Mystical experiences only happen to people with a religious culture

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Parent debateThis argument is used in the debate Does God exist?.
Argument againstThis argument is an objection to Mystical experiences attest to the presence of God.
Keywords: God, Mystical experiences[ edit ].



“It could be argued that only religious people have religious experiences. This isn't always the case, but it's true that it's almost invariably people who have already been familiar with a religious tradition who have religious experiences - and for some, the experience is what brings the tradition back to life for them. But this can hardly be counted as an objection: indeed, unless we know what object x or y is, we're unlikely to have an experience that feels like an experience of x or y. Only someone who knows what a phone is can say they think they've seen a phone. You can learn what a telephone is either if someone shows you one, in which case you'll be able to recognize the next one you see; or if someone has described one to you, in which case you'll be able to recognize her when you see one. In the case of a religious experience (in the sense that it seems to someone that they are having an experience of God), the way we learn what an experience of God would be like comes from a religious tradition that makes us understand what God is like. [...] The tradition and stories of those who claim to have encountered God complete this formal description. By this means, we begin to understand what an experience of God would be like if we had one; and all we need is to know enough to recognize such an experience when we have it again - but it would not be possible to give a full description of such an experience in advance, or even after having had it. A famous story features someone who was unable to recognize an experience of God for what it was, before being told about God: it's the story of the child Samuel in the temple ("First Book of Samuel", chapter 3).”

Richard Swinburne, Is there a God?, p.126-127, Ithaca, Paris, 2009.


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