Divine Disclosures: Religious Experiences as Evidence in Theology

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Burling, Hugh Dunstan  ORCID logo  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5133-4487

The first half of this thesis argues that scepticism about the evidential force of religious experiences is driven by concerns about the traditional practices used to discern between ‘illusory’ and ‘genuine’ experiences. As these practices require commitment to a particular tradition, we have no way of deciding which practice to trust. Furthermore, the tests the practices employ do not bear on whether the experiences are veridical; and they are too coarse-grained for theologians to use them to regulate religious beliefs or seek theological truth. The thesis argues that we should seek new ways of evaluating religious experiences, and beliefs based on them, which address the concerns. The fourth chapter develops a procedure in which parties to religious disagreements understand God to be a perfect being, and use shared moral beliefs from outside their religious tradition to assign probabilities to putative divine actions, including religious experiences. The likelihood the divine action occurred given those moral beliefs is the likelihood the religious experience was veridical, addressing the second concern. The procedure attends closely to different sources of doubt, so avoiding the coarse granularity traditional practices are charged with. The thesis thereby argues against a sceptical response to difficulties faced by religious experiential evidence by offering a non-sceptical alternative which is articulated in enough detail to show how these difficulties can be surmounted. The fifth chapter completes the description of the procedure and shows how it can be used to formalize disputes in philosophical theology concerning the evidential import of divine hiddenness and religious diversity. The sixth chapter defends the procedure’s presumption that God is a perfect being by evaluating an Anselmian account of the reference of “God”.

Hedley, Richard Douglas
God, religious experience, evidence, theology, epistemology, religion, revelation, Richard Swinburne, William Alston, hiddenness, perfect being theology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge