Recently I posted a set of questions which I thought could possibly come up in the examinations. I wanted to focus on the religious experience one.
The first thing to notice about this question is that it is a general question on religious experience. Thus it is leaving the field quite open for you to explore different areas. You could bring in Swinburne, James and others, you could use a wide variety of criticisms from Mackie to Dawkins or all sorts of challenges from sociology and psychology. Indeed, I would guess that many of those ‘more plausible explanations’ will derive from fields such as these, for instance Freud would see religious experience as a neurosis, Durkheim as aspects of the structure of social groups.
The second thing to notice is that the question is framed as a logical statement – you could rephrase it: “From the very nature of supposed religious experience, any explanation that doesn’t require God will be more plausible” Why? Because some would argue that an explanation that involved God would need to have shown not just that the experiencer seemed to experience God but that it was also true that she experienced God, and given that the supposed bases which we use as foundation for our knowledge about uncontroversial things such as tables and frogs are not there, it would seem that a lack of empirical evidence would undermine religious experience and therefore always make more empirically testable explanations more plausible.
This is essentially Dawkins position, as it is many atheists, but you should be able to show awareness of how Swinburne’s work on religious experience, particularly his principles of credulity and testimony, have revealed the flaws in this kind of approach.
Alternatively you could use James’ pragmatic approach and argue that a common core gives us no reason to believe that religious experience is only psychological, for example.
Finally, it might be a good opportunity to show some of your synoptic knowledge by arguing that even if religious experiences do point to God – the notion of God is so incoherent (eg. problems with omniscience etc.) that other explanations will always be better.
In part 2 of this I will explain Swinburne’s account in more detail and try to show how it deals with the ‘lack of empirical evidence’ question.
[…] In my last post I proposed some ways of looking at this question, and tried to unpack what I thought it was asking you to do. I discussed the sceptical challenge which forms the basis of the question – that other explanations for religious experience will always be more plausible because they would have more empirical backing – this is essentially a reductionist challenge: “Nowadays we know that science can explain all that”, as Caroline Franks Davies puts it. […]