Inability to Deny Experience
By Brother Donald Bryson
Over the centuries, there have been many attempts by different people to prove the existence of God, and a canon of classic arguments has been developed. Recent decades have seen a rise in interest in natural theology and the philosophy of religion. Each of the classic theistic proofs has been revived and refined, presented in revised form and defended afresh. However, we do know, as Francis Bacon said, “... a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.
There are several arguments that attempt to prove or disprove the existence of God. However, I find that the most convincing, rock-solid, and interesting argument for the existence of God is the argument from religious experience (and I mean an experience of salvation). The argument from religious experience is the argument from experiences of God to the existence of God. In its strong form, this argument asserts that it is only possible to experience that which exists, and so that the phenomenon of religious experience demonstrates the existence of God. People experience God, therefore there must be a God; case closed. To put this argument in the context of the belief of modern day people reference the New Hampshire Confession of Faith:
We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life. I, and my church, hold to the doctrines found within the New Hampshire Confession and thereby the Holy Bible. I personally believe that I have had a personal experience with God, a salvation experience. So the question and argument follows:
A I had an experience.
B. If I had an experience, if I felt something, then something caused that experience.
C. If it was a divine experience (it was soteriological) then that which I experienced would have to be infinitely greater than I am.
D. God, by definition, is infinitely greater than I am and is the only being infinitely great.
E. I can perceive the idea of God. That than which nothing greater can be thought (i.e. God) must exist in reality due to the fact that I can perceive it without any physical evidence. I cannot conceive an idea from nothingness.
F. I experienced God.
G. If I experienced God then God must exist because it is simply impossible to experience nothing.
This personal argument from experience is actually a variation on the principle of credulity. The principle of credulity states that if it seems to a subject that x is present, then probably x is present. Generally it is reasonable to believe that the world is probably as we experience it to be. Unless we have some specific reason to question a religious experience, therefore, then we ought to accept that it is at least prima facie evidence for the existence of God.
Critics of the principle of credulity often point to a seeming weakness in the argument. If experiences are generally to be treated as accurately representing the world, then this allows an argument from the absence of religious experience to be constructed.
An atheist who experiences the absence of God can argue, using the principle of credulity, that the world is probably as this experience represents it as being: godless. Arguments from religious experiences to the existence of God can thus be met with arguments from atheist experiences to the non-existence of God; what will result will, presumably, be a tie, other things being equal.
However, this negative principle of credulity is false. If it seems to a subject that x is present, then probably x is present--so that it does not apply to experiences of absences. The negative principle--if it seems to a subject that x is not present, then probably x is not present. This negative principle would only be a good one in cases where it is reasonable to believe that if x were present then the subject would experience x. There is no reason, however, to suppose that if God existed then the atheist would experience him, and so the negative principle of credulity does not apply to atheists’ experiences of the absence of God. We are unable to experience nothing. If we can experience nothing then that would be the same as experiencing something and thus the rejection of the principle of credulity is caught in a linguistic fallacy.
So, if God does indeed exist, what does that mean for us? The implications of classical theism, if it is accepted in all of its details, are clear enough: If God exists then we were created for a purpose; we are valued, loved. If God exists then we also have an incentive, not to mention a moral duty, to fulfill this purpose; our eternal fate hangs on whether we follow God, as we were created to, or rebel against his authority.
Atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before God after death. Russell said, “I will simply say to him, ‘You have not given me sufficient reason to believe in you.’” But to Russell I would say that evidence could be sufficient without being overbearing. If we cross-apply Russell’s statement with the negative principle of credulity, we find Michael Martin. In his book A Case Against Christianity, atheist philosopher Michael Martin observes, "A person full of religious zeal may see what he or she wants to see, not what is really there." Ironically, that argument is equally true for the atheist.
The fact is that God has given us one of the greatest privileges as human beings—Our free will. The privilege of self-determination. That freedom is a necessary moral component of love. One cannot be credited with love, unless it is also the prerogative of that person not to love. For us to be truly free, there entails the possibility of us rejecting the love God offered to us. May I propose to you that the atheist who demands compelling evidence such that it is not possible to disbelieve, may in fact be demanding that which diminishes love at the same time. Ironically, it was Bertrand Russell who lived with numerous infidelities and betrayals. One has to wonder how a moral basis is invoked for the rejection of God’s love while the breaking of another love does not appear immoral. Quite duplicitous, I would think.
So rich is the body of evidence that God Himself reminds us that the problem is not the absence of evidence, rather the suppression of it. If Russell and others would apply the same tests for truth to the claims of Christ that they apply to other disciplines, they would find the evidence compelling. In short, the problem is that of the heart and not of the mind. One who says there is not enough evidence tells us more about him or her than about this universe.
Let me also say this, nobody will end up in an eternity without God apart from their own choice to be such. In other words, even heaven would be hell for somebody who wanted to be autonomous in this world. They have made their choice to live in this world apart from God and in doing so; they make the choice to live in the next world apart from Him also.
There is a story about a man who was fishing and every time he caught a large fish he threw it back, every time he caught a small one he kept it. A frustrated onlooker wondered what on earth he was doing; “I only have an eight inch frying pan” came the explanation. Any event that strains the naturalist’s ability to explain, he simply resizes it to fit his own prejudice. He throws back the “fish” that don’t fit into his atheistic frying pan. King David wrote that the splendor of the universe is the handiwork and expression of God: The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Russell was wrong. The Bible makes it clear — the problem is not the absence of evidence, it is the suppression of it. In creation, in history and in Christ He has spoken.
This site was last updated 04/21/11