My Response to Dave Stump's Criticism of The Trace of God by Joesph Hinman

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Dave Stump wrote an admirable review for my book on Amazon, The Trace of God (by Joseph Hinman), for Amazon, and I posted it on this blog last Monday (June 9, 2014). Dave made some criticisms of the book, I expected no less. These were not only fair criticisms but I also agree with hem in some ways. At any rate they are worth taking seriously so I decided to comment on them.

Common core weakens truth claims of Christian tradition

The "common core" is the view of mystical "theology" and/or phenomenology that is supported by Ralph Hood jr, inventor of the M Scale (mysticism scale.).The M Scale figures prominently in the book. [1] The common core says that there is a common core experinces at the basis or all organized religion. The attentive to the common core is the "perennial philosophy" which seeks to establish a unique and separate philosophy or religon based upon mysticism, even though it's worked in all different faiths. Stump's criticism:
This approach [the common core] may leave the reader to wonder how these experiences are associated with any but the most generic kind of "higher power". While that does bolster the universal aspect of the experience and avoids the difficulties of issues such as mutually exclusive religious claims by appealing to something that per-dates and transcends religion, such claims are seriously undercut by this approach.
 I did anticipate that one could see it that way. Thus I included a whole chapter (the last chapter, no 9) on that prospect. I argue that we experience God at a subliminal level. To make those experiences understandable to those who have not had them (which the mystic is driven to do by our nature as social animals) we encode them in cultural constructs. That colors the religious tradition with the culture and makes religions seem different from one another. They are in fact different becuase they grow up rooted in and colored by the culture but there is a common core that transcends the culture; the same reality stands behinds all traditions. I point to the metaphorical nature of all language. I wrestle with the epistemological reality and what that entails for religious belief as a whole. I make the argument that religion is not about words on paper. Doctrine is improtant and I do not advocate basing doctrine upon mystical experience. Yet the daily experience of a religious life is about knowing the proper words but expericing God in a real and living way. That's what these people are doing who have these experiences. That's what the experience is about phenomenologically.

 Major criticism: forced dichotomy

A weakness of the book is that is somewhat limited in offering a broader view of the evidence and its implications. The arguments are geared in many cases toward a model of "Here is what some people claim/think, here is a different way to see things/evidence that contradicts what those people say." This refutation style tends toward a false dichotomy of potential views. This style is understandable given the author's goals, but still those who don't fit well within either of the two sides presented will nod along in some sections and shrug at others. The potential criticism of Hthe author's position comes as you might expect primarily from the arguments of those he is refuting. That is, "Here is what someone who rejects a certain kind of data (or a particular analysis of that data) says and here is my rebuttal". Self-critique is not entirely absent in the book, however, and there are caveats included regarding the author's interpretations of the evidence he provides.

That first answer above is a good segway (segue) to this issue. I've basically just answered this criticism above. I did not create the framework into which these experiences are grouped. It has a deep history in human society perhaps even going back as far as Neanderthal.At least we know they had religion.[2] So that approach was set out for me. Yet there's good evidence that we fall into it naturally without being herded there by society. One set of data from the studies themselves, where those whose data based is contains a large number of children (some studies have as many as half coming from children) find that they have mystical experience. Other studies show that children are not laden with doctrinal hangups. Meaning their conclusion that their experience is about God is pretty natural and just comes tot hem without a lot medication by society. Even if they are in a chruch they are still not laden with the church's doctrines as an iron clad view even they spout the doctrine to some extent.

Dave says those who don't fit will shake their heads or shrug, I assume he means they will react in an indifferent manner to the conclusions. What he doesn't say is who they are? How many alternate views are there of the same experiences? Use of the M scale or soemthing it is necessary to even answer the question because otherwise how do we even know we are talking about the same experiences?

He also alleges that my arguments come primarily from those who argue against me. that I'm allowing the atheists on CARM to set the agenda. I think that's very untrue. That is an assumption that has some validity with regard to how the project got started the early thinking, and the basic God arguments in their general structure. As the years research got going and become more diverse, the years dragged on the atheists on the net had less and less to do with it. The agenda was really recaset by Dr. William S. Babcock my old professor at Perkins who introduced me to Proudfoot's work. Proudfoot is a detractor and an atheist. In a sense an atheist was still setting the agenda, but not an internet atheist. I do two chapters on Proudfoot and his attack upon mystical experience. As I developed more of a friendship with Dr. Hood I think he began being more of an influence upon the agenda. I began moving toward what I saw as Hood's research areas. I brought the Vedantists into it and opened it up to a more universal element beyond the Christian community (Hood is not a Christian).

Where I agree with Dave is that there is an inherent Derridian point of contradiction that if pressed will always be problematic. That's in the realization about the nature of language as essentially metaphor. We can always introduced the autonomy between symbolism and literalism and always ask "is this really representative of what is going on?" Are always imposing our own framework upon the amorphous sense data? Although I believe that the sense data will suggest it's own categories if we give it a chance. I believe that's what's happened with mysticism. I think it's the reductionists who explain it away who are imposing their frameworks. When people listen to the experience that it suggests the categories of God and religion. There has to be a point at which we accept that the fits works and thus has some religion to truth, we get the category right, or we are not able to accept truth at any level. That means we also lose scinece and rationality. The categories I speak of are those into which we group our understanding of things to explain the workings of the world. As I understand phenomenology it says that we set up preconceived categories and impose them upon sense data, but if we let the data suggest the categories we come closer to the truth.

 does it meet it's goal?
  the question of whether the book succeeds at its goal of presenting a rational warrant for belief in God depends on how you measure success.

Neither the internet atheists whom Hinman debates nor the professional promoters of atheism will be convinced in the slightest by this book that belief in God is any more or less reasonable. Anyone who is settled in their conviction that belief in God is ridiculous or harmful will not be swayed by the even the most detailed and subtle lines of reasoning put forward in this book. Even though Hinman tries to make the case that his definitions of God, religion, and so on are more nuanced than their common usage allows, one can still choose to reject the significance Hinman gives to these words and to the human experiences Hinnan connects to them. As an argument for a rational warrant rather than conclusive proof, there is ample room to take an opposing view if one is committed to doing so. Trace offers an approach to defending the reasonableness of belief in God, but its arguments do not obviate a thoughtful and honest rejection of such belief.
 He says how we measure success that determines the answer. If we define the point of the goal to be the effect on lives and not selling books (that sounds like a wise goal so far--not selling books, that's certainly in keeping with reality) it does meet the goal.

Achieves true Goal of positive effect on people's lives
 Where the broader success of the book will be measured, aside from sales numbers, is the impact that it has on those who are true fence-sitters in the God debate as well as the reception by those looking for broadly accessible arguments and supporting evidence for the reality of God.
That's very sharp of Dave. Yes rational warrant is the ostensible goal but the true goal is to provide a focus and framework for those who have had such experiences, or seek them, or are just searching and don't what they need to understand the idea of an experiential relationship with the divine and to understand the value of it. Part of that is clearing away the clutter of fear and distrust that surrounds any subjective approach to reality such as an experientially based approach.

The book is having that effect. Wordgazer talks about it. Others who have read it already have told me "this book as already changed my life." From the message board interview: "That sounds absolutely like something I've been looking for. Thanks! I will be ordering me a copy right now."[3]


 [1]Metacrock, "The M scale and the Universal Nature of Mystical Experience," The Religious a priori an online resource: (accessed 6/10/14). This is my article from religious a priori (my blog-website) which I have published on this blog as well,  it explains in detail what the M Scale is about. Suffice to say it's a means of establishing that one has had an actual mystical experience, thus it can be identified and thus a control group established, thus the phenomena can be studied scientifically.

[2] Ker Than, "Neanderthal Burials Confirmed as Ancient Ritual," National Geographic.Dec 16, 2013 On line version:  accessed 6/10/14. one must register to read the article.
I deal with this issue in the book and present a lot more historical evidence about Neanderthal and early humans. The fact all of that is speculation. There's no way to prove that religious experience existed back then. I do show evidence of  tribes using techniques of conscoiusness raising that link them to mystical experience. Yet there is no way to prove they had those techniques thousands of years ago.

[3] Michael Cole, Re: JRP interviews Joe Hinman on THE TRACE OF GOD
Sun Jun 01, 2014 8:17 am

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