What do I think of Joseph Hinman’s book “The Trace of God?” Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
When I write a review, I make it a goal to tell you what I think about a book, but in the case of Hinman’s, I’m not really sure. His argument is based on religious experience as giving one a warrant for belief in the existence of God. He admits at the end that by that point, he has probably already lost most Christian apologists, although he does think his methodology will work for apologetics.
I say I’m not really sure because I can certainly say I came to the work skeptical. I happen to be a Thomistic empiricist after all who doesn’t want to place too much stock in experience. After all, there is too much misuse of experiences in churches today and let’s not forget the Mormons that go around convinced the BOM is true because of a burning in the bosom. I don’t even like it when William Lane Craig uses his fifth way.
But Hinman from what I gather is talking about something different. He is talking about a major event that can often be unexpected and is often life transforming and positive. In fact, according to Hinman, it’s hard to find studies that seriously involve negative impacts of religious experiences.
Hinman’s goal in this book is also not to prove the existence of God. His is instead to say that the believer is within his epistemic rights to believe in God’s existence because of a religious experience. His data is gathered from qualified scientific studies in the field by experts from all levels and he interacts with those who are critics of the argument from religious experience, namely someone like Proudfood.
Throughout, he will also interact with other slogans thrown out by atheists such as the classical one of “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” This leads to something amusing. It could be that Hinman’s work in my eyes is more valuable for the side arguments that come along the way than I see it being for the argument from religious experience.
But that could be because I’m a skeptic when it comes to many of those things likely from seeing the abuse in the church by people, something I’m sure Hinman is quite familiar with. Throw in also that I’m someone diagnosed with Aspergers for whom deep experiences like that just don’t really make sense.
Yet I can say that while I am not fully convinced by Hinman’s case, I can certainly say he leaves plenty to think about, and if that is his goal then he can consider it a success. I am not saying that this is an argument I would use, but that is because I am not a scientist in the field and don’t use arguments that I don’t really study that much. I prefer to use the Thomistic arguments that I have studied and the argument for the resurrection of Jesus.
If you are of a different mindset and are interested in studying religious experiences, I think Hinman’s book will give you something to think about. I cannot say how it is compared to others seeing this is a field I do not read on, but I can certainly say it is well-researched and makes a strong case. If it can leave a skeptic like myself at least somewhat open to the possibility of the argument, that is something to consider.