Can Personal Experience be Proof of God?

For the writers of the books of the Bible, God was not an idea adopted by the mind, but an experienced reality which gave significance to their lives

Photo by Kallie Carlson

Dr. William Lane Craig is a Christian philosopher of the highest caliber.[i] He has multiple doctorate degrees and has taught at various colleges and universities. He is a prolific writer, and has debated nearly two dozen of the more outspoken atheists, agnostics and skeptical thinkers of the world on philosophical, theological and other issues.

In the short clip below, which is a segment from a longer interview on the various arguments (proofs) for the existence of God, he discusses an additional basis for knowing that God exists apart from rational bases for believing in God. This basis, or claim for the existence of God, is personal experience.

This is not an argument for the existence of God. It isn’t rational proof. Rather, it is more like a personal proof or confirmation of the existence of God apart from (not contrary to) reason. It isn’t a substitute for reason, but neither is reason a substitute for the experience.

The main ways that Dr. Craig usually discusses the proof of the existence of God is logic, scientific evidence and philosophy, but these aren’t the only proofs we have.

We might be apt in the western world to discount personal experience and to be suspicious of it, and for good reason. Charles Darwin was suspicious of his own intuition, being the product of evolution from lower life-forms.[ii] A good friend of his got lost in the morass of spiritualism, and that experience of seeing his friend get lost down the rabbit holes of irrational, spiritualistic notions influenced Darwin to distrust his own intuitions.

Of course, Darwin’s intellect, according to the theory of evolution, is also the product of evolution from lower life-forms. If human intuition is tainted by its development from lower life forms, what about the human intellect? It doesn’t dawn on Darwin that his intellect suffers the same weakness according to the evolutionary paradigm.

As for personal experience, even though we have some warrant for being suspicious, we shouldn’t be completely dismissive. We shouldn’t trust our experience, alone, but how does it fit into the proof we have of God?

Dr. Craig points out in the interview that the writers of the Bible[iii] claimed to have experiences (direct encounters) with God. Their evidence for God was almost exclusively experiential. The Bible purports to be revelation from God to man. The Bible isn’t a philosophical work of man reasoning his way to God, but of God revealing Himself to man.

According to John Hick[iv], a philosopher of religion and a theologian, “For [the writers of the books of the Bible], God was not an idea adopted by the mind, but an experienced reality which gave significance to their lives.”

This is not to say that reason, philosophy and logic are antithetical to faith that results from revelation and personal experience with God. The biblical claim, unlike many other religious claims, is that truth, including scientific truth and reality, is and must be consistent with a person’s existence of God. Judaism and Christianity are uniquely based in historic narrative and testable truth claims.

At one point, God, purportedly talking through the prophet Isaiah, urges, “Come, let us reason together”.[v] Other passages of Scripture urge us to love God with our minds.[vi] Intellectual pursuit is not antithetical to faith as some might suppose and, in fact, is encouraged.

Still, the claims of the writers of the Bible are that God can be experienced and will be experienced by those who seek Him. Jesus invites us to ask and seek.[vii] The seeker is promised results from the seeking if the seeker is genuine, honest and open (emotionally, intellectually and every other way) to discovering God.[viii]

The Psalmist invites us all to “taste and see that the Lord is good”.[ix] This is an invitation to experience God spoken by the Psalmist who claimed to have experienced God. Jesus says that the person who comes to Him with an open mind and heart will experience God by being born again.[x] This is  an experiential “knowing’ – not an intellectual exercise.

God invites us to seek Him and promises that He will be found by those who seek Him in honesty, integrity and openness of heart and mind. If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.[xi] If our motive is to find God, we will find him. If our motives are mixed, if we are not seeking truth, but merely confirmation of our own presuppositions, we may not find what we claim we are looking for.

People are understandably leery of experiences that are not necessarily tied into reality, reason, or fact. If God is who Jesus claimed Him to be, however, we can experience (know) God in an experiential way. In fact, throughout the writings of the Bible, written by people who claimed to know God, the experience of God is the primary way that people “know” God.

The stories are many of people who were skeptical of God who ended up experiencing Him in spite of their skepticism. The important thing is, if you want to know God and whether God really exists, you should take up the invitation to seek Him. At the end of the day, you may find nothing other than what you already know exists. This was “Pascal’s wager”.

If you finding noting in the seeking, you are none the worse for having sought. On the other hand, if God may be found by seeking Him, you will have found the greatest treasure that you could ever stumble upon in your life.


[i] William Lane Craig (/kreɪɡ/; born August 23, 1949) is an American analytic philosopher, Christian theologian, and Christian apologist. He holds faculty positions at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and Houston Baptist University. He has two doctoral degrees, one from the University of Birmingham in England and another from the Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität München in Germany. He has engaged in numerous debates on philosophical and theological questions with philosophers, scientists, and biblical scholars, including Antony Flew, E. M. Curley, Richard Taylor, Quentin Smith, Michael Tooley, Paul Draper, Shelly Kagan, Peter Millican, Paul Kurtz, Peter Atkins, Lawrence Krauss, Francisco Ayala, John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Ray Hoover, Bart Ehrman, Gerd Lüdemann, Christopher Hitchens, Ray D. Bradley, and Sean Carroll. He has written and published dozens of books and articles on philosophy, logic and theology. (See

[ii] See Universal Design Intuition & Darwin’s Blind Spot

[iii] The Old Testament and the New Testament that make up the modern Bible include 66 different individuals who wrote the various “books” of the Bible over an approximately 1500 years period.

[iv] John Harwood Hick (20 January 1922 – 9 February 2012) was a philosopher of religion and theologian born in England who taught in the United States for the larger part of his career. He studied law at the University of Hull, changed studies and enrolled at University of Edinburgh, before being conscripted into the armed forces in WWII. He returned and completed his degree at Edinburgh and then completed a Doctorate in Philosophy at Oxford. He returned to Edinburgh again for a Doctorate of Letters. He taught at a number of universities in his career.

[v] Isaiah 1:18

[vi] Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27; Mark 12:30. In Deuteronomy 6:5 it reads that we should love God with all of our hearts, souls and might. The Hebrew word translated “heart” is lebab meaning inner man, mind, will, heart. Thus, it encompasses the mind, the intellect, and not just the emotions as we might suppose from the English translation. Interestingly, the Hebrew word translated “soul” in English is nephesh which means the personal identity of the individual; unique personhood – the description of a person’s spirit shaped by their choices. Again, the Hebrew word encompasses much more than the English word used in the translation.

[vii] Mark 7:7-8 (“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”)

[viii] Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you….” This was a promise made specifically to the exiled nation of Israel, but it stands as a promise to all seekers. The word translated “heart” is the same word used in Deut. 6:5, lebab meaning inner man, mind, will, heart

[ix] Psalm 34:8

[x] John 3:3-8 (“[U]nless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. ’That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”)

[xi] James 4:8

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