“Scripture Is The Only Valid Form Of Revelation” Discuss (35 Marks)

“Scripture Is The Only Valid Form Of Revelation” Discuss (35 Marks)

A revelation is often referred to as “a divine disclosure, whereby God reveals Himself in some way to a person”. Christians claim that God reveals himself to us in many ways namely; through nature: the universe with its vastness and complexity gives testimony to God and His glory, He is also revealed through our conscience: all societies have a certain moral code built into them in which stealing, lying, murder, and such are universally condemned. Humanity’s sense of right and wrong testifies to God’s existence as it is a sign of His goodness, they also believe that the work of Jesus reveals God: Jesus Himself testified that He had come to earth to reveal the will of God the Father. All of these revelations have come from the Christian scripture.The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to humankind. The Scripture says “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof for correction, for instruction in righteousness”(2 Timothy 3:16).The Bible is humankind’s source for the knowledge of God and His plan. In this essay I will outline different types of attitudes towards Christian scripture and evaluate the claim that “Scripture Is the Only form of Revelation”.

In philosophy, there are two different ways in which people understand the idea of revelation from God; propositional revelation and non-propositional revelation. Propositional revelation is often understood as God revealing truths about His nature to people.The revelations are made up of non-debatable statements of facts and the information given reveals inerrant knowledge which is without need of interpretation. An example of a propositional revelation is the ten commandments, given to Moses.

Many people criticise this view as it suggests that the receiver of the revelation is passive. However, psychologically, the human mind does not passively receive information, it actively receives it, for example when you learn something, you remember it. Additionally, when trying to learn, we can make memory errors, this means propositional revelations of God may not have been recorded accurately as humans are not infallible. To add, many people claim that the zealous after effects of a revelation can act as proof of the genuineness of the revelation however, this is not the case. There is no direct way to prove that a propositional revelation has happened. Furthermore, different religions, claim to have received propositional revelations, yet sometimes truth claims from different religions conflict. This could mean that all revelations are limited by the ability of receivers to interpret the revelation into their own religion, making it an interpretation, not a statement of fact.

Various Christians take a propositional view when approaching the Bible. As they believe it is the absolute word of God. These people are traditionally known as fundamentalists as they oppose liberal approaches who interpret the Bible, often doubting miracles and the creation story. They also believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and that it is therefore infallible. To them, the Bible is an authoritative book that reveals God’s will to His people through historically accurate documents. Fundamentalism is limited in that it does not aid you in interpreting the Bible which can be deemed uninspirational. Their view is also subjective and only accepts one way of interpreting the Bible without knowing of it is the correct way.

Moreover, many fundamentalists use the term “verbal inspiration” to describe how God gave His word to the people. “Verbal Inspiration” refers to the divine origins of every word in the Bible. It claims that God dictates the books of the Bible through divine inspiration, this means that every word of the Bible should be respected in the Bible as you will therefore be following God’s absolute words. This means you can consult the Bible for guidance about moral dilemmas and problems in life, and your answers will be found in the Bible. This view is highly criticised as of the Bible is followed this way, believers must accept harsh punishments like the death penalty for many offences. This is seen by many as barbaric and cruel as this would mean women who commit adultery and who are not virgins before they get married should be stoned to death. Similarly, the idea of how creation happened is highly disputed among all Christians as many liberals do believe in the theory of evolution. To add, of the Bible is divinely inspired then disobeying the Bible in any way is a rejection of God’s commands so a fundamentalist should agree to the stoning of women even though it would be shunned in our society today.

The other way in which people understand revelation from God is through the non-propositional approach. This refers to the idea that religious believers recognise God’s revelation through his action in human history and through experience. The role of the receiver is therefore crucial in this instance as God’s revelation will be a subjective experience. This approach means that humans are free to respond to God’s revelation or not to since the receiving of the revelation is active. An example of a non-propositional revelation is noted by the author Arthur Cohen through his character of Sherlock Holmes, he argues for the existence of a God from the beauty in the world. William Paley also stated that the structure of the eye is so meticulously designed that is must have had a creator. Other examples of non-propositional revelations are the gospels as the are an account of what was revealed through Jesus’ life as His apostles understood it. From reading the Gospels we can form an image of what Jesus’ was like and decipher what this means for us today.

Many people criticise this view as the claim that non-propositional revelations do not reveal direct knowledge of God, nor can they be considered as infallible. This means there is no way of resolving theological debates apart from appealing to one’s own experience. Additionally, the content of a non-propositional revelation is a matter of interpretation. It is equally possible to be amazed by the beauty and nature of the world without experiencing a non-propositional revelation. Dawkins also argues that we have evolved through our genes and are now able to understand a little of our place in the universe and in the process of evolution. Through the development of the prefrontal cortex we can admire art and socially interact. Non- propositional revelations simply attribute a level of consciousness that we have developed from the process of evolution to God. To add, another criticism is that a believer in this approach cannot claim absolute certainty about their belief systems the way a propositional believer can as they have no factual evidence to support them.

Furthermore, people who apply the non-propositional approach to the Bible, will also believe that the Bible is a record of human experiences of God. The inspiration of God makes the author write down their experiences and understanding of God’s action in the world. The author of the Bible is not divinely dictated to but uses their own skills and understanding to record their revelation of God. They tend to coin the term “divine inspiration” to describe how the Bible came about. This refers to the belief that God inspires the writers of the books of the Bible. This view is criticised as there is a discrepancy over what the specific instructions from God are, as of the book is divinely inspired, then the revelation of God is within the text but identifying the exact nature of the revelation would be problematic. Additionally, the instructions in the Bible are difficult for some to come to terms with for example, no divorce for women and men in abusive relationships. To add, some passages in the Bible conflict with modern attitudes. This is evident in St Paul’s patriarchal view of women’s roles in Churches as they are somewhat oppressive and anti-feminist. Many people would argue that scripture is culturally relative and time bound and so is not relevant today.

Others would argue that scripture is the only valid form of revelation as they hold so much authority. This is due to the fact that after the early Church, leaders could not directly refer to the first apostles for guidance and so developed a new authority. This was based on the rule of faith and the Bible. The rule of faith encompassed traditions, teachings of leaders and beliefs of Christians that had been passed down from the time of the apostles. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is also a form of literary authority as it is written by apostolic teachings and by previous popes who hold papal succession. This stems from the belief that Jesus gave the apostles authority as they were witnesses of His work. Bishops and popes are therefore successors of the apostles and hold the same authority, this means their writings are infallible. The Bible is also seen by many people as the law and should be followed, this has been stated by Maurice Willes. This however poses many problems as laws are seen to be constructs of social order for the time they are created in. This could mean that because the Bible was written over 2000 years ago, its laws and instructions are outdated and need to be in accordance with todays society in order to maintain relevance for the people. It would be plausible to suggest however that Christians would claim the Bible is transcendent as it is divine.

In conclusion, I believe Scripture is the only valid from of revelation as many other forms of revelation stem from it. This is evident in the revelation of God through Jesus as his works are described to us in the Bible.Our sense of morality and conscience can also be taken from the Bible for example, in the beatitudes, revealing God’s expectations of us. Additionally, through reading the Genesis and the creation story we are given an answer to the beauty of the world and therefore can attribute nature’s cause, to God.

A Level (A2) Predictions 2017 – OCR Philosophy and Ethics


It’s that time of year again. Let’s see whether we can take a look at the previous questions and take an educated guess about what might come up. The truth is that this has become harder and harder to do. A few years ago there were a few topics that hadn’t come up. Now everything has pretty much come up in previous years. Still, I’ll have a go at predictions. Just remember the usual disclaimer: I am not psychic and I don’t know the future. These are *guesses*! Anything could come up! Please revise all areas, you just may want to have a little look in more depth at these topics. OK, that said here goes:


Religious Experience: ‘Voices are not proof of God but evidence of psychological neurosis.’ Discuss (35) (Click link for essay)

Miracles: ‘Hume’s understanding of miracles is flawed’. Discuss. (35)  (Click link for essay)

Attributes of God: ‘God’s foreknowledge is incompatible with human free will.’ Discuss. (35)

Life after Death: ‘Resurrection is more coherent than reincarnation’. Discuss. (35)

Religious Language: To what extent does analysis of the uses and purpose of religious language overcome the criticisms of the logical positivists? (35)


Free Will and Determinism: Critically evaluate theological determinism. (35)

Conscience: How convincing are Newman’s claims that conscience is the voice of God? (35)

Virtue Ethics: ‘Virtue Ethics is the best approach to environmental issues.’ Discuss (35)

Sexual Ethics: Assess the usefulness of religious ethics as an approach to the issues surrounding contraception. (35)

So why have I predicted these ones? Well, in philosophy, the only topics that have never come up as far as I can see are voices in religious experience, Hume’s definition of miracles (different from his criticisms of miracles, which has come up), and the uses and purpose of religious language. Then the other two from life after death and attributes have not come up for a while.

With ethics it was a case of choosing between quite a few options – as far as I can see, no-one apart from Butler has been specified in a question, so there could be a question on any of the other conscience scholars. Also never seen a specific question on predestination which seems odd? The two applied topics have never come up in that combination.

There you go – hope that helps with revision! Now to do ‘predictions’ for AS – a bit pointless really as it is the first year, so literally anything could come up! That hasn’t stopped other people from having a go at it though!

BTW – are you interested in a really useful revision guide for AS? Get mine here: https://rs.pushmepress.com/titles/as-religious-studies-revision-guide-for-ocr-a-level-religious-studies/trade-paperback-uk



‘Voices are not proof of God but evidence of psychological neurosis.’ Discuss. (35)


Here is my attempt at doing this question. I have to say, if a question on voices came up, I think a lot of students would avoid it, as the text-books have very little to say on this topic. It is tempting to just fall into a generic template for or against religious experience, but the topic of voices has some issues specific to it. For instance, and I didn’t say this in the essay, voices are usually linked to prophetic apparitions such as those of Fatima. The prophetic element is obviously explained by the need to convey a message. One of the strangest examples of voices is that of Pope Leo XIII on October 13 1884, 33 years to the day before the Fatima visions, hearing two voices – one kind and gentle, the other guttural and harsh, conversing. The conversation was supposedly between Christ and the devil, over how much time would be given to the devil for him to do his work in bringing down humanity.

Voices or locutions (from the latin locutio – speech) are a common aspect of certain types of religious experience, and are seen by the Catholic Church as a supernatural communication to the ear, imagination or directly to the intellect. They are supernatural in that the locution is meant to have its origin in a spiritual realm either heavenly or demonic. In most examples of this type of experience the voice is only heard by one person or a few individuals. Occasionally though, the locution does come from sound waves travelling to the ear, and thus has an external source Often, voices are accompanied by visions, but not always. A clear example of this is the revelations of the Virgin Mary to the three children Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco at Fatima in Portugal in 1917. The children saw a lady who showed them visions, for instance of hell, and they were also instructed by her as to the meaning of the visions. However, only Lucia and Jacinta heard and saw all that was revealed, whilst Francisco just saw the visions but did not hear the speech.

However, according to Teresa of Avila, voices should be tested to see if they have a natural or supernatural source. If natural they should be rejected as the result of an overactive imagination. If they are supernatural it is still to be discerned whether they are from God or the Devil. The only way this can be decided is in the effect it has on the person. St Teresa describes some of the effects of true locutions: they have a sense of certainty, power and authority, they bring calm and tranquility, and they are remembered for a long time. On the contrary, voices from the devil produce agitation or over-excitement in the recipient and make him fall prey to pride and other sins.

The issue that is often raised in connection to voices is the possibility of a non-supernatural origin, indeed skeptics would say that there is always a psychological explanation for this kind of religious experience. This is particularly the case with voices as they are very commonly reported by people suffering from certain kinds of mental illness such as schizophrenia or other psychotic episodes. The most common psychiatric explanation for psychosis is that part of the conscious mind of the person becomes overwhelmed by unconscious contents and seems to take on its own significance over and against the conscious ego-centre of the individual, such that they feel powerless to control it, and experience the psychosis in the form of voices or hallucinations which are usually unpleasant and which interfere with the autonomy of the mentally ill person.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James gives a psychological explanation for voices which seems at least sympathetic to this view. Firstly, he outlines the passivity of someone undergoing a religious experience, so that it seems to come from the ‘other’ and the receiver can do nothing about it. This would seem to echo the psychologist’s understanding of what happens in psychosis. Secondly, in James’ discussion of what he calls the ‘sick soul’, he explicitly draws parallels between a certain religious type, and certain kinds of mental illness in which voices occur. For instance, he describes the melancholy temperament of John Bunyan, who was ‘sensitive of conscience, beset by doubts, fears and insistent ideas, and a victim of verbal automatisms…these were usually texts of scripture, which…would come as if they were voices and fasten on his mind…’.

James goes on  to link the crisis that often comes to the sick soul type, and how they can become ‘twice-born’ ie. flooded with a newfound conviction in God, after much despair, and he says that these conversions are often linked to voices and visions. He relates how many religious founders or important figures such as George Fox or John Wesley heard voices because they were of ‘exalted sensibility’. He leaves open the question of whether these ‘incursions from beyond’ have their origin in the unconscious mind, or whether they have an ultimately supernatural origin.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, had a purely reductionist view of religious experiences, and locutions would have been for him a psychotic or neurotic manifestation of unresolved trauma from childhood.

Freud felt that Religious experience is explicable in terms of psychological factors acting on the personality, factors that are ultimately based on childhood traumatic experiences involving the parents. For Freud the human condition is one of fear in the face of our mortality, and helplessness in the face of nature. Thus we need comfort – as children this comes from the father, later in religion the father-in-the-sky. This religious comfort is wish-fulfilment – Freud believed that powerful wishes could find outlets in dreams, but also in other delusory states – essentially then religious visions, voices and experiences are hallucinations which come from our powerful need to feel control over our own helpless state.

With this interpretation, it must be remembered, Freud did not mean to dismiss religious experience as untrue, he said that just because religious experiences are illusions, it doesn’t mean they are false, an illusion like this is not an error, as it is based on one of the oldest, strongest wishes of humankind. Presumably he meant by this that there is a certain meaningfulness or significance to religious experience because they come from such a deep-rooted and universal source, but it is hard to see how I can retain my belief in the veridicality of my experience whilst also seeing it as a wish-fulfilment. If it is caused by my desire for security and meaning in my life its source can’t be in the divine or supernatural realm.

It seems to me that St. Teresa could very easily be updated for modern times to critique Freud. What she called voices from the devil, could be seen to be the voices that mentally ill people hear, as their effect is usually disconcerting and negative. Whereas if we apply her and James’ criteria of positive emotional and behavioural impact on the believer we have a way of easily distinguishing ‘real’ voices from false ones.

Freud’s disciple Jung claims that the divine reality cannot be a ‘nothing-but’ – voices have important psychological benefits which can lead to the integration of the personality – a wholeness that the conscious mind usually resists at its peril.

Equally, Swinburne argues we cannot just dismiss voices and other religious experiences with an automatic skepticism, indeed, his principles of credulity and testimony turn the tables on the skeptic and challenge him to take voices seriously.

In conclusion, it cannot be stated that voices are evidence of psychological neurosis, as this is a blanket statement, assuming a reductive materialism which ignores the epistemological problems with all experience, and which doesn’t do justice to the ‘fruits’ of the experience of the voices in the life of the believer. Clearly, there are many cases of voices being heard in neurotic episodes, but as stated above, and as James attests, unlike voices in religious experiences these do not lead to an integrated, stable, compassionate and insightful individual, capable of ministering to others and organising practical matters such as St. Teresa or John of the Cross (who both founded and led religious orders), but rather to individuals who sadly are unable to function well in society.

However, just because voices are not always evidence of psychological neurosis, by no means proves that they are from God – and it may be that there is some depth psychological explanation which is the best explanation for them. Both Jung and James thought that if there was a divine reality on the other side of the experiences of the mind, then it can only be known through that experience, and both remained essentially agnostic (with some qualification) on the matter.


A2 OCR Philosophy of Religion Predictions 2016

Well here we are again, with just over a week until the exam, what is likely to come up this year? I have compiled a list with various questions that it might be worth practising, and some of them I provide links to exemplars for those questions. I do this most years, always with the caveat that it is never a good idea to base your revision on just these predictions, but it can’t do any harm to have a good look at them.


1.Miracles questions. Both myself and Peter Baron think the Miracles topic has been under-represented in past years; I think there could be a question on Hume’s understanding of miracles, which there has never been, and at Peped (Peter Baron’s site) they think there could be one on coincidence miracles. My question is:

‘Hume’s understanding of miracles is flawed’. Discuss. (35) (exemplar here) (discussion here)

and Peped:

Assess the claim that miracles are simply coincidences given religious significance. (35)

There has apparently never been a question on Holland and coincidence miracles.


2.Religious language. Specifically verification. It hasn’t come up before. Therefore:

Critically assess A J Ayer’s theory of verification. (35) (Exemplar here) (powerpoint here)

(my guess)

or what amounts to something similar:

‘God-talk is meaningless’. Discuss. (35)


3. Religious experience came up twice last year (yes revelation falls under religious experience), but Peter Baron’s site has a great question on this which as he says, has never come up:

‘Voices are not proof of God but evidence of psychological neurosis.’ Discuss. (35)


4. A few from the nature of God/life after death (just for s**ts and giggles):

God’s foreknowledge is incompatible with human free will. Discuss. (35)

Critically assess the belief that God is omnibenevolent. (35). (from Peped)

‘Resurrection is more coherent than reincarnation’. Discuss. (35)


William James: Six Key Points

Points to revise:

1. Know PINT and be able to explain how it contributes to his argument.
(It enables him to argue for a ‘common core’ to all religious experience, which is a universal feature of all religions. If it is universal, it must point to a greater reality behind the different beliefs)

2. Know and understand how his:

a)philosophical pragmatism
b) his psychologist training and
c) his empirical approach
contribute to his argument.
(a: it meant he could argue for the truth of religious experience based on the positive behavioural and moral effect it had on people’s lives.
b: it meant he was very aware of how our mental and emotional mind states affect our beliefs and experiences
c: it meant he was interested in gathering as much data as possible (ie testimonies), and also in looking for evidence which counted against religious experience.)

3. Know Swinburne’s principles of credulity and testimony and how they support James.

4. Know how conversion experiences are important to his argument. (They have a psychological basis but result in genuine ‘fruits’ on the moral life, eg. kindness, selflessness etc.)

5. Know Mackie’s criticisms.

6. Know general strengths/weaknesses. Eg. a key weakness is his protestant based assumption that only personal experiences are the real source of faith, and doctrines are a later addition. Too individualistic. Another key weakness: seems to be arguing for non-cognitive status of religious experience (psychological/emotional ) but also cognitive (noetic = intuitive knowledge of what?)

Part 2 – There will always be more plausible explanations for religious experience than God. Discuss.

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.

But can science explain all that? We need to take a step back into epistemology to work out the answer to that. Swinburne’s principle of credulity (it is a principle of rationality that if it seems to a subject that x is present, (in the absence of special considerations) then x probably is present) makes experience innocent until proven guilty and thus turns the table on the sceptic. Notice that it is a principle of rationality. All experience is subsumed under this principle – we just find we must operate as if it were the case – no philosopher has yet managed to provide inductive justification for our confidence in our experiences, memories and reasoning processes, but that is no reason to become sceptical about them. Notice also that there can be no proof for such a principle of rationality, because any attempt to prove it would use just the processes and experiences which are under consideration, and thus would be viciously circular. So the principle of credulity, as a principle of rationality, operates somewhat like an axiom does in maths, in that we have to assume its truth in order to get anywhere.

Now all this means is that the sceptic cannot just dismiss all religious experiences out of hand as not having inductive evidence to back them up like normal experience – as all experiences which generate beliefs are initially granted credulity. If we decide later to discount an experience because it could be shown that such an experience was unreliable, then that is not a problem – therefore things like dreams and hallucinations have become known to be unreliable and so we apply what Swinburne calls the special considerations.

So the principle of credulity is not a license to be gullible – just a placing of the onus on the sceptic to show why an experience is not veridical, rather than an assumption that because an experience doesn’t meet certain criteria of validity, it cannot therefore be veridical.

Swinburne recognises certain limitations on the principle of credulity called subject-related challenges – these include reductionist and conflicting claims challenges. These special considerations include things such as; the subject has been shown to be unreliable in the past, or was in a certain state, or had a certain cultural background or psychological mindset such that it is very unlikely experiences under those circumstances were veridical, or that it is very likely the subject would have had the experience whether the supposed percept (the thing perceived) was there or not.

It is worth noting that when it comes to reductionist challenges, they are recognised as presenting problems for arguments from religious experience. Caroline Franks Davies doesn’t think a pragmatic approach like James works either – she says

the ‘fruits not roots’ approach to religious experience is not so successful, since the way an experience is caused and its veridicality are inextricably linked. An argument from religious experience cannot be built on experiences which have therapeutic value but no evidential force”

However, she doesn’t think reductionist challenges present insuperable difficulties for arguments from religious experience. She examines various reductionist explanations for religious experience such as hypersuggestibility, deprivation, sexual frustration, regression and mental illness, and concludes that there is not enough evidence to conclude that any of these are correlated with religious experience. She concludes that such reductionist challenges are unlikely to succeed on their own.

There will always be more plausible explanations for religious experience than God. Discuss.


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.