Arguments for God from religious experience have always been considered a secondary level of argument. It's always been assumed that their subjective nature makes them weak arguments. The atheist is scared to death of subjectivity. This work, compiling empirical scientific studies that show that religious experience is not the result of emotional instability but are actually good for one psychologically, constitutes a ground breaking work that places religious experiences on a higher level.
The Trace of God is an exposition (445 pages) employing both philosophical investigation and social science research. The book analyzes and discusses a huge body of empirical research that has up to this point been primarily known only in circles of psychology of religion, and has been over looked by theology, apologetics, Philosophy of religion and more general discipline of psychology. This body of work needs to be known in each of these interested groups because it demonstrates through hundreds of studies over a 50 year period, the positive and vital nature of the kind of religious experience known as “mystical.” Even though most of the studies deal with “mystical” experience, linking studies also apply it to the “born again experience” as well as “the material end of Christian experience.”
The book opens with a discussion as to why arguments for the existence of God need not “prove” God exists, but merely offer a “warrant for belief.” It discusses why there can’t be direct empirical evidence for God and why that is not necessary. It also lays out criteria for rational warrant. In Chapter two it presents two arguments that are based upon religious experience and then shows how the various studies back them up. This is not an attempt to present directly empirical evidence for God but to show that religious experiences of a certain kind can be taken as “the co-determinate” or God correlate. It’s not a direct empirical view of God that is presented but the “God correlate” that indicates God, just as a fingerprint or tacks in the snow indicate the presence of some person or animal. Religious experiences of this kind are the “trace of God.”
These studies demonstrate that the result of such experiences is life transforming. This term is understood and used to indicate long term positive and dramatic changes in the life of the one who experiences them. People are released form bondage to alcohol and drugs, they tend to have less propensity toward depression or mental illness, they are self actualized, self assured, have greater sense of meaning and purpose, generally tend to be better educated and more successful than those who don’t have such experiences. These studies prove that religious experience is not the result of mental illness or emotional instability. The methodology of the studies (which includes every major kind of study methodology in the social sciences) is discussed at length.
One of the major aspects of the book is the discussion of the “Mysticism scale” (aka “M scale”) developed by Dr. Ralph Hood Jr. at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The importance of this “M scale” (that is a test made up of 32 questions) is that it serves as a control on the valid religious experience. One can know through the score on the test if one’s experience is truly “Mystical” or just “wool gathering.” Without a control we can’t know if one has had a true experience and thus we can’t measure their effects. Being able to establish that one has had true “mystical experience” one can determine that the effects of that experience are positive and long term. Thus that sets up the rationally warranted arguments for God.
It is also vital to know if the experience is valid because those who seek to discredit religious belief and claim to have produced such experiences by stimulating the brain don’t use controls to determine if the experience is valid or not. They must make assumptions that anything to do with God talk is a religious experience then claim to have produced it by stimulating the brain. The M scale works by comparing theories of British philosopher W.T. Stace with current modern mystics (research began in the 1970s on American campuses and went international in the 80s). It is statistically extremely remote that they would be able to accidentally hit upon the right combination of questions to reflect validation of Stace’s theory. They have to agree with Stace’s theory on all 32 points. It’s even harder to imagine they might lie. In the international studies Iranian, Indian, and Japanese peasants were questioned. Most of them did not read English it’s absurd to think they could tell what Stace’s theory was much less what they had to lie about. Most of them would know nothing about W.T. Stace or his theories. The Studies showed that modern mystics in Iran, India, Japan, Sweden, the UK all experience exactly what Stace said they would experience. Thus that creates the ground for comparison. It gives us a control for the experience.
The book also discusses the theories of Wayne Proudfoot a philosopher who tried to disprove mystical experience by reductionism, re-labeling and losing the phenomena. Studies of brain chemistry are analyzed as well as the Placebo effect. The question all comes down to a tie between naturalistic brain chemicals vs. the idea that the naturalistic neurological route is just the way God created for us to communicate with him, and that stimulation of those chemicals is just opening the receptors that also receive God’s presence. The problem is resolved by eight tie breakers that are presented at the end of the next to the last chapter. The last chapter deals with philosophical and theological problems surrounding language and faith.
The book provides a ground breaking chunk of fiber fortifying the arguments for God from religious experience that has been lacking since the days of Father Frederick C. Coplestonand his debate with Bertrand Russell. Copleston didn’t have these studies to back his argument. This body of work has been growing for 50 years and it’s time it was known to the theological world. These studies, especially the M scale, establish that religious experiences are the same the world over. There may be other kinds but of the kind know as “mystical” when we control for the names being different, and doctrines of various faiths use to explain the situation, we look at the experience itself they are all the same. That implies that all of these people around the world in different faiths are experiencing a reality external to their own minds. It also implies that God is working in all faiths. The Author, Joseph Hinman, is a Christian and he does believe in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ but he also recognizes God’s prevenient grace to all people.
Read Christian Philosopher Randal Rauser interview me about my book.
Read Christian Philosopher Randal Rauser interview me about my book.
"A great contribution to discussions of the rationality of belief in God"
William S. Babcock, Professor Emeritus of Church History, Southern Methodist University
Ralph Hood says:
"A fine exploration of the meaningfulness of arguments from human experience to the reality of God."
(Ralph Hood Jr. inventor of the M scale and professor of psychology of religion University of Tennessee Chattanooga.)
Wordgazer, a prominent blogger on Women's issues says:
"Why should I mistrust my own experiences of God's presence?" Joe Hinman taught me to ask. After all, we don't mistrust other things we experience. We don't doubt that the chair we're sitting in will hold us, unless we have some good reason to think something has gone wrong with our senses. We don't have to accept the self-proclaimed expert in science as an expert in metaphysics. Nor need we accept the standard of "absolute proof" in terms of scientific categories that may be inadequate for the phenomenon in the first place. We can have good, reasonable reasons -- what Hinman calls a "rational warrant" to believe. His newer website, The Religious A Priori, explores belief and rational warrant from a number of different angles.
And now Joe Hinman has encapsulated some of his best thinking into a new book: The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief.
The Trace of God is a scholarly work, but written in a style that a layperson can follow. Its main point is that experiences like the one I describe above (called "religious experiences" or "peak experiences"*) do constitute good evidence, even from a scientific point of view, of the existence of God.
This is a ground breaking work. These studies have never been put together in this context and analyzed and argued for in this way before. The God arguments form religious experience have always been considered weak but no more. This body of work puts them up on a higher level, it's put fiber into their diet.