The Unit 4 (Implications) exam will set you a choice of essay questions about the material in your Anthology. You will answer just one question. The question will look like this:
There will be an excerpt from one of the essays in the anthology, about 150-200 words.
Peter Donovan was an Oxford graduate who lectured on philosophy of religion in New Zealand. Religious experiences were his particular area of specialism. In this essay (which is an extract from his book on religious experiences), Donovan considers whether religious INTUITIONS can be the basis for knowing things about God (in particular, whether God exists).
Donovan introduces the idea of INTUITION (or a "feeling of conviction") as a way of knowing things. He points out that in ordinary life we justify knowledge by appealing to intuition all the time - in particular when we know things about other people, our own memories and basic ideas in morality, logic and mathematics. This leads to the idea that intuition might be a basis for knowledge of God. This makes some sense because God is supposed to be a spirit who can make contact with our minds so maybe people "see" that God exists in the way that they "see" that 2+2=4. So Donovan is wondering whether some people can experience God and whether the rest of us should believe them.
This article will link in with material from the other two. Ayer spends half of his essay dealing with the claims of "the Mystic" to have an intuitive knowledge that God exists. Westphal mentions the 19th century theologian Schleiermacher who argued that people can have religious "feelings" which would be similar to Donovan's "intuitions".
Donovan introduces the idea (popular with 19th century theologians) that God can be known through FINITE THINGS. "Finite things" would be things of this world - maybe a beautiful sunset or the pattern on a butterfly's wing, or else events in history like the life and actions of a great saint or prophet. The English priest Illtyd Trethowan (1907-1993) argued that God could be seen through the beauty of the world. Judaism is a religion which claims God can be seen at work in the history of the Jewish people and in the Hebrew Bible. God is, of course, infinite and is much greater than "finite things" so you can't know God completely in this way. However, finite things can MEDIATE God's presence to people. Those who take this view tend to dismiss the classical 'proofs' of God's existence - you have to experience God in order to believe in him.
Donovan describes the ideas of H.P. Owen (1926-1996), who argues that if we use intuition to be sure that the outside world is real and that other people have minds, then why shouldn't intuition be a good basis for being sure that God exists? The natural world is an example of God's "behaviour", just like other people's movements and voices are behaviours that tell us they have minds of their own; the natural world also tells us something about God (eg that he is creative, rational, purposive) just like other people's behaviour tells us something about what they're like. We don't have to work out whether other people's minds exist with some sort of rational argument: we just "get it" when we see them. Owen referred to this as MEDIATED IMMEDIACY and perhaps the existence of God is mediated in this way too.
You might disagree with Owen here. After all, not everyone sees God in the "natural order of things". John Stuart Mill famously declared that anyone who took a close look at the cruelty of the natural world would have to conclude that there was no God or that he was evil! People like Richard Dawkins say that Darwin's theory of evolution explains the natural world without any need for God. It's also interesting to note that not everyone has an intuition that other people exist: some psychologists think autism is a condition where children grow up with great problems communicating because of a failure to understand that other people have different thoughts.
Donovan admits that Owen's view is appealing for Christians and ties in well with the Bible. Because God is the creator of the natural world, it makes sense that he should use the natural world to communicate with us. The "natural world" here means sunsets and thunderstorms, but also events in history and changes in our own bodies. The philosopher D.H. Baillie suggests that the natural world acts as a SACRAMENT. A sacrament is physical event that is a sign of a spiritual event. The things normally considered to be sacraments are ceremonies like baptism and marriage but if God can communicate through something in nature then that becomes sacramental too. Sacraments are supposed to help create and maintain religious faith so it's worth considering what is meant by "faith".
Donovan quotes from H.H. Farmer (1892-1991), the English theologian who believed that all authentic religion is an encounter with God. Farmer seems to make the same distinction as Aquinas. Faith is not a matter of agreeing to a list of propositions (eg that God exists, that the soul is immortal, that moral behaviour is obligatory). Faith is really a trusting relationship that coms from an encounter with God (fiducia, not fides). This experience of God doesn't require any further argument or evidence and all religious teachings are then based on reflecting about this trusting relationship.
This view on faith can be traced back to Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and also the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, who Donovan will be discussing later. This view of faith is supported by the Bible and Christian tradition:
On the other hand, many people are uncomfortable with the idea of believing in something you cannot provide a rational reason for.
Donovan makes an important distinction between PSYCHOLOGICAL CERTAINTY and RATIONAL CERTAINTY. Psychological certainty is a subjective feeling - you might feel convinced by something but another person exposed to the same experience might not be. Rational certainty is when reason and evidence support the facts - rational people will all be equally convinced by this. Intuitions are a type of psychological certainty. But can we trust them? Even if there is a particular type of feeling that always accompanies a correct intuition (eg feeling something "deep down inside"), Donovan asks how we can tell that we're having that feeling? We end up depending on an intuition that we can recognise this feeling. So we depend on an intuition that we're having a feeling which identifies a correct intuition... This is a circular argument.
Donovan concludes that intuitions are not a good basis for knowledge and psychological certainty is no substitute for rational certainty. He quotes from Bertrand Russell who gives an example of intuitions being used when people fall in love. We can have great psychological certanty that our true love is The One but there are many examples of this turning out not to be the case - lovers cheat on each other, passion cools, feelings are not reciprocated. We are more likely to identify The One using rational methods - judging someone's character and background, rather than relying on sexual chemistry. In fact, Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice is all about this: Elizabeth Bennet has a strong intuition that Mr Darcy is proud and ill-tempered but the dashing Wickham is warm-hearted and true; experience shows Wickham to be a two-faced scoundrel and Elizabeth learns of Darcy's fine qualities that make him worthy of her love.
Donovan also criticises Owen's comparison etween having intuitions that other people exist and intuitions that God exists. Other people can be examined using the senses so we can put our intuitions to the test, but the intuition that God exists can't be checked in this way.
Donovan might not be judging religious intuitions fairly. It's not as if religious people trust their intuitions completely and ignore reason. Religious intuitions are usually tested by comparing them to experiences reported in the Bible. For example, St Paul describes his own mystical experience like this:
Believers often share their religious intuitions with each other in church groups and are advised about how to interpret them by their priest or minister. There are many Christian mystics like St John of the Cross or St Catherine of Siena who recorded their mystical experiences as guides for other Christians. In other words, religious believers don't just have their own intuitions to judge whether religious intuitions are trustworthy and there are ways that religious intuitions can be tested objectively.
Donovan tries to be even-handed. He points out that the religious philosophers he's been quoting (Owen, Baillie, Farmer) aren't saying that ALL religious knowledge is based on intuitions. Also, if God exists then he would certainly have the power and motive to give people intuitions about his existence and nature. But Donovan concludes by saying that intuitions themselves cannot be a proof that God exists or Christianity is true.
Donovan next moves on to discuss the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965). Buber's book I And Thou was published in 1923 and was very influential amongst Christian readers. Buber starts off describing how we go through life forming I-it relationships. In an I-it relationship you treat what you are dealing with as something separate from you, a thing or an object. We form I-it relationships with objects (our car, our computer, our lunch), but also with people. When you go into a shop you treat the person behind the till as a "cashier" and they treat you as a "customer" - this is an I-it relationship. A lot of the time we have I-it relationships with our wives, boyfriends, sisters and children - treating them as a problem, a responsibility, support or company, but not really paying attention to them as people in their own right. Because of the detachment involved, I-it relationships can be analysed.
I-Thou relationships (note the capital T; Donovan translates it as I-You but Buber's original language produced a religious, Old Testament feel) are quite different. In an I-Thou relationship you recognise the other person as an individual in their own right. I-Thou relationships exists between close friends and lovers, but even then, not all of the time. It's easy through carelessness or selfishness to lose sight of another person's individuality and fall into I-it relationships with them. Buber claims that human beings are only fully human when engaged in I-Thou relationships and that our knowledge of God can only ever be of the I-Thou sort. However, Buber points out that you cannot step back and analyse an I-Thou relationship; the moment you do, you are treating the other person as an object and it becomes an I-it relationship. This might explain why religious intuitions cannot be subjected to rational criticism.
Donovan links Buber's idea of I-it relationships with have KNOWLEDGE ABOUT something, whereas I-Thou encounters are having an EXPERIENCE OF something. He then raises three problems with the idea of religious intuitions being a an experience of (I-Thou) God:
Once again, Donovan corrects himself by considering the religious position. He admits that we don't form relationships with people purely to learn things about them - experience of people (eg loving them, respecting them, sharing things with them, caring for them) can be important in its own right. Therefore, experiencing God might be important in its own right. Donovan agrees with this, but argues that the philosophical problems only crop up when the religious believer tries to argue that their experience of God leads to them having some knowledge about God that other people should respect and take seriously.
Donovan's arguments are very susceptible to an anti-realist challenge. All through his article Donovan assumes that language can refer to (or correspond to) something "out there". He interprets someone saying "I am filled with the spirit of the LORD" as making a statement about some external being (God). Anti-realists maintain language isn't like this at all and doesn't become true or false by corresponding (or failing to correspond) with something outside. The anti-realist position is that language is true if it coheres with other statements a believer might make, and the believer's actions and interactions with other believers. In other words, claiming to be filled with God's spirit is true within a particular community of belief, by someone who acts appropriately. A lifelong atheist might claim to be filled with God's spirit, but if he doesn't repent and change his life then the statement wasn't true. An evangelical Christian might make the same remark at a church service and would be speaking the truth.
However, since an anti-realist doesn't think there is a God "out there" he would agree with Donovan that religious experiences can't be used to prove such a God exists.
Donovan insists that religious experiences do not produce a knowledge of God, but they do produce "a sense of knowing God". This sense of knowing should not be confused with actual knowledge. Donovan is not trying to tell religious believers that they can't experience God or that their experiences of God are illusory. Donovan discounts two faulty views:
Donovan tries to conclude in an even-handed way. This is in the tradition of Wittgenstein, who argued that good philosophy should leave everything outside of philosophy unchanged. In other words, philosophy should explore the implications of people's ideas but it shouldn't try to rewrite their experiences or alter their beliefs. Donovan isn't trying to make religious people give up their belief in God or start thinking their religious experiences are an illusion. His goals are purely philosophical: to show you can't prove that God exists just from having experiences that seem to be encounters with God.
Donovan has an even-handed approach and his argument is quite modest. He isn’t claiming people don’t have religious experiences (for example, Freud would argue that things that seem to be religious experiences in fact come from the unconscious mind) or that religious experiences are meaningless (like A.J. Ayer). He’s just arguing that religious experiences can’t be used to justify claims to know that God exists. I’m persuaded by a lot of his thoughts on this.
These arguments are quite important, because a lot of modern religious thought puts a lot of emphasis on religious experiences. This trend begins with the 19th century theologian Schleiermacher who argued that people can have religious "feelings" which would be similar to Donovan's "intuitions". This view on faith is also supported by the Bible and Christian tradition, for example: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" - Hebrews 11:1. However, I think people can put too much reliance on faith and end up claiming to know things they really have no idea about. As Benjamin Franklin said, “To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly”.
Donovan’s argument is much more appealing than the view on religious intuition taken by the Logical Positivists. Donovan isn’t saying that religious experiences are meaningless, just that you can’t use them as a basis for knowledge. However, Donovan might not be judging religious intuitions fairly. It's not as if religious people trust their intuitions completely and ignore reason. Religious intuitions are usually tested by comparing them to experiences reported in the Bible. For example,
Finally, Donovan assumes that language can refer to (or correspond to) something "out there". The Anti-Realist Challenge says that language isn't like this at all and doesn't become true or false by corresponding (or failing to correspond) with something outside. The anti-realist position is that language is true if it coheres with other statements a believer might make. However, since an anti-realist doesn't think there is a God "out there" he would agree with Donovan that religious experiences can't be used to prove such a God exists, just for different reasons. On the whole, Donovan is perhaps being fairer to religious believers, by allowing their claims about God to mean what believers say they mean. Most believers think that "God" refers to a being who is the creator and sustainer of the universe, not a language-game, and Donovan takes this at face value and shows some of the consequences of this sort of belief.