Friday, September 29, 2017

The Proof Is In the Pudding

I have been arguing with Joe Hinman (again) over his "warrant for belief".  This is an issue that crops up over and over again in any discussion with Joe, whenever the topic turns to evidence, or reasons for belief.  Joe invariably cites his supposed "200 empirical studies" that he claims provide a scientific basis for his thesis that belief in God is empirically warranted.  And this is the thrust of his book, The Trace of God.  Ever the salesman for his book, Joe rarely misses an opportunity to drum up a few sales by bringing those 200 studies into the discussion, even when that was not the topic.  In the latest round of discussion, he makes this juvenile claim: "I have 200 studies and you have none." My response to that is that those 200 studies don't prove what Joe thinks they do.  But that brings up a whole new issue:  Is Joe actually trying to prove something with his empirical studies?  If so, what is it?

Let me put this question into perspective.  Joe is always very careful to say that he has demonstrated that there is "warrant for belief" in God, not that he has "proven" that God exists.  In his own words:
Since I decided to wrote my book imn 2007 I have made a stanch practice of never claiming to prove the existence of God. I do claim to prove somethings but God is the context we were speaking of now - Hinman
And that position is quite reasonable.  It is actually one of the few things about which I am in agreement with Joe.  When he says 'warrant' he is talking about epistemic justification for belief.  In particular, he is talking about justification based on empirical evidence.  I applaud Joe for that.  He is making an empiricist claim, as opposed to the warrant for belief in the absence of any objective evidence that Alvin Plantinga claims.  But warrant is not the same thing as proof.  I get that.  In epistemology, we speak about properly basic beliefs as being justified (or warranted).  For the empiricist, evidence of the senses provides properly basic belief.  Basic beliefs are the foundation on which all beliefs are built.  But there is no claim of absolute proof for anything.  To the extent that we can't be absolutely certain that our senses give us proof of the things in the external world, nothing can be proven absolutely.  So Joe is quite right.  His claim of warrant for belief based on empirical evidence does not constitute proof that God exists.

Still, Joe uses the word 'proof' or 'prove' very often in his writings, and so do I.  What should we take that to mean?  I don't know that I can speak for Joe, but I can tell you what I mean by it.  It's never absolute, but is typically used in a somewhat looser sense.  In the context of a logical argument, it means that if we accept foundational beliefs as being true, or other beliefs that are based on them, we can use those truths as premises to a deductive argument that proves something.  The proof is entirely dependent on the the truth of the premises.  If the premises are epistemically justified and the argument is valid, then we can say that the conclusion of the argument is proved.  This is not absolute proof, but it is reasonable proof, consistent with common usage of the term.  When employing deductive logic, "A sound argument is a proof."

Joe has made a deductive argument that supposedly justifies his claim that belief in the divine is warranted, based on mystical experiences and their effects on the people who have them, as supposedly demonstrated by those 200 studies that he keeps touting.  He calls it the Argument from God Corrolate [sic], which I repeat here:
(1) Real effects come from real causes
(2) If effects are real chances are the cause is real
(3) the effects of mystical experience are real
(4) Therefore, the cause of mystical experience is real.
(5) the content of mystical experience is about the divine
(6) Since the content of ME is divine the cause must be the divine
(7) Since the cause is real and it is divine then the divine must be real.
(8) Therefore belief in the divine is warranted by ME
This argument fails on two important levels.  First, it is not logically valid, as I show in my own rebuttal, here.  In addition to that, the scientific data he cites does not establish a valid basis for the claim he makes that mystical experience is the cause of all those positive effects, which he asserts as a premise to his argument (statement 3).  There may well be a correlation, but the causal relationship is not demonstrated by those studies.  This is cause for the immediate rejection of a key premise to his argument, and makes the argument unsound, regardless of its logical validity.  Joe takes great umbrage when I tell him that his 200 studies don't prove what he thinks they do.  In response, he diverts to a different issue - the claim that his argument doesn't attempt to prove anything, and specifically not God's existence.  It merely establishes a warrant for belief, as you can see in the conclusion (statement 8).

But is that true?  As I noted earlier, a deductive argument is a proof.  If this were a sound argument what would it establish?  Let's take another look, and ignore the problems that make it unsound.  If you consider statements 1 through 7, it appears that a complete argument is presented, with its conclusion given in statement 7.  And what is that conclusion?  "The divine must be real."  It seems that statement 8 is just a superfluous add-on.  There's nothing provided before statement 8 that says anything at all about 'warrant', or establishes why belief should be warranted.  But everything else in the argument leads up to the actual conclusion - that the divine is real.  Oxford Dictionary defines the noun 'divine' as "Providence or God".  So what does it mean to say that the divine is real?  It means God exists.  Despite its unsoundness, this is what Joe's argument is trying to prove, whether he admits it or not.

So why is Joe being coy about what his argument shows?  I can only speculate.  If he claimed that he has come up with yet another "proof" of the existence of God, how would that be received by the rest of the world?  Right.  Another phony argument for God.  We've seen enough of them before, and we already agree that it's something that can't be proved.  But what if Joe makes a few little changes to his argument?  Instead of saying "God exists", he can say "the divine is real".  And instead of leaving the argument with that as a conclusion, add on another line that says "Therefore, belief is warranted".  Yeah, that's the ticket.  Sounds sophisticated, doesn't it?


  1. Hmmm...I think it depends what you mean by "God"...

    I think Joe is aware of pseudo-God concepts, existing in some traditions, more an impersonal "unconditioned" as in (eg) some forms of Buddhism and in Taoism, and even in some more recent forms of Western spirituality (eg some spins on the views of Joe's theological hero, Paul Tillich). And that peeps in those traditions experience mysticism too. So he'd also know that experiential evidence might not necessarily warrant the conclusion of a "personal God" exactly, as found in the traditional forms of monotheism.

    1. We find on analysis that these evoked emotions separate themselves easily into two groups. Further, these two groups answer to the two directions in which the mystic consciousness of Reality is extended, and to the pairs of descriptions of the Godhead which we have found to be characteristic of mystical literature: i.e. , the personal and spatial, immanental and transcendental, indwelling Life and Unconditioned Source; ( a ) the strange, dark, unfathomable Abyss of Pure Being always dwelt upon by mystics of the metaphysical type, and ( b ) the divine and loved Companion of the soul, whose presence is so sharply felt by those selves which lean to the concept of Divine Personality.

      Evelyn Underhill - Mysticism

      I think Joe agrees with Underhill that there are two sorts of "core" mystical union experiences, one more reflecting of "a divine personality" that the other?

    2. Actually, Joe bases his definition of the genuine mystical experience on the M scale, which is geared specifically toward theistic belief, and excludes all kinds of things that might otherwise qualify. Interestingly, most of his 200 studies don't define spirituality in any such way. So he claims to have these 200 studies that are mostly about this vague notion of spirituality, but in order to make his argument work, he tightens down the definition of the true mystical experience to be only some specific type of religious experience, identified as such by the M scale. So most of those studies really aren't relevant.

  2. Oh, I see where your point might be reflected in the Wiki article on Stace?

    As early as 1961 the Times Literary Supplement was critical of Stace's scholarship: Professor Stace seems to have no knowledge of any Indian language and his examples are drawn from what is most monistic in the Upanishads and other sacred writings, usually in a very free translation not notable for its accuracy or for its lack of bias.

    Or maybe this?

    Jacob van Belzen criticized Hood, noting that Hood validated the existence of a common core in mystical experiences, but based on a conceptual framework which presupposes the existence of such a common core:

    [T]he instrument used to verify Stace's conceptualization of Stace is not independent of Stace, but based on him."

    ... altho that's not exactly a bias towards monotheistic belief, more towards the assumption that monotheists and non-monotheists have the same experiences.

    So, I'm not clear what you are saying here....?

    Underhill (1911) bases her findings on monotheistic traditions only, and defines her two more and less personal varieties of mystic experience (ie "Pure Being" and "Loving Companion") as two major discernible types existing the Xian and Islamic traditions, even tho both have a personal God. So that's a different point. There is, very probably , still a bias towards the "loving Personality" types of experiences compared to traditions with less strong inferences of a "personal God" -in the sense that someone from a "nonpersonal" tradition like Buddhism would seem less likely to have those? - but still....

    1. Aside from which particular versions of theism qualify for the M scale, I was reading on of Joe's studies (one that actually does speak about mystical experience), and it said that the term 'mystical experience' was really a misnomer, because it was referring to a broader range of experiences - something more akin to Maslow's 'peak experiences' - that aren't necessarily even religious in nature. Apparently, Joe ignored that part of the paper.

      But beyond that, the majority of his studies are about a still broader range of psychological attitudes called spiritualism. There are plenty of atheists who call themselves spiritual. Clearly, these things wouldn't qualify on the M scale.

    2. I'm not sure they wouldn't....Iirc....but I better let Joe answer here, if he chooses to. I'm hardly an expert.....

    3. The M scale was designed by a theist to evaluate experiences based on the respondents' answers to a set of questions. It rules out any causes (such as electro-chemical stimulation) that could be seen as non-supernatural, and any subjective interpretation of the experience as non-religious. These things are all regarded as not being genuine mystical experiences.

      Joe looks at studies that cover a much broader range of human experience, and sees correlations with positive effects, but then he attributes these effects only to "genuine" mystical experience, as determined by this highly selective M scale. In other words, if you want to regard his work as a scientific analysis, his methodology is seriously flawed.

    4. No, you can't simply disregard something with an ad hom. The M-scale is the standard measurement for the "mystical-ness" of experiences, and was originally based, probably intentionally, on some concepts in the Upanishads, writings from a group of "traditions" - characterized later as Hinduism by the Brits - that are ambiguous themselves about whether it's "source" or "ground" subsumes the concept of personality or whether Brahman is sub- or supra-personal.


      Like William James, [Stace] distinguishes between ordinary and mystical consciousness; the former he describes as sensory-intellectual, while the latter contains neither sensory nor intellectual content. He then proceeds to layout the psychological qualities of mystical experience, which he roots in a passage from the Mandukya Upanishad

      Undifferentiated unity
      Dissolution of the self
      Feeling of revelation or veracity of the event
      Feeling of blessedness and peace
      Feeling of serenity

      No mention there of theism....

      And further, Joe makes arguments in his book that real studies show "induced" experiences (such as drug-induced) don't have the same transformational effects on people. That takes up a lot of it, in fact.

    5. His points on refuting some research - 1) didn't USE the standard M-Scale (but that was researchers choices) & 2) no long term follow ups....

      (Okay, yes, aboveI should have said "aren't shown" to have longer term effects...)

    6. Also, notice how a key point above, "dissolution of the self" is closer to atheist concepts of the constructivity, impermanence and "illusion".of our personalities than to trad Western theistic ones?

    7. No mention there of theism....

      - The M scale was not developed by Stace. It was Hood, who was a devout Christian.

      And further, Joe makes arguments in his book that real studies show "induced" experiences (such as drug-induced) don't have the same transformational effects on people.

      - Joe didn't present anything that demonstrates transformational effects can be attributed to the mystical experience itself as the cause.

    8. Hood is not a Christian, you are so dishonest/ I've told you that a dozen times, you know better you are willfully lying, and you atttach thejugement call "devouit tp iot man that is so low,

      pipsaiek, you are a chicken shit liar,


    9. What makes you think Hood is not a Christian? He was editor of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity, which is a journal for Christian professionals in the field.

      And besides, Joe, the more I read of his work, the more I realize that YOU are either lying or grossly misinterpreting what he says.

  3. No, he just presented correlations....

    Also, Hood based his M-scale on Stace, whom, if you read his Wiki bio, doesn't look to have been a theist or at least not much of one, and its not unlikely that Hood was trying to avoid such criticisms are you're well as refer to a standard, "academically respectable" source.

    1. No, he just presented correlations

      - Right. But Joe's argument magically transforms correlations into causation.

    2. Well, basically, in social sciences, you're allowed to do that at least until someone recorrelates your data? Maybe finds some other, perhaps simpler "causal" factor?

    3. I did make the comment (a few times) that nobody doing those studies draws the same conclusion that Joe does. There's a good reason for that.

    4. Well, his is a meta-study....

      But what, exactly, do you think IS Joe's conclusion?

      Do you think he thinks it "proves God?" if so, what sort of "God?"

    5. What do you think Joe meant by "Trace of God?" Is a Derridean 'trace' what he had in mind? He did study Derrida for several years, you know.....

      Wiki again....

      Trace can be seen as an always contingent term for a "mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present", of the 'originary lack' that seems to be "the condition of thought and experience". ... Deconstruction, unlike analysis or interpretation, tries to lay the inner contradictions [...] bare, and, in turn, build a different meaning from that: it is at once a process of destruction and construction. ..... This "always-already hidden" contradiction is trace.

      The "trace" the always already hidden "marks" of people's deconstructive and constructive experiences of so-called "mystical Union?"

    6. Joe claims empirical evidence that allows one to infer "the divine" indirectly. Joe doesn't seem to understand that that is indistinguishable from other scientific evidence that allows us to infer all kinds of things "indirectly". If he has real empirical evidence, is it within the scope of mainstream science to investigate and make inferences. Yet real science doesn't interpret the evidence the way he does. Look at Joe's argument. It is bogus. His logic is invalid. I don't see how any intelligent person could think this is reasonable.

    7. Well, he shouldn't try to put the results of a sociological meta-study into a syllogism, I think, that's a mistake. It's not a conducive or correct form for that....

      But all he's saying is, "it looks like there's some ineffable "something 'there', in certain cases of certain experiences. Since certain measurable effects correlate with certain kinds of experiences (measured on the m-scale to make it more standardized), whereas other "artificial" kind of experiences don't, or aren't shown to induce the same effects. The rigor of it - I dunno - cuz it's more a popularly-oriented than an academic book, and anyway,mthat would be a question for a social science pro. Joe also has his professional endorsers, however....

      But I'll give you an argument for him...."it is well-known that we humans like to MAKE Stories and create MEANINGS out of all things...."

      Ya dig? You might have to read it to really get that, and I could maybe explain it better, but don't wanna interfere with Joe flogging his book ......hehe!

    8. Fine. I'll stop flogging Joe when he stops making scientific claims, and just sticks to religion.

    9. Joe exhibits a rather odd "religion" tho. Quite atypical of a Texan....

    10. OH, I meant with Joe's marketing of his book? Hats what "flogging" was supposed to mean in that context....

    11. Actually, I have no problem with his marketing his book. But he keeps bringing up the topic of his empirical evidence and his supposed superior scientific knowledge in discussions with me. That's what prompted this post. He knows perfectly well what my reaction is likely to be.

  4. WRT "Warrant for Belief", how does that differ from a warrant for delusion? Even if there is a good and sufficient reason to believe something it still might not be true. If there is reason to believe an illusion (that is, it is a good illusion) it is still an illusion.

    1. I don't get his reasoning about warrant. He insists that God is outside the realm of science, but he wants to use scientific methods and evidence to provide this warrant (even though he doesn't employ valid logic in drawing his conclusions). He says it's evidence that indirectly points to God, as if that isn't how science works anyway. So according to Joe, because the evidence is indirect, it isn't scientific evidence for God, but it's warrant for belief. I don't see the difference, and I keep trying to tell him that, but he doesn't listen.