Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  5 Arguments for the Existence of God: Experience

Section 6. Psychic Phenomena

Psychic Phenomena relate to a non-physical realm of existence and the existence of spirits or souls, of which the deity is a member, the Supreme Being, Spirit or Soul. The type of psychic phenomena involved here would be those that would support the immortality of the soul and survival after death.  They are the phenomena that provide support for the post-mortem survival hypothesis.

·       apparitions-spirits/ ghosts/ poltergeists

·       séances - communication with the dead-Medium

·       reincarnation memories

·       near death experiences-NDE's

·       death bed observations of the appearance of deceased relatives or spiritual figures coming to accompany the person who is about to die to their next realm.

         .     deities and spirits that enter into humans, possess them or "channel" their          communications through them

If such reports were true it would mean that there is a spiritual realm in which souls or spirits dwell without physical bodies.  It might mean that there is also in that realm a supreme being, the creator of souls, the deity.

There are problems with such reports including :

·       the irrational nature of the explanation of consciousness

·       lack of clear, unambiguous physical evidence  

Is anyone else justified in reaching the conclusion that a supernatural being exists based upon the report of the individual who has made the claim to have had such experience?

Does the accumulation of reports from such witnesses to such psychic experiences justify the claim that a supernatural or spiritual being, a deity, a transcendent reality , exists?

Not all who learn of the reports of such psychic experiences accept them as conclusive evidence for the existence of a supernatural reality or spiritual beings. Many have attempted to give alternative accounts of such experiences that do not involve acceptance of the existence of any supernatural entities or reality.  

There are also alternative explanations as with religious experiences:

1. Persons are mistaken, e.g., optical illusion, misinterpretation..

2. Persons are under the influence of mind altering substances

3. Persons are suffering from brain malfunctioning, e.g., chemical imbalance

4. Persons are under the influence of group influence-social psychology

5. Persons are making a false report to get attention

6.Persons are making a false report to raise money.

7.Persons are making a false report to please others and gain acceptance.

8.Persons are making a false report to get power.

To confirm what any subject is experiencing there must be "checkable" statements.  Science is proceeding with the study of such phenomena.  the field is known as Parapsychology.  The scientific community is divided on whether or not there is sufficient evidence to support the claims that the reports are to be accepted as true and accurate and indicative of a non-physical realm of existence.

     1.     the reports are too amorphous

2.     they reports are often of spontaneous events that can not be duplicated under controlled circumstances

3.     reports are not capable of being confirmed as with perceptual experiences

Thus, the reports are not capable of verification and their occurrence is not predictable .

How accurate are human perceptions and memory of experiences?  Not very.

Suggested VIDEOS:


NBC television began broadcasting a hit show titled "Medium" in 2005.  Is it a true story?

READ: Medium

Many people want strongly to believe in a spirit world and deities.  They ask questions such as:  What about mediums?  Don't people like John Edward communicate with the dead?  If they do that is evidence of the spirit world and of souls and of a deity as well. So do they do this?

Well, John Edward and other mediums have been examined closely and have failed to produce evidence that is indisputable proof of the existence of non-physical entities and a spirit world.  John Edward is described as being a "cold reader" as are so many other "psychics" and "mediums".  There is much material on this and it can be reached through the use of a search engine and entering : "John Edward" + skeptical or "John Edward" + hoax or "John Edward" + fraud or "John Edward" + cold reading.

Read about how it might be that he does what he appears to do.

Investigative Files:  John Edward: Hustling the Bereaved  by Joe Nickell
Skeptical Inquirer magazine : November/December 2001

Here is a critique of a particular "experiment" attempting to support conversations with the dead and a book about it. How Not to Test Mediums1     :Critiquing the Afterlife Experiments Skeptical Inquirer magazine : January/February 2003  Ray Hyman _________________________________________________________________________

If one has no had a religious experience how can one reach a conclusion as to whether or not such an experience exists as reported? is truthful? Is accurate? Is sufficient grounds to conclude that there is a supernatural realm? that there is a deity?  That there is a supreme being?

How can non- believers accept the reports of people who claim to have had such experiences when there are so many alternative explanations for those reports which would provide strong reasons to reject the claim that the reports are truthful and accurate?


Outcome Assessment

This argument or proof does not establish the actual existence of a supernatural deity.  It attempts to argue for the existence of such a being by offering evidence that is highly questionable and for which there are alternative and often more plausible explanations.  While the argument can not be used to convert a non-believer to a believer, the faults in the argument do not prove that there is no god.  The Burden of Proof demands that the positive claim that there is a supernatural deity be established by reason and evidence and this argument does not meet that standard.  The believer in god can use this argument to establish the mere logical possibility that there is a supernatural deity or at least that it is not irrational to believe in the possibility that there is such a being but the argument does not establish any degree of probability at all when there are alternative explanations for the reports of experiences offered.  The veracity of the reports has not been established.


The Argument:


1. Persons claim to experience contact or communication with the dead. 

Conclusion:  There is a realm of the dead or spiritual realm in which there are souls, spirits, and the deity

Problem with argument:

1.      _X___Premises are false or questionable

2.      ____Premises are irrelevant

3.      ____Premises Contain the Conclusion –Circular Reasoning

4.      ____Premises are inadequate to support the conclusion

5.      __X__Alternative arguments exist with equal or greater support

This argument or proof has flaws in it and would not convince a rational person to accept its conclusion.  This is not because someone who does not believe in a deity will simply refuse to accept based on emotions or past history but because it is not rationally compelling of acceptance of its conclusion.



Are there reasons to think that the reports of religious experiences are not reliable?

Can the reports be accepted as being true?

Can they be verified?

Do they need to be?

Can reports of religious experiences be used as support for a belief in a deity, the supernatural realm?  


Suggested viewing:

Psychology of Belief:   Why do people believe what they do without clear evidence or against counter evidence?

Psychology of Belief, Part 1: Informational Influence

Psychology of Belief, Part 2: Insufficient Justification

Psychology of Belief, Part 3: Confirmation Bias

Psychology of Belief, Part 4: Misinformation Effect

Psychology of Belief, Part 5: Compliance Techniques

Psychology of Belief, Part 6: Hallucinations

Psychology of Belief, Part 7: Projection

Psychology of Belief, Part 8: Need for Closure

Psychology of Belief, Part 9: Agenticity

Psychology of Belief, Part 10: Summary and Conclusions



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© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.

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