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Georgia Lofts

Georgia Lofts


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About Me:I am a final year student studying BioMedical Science. I am interested in a wide range of topics but particularly like to focus on Biology, Pharmaceuticals, Chemistry, Art, Philosophy and Ethics.

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Donovan: 'Can we know God by experience'

Donovan: 'Can we know God by experience'

Donovan’s ‘Can we know God by experience’ article addresses the statement ‘if you really experience God you don’t have to argue, you know he’s real, and that’s all there is to it.’ He asks the question; is religious experience (RE) sufficient for direct, intuitive knowledge of God? William James proposes four characteristics of a RE; transient, ineffability, passivity and noetic. Noetic quality; where eternal truths are revealed through intuition links to Donovan as he recognises that people have claimed to ‘just know.’ Donovan then goes on to say that to know God purely through encountering him is a ‘risky business’ as it is too subjective to be considered as sufficient evidence. He uses the example where even tyrants and dictators use their ‘misguided inner conviction’ in everyday life, so this ‘inner conviction’ may not be a reliable source. Donovan claims that to have ‘no doubts at all about one’s beliefs is a symptom of insanity’ rather than sound thinking, thus saying that to strengthen the view that one’s experience was real, further evidence is needed. He describes intuition as ‘a direct, convincing way of knowing, which needs no further argument’ and realises that intuitive knowing is perfectly ordinary but says we must understand this is not always right and there is room for doubt.


Owen in ‘The Christian Knowledge of God’ suggested similarities between our intuitive awareness of other people and our intuitive awareness of God e.g. humans reveal their inner nature through outer acts and God reveals his nature through his creation. Tennant’s aesthetic argument proposes the beauty of the universe provides evidence for God. In Paley’s watch analogy (walking on a heath and discovering a watch which one recognizes that this item did not just come together by chance, which he then compared to the complexity of the universe) he implies that this order suggests a designer (God.) Therefore Owen spoke of the ‘mediated immediacy’ of the intuition- it does not arise from reasoning, but stems from finite things and experiences (e.g. actions, human behaviour and RE.) “The world is a medium for his revealing activity’ says Baillie, this is supported through Swinburne’s 5 types of RE (categorised into private and public aspects). Public experiences include everyday occurrences such as seeing the beautiful world and extraordinary occurrences such as resurrection. Private experiences can be unusual (e.g. dreams) non-specific (e.g. a guiding hand from God) or ineffable (e.g. Teresa of Avila who said ‘I find it impossible.’)

Although Owen recognises that our intellectual minds have a part to play, it is ‘by intuition through RE that God is known.’ With this intuitive knowledge, ‘no further argument or support’ (Farmer) is needed, only a ‘proper response to revelation’, that being faith. Kierkegaard’s idea of ‘leap of faith’ expresses that faith is an intuitive response to God. The concept of revelation being an encounter with God, and not a source of truths about God contrasts with James’ ideas of noetic language (the idea that RE provides insights into new truths.)


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