Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Empirical Evidence of Supernatural (part 2)

Argument from God Correlate:

 photo hood_zps78f04830.jpg
Dr. Hood, Univ. Tennessee Chattanooga:
Inventor of the 'M Scale"

the post that appeared and disappeared is on Atheistwatch, sorry. The one about method and atheist argument


We can't demonstrate empirical knowledge of God to others, even if we feel we have it ourselves. But if we can correlate something that is empirical with God, the effects of God in the world then we could know by association between sign and signified that there is divine reality. Just as the fingerprint betrays the presence of the owner of the fingers that made them, or the track in the snow proves the presence of the creature that made it, so RE as the God correlate points to the presence of God in reality is the effect of the divine upon our lives. As a theological example of this principle we can draw upon the works of Schleiermacher. God is the correlate of RE as God is the correlate of the feeling of utter dependence. In Speeches on Religion to it's Cultured Dispersers he seemed to be making the simplistic argument: “I feel emotional when I pray to God so there must be a God to feel emotional about.  [1] By the time He wrote his magnum opus Glaubenslehre (the Christian faith) he had developed a much more sophisticated version. He now understood these religious affections in a particular way, as a feeling of utter dependence. [2] Though critics often interpret the concept of “feeling” as an emotional response the real crux of his argument turns the utter dependence aspect. Rather than merely emotion he's identifying the feeling as indicative of a religious capacity. [3] We could think of it as a “religious instinct,” or more properly a religious consciousness. It is from this sense of consciousness that doctrines derive their meaning, as verbalization of the sense.

This sense of consciousness as part of the basis of religion offers a theoretical framework for connecting the sense of the numinous to the notion of real experience of the divine. Of course it's not a direct unmediated revelatory face to face encounter, but like the track in the snow points to a presence not directly seen.

It is the original pre-theoretical consciousness...Schleiermacher believes that theoretical cognition is founded upon pre-theoretical inter subjective cognition and its life world. The latter cannot be dismissed as non-cognative for if the life world praxis is non-cognitive and invalid so is theoretical cognition..He...contends that belief in God is pre-theoretical, it is not the result of proofs and demonstration, but is conditioned solely by the modification of feeling of utter dependence. Belief in God is not acquired through intellectual acts of which the traditional proofs are examples, but rather from the thing itself, the object of religious experience..If as Shchleiermacher...says God is given to feeling in an original way this means that the feeling of utter dependence is in some sense an apparition of divine being and reality. This is not meant as an appeal to revelation but rather as a naturalistic eidetic or a priori. The feeling of utter dependence is structured by a correlation with its whence. [4]

This conclusion might be somewhat deflating for apologists, but there are two of caveats that might make it more palatable: (1) We don't have to reduce religion to just feeling or to consciousness, we don't have toally agree with Schleiermacher, we can understand doctrines and feelings as bound up with the same reaction to reality and the consciousness that obtains from sensing it. (2) we can construe the feeling as a phenomenological approach rather than a definitive commentary upon all of reality. If affections or consciousness based upon affections are primary in belief, this does not mean that arguments are of no value since people rationalize their feelings, and arguments help to clear away the clutter and clarify feelings.

Critics such as John Webster et. al. Attack this notion as a continuation of his mistake from On Religion, that Schleiermacher got the process backwards. [5] It is not feeling that produces doctrine biut doctrines that produce feeling. The deep connection to affections is dismissed as his Moravian upbringing, the mark of the romanic era. “...The feeling of utter dependence, which Schleiermacher thought universal is an expression of the salient Christian virtue of humility with a particularly Protestant emphasis on the utter helplessness of man to save himself.” The argument is that Schleiermacher is just generalizing, the feeling is merely a feeling about the world from which he generalizes based upon his Christian upbringing. “All religions do not simply promote awe and connectedness to it.” [6] To the contrary, thanks to the M scale, we now know that these experiences are universal. The feeling of utter dependence is really about a sense of contingency, the radical contingency of all things, and it's great underlying unity, this equates to the sense of the meniscus and undifferentiated unity one finds in mystical experience. While Schleiermacher's feeling is not exactly mystical experience itself it is very closely related. Thus the universality found in RE supplies an answer to the criticism.

Thus the presence of the sign (the experience) informs us of the presence of the signified (God); like finger prints match the finger and thus reveal the person who made the print. The association between the divine and mystical experience is at least theoretically valid in terms of an anthropological perspective; religious experience forms the foundation upon which organized religions are built. [7] The sense of the numinous is a deep all pervasive since of love. The basic assumption made by those who have the experience is overwhelmingly that they have experience God. How can we know this to be the case without already knowing that God exists and what it is like to sense God's presence? We could set up criteria based upon the nature of religious belief. What conditions would one expectorate to prevail or what aspects would one expect to find in sensing God's presence?    


(1). Life Transforming and vital in a positive life-affirming sense

(2) It would give us a sense of the transcendent and the divine.

(3) No alternate or naturalistic causality could be proven

These criteria are based upon the nature of religious belief and experience taken from all major world religions. More to the point they are derived from the works of W.T. Stace who argues that in all world religions there are certain claims about certain types of experiences that answer our most basic existential questions  [8] These claims about answering the basic questions and positively affecting our lives constitute some of the most basic truth claims of world religions. If these claims are justified we should see these conditions in the criteria met. Religion in general seems to attempt to make sense of the nature of being human, to construct and then explain the Human problematic, or the human condition.. This knowledge is said to tranform the the lives of those who have such experiences. The content of the experiences themselves include a snese of the Holy, a sense of the sacred, the imparting of noetic content, these are all communicated in the texture of the experience itself. This realization accounts for criteria 1 and 2. It is only reasonable to think that the experience might be an experience of a reality involving the divine, since it indicates the validity truth claims of religion. It is equally reasonable and scientific to assume that if no counter causality found the God based conclusion is warranted. Thus, we have Criterion 3. These criteria are fulfilled by the data, and that allows us to derive the following argument from the criteria.


(1) The affects and effects of mystical experience are real in that they are measurably transformative in a positive sense.

(2)These affects cannot be reduced to naturalistic cause and affect, bogus mental states or epiphenomena
(this will be seen in analysis of skeptical counter causality below).

(3)Since the affects of Mystical consciousness are independent of other explanations and the
effects are real we should assume that they are genuine experiences of something transcendent of our own minds.

(4)Since mystical experience is usually experience of something, the Holy, the sacred, or some sort of greater transcendent reality we should assume that the origin of the experience is rooted in transcendent reality.

(5)Since mystical experience is usually about the divine we can assume a divine origin.

(6) Since religious symbols are culturally bound, and religious affectations are tied to such symbols, the universal nature of mystical experience implies an objective referent.

Justification for P1 “measurably transformative in a positive sense” is reflected in the findings throughout the 50 year period during which the body of researched has been collected. A huge number of studies corroborate these findings, not all of them use the M scale but they all use various measurements. Many of them use standardized measurements already in place for happiness and self actualization and other such affects. I have selected a range of studies that spans the time period. Two of the first scientifically rigorous scientific studies on the topic were Robert Wuthnow (1978) [9] and Kathleen Noble (1987) [10]Summary of their finds are as follows:


*Say their lives are more meaningful,

*think about meaning and purpose

*Know what purpose of life is

Meditate more

*Score higher on self-rated personal talents and capabilities

*Less likely to value material possessions, high pay, job security, fame, and having lots of friends

*Greater value on work for social change, solving social problems, helping needy

*Reflective, self aware


*integration, allocentrism,

*psychological maturity,

*self-acceptance, self-worth,

*autonomy, authenticity, need for solitude,

*increased love and compassion

*Experience productive of psychological health

*Less authoritarian and dogmatic

*More assertive, imaginative, self-sufficient

*intelligent, relaxed

*High ego strength,

*relationships, symbolization, values,

Lukoff and Lu (1988) conducted a literature search reflects many studies demonstrating the transforming effects of religious experience, some of them using the early version of the M scale.[11] For example Finney and Maloneyh (1985) found contemplative prayer was instrumental in improvement in psychotherapy. [12]Hood (1977) found high correlation between mystical experiences and self actualization, persons of relatively high self actualization were more likely to have had mystical experiences. [13] Other studies (not in Lukoff and Lu) include Greeley who, “found no evidence to support the orthodox belief that frequent mystic experiences or psychic experiences stem from deprivation or psychopathology. His 'mystics' were generally better educated, more successful economically, and less racist, and they were rated substantially happier on measures of psychological well-being.”  [14] Sullivan, using a large quantitative base of former mental patients found that 48% identified spiritual practices as crucial to their healing and this was corroborated by those ho cared for them. [15] This is just a small sample of the studies that demonstrate the transformative aspects.

Justification for P2 cannot be reduced to naturalistic cause and effect will be dealt with mainly below in answering the argument on brain chemistry. P3 affects of Mystical consciousness are independent of other explanations and the effects are real we should assume that they are genuine experiences of something transcendent of our own minds. That they are independent of counter causality derived from 2. That they are real is derived from the measurable effects in 1. P4, experience of something: The content of the experience is about the divine, or ultimate reality. Even when the experience is interpreted by the receiver not to be about God the receiver has been known to act in ways that are consistent with belief in God. Moreover, the experiences described tend to match those described as experiences of the divine. Ergo it’s just a matter of interpretation. Secondly, the vast majority of those who have these experiences do believe they are about God. [16]

This final point about the universal nature is of particular interest, When doctrinal explanations and differences of tradition are controlled for, the experiences themselves are the same the world over. Even among atheists, those who have religious experiences respond to them in the same way that religious believers do. This might indicate that these people are all experiencing an objective reality which is external to the human brain. There is a voluminous and ancient tradition of writing about experiences by people from all over the world, who claim to have experienced the divine. Mystics and philosophers have catelogued such writings. Two of the most noteworthy examples are Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill, [17] and Teachings of the Mystics by Philosopher W.T. Stace. [18] Many other such writers have included these experiences. Thirdly, grounded in empirical evidence, the universal nature of such experiences implies a source external to the human mind. When I say “external” I mean it originates externally but is experienced internally. This includes human brain structure and brain chemistry as a conduit not that it circumvents natural processes. W.T. Stace shows that, as Ralph Hood Jr. put it, “within and eventually outside of the great faith traditions mysticism has flourished.”  [19]

Stace offers five characteristics that demonstrate the commonalities to mystical experience; these are characteristics that are found universally in all cultures and in all forms of mystical experience:

The contemporary interest in the empirical research of mysticism can be traced to Stace’s (Stace, 1960) demarcation of the phenomenological characteristics of mystical experiences (Hood, 1975). In Stace’s conceptualization, mystical experiences had five characteristics (Hood, 1985, p.176):

1. The mystical experience is noetic. The person having the eerience perceives it as a valid source of knowledge and not just a subjective experience.

2. The mystical experience is ineffable, it cannot simply be described in words.

3. The mystical experience is holy. While this is the religious aspect of the experience it is not necessarily expressed in any particular theological terms.

4. The mystical experience is profound yet enjoyable and characterized by positive affect.

5. The mystical experience is paradoxical. It defies logic. Further analysis of reported mystical experiences suggests that the one essential feature of mysticism is an experience of unity (Hood, 1985). The experience of unity involves a process of ego loss and is generally expressed in one of three ways (Hood, 1 976a). The ego is absorbed into that which transcends it, or an inward process by which the ego gains pure awareness of self, or a combination of the two. [20] 

The other aspect of importance to this work is the universality argument. The universality argument could be taken as a warrant for belief, but I use it here to show that there’s a reason to equate these experiences with Supernature. When Hood took out the name specific to a religious tradition (from the M scale) and just asked general questions about experience, the experiences described were the same. This indicates that what is being experienced is the same for all the people having religious experiences. This is actually the same as saying Stace’s theory was validated. If it wasn’t validated they would not describe the same experiences. The indication is that there is an objective reality all of the mystics experience. The reason is because religion is a cultural construct. If they were just describing a constructed set of expectations resulting form culture, the experiences would be conditioned by culture not transcending it. So that means Iranian Muslims experience what they think of as “Allah” and Baptists in Cleveland experience what they think of as “Jesus” in the same way. This is should not be the case if they are merely experiencing culturally conditioned constructs. The implication is that they may be experiencing an objective reality that both understand through culturally constructed filters. Thus, there is a good indication that some external reality is experienced. One would then be warranted in thinking that this external reality is God, since the content of experience and its result on people's lives correlate with the objections of God belief in general.


[1] Frederick Schleiermacher, Speeches on Religion to it's Cultured Dispersers. New York: Cambridge University Press, Trans. Riichard Crouter,1996, 24-5

[2]  Frederich Achleiermacher, On The Christian Faith. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, Trans. H. R. MacKintosh and J.R.Stewart, 1986, 76-8

[3]  Ibid., 124.

[4]  Robert R. Williams, Schleiermacher the Theologian: Construction of the Doctrine of God. Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 1978, 4.

[5]  John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Ian Torrance, ed., Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, Oxfor:Oxford University Press, 2007, 421.

[6]  Ibid.

[7] David Steindl-Rast, “The Mystical Core of Organized Religion,” Copyright © 1989 by David Steindl-Rast. Used by the Council on Spiritual Practices with permission.First appeared in ReVision, Summer 1989 12(1):11-14. Online resource, URL: (accessed 1/2/16)

[8] Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy,, op.cit., 42-44.

[9] Robert, Wuthnow,"Peak Experiences: Some Empirical Tests." Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 18 (3), (1978), 59-75.

[10]Kathleen D. Noble, ``Psychological Health and the Experience of Transcendence.'' The Counseling Psychologist, 15 (4),(1987). 601-614.

[11] Lukoff, David & Francis G. Lu (1988). ``Transpersonal psychology research review: Topic: Mystical experiences.'' Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 20 (2), 161-184.

[12]Finney and Maloneyh, “An Empirical Study of Contemplative Prayer as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 13 (4) 284-90.

[13]Ralph Hood Jr., “Differential Triggering of Mysticalo Experiences As A Function O Self Actualization,” Review of Religious Research, 18, 1977, 264-70.

[14]Charles T. Tart, Psi: Scientific Studies of the Psychic Realm, New York: Dutton, 1977, back in print ed. 2001, 19.

[15]W. Sullivan, “It Helps Mev Be A Wholoe Person: The Role of Spirituality Among The mentally Challeneged.” Psychological Rehabilitation Journal, 16 (1993) 125-134.

[16] Ralph Hood Jr. “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism.” In Where God and Science Meet: How Brain and Evolutionary Studies Alter Our Understanding of Religion.  Patrick Mcnamara ed. West Port CT: Prager Publications, 2006, 119-235.

[17]Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A study on the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual consciousness. New York: Dutton, 1911

[18]W.T. Stace, Teachings of the Mystics: Selections from the Greatest Mystics and Mystical Writers of the World. New American Library 1960. A good General overview of Stace’s understanding of mysticism is  Mystical Experience Registry: Mysticism Defined by W.T. Stace. found onine at URL:  

[19]Ralph Hood Jr. “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism.”op. cit., 119-235.

[20]Robert J. Voyle, “The Impact of Mystical Experiences Upon Christian Maturity.” originally published in pdf format:  
Google html version here:  Voyle is quoting Hood in 1985, Hood in return is speakingStace.



Joe Hinman said...

So Dr. Hood is an old Hippie. That's why I had the courage to email him and begin telling him about the book, back in 09 or some time when I was still writing it. I said "He's an old hippie. I, an old hippie, so he will help me." We became friends I've never met him in person.

Anonymous said...

"(1) Real effects come from real causes"

Real effects also come from fake causes; remember the placebo effect.


Joe Hinman said...

Anonymous said...
"(1) Real effects come from real causes"

Real effects also come from fake causes; remember the placebo effect.

I eliminated placebo or causes of mystical experience in chapter 8 of my book