The Reductionist Challenge

Caroline Franks Davis

in The Evidential Force of Religious Experience

Published in print July 1999 | ISBN: 9780198250012
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191681233 | DOI:
The Reductionist Challenge

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Perhaps the most popular current challenge to religious experience is the ‘reductionist’ challenge. No putatively reductionist accounts of religious experience can disprove theism. One can only show conclusively that a religious experience was not veridical by showing that God does not exist. However an argument from religious experience requires more than the mere possibility that God is the ultimate cause of such experiences, since the reductionist challenge can be presented in two powerful forms which allow the possibility that religious experiences might be veridical but rob them of any evidential force. The first is a collection of subject-related challenges which appeal to such ‘pathological’ explanations of religious experience, such as as hypersuggestability, abnormal physiological states, and mental illness. The second version of the reductionist challenge is a cumulative challenge: those religious experiences which cannot be explained by reference to pathological factors can nevertheless be explained by reference to non-pathological factors.

Keywords: religious experience; reductionist challenge; cumulative challenge; principle of credulity; abnormal physiological states; hypersuggestability; mental illness

Chapter.  17287 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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