge. Such states offer hypotheses which others may ignore

    Such religious experiences have consequences for those who encounter them. They issue into feelings and actions.

    Notes on William James, Varieties of Religious Experience

    The text of Varieties of Religious Experience

    Notes on Rudolph Otto’s Experience of the Holy

    Notes on Martin Buber’s I and Thou

    Problems with the Argument from Religious Experiences


    People report encounters with a deity or being sent from the deity


    There must exist a deity.


    The reports of such encounters are not verified as they have alternative naturalistic explanations that do not involve the existence of any supernatural agents.  So many do ask: Are the reports true?  Veridical?

    Not all who learn of the reports of such religious experiences accept them as conclusive evidence for the existence of a supernatural reality or spiritual beings. Many have attempted to give alternative accounts of such experiences that do not involve acceptance of the existence of any supernatural entities or reality.

    Naturalism is an approach to religious experiences which explains them as being the result of natural forces. It accounts for such phenomena in natural terms without recourse to anything that is beyond the physical realm. In general, all reality and all experiences can be accounted for (fully explained) in terms of physical processes.

    There are different explanations for the origin and nature of religious experiences. What they have in common is the rejection of a supernatural source or object and the attempt to offer a full explanation in empirically verifiable terms.

     Psychological explanations have been offered by several theoreticians, including Sigmund Freud. Sociological explanations have also been developed by several other scientists, such as Emil Durkheim. What they have in common is the refusal to accept religious experiences as being truthful, accurate, or believable in so far as the existence of any supernatural reality. One of the principle reasons for withholding acceptance of the reports is that the experiences can not be verified and what they report encountering can not be verified empirically.


    When people hear of those who claim to have seen god or an angel or have heard a voice or were instructed by god to kill their child, most people are inclined to think that the claim is not an accurate and truthful report.  Most tend not to believe the person making the claim.  Most people would be inclined to suspect one or more of the following factors are the more likely explanation of the claim other than that the claim is accurate and true.  

    Possible Cases persons reporting the experience believe their claims are Videos illustrating the point

    Persons are mistaken, e.g., optical illusion, misinterpretation,  hallucination

    Persons are under the influence of mind altering substances TRUE
    Persons are suffering from brain malfunctioning, e.g., chemical imbalance in brain TRUE

    Persons are under the influence of group influence-social psychology

    Persons are self deceiving TRUE
    Persons operate with confirmation bias and belief perseverance. TRUE
    Persons are preconditioned for Misinformation Effect but self deceived TRUE
    Persons are manipulated by Compliance Techniques TRUE
    Persons operating with Projection TRUE
    Persons have a need for Closure TRUE
    Persons have a need for Agenticity : Anthropomorphism TRUE
     Persons are making a report to get attention FALSE  
    6.Persons are making a report to raise money. FALSE  

    7.Persons are making a report to please others and gain acceptance.

    8.Persons are making a report to get power. FALSE  

    Why is it that people who make reports of contact with the supernatural tend to be isolated individuals, single, reclusive, eccentric, even sexually repressed?


    Are the reports concerning these religious experiences veridical (truthful and accurate)?

    1.What is the scientific analysis of the religious experiences ?

    2.What are the genetic and causal conditions of religious experiences ?

    -in the human race ?

    -in the individual?

    3.Is the religious experience veridical? Is it truthful? Is it a report which others can accept as being Correct? Truthful? Accurate?

    Humans should accept religious experiences as being veridical UNLESS there exists positive grounds for thinking otherwise, for thinking that the reports are not truthful, accurate or correct.

    Some claim that there are positive grounds for rejecting the reports of such experiences, i.e., against their being veridical experiences

    1. mystics are abnormal: they tend to be sexually repressed
    2. mystical experience is always mixed with other elements such as sexual emotion or imagery

    In response to these observations some offer that perhaps the human being must be in an altered state of consciousness in order to have the experience of the greater (supernatural) reality which the ordinary consciousness can not contain or reach. Sexual abstinence may be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having such an encounter.

    C.D. Broad

    C.D. Broad notes that reports or descriptions of these religious experiences involve concepts and beliefs that are:

    1. inadequate to the facts
    2. highly confused
    3. mixed with error and nonsense
    4. subject to change in time

    Broad notes that these features are also true of scientific concepts and beliefs and that they have and do change in time.

    Here is a skeptical view of the mystical experiences that offers a series of explanations of what may induce such experiences and presents then as hallucinations of a particular nature.

    In How to have your own mystical experience by  Massimo Pigliucci

    "There has been a lot of talk about the neurological basis of religious experiences lately, with both secular and mystical interpretations of the available results. It turns out that it is now possible to actually replicate mystical experiences with a variety of methods, even under strict laboratory conditions."

    Perhaps religious experiences are not pure delusions or illusions. Perhaps religious experiences are only encountered by those who have an ability to experience them. Perhaps there are people, even many people, who are "deaf" to such experiences.  

    Wallace Matson:

    If the subject of a religious experience is to be believed there are certain requirements to be met. Any perception of an individual should be publicly confirmed. No private experience can establish the existence of God. You would first need to establish the existence of God by other means on order to confirm that what was experienced was both God and True.

     No indescribable experience can be publicly confirmed

    No mystical experience can be publicly confirmed.

    Mystics appear similar to people who are deluded, or mentally ill, not adjusted to reality. Their claims can not be accepted without evidence. But you can not have evidence without a prior belief in God.

    To confirm what any subject is experiencing there must be "checkable" statements.

    Similar to a blind person confirming what a sighted person sees.

    With the religious experiences there are no such "checkable" statements, so there can be no confirmation. Hence, they can not serve as a proof of the existence of supernatural entities because they are not veridical.

    Gary Gutting

    The claim is made that in order to establish the veridical nature of religious claims there are three criteria to be met:

    1. many should have the experience
    2. it should exist in different cultures
    3. the experience should produce a major transformation involving ,in part, the moral life of the individual

    Gary Gutting claims that the three conditions are met by reports of religious experiences and so they do provide a justification for belief in a supernatural being, a deity, God.

     Louis P. Pojman:

    There is both a strong justification and a weak justification to be offered that Religious experiences do provide evidence of the existence of a supernatural entity, a deity.

    Strong: this argument would be so strong as to oblige all people to believe in God.

    Weak: this justification provides rational support only for those who have had such an experience (or already accepted the world view that holds such experiences are possible)

     Pojman argues against such a strong argument

    1. the reports are too amorphous
    2. they reports are circular- acceptance of them depends on background belief in God
    3. reports are not capable of being confirmed as with perceptual experiences

    thus, they are not checkable, not predictable  


    Are there reasons to think that the reports of religious experiences are not reliable?

    Can the reports be accepted as being true?

    Can they be verified?

    Do they need to be?

    Can reports of religious experiences be used as support for a belief in a deity, the supernatural realm?

    Outcome Assessment

    This argument or proof does not establish the actual existence of a supernatural deity.  It attempts to argue for the existence of such a being by offering evidence that is highly questionable and for which there are alternative and often more plausible explanations.  While the argument can not be used to convert a non-believer to a believer, the faults in the argument do not prove that there is no god.  The Burden of Proof demands that the positive claim that there is a supernatural deity be established by reason and evidence and this argument does not meet that standard.  The believer in god can use this argument to establish the mere logical possibility that there is a supernatural deity or at least that it is not irrational to believe in the possibility that there is such a being but the argument does not establish any degree of probability at all when there are alternative explanations for the reports of experiences offered.  The veracity of the reports has not been established.


    The Argument:


    People report encounters with a deity or being sent from the deity


    There must exist a deity.

     Problem with argument:

    1.  __X__Premises are false or questionable
    2. ____Premises are irrelevant
    3. ____Premises Contain the Conclusion –Circular Reasoning
    4. ____Premises are inadequate to support the conclusion
    5. __X__Alternative arguments exist with equal or greater support

    This argument or proof has flaws in it and would not convince a rational person to accept its conclusion.  This is not because someone who does not believe in a deity will simply refuse to accept based on emotions or past history but because it is not rationally compelling of acceptance of its conclusion.

    God Made Me Do It…

    Stories & Articles compiled by Nicole Nohs (Nassau Community College, 2012), Based on the book God Made Me Do It: True stories of the worst advice the Lord has ever given his followers by Marc Hartzman  Sourcebooks Inc. , 2010

    Excerpts of the Hartzmann book are at this location

    Actual Cases

    March 2002 the mayor of a small Florida town bans Satan

    September 1993 San Fernando Valley, CA.... God tells man to rob banks

    May 2008 in Wisconsin...God told me if i prayed hard enough she would come back to life...,2933,354849,00.html

    May 2009 in Minnesota. Bank practicing Christianity

    August 1993 in Texas, 20 naked people emerge from a car that struck a tree

    September 2001 in Cinncinati...God told man to steal

    San Antoni, TX...God tells man to ram another vehicle at 100mph

    Various dates...God told me to kill and eat people

    June 2008...God told me to kick her in the face

    June 2005...God will remove judges from the supreme court

    October 2005...God tells president to end tyranny in Iraq

    June 2009...God told me to invade Iraq

    December 2007...God told me to run for president

    April 2000..."I'm leaving it in the Lords hands"

    February 2009...God has brought an Africa American woman back from the dead

    January 2008, God told me to get Laura Bush to back me in running for president

    May 1937, near Stooping Oak,TN...God told me to fast,9171,757781,00.htm

    August 2007 in Los Angelos...God tells reality show contestant thatshe will be in the finals...

    January 2002, Boca Raton,FL...God writes messages in the sky

    January 2008, God told me to resign

    More cases of God's bad advice found and compiled by Nicole Nohs...

    January 2008 in Texas...God made me kill my girlfriend

    2011 Midtown Manahnttan Murder ordered by God

    July 2012, It was God's plan to kill Teyvon Martin

    July 2007 in Houston,TX...God made me kill for the ultimate sin

    November 2009, Nassau County, Long Island, NY...God made me hate gay people...

    August 2011, God made me cheat...

     April 2012, God told me to quit Fox news

    August 2001, Palm City,FL...God told me to kill my son...

    June 2011, Lubbock,TX...God told me to kill my son...

    March 2004, Texas...God told me to kill my 3 sons...

    January 2012...God told me to kill my pastor...

    February 2009, Virginia Beach,VA...God told me to kill..

    November 2006...God told me to kill my daughter...

    January 2008, God told me to eat my girlfriend...

     July 2012, God told me to shed some blood...

     March 2012, England...God told me to saw off my managers head...

     June 2012, Effingham,CO...God told me to kill my father...

    November 2011, God told me to run for president...

     Unknown date, England...God told me to smoke pot...

    October 2012, Sacremento,CA...God told me to steal...

    July 2012, God told me to cut my genitals...

    June 2012, Spokane,WA...God told me to set my apartment on fire...

    June 2012, God told me to send her threatening letters...

    October 2009, Lexington, KY...God told me to steal the car...

    November 2012, Fort Pierce...God told me to drive 100mph in a 30mph zone...

    December 2004, God told me to kill my parents

    July 2012, Lexington,KY...God told me to kill dog

    November 2011, Enfield,Conn...God told me to molest boy


    Lastly, a few stories about the horrible deeds the Devil caused people to do...

     March 2009, Arlington,VA...Devil made me steal...

     October 2008, Devil made me do drugs... 

    more to come if God wishes.....


    6.2.7: Argument from Experience- Direct is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?