Is religious experience evidence? Yes, but…

by Travis Dickinson

A major reason why people believe that God exists is because, well, they run into Him. From time to time, people have direct experiences of God Himself. This is where one has experiences that are not plausibly explained in any other way other than that God exists. It is actually very common for people to report having experiences that seem to be clearly supernatural. These include such things as miraculous events, healings, answers to prayer, and even an overwhelming sense of the presence of the divine.

Having a direct experience of something is of course the ideal reason for believing that the thing exists. You may have all the reason in the world to think some thing does not exist until that thing shows up and says hi. However, direct experience of God is often criticized, not so much because folks don’t have amazing stories that are impossible to explain away, but because these reports are too common and point in too many different directions. Christians have stories, Mormons have stories, Muslims have stories, Hindus have stories, Spiritualists have stories, etc. and etc. Moreover, some Christians have a much greater emphasis on the supernatural, and it seems practically everything counts (getting to church on time with a prime parking spot is a miracle, on this view).

How do we sort all of these reports out? I’ll provide two cautions in thinking about experiences, especially reports about experiences. But first let me I wish to say that if God exists, then we should expect there to be many reports of experiences of God, and having a genuine experience of God can clearly be evidence that God exists. With this said…


Is religious experience evidence? Yes, but… – The Benefit of the Doubt