Sunday, June 01, 2014

Book Review: The Trace of God by Joseph Hinman

My thanks to Joseph Hinman and to GrandViaduct publishers for sending me a review copy of The Trace of God. This book is probably unlike anything you have ever read. It reviews the scientific literature -- mostly from the social sciences -- on religious experience and mystical experience, and tackles some of the big questions for those of us who have had religious experiences: Do other people have them? How common are they? Are they just a random trick of brain chemistry, or is there something real behind them? Was I seeing only what I expected to see? More than that, he tackles these questions by reviewing the scientific literature: psychological studies, cross-cultural studies, and studies on the extent to which the same effects can be produced by other methods. He reviews the counter-explanations, and makes a case for the prima facie explanation: that what is perceived may, in fact, be a genuine experience of the "trace of God".

Readers with any kind of orthodoxy -- whether religious or naturalistic -- will find that the book, the argument, the author himself does not fit neatly into expected categories. Hinman does not aim to "prove" God's existence, but to demonstrate that belief in God is a rational interpretation of what we know about religious experience and mystical experience. Throughout the book, he builds his case that the numbers of people having comparable experiences across cultures and across the centuries -- and the long-term positive effects that many people have after these experiences -- provide a rational warrant for believing that there is something objectively real in these experiences. He closes with an explanation of how he sees that thought fitting into a view of religion in general, and Christianity in particular.

The book is heavily documented with scientific studies and psychological research, and is a lengthy read at nearly 400 pages of content. But like some of my favorite longer books, when I came to the last page, I found myself wishing for more. Whether or not you are fully convinced by his arguments, the book will make you think.

My summer series this year (already pre-written) will interact with a number of Hinman's basic arguments and lines of thought, because there are some things that Hinman does particularly well: getting people to think, and getting people to talk.


Martin LaBar said...

Hmmm. So belief in God is rational? OK.

Weekend Fisher said...

LOL. Joe typically interacts with atheists. Some of them take seriously the idea that religion is a mental illness, and religious experience a sign of mental issues.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Unknown said...

I'm looking forward to the future posts!

Kristen said...

Good review! I really enjoyed the book too!