A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet Hardcover – Mar 10 2015
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“A fine addition to the growing library of alternative approaches to literalism in belief, this book is suitable for academic libraries, liberal churches, and individual seekers.”
“A truly extraordinary read from beginning to end...Informed, informative, thoughtful, thought provoking, inspired and inspiring. Very highly recommended.”
—Margaret Lane, Midwest Book Review
“Like everything else in life, Gods die. And when they do, new Gods come to take their place. Ours is a time of new Gods birthing, and Nancy Abrams’s magnificent book A God That Could Be Real is a powerful act of midwifery. This is not a eulogy for the old Gods but a prophecy of the new.”
—Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent
“You will find that your beliefs are enriched by reading Abrams’s book. I am thrilled that we have the creativity and originality that is exhibited in this book, and I recommend it highly to all, religious or secular, believer or atheist, who are ready to explore honestly their understanding of the divine in our beautiful, expanding universe.”
—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, from the Foreword
“Over the past two decades a largely sterile dispute has raged between two diametrically opposing camps: atheists and religious fundamentalists. It is surely time to move on and elevate the discussion to a higher intellectual level. This ambitious and thought-provoking book by Nancy Abrams on the interface of science and religion is a timely and welcome contribution to a more productive discussion of the topic.”
—Paul Davies, from the Foreword
“A God That Could Be Real is full of sparkling prose, memorable quotes, and strikingly original insights that have never been brought to the page before, despite the long-running culture wars between organized religion and modern science over God and cosmic knowledge. My family and I spent a long dinner and all of breakfast the next day debating the meaning of this book. Give this book to the other questing minds in your family and brace yourself for heated discussions.”
—Sandra Moore Faber, National Medal of Science recipient and University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz
“Nancy Abrams dares to pose many of the important and challenging questions that arise at the intersection of contemporary cosmology, spirituality, and atheism. I respect Abrams’s moral passion and honest search for a God that could be real, a search beckoning us all.”
—Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality and author of Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times
“[Abrams] points to a way beyond the boring religion-science debates, which pit secular fundamentalists against religious fundamentalists.”
—Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg, Patheos
About the Author
Nancy Ellen Abrams is coauthor with Joel R. Primack, of The View from the Center of the Universe and The New Universe and the Human Future.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
What a task to take on: to set out not only to define what God is, based on (the author's grasp of) the most recent scientific understanding of the nature of the universe -- and then to infuse this with her personal experience of a Higher Power encountered through her 12-Step program!
I found this read (and find, since I am not finished with it) to be stimulating, exasperating, disturbing, overwhelming, inspirational, headache-making, breakthrough, bewildering and finally (even grudgingly), elucidating.
I will say first, in case I lose you along the way, if you are serious in your contemplation of the nature of God, you will want to read Nancy Abrams' book.
To begin, it helps to look at the roots on which the book grew. There are many, but four I find fundamental to understanding.
One: Nancy Abrams is the wife of cosmologist Joel Primack, one of the promulgators of the theory that our universe is not composed primarily of atoms, as you and I were taught, but instead, of invisible and mysterious "cold dark matter" and "dark energy." Together, these two form the "double dark" theory, that, according to Nancy, are "the foundation of the modern picture of the universe." Her idea of God had to fit, first and foremost, with that and the current take on the laws of physics and thermodynamics.
Two: when Nancy was 15, she told her rabbi, "God didn't create us; we created God." While she explains how she came to refine that immature idea, nevertheless, that the seed grew into her ultimate theory.
Three: Ms. Abrams was a successful intellectual, lawyer, and philosopher. Yet she developed an eating disorder that eventually drove her to a 12-Step Program (which, you may know, began when two alcoholics banded together in their attempt to remain sober. It was part of the Christian temperance movement of the 20th Century, and grew into a worldwide spiritual program of recovery for addicts of many kinds). Nancy believes that her Higher Power, or God, has a reality outside herself. God is not merely a projection, as many philosophers and theologians have said, of the better part of human nature. Nancy found a God who, unlike the title of her book, not only "Could Be Real" but Is.
The fourth key to Ms. Abrams' concept of God is the Theory (or phenomenon) of "emergence." Cells have individual life, but when billions are gathered together in a certain form, what emerges is greater than the sum of the parts: it is (or can be) a human being. Humans themselves have individual life, but when millions focus their efforts in certain ways, other realities emerge. One might be called "the stock market," which exists and has definite rules and characteristics. Another is "the media," and so on.
Therefore, Ms. Abrams tells us, God is an emergent phenomenon. He (or it) is not the omnipotent, omnipresent Creator of all things that many religions claim. Instead, she says, God is an emergent reality from humanity. However, God is not just a projection. God is a reality humans can know, pray to, hear, and embrace.
Millions upon millions of the world's inhabitants would reject Nancy Abrams' version of God, of course. In some cultures today, she could be executed for blasphemy. In more tolerant, reasonable systems, she would still be branded a heretic, or dismissed as a kook. The first possibility is a lot of what is wrong with our world today -- a narrow and violent view of existence that would return humanity to some new version of the Dark Ages. Even the last two would do this deep thinker a disservice.
I have thought about the nature of God and reality a lot in my life, but I approach the spiritual being and force that powers a universe with more of a sense of humility and awe, and the sense that the tiny human speck of awareness I am should not and cannot define a God within and behind all things. I am forced to admit, I have never approached the idea of God with Ms. Abrams' rigor, or depth of research. Reading her book has required me to question everything I held true about both science and God. I am not saying in the end that I agree with all or even most of what the author is so boldly willing to declare.
I stand with Desmond Tutu, who wrote one of the forewords to her book. "I do not agree with everything that Nancy Abrams says about the scientific understanding of God," the Archbishop writes. But "...The God I believe in...wants us to keep learning and discovering and exploring every inch...of creation.... This book will help you clarify your own personal understanding of God.... I recommend it highly to all, religious or secular, believer or atheist, who are ready to explore honestly their understanding of the divine in our beautiful, expanding universe."
Amen, brother Tutu. And bravo, Nancy Abrams.
As a child, I was raised in one of the major churches that preached revealed religion via "faith" (i.e. just believe what you are told), but as I matured I became an agnostic because I simply could not accept what I had been taught as a child. I have remained uncertain about how things came about in the Universe, and how it could have just "happened," and could there be a god. This book seemed to offer a possible answer, so it intrigued me.
This book provoked a variety of thoughts and emotions for me, thus I judge the book a very worthwhile read.
I fully admit that I did not (and still do not) grasp all of what the author is trying to say, so I need to read it again. I can't say that about very many books.
Some of the author's ideas are fascinating, while others I reject. I will leave other readers to decide for themselves on these, and won't attempt to review all of them here.
One of the ideas I liked the best was her description of "god" as an "emergent" phenomenon. Perhaps I don't get out enough, but I was not familiar with the whole concept of "emergence." But now that I have been introduced to the concept by this book, many (non-religious) things are much more clear. Simply put, an emergent phenomenon is one that is literally greater than the sum of its parts, e.g. a living organism is composed of unthinking atoms that individually just obey the laws of physics, but when aggregated into a human body, a totally new and wonderful thing emerges - somehow. The author's premise is that god is also emergent, which is quite interesting. I am still trying to decide if I buy this or not, but I *am* still thinking about it.
Overall, the author firmly believes that the laws of physics do apply everywhere, and that "god" must also obey them. So if you don't agree with that, some or most of the book will be a tough sell. But she makes a convincing case that this might be true.
Perhaps my only disappointment was that if "god" truly is an emergent phenomenon, that still does not explain "the beginning." But perhaps god did not create the universe. Perhaps there never was a beginning, and just an endless circle. More to think about.
None of this can be proven or disproven, but at least here we have a coherent body of thought that doesn't rely upon blind faith in a revealed religion of some type.
Throughout history concepts of God have evolved to explain the workings of the universe as it is best understood. Historically theologians did their best to make their image of God consistent with the universe as they understood it to be. Today our understanding of the universe has advanced far beyond what the gods of traditional religions explain. These obsolete gods are holding people back. This book proposes a concept of god that is up-to-date with our present understanding of the universe.
The book emerges from a dilemma faced by the author. Because her husband is Joel Primack, a prominent physicist who studies the origins of the universe, she is conversant with the most up-to-date research describing the origins of the universe and its composition including dark energy and dark matter. Based on her husband’s research, she has total confidence in the accuracy of these scientific findings. She lived as an atheist most of her life. However, recently she has been able to recover from an addiction to overeating using the spiritual approach of a twelve-step program. She conceived of the higher power called for in the program as a “loving but unbullshitable witness to my thoughts.”
She abandons the tired question “Does God Exist?” as a hopeless distraction and instead pursues the question “Could anything actually exist in the universe, as science understands it, that is worthy of being called God?” The price of a real God is that we have to consciously let go of what makes it unreal.
Rejecting intelligence, tool making, and language as the defining characteristic of humans, she proposes that humans are unique because <i>we aspire to something more</i>. After illustrating the concept of emergence she presents the core thesis of the book: <i>God is endlessly emerging from the staggering complexity of all humanity’s aspirations across time</i>. God is all that drives us forward toward what we can be and what we want to be.
Chapters 4–6 making up part II of the book are somewhat contrived. Here she attempts to accommodate spirituality, prayer, and afterlife within her reality-based concept of God. These ideas are thought-provoking and worthy of more discussion, but not yet settled in my mind.
In Chapter 7 she gives practical suggestions for renewing and reinventing religion. After describing actions to bring religion into harmony with reality, she identifies three sacred goals: 1) to protect our extraordinary jewel of a planet, 2) to do our best for future generations, and 3) to identify with humanity’s story.
Chapter 8 outlines a “Planetary Morality.” Here she considers the essential question: “How can we individually expand our moral sense to care about our collective effects at size scales and timescales we are just beginning to grasp?” She presents eight high-level principles for good living informed from a global perspective.
This book is both poetic and scientific. Within a rigorous scientific framework she passionately discusses spirituality, prayer, love, identity, common bonds, heaven, and hell. “For the first time we can have a coherent picture of reality that meets our highest scientific standards, reveals unexplored terrain in ourselves, has a meaningful place for an awesome God, and frees our spirits to strike out with fervor—and not a moment too soon.”
Read this important and thought-provoking book. It is boldly conceived, well written, clearly argued, and backed by reliable evidence.
In most ways this is not the traditional God. This in effect is the God that Nancy Abrams invents and tries to explain. The writing and philosophy becomes extremely esoteric and even at times a belief that holds both sides of the coin - not just one solid idea. The language and presentation of ideas is often confusing and not well explained.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating parts of the book for many will be the foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He does not agree with everything she says, but believes her book will clarify the reader's own understanding of God. That is a better recommendation than I can give. There is much in the pages that is contradictory and not fully explained. She states that evolution is unpredictable, so God did not create this. Beliefs and statements such as these are just left as a statement - one just longs for more understanding of the points that are being made.
The historical information is thought-provoking, but at many points does not explain her thinking.
There are still a lot of perceptions concerning God in this book that will challenge many readers, but there is also much to learn and food for thought.
The author -- an atheist, or at least an apatheist -- suffers from an eating disorder, and is impressed by the fact that in a self-help group that she joins, the people who put their trust in a "higher power" seem to do well. Rather than wondering about the psychosocial aspects of this observation, she feels compelled to find out if there's any natural phenomenon which would fit that description. She hypothesizes that perhaps there is some entity that is "emergent" from human consciousness, and opines that such an entity might be "worthy" of the term "god".
Now she provides no evidence for the existence of such an entity, nor does she attempt to explain what "emergence" might involve. She seems to view emergence as a mysterious process that requires no explanation -- a bit like the Gaia hypothesis, or some of Deepak Chopra's quantum nonsense. It is, of course, nothing of the kind. Biology is "emergent" from chemistry and physics, in that the latter provide a plastic framework in which information-theoretic processes can -- contingently -- emerge, but that doesn't mean that biological phenomena are epistemologically mysterious. (I pinch myself for effect.)
So by the end of the first section we have an unsupported hypothesis which seems "worthy" of the term "god". Most theists would wonder whether an entity which is so radically contingent and highly local (in both space and time) would fit the bill; it's hardly a prime mover, or a ground of being, or a timeless and omnipotent father figure. Oddly, Abrams seems to feel that this is a case where people should just "get over it", and the "god" is quickly capitalized. Prayers follow; rituals are not far behind.
Now, I'm an atheist, so I find most concepts of "god" pretty much incoherent. Nevertheless, as deities go, this is a pretty unsatisfactory one. After all, one errant asteroid could wipe out all human life in a moment, and since Abrams' god is merely an emergent property of human consciousness, bang goes god. Of course we wouldn't be around to notice it, but it all seems remarkably parochial.
Ultimately, this book left me annoyed, almost angry. A silly piece of imagination, unsupported by any evidence, framed in language which exploits and abuses scientific thought, proposed as a replacement for conventional deities. "Could be real". What does "real" mean in this context? We're not told. Ultimately Abrams' decided that she wanted to believe, and made up something that she could believe in, without any evidence. That's silly.