“Scripture Is The Only Valid Form Of Revelation” Discuss (35 Marks)

“Scripture Is The Only Valid Form Of Revelation” Discuss (35 Marks)

A revelation is often referred to as “a divine disclosure, whereby God reveals Himself in some way to a person”. Christians claim that God reveals himself to us in many ways namely; through nature: the universe with its vastness and complexity gives testimony to God and His glory, He is also revealed through our conscience: all societies have a certain moral code built into them in which stealing, lying, murder, and such are universally condemned. Humanity’s sense of right and wrong testifies to God’s existence as it is a sign of His goodness, they also believe that the work of Jesus reveals God: Jesus Himself testified that He had come to earth to reveal the will of God the Father. All of these revelations have come from the Christian scripture.The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to humankind. The Scripture says “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof for correction, for instruction in righteousness”(2 Timothy 3:16).The Bible is humankind’s source for the knowledge of God and His plan. In this essay I will outline different types of attitudes towards Christian scripture and evaluate the claim that “Scripture Is the Only form of Revelation”.

In philosophy, there are two different ways in which people understand the idea of revelation from God; propositional revelation and non-propositional revelation. Propositional revelation is often understood as God revealing truths about His nature to people.The revelations are made up of non-debatable statements of facts and the information given reveals inerrant knowledge which is without need of interpretation. An example of a propositional revelation is the ten commandments, given to Moses.

Many people criticise this view as it suggests that the receiver of the revelation is passive. However, psychologically, the human mind does not passively receive information, it actively receives it, for example when you learn something, you remember it. Additionally, when trying to learn, we can make memory errors, this means propositional revelations of God may not have been recorded accurately as humans are not infallible. To add, many people claim that the zealous after effects of a revelation can act as proof of the genuineness of the revelation however, this is not the case. There is no direct way to prove that a propositional revelation has happened. Furthermore, different religions, claim to have received propositional revelations, yet sometimes truth claims from different religions conflict. This could mean that all revelations are limited by the ability of receivers to interpret the revelation into their own religion, making it an interpretation, not a statement of fact.

Various Christians take a propositional view when approaching the Bible. As they believe it is the absolute word of God. These people are traditionally known as fundamentalists as they oppose liberal approaches who interpret the Bible, often doubting miracles and the creation story. They also believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and that it is therefore infallible. To them, the Bible is an authoritative book that reveals God’s will to His people through historically accurate documents. Fundamentalism is limited in that it does not aid you in interpreting the Bible which can be deemed uninspirational. Their view is also subjective and only accepts one way of interpreting the Bible without knowing of it is the correct way.

Moreover, many fundamentalists use the term “verbal inspiration” to describe how God gave His word to the people. “Verbal Inspiration” refers to the divine origins of every word in the Bible. It claims that God dictates the books of the Bible through divine inspiration, this means that every word of the Bible should be respected in the Bible as you will therefore be following God’s absolute words. This means you can consult the Bible for guidance about moral dilemmas and problems in life, and your answers will be found in the Bible. This view is highly criticised as of the Bible is followed this way, believers must accept harsh punishments like the death penalty for many offences. This is seen by many as barbaric and cruel as this would mean women who commit adultery and who are not virgins before they get married should be stoned to death. Similarly, the idea of how creation happened is highly disputed among all Christians as many liberals do believe in the theory of evolution. To add, of the Bible is divinely inspired then disobeying the Bible in any way is a rejection of God’s commands so a fundamentalist should agree to the stoning of women even though it would be shunned in our society today.

The other way in which people understand revelation from God is through the non-propositional approach. This refers to the idea that religious believers recognise God’s revelation through his action in human history and through experience. The role of the receiver is therefore crucial in this instance as God’s revelation will be a subjective experience. This approach means that humans are free to respond to God’s revelation or not to since the receiving of the revelation is active. An example of a non-propositional revelation is noted by the author Arthur Cohen through his character of Sherlock Holmes, he argues for the existence of a God from the beauty in the world. William Paley also stated that the structure of the eye is so meticulously designed that is must have had a creator. Other examples of non-propositional revelations are the gospels as the are an account of what was revealed through Jesus’ life as His apostles understood it. From reading the Gospels we can form an image of what Jesus’ was like and decipher what this means for us today.

Many people criticise this view as the claim that non-propositional revelations do not reveal direct knowledge of God, nor can they be considered as infallible. This means there is no way of resolving theological debates apart from appealing to one’s own experience. Additionally, the content of a non-propositional revelation is a matter of interpretation. It is equally possible to be amazed by the beauty and nature of the world without experiencing a non-propositional revelation. Dawkins also argues that we have evolved through our genes and are now able to understand a little of our place in the universe and in the process of evolution. Through the development of the prefrontal cortex we can admire art and socially interact. Non- propositional revelations simply attribute a level of consciousness that we have developed from the process of evolution to God. To add, another criticism is that a believer in this approach cannot claim absolute certainty about their belief systems the way a propositional believer can as they have no factual evidence to support them.

Furthermore, people who apply the non-propositional approach to the Bible, will also believe that the Bible is a record of human experiences of God. The inspiration of God makes the author write down their experiences and understanding of God’s action in the world. The author of the Bible is not divinely dictated to but uses their own skills and understanding to record their revelation of God. They tend to coin the term “divine inspiration” to describe how the Bible came about. This refers to the belief that God inspires the writers of the books of the Bible. This view is criticised as there is a discrepancy over what the specific instructions from God are, as of the book is divinely inspired, then the revelation of God is within the text but identifying the exact nature of the revelation would be problematic. Additionally, the instructions in the Bible are difficult for some to come to terms with for example, no divorce for women and men in abusive relationships. To add, some passages in the Bible conflict with modern attitudes. This is evident in St Paul’s patriarchal view of women’s roles in Churches as they are somewhat oppressive and anti-feminist. Many people would argue that scripture is culturally relative and time bound and so is not relevant today.

Others would argue that scripture is the only valid form of revelation as they hold so much authority. This is due to the fact that after the early Church, leaders could not directly refer to the first apostles for guidance and so developed a new authority. This was based on the rule of faith and the Bible. The rule of faith encompassed traditions, teachings of leaders and beliefs of Christians that had been passed down from the time of the apostles. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is also a form of literary authority as it is written by apostolic teachings and by previous popes who hold papal succession. This stems from the belief that Jesus gave the apostles authority as they were witnesses of His work. Bishops and popes are therefore successors of the apostles and hold the same authority, this means their writings are infallible. The Bible is also seen by many people as the law and should be followed, this has been stated by Maurice Willes. This however poses many problems as laws are seen to be constructs of social order for the time they are created in. This could mean that because the Bible was written over 2000 years ago, its laws and instructions are outdated and need to be in accordance with todays society in order to maintain relevance for the people. It would be plausible to suggest however that Christians would claim the Bible is transcendent as it is divine.

In conclusion, I believe Scripture is the only valid from of revelation as many other forms of revelation stem from it. This is evident in the revelation of God through Jesus as his works are described to us in the Bible.Our sense of morality and conscience can also be taken from the Bible for example, in the beatitudes, revealing God’s expectations of us. Additionally, through reading the Genesis and the creation story we are given an answer to the beauty of the world and therefore can attribute nature’s cause, to God.

A Level (A2) Predictions 2017 – OCR Philosophy and Ethics

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It’s that time of year again. Let’s see whether we can take a look at the previous questions and take an educated guess about what might come up. The truth is that this has become harder and harder to do. A few years ago there were a few topics that hadn’t come up. Now everything has pretty much come up in previous years. Still, I’ll have a go at predictions. Just remember the usual disclaimer: I am not psychic and I don’t know the future. These are *guesses*! Anything could come up! Please revise all areas, you just may want to have a little look in more depth at these topics. OK, that said here goes:

Philosophy:

Religious Experience: ‘Voices are not proof of God but evidence of psychological neurosis.’ Discuss (35) (Click link for essay)

Miracles: ‘Hume’s understanding of miracles is flawed’. Discuss. (35)  (Click link for essay)

Attributes of God: ‘God’s foreknowledge is incompatible with human free will.’ Discuss. (35)

Life after Death: ‘Resurrection is more coherent than reincarnation’. Discuss. (35)

Religious Language: To what extent does analysis of the uses and purpose of religious language overcome the criticisms of the logical positivists? (35)

Ethics

Free Will and Determinism: Critically evaluate theological determinism. (35)

Conscience: How convincing are Newman’s claims that conscience is the voice of God? (35)

Virtue Ethics: ‘Virtue Ethics is the best approach to environmental issues.’ Discuss (35)

Sexual Ethics: Assess the usefulness of religious ethics as an approach to the issues surrounding contraception. (35)

So why have I predicted these ones? Well, in philosophy, the only topics that have never come up as far as I can see are voices in religious experience, Hume’s definition of miracles (different from his criticisms of miracles, which has come up), and the uses and purpose of religious language. Then the other two from life after death and attributes have not come up for a while.

With ethics it was a case of choosing between quite a few options – as far as I can see, no-one apart from Butler has been specified in a question, so there could be a question on any of the other conscience scholars. Also never seen a specific question on predestination which seems odd? The two applied topics have never come up in that combination.

There you go – hope that helps with revision! Now to do ‘predictions’ for AS – a bit pointless really as it is the first year, so literally anything could come up! That hasn’t stopped other people from having a go at it though!

BTW – are you interested in a really useful revision guide for AS? Get mine here: https://rs.pushmepress.com/titles/as-religious-studies-revision-guide-for-ocr-a-level-religious-studies/trade-paperback-uk

 

 

‘Voices are not proof of God but evidence of psychological neurosis.’ Discuss. (35)

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Here is my attempt at doing this question. I have to say, if a question on voices came up, I think a lot of students would avoid it, as the text-books have very little to say on this topic. It is tempting to just fall into a generic template for or against religious experience, but the topic of voices has some issues specific to it. For instance, and I didn’t say this in the essay, voices are usually linked to prophetic apparitions such as those of Fatima. The prophetic element is obviously explained by the need to convey a message. One of the strangest examples of voices is that of Pope Leo XIII on October 13 1884, 33 years to the day before the Fatima visions, hearing two voices – one kind and gentle, the other guttural and harsh, conversing. The conversation was supposedly between Christ and the devil, over how much time would be given to the devil for him to do his work in bringing down humanity.

Voices or locutions (from the latin locutio – speech) are a common aspect of certain types of religious experience, and are seen by the Catholic Church as a supernatural communication to the ear, imagination or directly to the intellect. They are supernatural in that the locution is meant to have its origin in a spiritual realm either heavenly or demonic. In most examples of this type of experience the voice is only heard by one person or a few individuals. Occasionally though, the locution does come from sound waves travelling to the ear, and thus has an external source Often, voices are accompanied by visions, but not always. A clear example of this is the revelations of the Virgin Mary to the three children Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco at Fatima in Portugal in 1917. The children saw a lady who showed them visions, for instance of hell, and they were also instructed by her as to the meaning of the visions. However, only Lucia and Jacinta heard and saw all that was revealed, whilst Francisco just saw the visions but did not hear the speech.

However, according to Teresa of Avila, voices should be tested to see if they have a natural or supernatural source. If natural they should be rejected as the result of an overactive imagination. If they are supernatural it is still to be discerned whether they are from God or the Devil. The only way this can be decided is in the effect it has on the person. St Teresa describes some of the effects of true locutions: they have a sense of certainty, power and authority, they bring calm and tranquility, and they are remembered for a long time. On the contrary, voices from the devil produce agitation or over-excitement in the recipient and make him fall prey to pride and other sins.

The issue that is often raised in connection to voices is the possibility of a non-supernatural origin, indeed skeptics would say that there is always a psychological explanation for this kind of religious experience. This is particularly the case with voices as they are very commonly reported by people suffering from certain kinds of mental illness such as schizophrenia or other psychotic episodes. The most common psychiatric explanation for psychosis is that part of the conscious mind of the person becomes overwhelmed by unconscious contents and seems to take on its own significance over and against the conscious ego-centre of the individual, such that they feel powerless to control it, and experience the psychosis in the form of voices or hallucinations which are usually unpleasant and which interfere with the autonomy of the mentally ill person.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James gives a psychological explanation for voices which seems at least sympathetic to this view. Firstly, he outlines the passivity of someone undergoing a religious experience, so that it seems to come from the ‘other’ and the receiver can do nothing about it. This would seem to echo the psychologist’s understanding of what happens in psychosis. Secondly, in James’ discussion of what he calls the ‘sick soul’, he explicitly draws parallels between a certain religious type, and certain kinds of mental illness in which voices occur. For instance, he describes the melancholy temperament of John Bunyan, who was ‘sensitive of conscience, beset by doubts, fears and insistent ideas, and a victim of verbal automatisms…these were usually texts of scripture, which…would come as if they were voices and fasten on his mind…’.

James goes on  to link the crisis that often comes to the sick soul type, and how they can become ‘twice-born’ ie. flooded with a newfound conviction in God, after much despair, and he says that these conversions are often linked to voices and visions. He relates how many religious founders or important figures such as George Fox or John Wesley heard voices because they were of ‘exalted sensibility’. He leaves open the question of whether these ‘incursions from beyond’ have their origin in the unconscious mind, or whether they have an ultimately supernatural origin.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, had a purely reductionist view of religious experiences, and locutions would have been for him a psychotic or neurotic manifestation of unresolved trauma from childhood.

Freud felt that Religious experience is explicable in terms of psychological factors acting on the personality, factors that are ultimately based on childhood traumatic experiences involving the parents. For Freud the human condition is one of fear in the face of our mortality, and helplessness in the face of nature. Thus we need comfort – as children this comes from the father, later in religion the father-in-the-sky. This religious comfort is wish-fulfilment – Freud believed that powerful wishes could find outlets in dreams, but also in other delusory states – essentially then religious visions, voices and experiences are hallucinations which come from our powerful need to feel control over our own helpless state.

With this interpretation, it must be remembered, Freud did not mean to dismiss religious experience as untrue, he said that just because religious experiences are illusions, it doesn’t mean they are false, an illusion like this is not an error, as it is based on one of the oldest, strongest wishes of humankind. Presumably he meant by this that there is a certain meaningfulness or significance to religious experience because they come from such a deep-rooted and universal source, but it is hard to see how I can retain my belief in the veridicality of my experience whilst also seeing it as a wish-fulfilment. If it is caused by my desire for security and meaning in my life its source can’t be in the divine or supernatural realm.

It seems to me that St. Teresa could very easily be updated for modern times to critique Freud. What she called voices from the devil, could be seen to be the voices that mentally ill people hear, as their effect is usually disconcerting and negative. Whereas if we apply her and James’ criteria of positive emotional and behavioural impact on the believer we have a way of easily distinguishing ‘real’ voices from false ones.

Freud’s disciple Jung claims that the divine reality cannot be a ‘nothing-but’ – voices have important psychological benefits which can lead to the integration of the personality – a wholeness that the conscious mind usually resists at its peril.

Equally, Swinburne argues we cannot just dismiss voices and other religious experiences with an automatic skepticism, indeed, his principles of credulity and testimony turn the tables on the skeptic and challenge him to take voices seriously.

In conclusion, it cannot be stated that voices are evidence of psychological neurosis, as this is a blanket statement, assuming a reductive materialism which ignores the epistemological problems with all experience, and which doesn’t do justice to the ‘fruits’ of the experience of the voices in the life of the believer. Clearly, there are many cases of voices being heard in neurotic episodes, but as stated above, and as James attests, unlike voices in religious experiences these do not lead to an integrated, stable, compassionate and insightful individual, capable of ministering to others and organising practical matters such as St. Teresa or John of the Cross (who both founded and led religious orders), but rather to individuals who sadly are unable to function well in society.

However, just because voices are not always evidence of psychological neurosis, by no means proves that they are from God – and it may be that there is some depth psychological explanation which is the best explanation for them. Both Jung and James thought that if there was a divine reality on the other side of the experiences of the mind, then it can only be known through that experience, and both remained essentially agnostic (with some qualification) on the matter.

 

A2 OCR Philosophy of Religion Predictions 2016

Well here we are again, with just over a week until the exam, what is likely to come up this year? I have compiled a list with various questions that it might be worth practising, and some of them I provide links to exemplars for those questions. I do this most years, always with the caveat that it is never a good idea to base your revision on just these predictions, but it can’t do any harm to have a good look at them.

 

1.Miracles questions. Both myself and Peter Baron think the Miracles topic has been under-represented in past years; I think there could be a question on Hume’s understanding of miracles, which there has never been, and at Peped (Peter Baron’s site) they think there could be one on coincidence miracles. My question is:

‘Hume’s understanding of miracles is flawed’. Discuss. (35) (exemplar here) (discussion here)

and Peped:

Assess the claim that miracles are simply coincidences given religious significance. (35)

There has apparently never been a question on Holland and coincidence miracles.

 

2.Religious language. Specifically verification. It hasn’t come up before. Therefore:

Critically assess A J Ayer’s theory of verification. (35) (Exemplar here) (powerpoint here)

(my guess)

or what amounts to something similar:

‘God-talk is meaningless’. Discuss. (35)

 

3. Religious experience came up twice last year (yes revelation falls under religious experience), but Peter Baron’s site has a great question on this which as he says, has never come up:

‘Voices are not proof of God but evidence of psychological neurosis.’ Discuss. (35)

 

4. A few from the nature of God/life after death (just for s**ts and giggles):

God’s foreknowledge is incompatible with human free will. Discuss. (35)

Critically assess the belief that God is omnibenevolent. (35). (from Peped)

‘Resurrection is more coherent than reincarnation’. Discuss. (35)

 

William James: Six Key Points

Points to revise:

1. Know PINT and be able to explain how it contributes to his argument.
(It enables him to argue for a ‘common core’ to all religious experience, which is a universal feature of all religions. If it is universal, it must point to a greater reality behind the different beliefs)

2. Know and understand how his:

a)philosophical pragmatism
b) his psychologist training and
c) his empirical approach
contribute to his argument.
(a: it meant he could argue for the truth of religious experience based on the positive behavioural and moral effect it had on people’s lives.
b: it meant he was very aware of how our mental and emotional mind states affect our beliefs and experiences
c: it meant he was interested in gathering as much data as possible (ie testimonies), and also in looking for evidence which counted against religious experience.)

3. Know Swinburne’s principles of credulity and testimony and how they support James.

4. Know how conversion experiences are important to his argument. (They have a psychological basis but result in genuine ‘fruits’ on the moral life, eg. kindness, selflessness etc.)

5. Know Mackie’s criticisms.

6. Know general strengths/weaknesses. Eg. a key weakness is his protestant based assumption that only personal experiences are the real source of faith, and doctrines are a later addition. Too individualistic. Another key weakness: seems to be arguing for non-cognitive status of religious experience (psychological/emotional ) but also cognitive (noetic = intuitive knowledge of what?)

Part 2 – There will always be more plausible explanations for religious experience than God. Discuss.

In my last post I proposed some ways of looking at this question, and tried to unpack what I thought it was asking you to do. I discussed the sceptical challenge which forms the basis of the question – that other explanations for religious experience will always be more plausible because they would have more empirical backing – this is essentially a reductionist challenge: “Nowadays we know that science can explain all that”, as Caroline Franks Davies puts it.

But can science explain all that? We need to take a step back into epistemology to work out the answer to that. Swinburne’s principle of credulity (it is a principle of rationality that if it seems to a subject that x is present, (in the absence of special considerations) then x probably is present) makes experience innocent until proven guilty and thus turns the table on the sceptic. Notice that it is a principle of rationality. All experience is subsumed under this principle – we just find we must operate as if it were the case – no philosopher has yet managed to provide inductive justification for our confidence in our experiences, memories and reasoning processes, but that is no reason to become sceptical about them. Notice also that there can be no proof for such a principle of rationality, because any attempt to prove it would use just the processes and experiences which are under consideration, and thus would be viciously circular. So the principle of credulity, as a principle of rationality, operates somewhat like an axiom does in maths, in that we have to assume its truth in order to get anywhere.

Now all this means is that the sceptic cannot just dismiss all religious experiences out of hand as not having inductive evidence to back them up like normal experience – as all experiences which generate beliefs are initially granted credulity. If we decide later to discount an experience because it could be shown that such an experience was unreliable, then that is not a problem – therefore things like dreams and hallucinations have become known to be unreliable and so we apply what Swinburne calls the special considerations.

So the principle of credulity is not a license to be gullible – just a placing of the onus on the sceptic to show why an experience is not veridical, rather than an assumption that because an experience doesn’t meet certain criteria of validity, it cannot therefore be veridical.

Swinburne recognises certain limitations on the principle of credulity called subject-related challenges – these include reductionist and conflicting claims challenges. These special considerations include things such as; the subject has been shown to be unreliable in the past, or was in a certain state, or had a certain cultural background or psychological mindset such that it is very unlikely experiences under those circumstances were veridical, or that it is very likely the subject would have had the experience whether the supposed percept (the thing perceived) was there or not.

It is worth noting that when it comes to reductionist challenges, they are recognised as presenting problems for arguments from religious experience. Caroline Franks Davies doesn’t think a pragmatic approach like James works either – she says

the ‘fruits not roots’ approach to religious experience is not so successful, since the way an experience is caused and its veridicality are inextricably linked. An argument from religious experience cannot be built on experiences which have therapeutic value but no evidential force”

However, she doesn’t think reductionist challenges present insuperable difficulties for arguments from religious experience. She examines various reductionist explanations for religious experience such as hypersuggestibility, deprivation, sexual frustration, regression and mental illness, and concludes that there is not enough evidence to conclude that any of these are correlated with religious experience. She concludes that such reductionist challenges are unlikely to succeed on their own.

There will always be more plausible explanations for religious experience than God. Discuss.

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Recently I posted a set of questions which I thought could possibly come up in the examinations. I wanted to focus on the religious experience one.

The first thing to notice about this question is that it is a general question on religious experience. Thus it is leaving the field quite open for you to explore different areas. You could bring in Swinburne, James and others, you could use a wide variety of criticisms from Mackie to Dawkins or all sorts of challenges from sociology and psychology. Indeed, I would guess that many of those ‘more plausible explanations’ will derive from fields such as these, for instance Freud would see religious experience as a neurosis, Durkheim as aspects of the structure of social groups.

The second thing to notice is that the question is framed as a logical statement – you could rephrase it: “From the very nature of supposed religious experience, any explanation that doesn’t require God will be more plausible” Why? Because some would argue that an explanation that involved God would need to have shown not just that the experiencer seemed to experience God but that it was also true that she experienced God, and given that the supposed bases which we use as foundation for our knowledge about uncontroversial things such as tables and frogs are not there, it would seem that a lack of empirical evidence would undermine religious experience and therefore always make more empirically testable explanations more plausible.

This is essentially Dawkins position, as it is many atheists, but you should be able to show awareness of how Swinburne’s work on religious experience, particularly his principles of credulity and testimony, have revealed the flaws in this kind of approach.

Alternatively you could use James’ pragmatic approach and argue that a common core gives us no reason to believe that religious experience is only psychological, for example.

Finally, it might be a good opportunity to show some of your synoptic knowledge by arguing that even if religious experiences do point to God – the notion of God is so incoherent (eg. problems with omniscience etc.) that other explanations will always be better.

In part 2 of this I will explain Swinburne’s account in more detail and try to show how it deals with the ‘lack of empirical evidence’ question.

Consider the view that scripture is divinely inspired (35).

Another good student essay on scriptural revelation.

 

The notion of scripture being divinely inspired is riddled with philosophical problems. Some of the issues arising from it being divinely inspired are: how the text came to human beings?; Did God give it directly or was it human in origin?; moreover, what can we actually learn about God from this text via its inspiration? In attempting to address this question we shall look at a propositional approach to assess the validity of divinely inspired scripture and then a non-propositional approach.

 

For scripture to be divinely inspired in the traditional sense, a propositional approach is required. Evangelical fundamentalist believers wish to maintain that the text comes directly from God. That it reveals ‘truths’ or propositions (facts) about the divine. In this sense the ‘words’ are directly from God. Yet this assertion is unclear. We shall work through different understandings and assess whether they can be held philosophically. The most obvious is a literal revelation for example Moses is believed by some to have experienced a theophany (God revealing God’s self to Moses) and literally giving him a physical copy of the five books of the law and the two stone tablets with the ten commandments on. In this sense scripture is divinely inspired as it comes directly from God. It can contain no errors (inerrant). If this view were held then scripture would indeed be divinely inspired. However, the problem of interactionism causes issue here as it is difficult to see how a non-physical being, outside of the spacio-temporal universe, or transcendent in the traditional sense can act within the physical realm. Moreover, how can Moses be expected to maintain any notion of free will? If God reveals Himself then Moses has no choice but to do God’s bidding because of fear of reprisals and sure knowledge of God’s existence. The appearance of choice here is simply ‘Hobson’s Choice’ – no choice at all. Also how do we ‘see’ or ‘hear’ a non-physical being? These problems serve to demonstrate that a view of scripture as being physically ‘given’ by God is too problematic. A believer may suggest that it comes down to faith for them, faith that God can do all these things, which does not seem to solve the issues identified above.

 

Perhaps then the bible/scripture was dictated by God or the Holy Spirit. One view is that of amanuensis that humans have simply copied the text down through divine dictation. This idea is seen in Jeremiah 20:8 “whenever I speak I cry out” implying that God is speaking through the prophet in front of the king. This would mean that the scripture was inspired as the individual was simply told what to write. Someone like Henry Morris would hold that the Holy Spirit was with the writers (Adam at creation for his argument) to ensure inerrancy. This view holds that God inspired the scriptures. Yet it is difficult to maintain this view for the same reasons outlined above. This issue of interactionism hasn’t been resolved here, God (transcendent) is still interacting in a spacio-temporal way. Also here the writer’s free will is being directly compromised. They have no choice but to write these words, the scribe is simply the body which God takes over to use for his own purposes. William James might suggest that this is an example of mystical experience and hold that the nature of these religious experiences is passivity which has been demonstrated in numerous accounts of these experiences. But an issue with this is that James also states these experiences are ineffable (cannot be put into words). How can the religious experience of amanuensis be ineffable if the aim of it is to write the words of scripture? One way would be to maintain that the person has no knowledge of what they are writing. But we still face the challenge from the violation of free will which questions whether this view can be reasonably held.

 

Perhaps then the scriptures are divinely inspired because the believer/writer has had an experience of the divine and has been inspired to write because of this. In this view the writer would be like the child who is inspired by an excellent footballer or music artist to follow in their footsteps. God plays a more passive role in the writing of the scriptures in this way and partially overcomes the problems of free will and interactionism in the sense that the individual writes their own interpretation because they are inspired by their experience of God. If this view holds then they are inspired to write freely about God. In order to hold this view we must accept that the individual has had an actual experience of God. Swinburne and James suggest that testimony of individuals should count in some way for evidence of God’s existence in the world (Swinburne’s Principle of Testimony) and that people tend not to lie (Principle of Credulity). Even if we accept this then it can only ever be revelation for the individual as the biblical text will always be second hand truths for others who did not experience and were therefore not inspired by the event. Moreover we still must maintain that God has revealed himself to the believer before the writing of the text. This whole issue of whether religious experience can reasonably held to happen casts a vast shadow over this view of scripture’s nature. This issue is too vast to explore fully here save to say that the notion of the individual’s perception of events and the actual reality of these events do not necessarily tally, for example what is the difference between a dream where I experience the divine and a religious experience in a dream? Can I ever be sure that my experience comes through God rather than a phenomenological or material origin? This view seems to lack coherence for scripture being divinely inspired as the free will, interactionism debate is still unsolved as we need to rely on the philosophical soundness of an individual’s religious experience. Also it opens up new problems. How can we maintain a propositional approach that this scripture reveals ‘facts’ about God if it comes from a human source using human language; a language of past, present and future tenses as Dummett points out, a “tense of timelessness”. This could never be an absolutely literal revelation of God. Not to mention the limitations of a spacio-temporal language describing a timeless and spaceless God.

 

It appears then, at this point, that no view so far discussed would allow us to maintain that scripture is divinely inspired because of the problems surrounding free will, interactionism, the limits of language and the certainty of what it tells us of the divine. However, perhaps this is the wrong way of looking at the problem, maybe the ‘truth’ of God comes through a non-propositional approach to revelation in the sense that it is action that demonstrates inspiration.

 

If we accept that God revealing Himself is too problematic for scripture then we are holding that we cannot know whether it is divinely inspired yet the non-propositional approach can avoid the problems discussed above. If propositional revelation is ‘belief that…’ something is the case, ‘God is love’ for instance then non-propositional revelation is ‘belief in…’ scripture. In this view scripture reveals more about ourselves and it is our reaction which ‘reveals’ God. However this view cannot give any ‘knowledge’ about God’s nature directly but is still echoed through Bucky Minster-Fuller’s ideas of God being a verb; that when we are inspired by what we read, regardless of ‘fact’ or propositions our actions in some way echo God’s will. Take the parable of the sheep and the goats’ notion of giving practical help to the needy. If I read this and ‘believe in…’ its message I act in the world. This could be seen as the divine inspiration of the scriptures. However this view cuts both ways. It seems to resolve the problems of interactionism, free will and experience of God but only at the cost of not being able to tell us anything about God as scripture maybe removed from God’s word and left as a purely human document.

 

In conclusion it seems as though holding a propositional approach is too problematic for us to accept that scripture is divinely inspired in some of the more traditional ways and that the main revelation of God comes through human action and inspiration. But one final point needs addressing. It seems that we cannot accept a non-propositional approach, belief in the truth of the Bible, without holding that the Bible contains some form of propositional truth. Otherwise why would religious believers act on these ideas? Since the Bible is not self-authenticating then we must accept that we have to ‘believe in…’ the words in order for the words to have any meaning. It is here that we reach the impasse, without faith in the scriptures the notion of whether the Bible is divinely inspired becomes irrelevant but it is clear that even with faith the assertion that scripture is divinely inspired in the traditional sense is too philosophically problematic to accept.

“The personal experience of God by any individual is proof enough that ‘He’ exists.” Discuss

This is a student essay from a few years ago on what is really a question about whether religious experiences are self-authenticating. It is very wide-ranging and does throw everything at the question, whereas I would suggest that you narrow down the philosophers you use to be more relevant. However, it is still very useful as a discussion of this question.
The above statement focuses on the notion that it is possible to prove the existence of God through personal religious experience. This raises a number of key philosophical questions that need further investigation if we are to conclude that personal experience by anyone could demonstrate God’s existence: firstly there is the issue of whether the testimony of any individual could count as evidence enough for God’s existence; secondly the issue of the validity of religious experience in general needs to be addressed as simply believing something to be the case does not necessarily ensure its certainty; and finally (although not exhaustively but for reasons of time restraints) the notion of whether perception in general could demonstrate objectively (and potentially conclusively) the existence of a divine being capable of having a personal relationship with ‘His’ creation. We shall begin by addressing the issue of testimony of individuals claiming to have private religious experiences.

Claiming that you ‘know’ God poses serious problems for the issue of testimony. How can we know that an individual has really experienced what they say they have? Both William James (the 20th C. American psychologist) and Richard Swinburne place importance in the notion of testimony as being evidence for private religious experience and by implication the existence of God. James was particularly keen to highlight that we should approach the testimony of individuals claiming to have experienced the divine with an open mind so as not to miss out on a potential truth of the universe. He was a pragmatist in his dealings with religious experience and outlines his methodology clearly, at the beginning of his ‘The varieties of Religious Experience’. This meant that he approached the testimonies that he recorded with an objective and scientific mindset. Moreover for these experiences to be valid for him they need only have real effects for the individual who experienced the event. For example: Imagine a builder who was selfish and frugal having a vision of Jesus. This individual was so moved by the incredible amounts of love and compassion from this experience that they give up their job and move to Africa, volunteering their skills to help build homes, wells and schools in deprived areas. This for James would be evidence enough that the experience was valid. However, even though James stresses the importance of these testimonies it is difficult to see whether what the individual has reported bares any relationship to factual existence of a divine being. This ‘real effect’ as James sees it could have come about without there being any objective experience of God. The subjective nature of personal religious experience leaves us with little concrete evidence that this could be used as evidence for the existence of God. As we shall see later, Freud would argue that these experiences are nothing but illusions manifesting themselves as the neurosis of a faulty mind.

For now though, Richard Swinburne would back up the notion that testimony itself should count as some form of evidence for the existence of God as it is a standard of proof. The belief that: ‘for something to only be considered valid if it can be proven through scientific means’ is flawed according to Swinburne. Swinburne argues through his principle of Testimony that we should consider the reported experiences of others seriously and not simply dismiss these out of hand because they do not conform neatly to the empirical ideals expected for scientific proof. After all if we are to observe the world around us and only claim that those things which can be proven conclusively (or beyond scientific doubt) exist then we could be missing important truths about the world. This belief (which C.S Lewis refers to as ‘Naturalism’) also assumes that the scientific method is the correct one. For Swinburne we should seriously consider the evidence (although not hard scientific data which would be preferable) of testimony seriously.
It seems unlikely that Swinburne, or James for that matter, would suggest that we simply accept the experience of ‘any individual’ as proof enough that God exists, as he is more convinced by the cumulative nature of the experiential argument. Both Swinburne and James see the sheer weight of testimony as important and not, therefore, that we should simply accept that God exists because one individual believes they have experienced this. Yet, as alluded to earlier, Freud would take issue with the notion of this view of the testimony of religious believers as outlined above from Swinburne and James. Freud believed that religion was nothing more than a universal obsessional neurosis that was the product of a faulty mind. This obsession manifests itself in neurosis which was a physical symptom of the sick mind (an example of a neurosis might be returning to the kitchen several times to check that you have turned the gas off on the hob – even though you had done this the first time). The notion of accepting the testimony of the religious believer claiming to have had personal experience of God was, Freud believed, ill advised because these individuals were deluded. Dawkins also agrees with Freud on this point. He suggests that if you had the delusion that you were Napoleon Bonaparte you would be very lonely in this delusion but the fact that as many as one billion (in the Catholics’ case) people share the same beliefs as you would, Dawkins claims, strengthen your resolve that your delusion was correct. The fact remains that in the case of private religious experiences both Freud and Dawkins would claim that the individual is nothing more than deluded. If you knew that an individual were deluded would you accept their opinion on a matter as great as the existence of God? Both Freud and Dawkins would argue ‘No’. If these two thinkers are correct then they certainly would not accept the claim that we should believe that the personal experience of any individual should be proof enough that God exists. However, both Freud and Dawkins have come under criticism for being unduly negative when it comes to their dealings with all things religious. It is hard to see how their heartfelt conviction, (and no doubt subsequent testimony) that the religious believer is mistaken in their deluded belief surrounding their religious experience, is any different from their own in terms of weight of testimony. After all, this assumes that Dawkins and Freud are correct in their assertion that religious believers are deluded. It does not necessarily follow that this is the case. It is here that we arrive at another very important impasse for our debate on the notion of personal experience being evidence for the existence of God, namely: the discussion of how we could ascertain that these experiences were valid.

Freud and Dawkins would have us believe that individuals who claim to have experienced God are deluded. But how could we know if they were or not? The very nature of private experience is just that, that it is private. My knowledge of the world around me is my knowledge. For example: the smell of my Sunday lunch is a subjective experience. You cannot know what it is that I experience. James believed that this was an important quality of mystical experience. He described this as a ‘noetic’ quality. This he believed was common to most mystical experience as many of the people that he interviewed claimed to have gained some deep truth of the universe through their experience that they could not be explained in human language because of the ineffable nature of mystical experiences (another of James’ observations about mystical experience). This ‘revelation’ could not be achieved through either empirical or rational means. James claims that only another individual who has experienced something similar would know what an individual had experienced during their mystical experience. The question must then be asked: how can we be sure that they have experienced this at all. Antony Flew would claim that there is no way of falsifying the believer’s claim to this knowledge and so it must be dismissed as meaningless. In other words there is no way of knowing whether the claimed experience is valid. If we cannot know whether it is valid it would seem a little hasty to claim that it is proof enough that God exists. Consider the following statement: ‘I believe that the golf course will be open next weekend’. Without an accurate weather forecast to back up this claim I may be optimistic in holding this belief (owing to the torrents of rain that have fallen in recent days). This leads us to the conclusion that we must have our own first-hand experience to be really sure that something is the case. Taking another’s experience seems to go against the Socratic notion of never being satisfied with second hand truths. Yet Swinburne would argue that we should accept what people report through his ‘Principle of Credulity’. He believes that people tend not to lie and so should accept what they tell us at face value. There are a number of problems with this view. Both Mackie and Starbuck would question this view on the same point. Starbuck believed that something could be a psychic reality for you but that this belief did not translate into reality. Mackie also claims that people can be mistaken in their beliefs. It seems as though even the most well meaning of religious individuals, excluding those who might (as Hume suggested) purposely miss report their claims out of some misguided notion, reporting their experience and more importantly believing it 100% to be the case could be wrong. We are still left with the serious question as to whether even the individual can ‘know’ that their experience is the case. It is a custom in essays on religious experience to trot out examples of people who have experiences under the influence of drugs and alcohol (which Freud believes adds weight to his faulty mind argument) to attack the very foundations of these experiences, yet these are weak arguments as they do not represent the majority of experiences reported. There is potentially one more final nail in the coffin of the valid religious experience which comes in the guise of the ‘God helmet’. Michael Persinger, a neuro-scientist has devised a helmet that produces a weak magnetic pulse that causes the wearer of said helmet to report feeling the presence of the divine in the room with them while they wear it. In other words the helmet causes the wearer to ‘experience’ God. It would appear that if this is the case the whole notion of the validity of religious experience and the subsequent reporting of this experience to others could be challenged on the basis of it being simply the product of the human brain. This conclusion is perhaps not as sound as initially thought. It assumes that the origins of these ‘experiences’ are found in the mind. Perhaps these induced experiences are no different from other ‘experiences’ that people have reported, the native American Indians have been using hallucinogenic plants to experience mystical experiences for centuries. James dismissed the claim that we should not accept the validity of induced experiences based on the idea that it does not necessarily disprove the validity of such experiences. It is here that we reach our final point – religious experiences will come down to the perception of the individual.

The notion of religious experience being evidence of the existence of God can be explained in two ways. The experience could be subjective but still having ‘real effects’ as James suggests, or it could be an objective experience of the universe around us providing critical insight into the divine being. Critics of the latter, such as Hume, may well argue that the sheer number of different cultures reporting religious experiences would question the validity of this objective experience. Yet this might not be the case if we were to subscribe to a pluralistic understanding of religion: the idea, as put forward by John Hick, that there is only one divine being and that the details of religious faith and practice are nothing more than a cultural expression of this divine being. This view would suggest that seemingly conflicting testimonies of Muslim, Hindu or Christian believers are nothing more than cultural experiences of the same divine being. Thereby giving weight to the notion that we can accept these as valid proofs of the existence of God. A more important issue needs to be raised as an offering for a conclusion to this work. This also comes from the thinking of John Hick. The criticisms raised by the work of neuro-scientists and the ‘God helmet’, as well as drug or alcohol induced experiences, point to an interesting notion that should not be missed. John Hick describes this idea as ‘experiencing as’ which he develops from Wittgenstein’s ‘seeing as’. Hick has suggested that the whole issue of religious experience comes down to perception of the world around us. In some sense Freud and Dawkins will never see religious experiences as valid proof for the existence of God because they are not looking for such answers as their minds are closed off to the whole experience. While others like Otto, James and Swinburne are more likely to experience the world around them in a religious manner because they are open to the possibility of this. People experience the same events in different ways according to Hick – a sunset might be interpreted as a beautiful event with divine significance for one person whilst being the onset of the inconvenience of darkness for another. Ultimately we cannot be sure that the testimony that an individual gives us will be conclusive of the existence of God in any objective way or that these experiences are indeed valid, but what does seem clear is that to dismiss these ideas out of hand would be unwise because we cannot be sure whether we are experiencing the world as it really is.

Student Essay: Critically assess propositional and non-propositional revelation as divinely inspired experiences of God

In this student essay there is a discussion of the relative merits of propositional and non-propositional revelation. It is an A grade essay.

Critically assess propositional and non-propositional revelation as divinely inspired experiences of God. (35)

Propositional and non-propositional revelations are forms of divine disclosure involving, in the Christian tradition, truths about God being revealed to (or recognised by) people in the natural world. Propositional revelations are truths revealed by God, whereas non-propositional revelations are a believer’s recognition of God acting in human experience. Various accounts of revelatory acts also exist within other religious traditions, such as those recorded in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam – Mohammed on the mountain, for example. These ‘holy books’ (the Bible and the Qur’an) supposedly posses a special status linked to God, helping followers to learn about God – despite his transcendence – through revelation in the natural world. These revelations can be concerned with nature, people, miracles or visions, for example God appearing to Saul on the road to Damascus, resulting in Saul’s conversion to Christianity. The word ‘Islam’ actually derives from the notion of ‘submission to God’, highlighting the powerful and important role of Allah in the Islamic faith. It is generally accepted that the revelatory accounts in the Bible (containing what is believed to be the Word of God) are propositional in nature, whereas other revelatory experiences, such as religious experiences, are generally non-propositional in nature.

Belief in propositional revelations as divinely inspired experiences of God has both strengths and weaknesses attached to it. From a positive angle, there is no need for reinterpretation with these revelatory experiences because the truths revealed by God are infallible in nature. In this sense, there is arguably less potential for ‘human error’ as there is less of a focus on the individual or people in question. On the other hand, as these revelations are received ‘passively’ and without a human thought process, reason is removed from the equation, and therefore God’s revelations are not ‘provable’ by human standards. However, the existence of God (an argument put forward by Saint Thomas Aquinas) may be demonstrated using arguments for God’s existence, which do evolve from experience of the natural world. In this way, so long as propositional revelations are in accordance with Church teaching, particularly the Magisterium, Aquinas argues that it is sensible to accept them. Aquinas concluded by stating that Faith is more certain than opinion but less certain than scientific evidence, highlighting the importance of Natural Theology (using the natural world as evidence of God’s existence, such as in the forms of the cosmological and teleological arguments). William Paley, the developer of the teleological argument, was entranced by the complexity of the human eye, which lead him to the conclusion that ‘when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover [analogically] in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose…the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker.”

The fact that human beings do not receive information passively but actively and the fact that the human mind is prone to making mistakes when learning new things are primary weaknesses of the notion of propositional revelation. Aquinas argues that ‘absolute proof’ of divine revelation is impossible because of his notion that propositional revelations are not demonstrable using human reason. However, Aquinas’ ‘faith’ argument in support of propositional revelation is weak in the sense that many so-called revelation experiences may merely be a person’s passive acceptance of an unauthentic revelation. This weakness could however be countered by reference to Paul’s conversion experience; it was a truly unique experience which had a definitive outcome. However, on a greater scale, there are faith claims from different religious traditions that conflict and it could be argued thereby count each other out. For example claims that God is triune and became incarnate in Jesus directly contradict Muslim views of God as one and completely transcendent. A final strong weakness in the authority of Bible scripture (wherein accounts of revelatory experiences can be found) is that several passages conflict with accepted modern ethical views, such as those relating to the role of women. In this way, the authority of the Bible as the true ‘Word of God’ is diminished.

The interpretation on the part of the believer when it comes to non-propositional revelation leads to problems with the potential for misunderstanding and resulting at the ‘wrong message’. Furthermore, as non-propositional revelation is dependent on the perspective of the individual, there is no way of verifying whether the beauty of nature is something only God (or a higher being) can fully understand, or whether our environment is the product of a complex and beautiful process of evolution, of which it is possible and foreseeable for all elements to be explained or accounted for in scientific terms. The Bible from a non-propositional viewpoint is a collection of perceptions of religious believers who have witnessed revelatory acts through history. This is, of course, a very subjective and indirect way of viewing the ‘Word of God’. In this way, non-propositional revelation cannot in any way be considered infallible, unlike propositional revelation, which can appeal to ‘facts revealed by God’ as a basis for theological debate. On the other hand, strengths of the non-propositional perspective include the concept of faith as a way of seeing the world, in other words from a Christian or Muslim perspective, for instance. Finally, it appeals to our human nature to adopt a theory which enables us to interact with information, and thereby apply it to our own lives and the lives of those around us, perhaps providing a more useful result of the revelation.

In conclusion, it is exemplified though the world of the character of Sherlock Holmes that the beauty of nature is awe-inspiring; ‘Our highest assurance of the goodness of providence seems to rest in the flowers. All other things…are really necessary’. In contrast to this opinion, evolutionary atheist Richard Dawkins approaches the universe from a different angle in his book ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’; he states: ‘Isn’t it a noble, enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it’. Although it is evidently possible to wonder at the beauty of nature without experiencing non-propositional revelation, and possible to discard arguably ‘delusionary and unverifiable’ cases of direct religious experience or revelation, it is also true that cases of divine inspiration, such as the giving of the Ten Commandments, as recorded in the Bible, have remained important features of our lives and helped tailor our lives towards the greater good for a great length of time, that perhaps being the reason why such accounts have remained pertinent within the scripture of religious believers for so long.