Is mystical experience a good reason to believe in God?

I grew up believing in God, but one of things that confirmed me in my faith was that I had a couple of experiences which I can only describe as personal encounters with God. They made God seem incredibly real to me. In theory, these “mystical experiences”, as I guess you could call them, can be explained apart from God — they could have been due to some sort of freak psychological quirk in me — but practical common sense, it seems to me, suggests that the better and more likely explanation is simply that God caused them.

So my belief is at least partly based on my own direct experience of God.

A few weeks ago, I talked to a friend that claims to have had supernatural things happen sometimes when she was praying for someone’s healing. I don’t believe most people who say things like that, but I trust her honesty so I believe her. She at least experienced what she says she did. In addition, I realized that if the same things had happened to me, I’d have decided to interpret them as supernatural, not merely psychological, events.

So my belief is also partly based on the direct experience of God that some of my friends claim to have had.

Is this kind of thing an appropriate reason for believing in God?

The reading for this week’s class, Religious Epistemology  by Kelly James Clark from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, talks about this.

It says:

… people who believe on the basis of religious experience do not typically construe their belief in God as based on an argument (any more than belief in other persons is based on an argument). They believe they have seen or heard God directly and find themselves overwhelmed by belief in God.

This is like what happened to me. I felt that I experienced God directly, and consider that experience to be a good reason to believe that God exists.

It also says this:

Richard Swinburne alleges that it is also reasonable to trust what others tell us unless and until we have good reason to believe otherwise. So, it would be reasonable for someone who did not have a religious experience to trust the veridicality of someone who did claim to have a religious experience. That is, it would be reasonable for everyone, not just the subject of the alleged religious experience, to believe in God on the basis of that alleged religious experience.

In other words, Swinburne believes it is reasonable to believe in God based on someone else’s mystical experience.

You may not agree.You may feel that taking any mystical experience seriously is already to lose touch with reality. Can give a reason for your view that doesn’t beg the question?

One student did so by saying this:

“Religious experiences do not count as evidence towards God because these happenings are not testable and are perceptively biased.”

The question of testability is an serious one. How do I know the difference between a real religious experience and a fake one? I don’t believe every claim someone makes to have experienced God. So why should I believe any such claim? How can I possibly distinguish between the reliable stories and the crazy ones? If there is no good way to test religious experiences scientifically, might there be other ways to test them?

Are testability and absence of perceptive bias the right requirements for being good reasons for belief?

Another student last week said that there is NO possible evidence that would convince him there is a God. Is belief in God so different from everyday beliefs that even testable evidence is not a good reason to believe? Are there other beliefs like that, or just belief in God?

I believe these questions are worth asking, even apart from the question of whether God exists or not.


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10 thoughts on “Is mystical experience a good reason to believe in God?

  1. “but practical common sense, it seems to me, suggests that the better and more likely explanation is simply that God caused them”…..Really? No disrespect of course, but what is practical or even common sense about a mystical experience leading one to believe it’s the result of an imaginary being or entity? Common sense tell me that wasn’t the reason. There is a more likely logical reason for the experience. So no…this isn’t an appropriate reason to believe in god in my opinion.
    “Swinburne believes it is reasonable to believe in God based on someone else’s mystical experience”….. wrong, that’s just faith. Faith: A b/s word invented because something can’t be proven at all…not 1 shred of evidence, so the only rebuttal is faith… the belief has to be just faith… because it just is. Faith is a funny word to me…it is a word that means nothing…explains nothing and tells you to believe is something that is nothing more than….nothing.
    I had an “experience” once. Did I believe that it was divine intervention? No. Was the experience weird and something that I had never experienced before or since? yes. I still believe that there is a logical and reasonable explanation.
    I like the blog…. I really think that if you had a “mystical experience”, then you should have shared it or them. The idea of god vs no god needs supporting evidence on both sides… If you have some and think it would “enlightened” someone, it should be shared. I mean, it would only support your beliefs, right?

    • I wrote up a reply to this, but have decided to hold off on posting it for now. I’d rather encourage other people to respond first. Maybe we can get some good discussion going! Just continue to keep it respectful and on point, as Infidel did.

  2. Let me tell you about my first “mystical” experience. I was about 19 years old. I was pretty distraught over something that I look at as something that happened for my own good (God looking out for my future?). Anyway, I was pretty upset and sad. I didn’t know what to do, because of how I felt. I cried out to God to help me. Not a formal prayer, just a “help me” kind of prayer. A huge “weight” was lifted off me that I didn’t even know was there. It was so evident that I looked up and around for something or someone that took this “weight” off. I remember sitting there by myself thinking that this didn’t just happen. I actually thought that the “weight” would return at some point, but it never did. The “weight” was replaced with a peace inside of me. Now I suppose you could say I made this up or I was out of my mind or whatever. I remember this almost like it was yesterday. I will never forget it. I use this as an example of evidence with my senses. You can feel the wind against your skin, but you can’t see it. Why would anyone disregard my experience as lack of evidence?

    One more thing I would like to add is the universal definition for faith. It happens to be located in the Bible in Hebrews 11:1. ~ Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

    I believe everyone has faith in one way or other. In class, gravity was talked about. I was trying to come up with other ways we have faith everyday. Flicking a light switch, turning the key in the ignition, or turning a faucet to get water all take a little faith that you are going to get what you “hoped” for. I would never get on a plane, if I didn’t have faith in the pilot, plane, or mechanics. How about love for a spouse? I have faith that my husband loves me. You could say “well that is by his actions”, but there is no perfect marriage.

    Would Infidel be so kind as to share their “experience”? Just kind of curious.

    • My “experience”? Sure… It’s personal, but i’m always open. It was some years ago. I had split up with my wife and was living in a little house across town. We had 2 little girls at the time and I was just distraught. I went from being there day and night with my babies to now a part time father. It was killing me. I was just so depressed and had hit rock bottom. Why was I here?
      I had thought of killing myself. More of the thoughts like, “I wish I had the guts to kill myself.” I really didn’t want to die. I had alot to live for, especially my girls. I went down the basement and i had a shower down there. On the backside of the shower was a wooden ladder attached. Why I don’t know. I tied a brown extension cord around the rafters and climbed up the ladder. I put the noose around my neck. I held onto the rung of the ladder but lowered my body a little just to feel what it would sort of be like if I could only do it. I hadn’t reached the point to do it, just close. Well, lowering my body but holding onto the rung still, and the cord tightening, I passed out. I mean right now. You don’t have to cut the blood off very long to pass out. I woke up on the floor of course.. bloody forehead from hitting my head on the concrete. I didn’t know where I was or what had happened right away. Obviously from the loss of oxygen. It felt like I was really drunk. I remember thinking that there was someone in the room with me… like I felt someone there. It scared me and I crawled on my hands and knees to the furthest corner and spun around and just looked around.. There wasn’t anyone there, but it sure felt like it. This may be gross…sorry. I still had the cord around my neck and the other part was still hanging from the rafters..It had just snapped. This was an electrical cord that if 2 grown me pulled and tried to snap it, I doubt they could. I thought maybe my weight, (I only weighed about 145), coming down all of a sudden snapped it? I realized this wasn’t the case since I had spit and snot all over my face from hanging there and apparently struggling. How did the electrical cord snap? I have no answer… why did it seem like someone was in that basement with me? Again no answer. Maybe hitting my head I had a concussion and add the loss of oxygen. It was weird. Even though, I still feel that there was a logical reason for them and still do.

    • Kenny, I can understand your cocnern. 2009 brought to me a diagnosis of lung cancer, though never a smoker or any other likely causes. Because of Rom.8.28 still being in the Bible, along with Jer.29.11, I realized that all the training beforehand had led now to look through the cancer to what God was teaching me at the present, and the lessons began to come clear. I now have thanked Him for giving me the cancer-for my continued maturity, and for giving myself away to others through the lessons He has taught me which I now must share with them. Of course, there are the moments when I momentarily forget and focus on the recovery from my cancer surgery No, God did not choose to supernaturally remove the cancer, but left it for the surgeon to begin the healing process. So in this recovery stage, I am still learning, but there have been so many opportunities to share the lessons I have already learned and I just have to say Sorry, Father , and move back into relationship with Him. A big part of it all was just getting outside myself and concentrating on others, and not my thing .

  3. I am glad this happened in a way… I wouldn’t take it back if I had the chance. I realized even more that I didn’t want to die after that. It was like a wake-up call. Unfortunately people who do commit suicide will never get another chance… and also some who wonder what it would be like to do it., like I did, and accidentally go too far… will never have that chance. I was pretty lucky

  4. Thank you for telling us this. Wow, that was quite a story. Some people believe in God. Some don’t. Some believe in God and no Satan. Some believe in both. I happen to believe there is both and that there is two dimensions to this world (what we see and a heavenly realm.) I believe that they have their “helpers” – angels and demons. This would account for all the evil in the world. I believe God allows this for various reasons. You say there is no way two men could have snapped that cord. It is not ridiculous to believe that something (would you consider an angel?) saved you from certain death. I have known people to experience both dimensions. One felt a peace as she felt “an angel” touch her. She thought it was her son, but no one was there as she felt a peace come over her. Another woman was in a pretty scary car accident. She saw horrible demons trying to draw her closer to them. If you could have seen the terror in her eyes and how she felt for months after that, you would have believed that is what she saw. With historical accounts of people seeing angels, they were afraid. If you can imagine having a large being appear and start speaking to you, I am pretty sure everyone would be afraid. But I think it is a different kind of fear compared to actually seeing or feeling a demon. I think coming up with a logical reason for what you experience might be impossible, but interesting. I think God spared your life. I have know some people who tried to end their life or wanted to. They have found out since then that their bad experience that caused them to want to end it all just was a bump in the road. They would have missed out on children, grandchildren, and many more good experiences in their life, not to mention their loved ones would have been affected by their deaths terribly. One thing I have learned in life is that the bad experiences make you only stronger, if you handle it with God’s help.

    • You nailed it: It is about udndrstaneing what Christ has already done for you and learning the secret of staying connected to Him through His Word, His people, and His Spirit. But being the self-sufficient, autonomous people that we have been molded to be by our culture, we misread that statement. We can handle His Word, and then struggle with identifying with His Spirit. But we have no idea what it means to connect with God through His people. I suspect that aspect of our experience explains much about our weakness.

  5. I feel like I may have gotten a little off the subject. I know one thing some people want or need to do is to test something for validity or rationalness. I think peoples’ experiences with God can’t be tested. Sometimes they are alone and not being videotaped. It would have been interesting to review the video with Infidel’s experience. Although, would it have shown anything? I think there are enough people out there with “experiences” that they can’t be ALL disputed. I shared one. There are more, but I chose the one that can’t be wrote off as coincidence, like maybe some of the others. I don’t think Infidel’s can either. Just my opinion.

  6. I way I look at is, that if after every scientific, physc, medical, explanation has been investigated and no cause found from any, then the next step is to explore mystical explanations. Many medical issues can cause “experiences” or suddenly enable the person to hear God talk to them. Not only for knowledge but safety and health sake too.

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