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A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet

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A paradigm-shifting blend of science, religion, and philosophy for the agnostic, spiritual-but-not-religious, and scientifically minded reader
Many people are fed up with the way traditional religion alienates them. Too often it perpetuates conflict, vilifies science, and undermines reason. Nancy Abrams—a philosopher of science, lawyer, and lifelong atheist—is among these people, but she has also found freedom in imagining a higher power.
In  A God That Could Be Real , Abrams explores a radically new way of thinking about God. She dismantles several common assumptions about God and shows why an omniscient, omnipotent God that created the universe and plans what happens is incompatible with science—but that this doesn’t preclude a God that can comfort and empower us.
Moving away from traditional arguments for God, Abrams finds something worthy of the name “God” in the new science of just as a complex ant hill emerges from the collective behavior of individually clueless ants, and just as the global economy emerges from the interactions of billions of individuals’ choices, God, she argues, is an “emergent phenomenon” that arises from the staggering complexity of humanity’s collective aspirations and is in dialogue with every individual. This God did not create the universe—it created the meaning of the universe. It’s not universal—it’s planetary. It can’t change the world, but it helps us change the world. A God that could be real, Abrams shows us, is what humanity needs to inspire us to collectively cooperate to protect our warming planet and create a long-term civilization.

200 pages, Hardcover

First published March 10, 2015

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About the author

Nancy Ellen Abrams

6 books11 followers
Nancy Ellen Abrams is a writer and lawyer with a background in the history, philosophy, and politics of science, who has worked on science and technology policy. She has also for over two decades closely followed Joel’s research, attended countless astrophysics conferences, and talked to almost everyone in the field. Together they have developed and taught a prize-winning course at the University of California, Santa Cruz, called Cosmology and Culture.

Nancy Ellen Abrams received her B.A. in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Chicago, her J.D. from the University of Michigan, and a diploma in international law from the Escuela Libre de Derecho in Mexico City. She was a Fulbright Scholar and a Woodrow Wilson Designate. She is a writer whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers, and magazines, such as The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Environment, California Lawyer, Science and Global Security, and Tikkun. She has a long-term interest in the role of science in shaping a new politics and has worked in this area for a European environmental think tank in Rome, the Ford Foundation, and the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress, where she co-invented (with R. Stephen Berry of the National Academy of Sciences) a novel procedure called “Scientific Mediation.” This procedure permits government agencies to make intelligent policy decisions in areas where the relevant science is crucial yet controversial. Scientific Mediation aims not to resolve scientific disputes, which can only be done by scientific research, but to make the essence of the disputed issue transparent to the non-scientists making the actual policy decision. She has consulted on its use for the state governments of California and Wisconsin, private corporations and organizations, and the government of Sweden, where Scientific Mediation has become standard procedure in the Ministry of Industry. With Joel R. Primack, she co-authored a prize-winning article on quantum cosmology and Kabbalah, as well as numerous articles on science policy, space policy, and cultural implications of modern cosmology.

Abrams is also a songwriter who has performed at conferences, concerts, and events in eighteen countries, released three albums, and been featured on National Public Radio and television. New York Times science writer Dennis Overbye’s bestseller, Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, describes her songs, includes a photo of her with Joel, and closes with the complete lyrics to a song she wrote for and performed at the 1986 Nearly Normal Galaxies conference, one of many major astronomy conferences where she has performed. The late Senator Paul Wellstone used lyrics from another of Nancy’s songs as chapter headings in his book Powerline. Several of the songs on her 2002 album, Alien Wisdom, explore themes from The View from the Center of the Universe.

Abrams has been intrigued by science’s border with myth since studying with Mircea Eliade at the University of Chicago. She works as a scholar to put the discoveries of modern cosmology into a cultural context and as a writer and artist to communicate their possible meanings at a deeper level. “Cosmology and Culture,” the course she and Joel developed and have co-taught since 1996 at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has received awards from both the Templeton Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies. Abrams and Primack’s co-written articles have appeared in books and magazines including Astronomy Now, Philosophy in Science, Science, Science & Spirit, Spirituality and Health, and Tikkun.

Over the past ten years, she and her husband, Joel R. Primack, have given many invited talks on themes from The View from the Center of the Universe not only at universities but at planetariums, cultural centers, conferences, churches, and synagogues. Their talks are multimedia presentations, in which Joel presents new cosmological ideas and Nancy discusses

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 56 reviews
Profile Image for Leland Beaumont.
Author 5 books31 followers
March 11, 2015
This is one of the most intriguing books I have read in some time. It shows us a way forward toward a coherence that transcends the divisive religious doctrines that deny the well-established truths of the universe and the sterile scientific models that ignore or dismiss the power of spirituality.

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 we aspire to something more. After illustrating the concept of emergence she presents the core thesis of the book: God is endlessly emerging from the staggering complexity of all humanity’s aspirations across time. 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.
Profile Image for Nancy.
Author 8 books14 followers
January 29, 2015
This Book Will Challenge Your Concept of God

Nancy Abrams, after being an atheist for her whole life, set out to discover a god she could believe in. The search started because Abrams has an eating disorder. After joining a Twelve Step Program, she realized that belief in a Higher Power helped her overcome her addiction.

Abrams' husband is a well-know scientist who was part of the team that developed the concept of the universe filled with dark matter and dark energy. With this background, Abrams set out to discover a god that was compatible with science, as she understands it. Her concept is that God didn't create the universe, or the planet Earth. In fact, God didn't exist until human beings developed the capacity to think. God is an emergent property of human consciousness. This is a fascinating theory and one that no matter what your religious beliefs, or even if you're an atheist, is challenging to read and worthy of debate.

I found the first chapters of the book fascinating. Abrams does a good job of explaining the science behind the present theory of the universe. Her discussion of the evolution of our concept of God through various civilizations was equally well done. I had a harder time with the latter chapters of the book where she tackles the questions of whether there is a spiritual world, an afterlife, and whether God answers prayers. I felt she was stretching the limits of her theory.

However, this book is worth reading. It will inspire you to define your own beliefs, or perhaps to adopt hers. I recommend it if you like challenging new theories.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.
Profile Image for Casey Nicholson.
7 reviews4 followers
August 8, 2015
This book was a pretty big let down for me.

First off, let's start with the premise: Abrams has set out to write a book that discusses how we can believe in modern and contemporary science, and yet at the same time believe in a God. This is a much-needed topic for people of faith and those who are interested in the metaphysics of a traditionally conceived (or even a non-traditionally conceived) deity, as so often contemporary science is used to argue against faith.

I read about the book via one of Abrams' blog posts which had been republished on NPR. I found the concept to be quite intriguing, and Abrams gave just enough of her argument to make the book seem very worthwhile.

However, once you get into the reading, what you'll find is that Abrams really isn't arguing for a "real" God at all, which is a shame since there were so many creative opportunities for her to go in the direction of such. Instead, what Abrams is arguing for (though she never comes right out and says it) is a utilitarian or pragmatist concept of God. In other words, we should believe in God purely because of what holding such a belief can do for us. Abrams makes her entire argument based on her own experience with food addiction, and explains that even though she never exactly latched on to believing in a traditional "higher power" as part of her twelve step program, she nevertheless came to appreciate the benefits that acting as though she had has had in her life. Essentially, Abrams is saying that God is her imaginary, but useful, friend. That's a far cry from "a God that could be real" in my view.

The other side of the argument that Abrams is clearly arguing for but never comes right out and says is that she believes in God as a concept. Her entire argument is that humans create God, not vice versa, but since we have created God that we now should make good use of the concept of God. And for Abrams this means treating God as real, even though her departure point for her entire argument is that God is a mere concept as opposed to any sort of traditionally conceived deity. This flies in the face of what most people think of when they think of the terms of either "God" or "real". The exact same argument could be used for any imaginary being, say a unicorn or a dragon. We know that dragons aren't real, but we can imagine them, and perhaps they're quite good at scaring our kids away from playing in the woods of our summer home in the mountains, so let's imagine that dragons are real since doing so has some benefit in our lives.

That said, it's not that there are not some redeeming elements to Abrams' line of thought. I found myself highlighting passages throughout the book, and even if I disagree with her overall argument she nevertheless has much to say that is insightful as we think about science and religion. The problem, though, is that the book is filled with circular reasoning that will make it unappealing to both religious folks and atheists alike--not to mention those who want to sympathize with her but simply can't get past the poor argument that the entire book is built around.

And so, I'm giving this work 2/5 stars, with thoughts of just one star. It is intriguing and well written and has some clever things to say--but it's a far cry from a good read.
Profile Image for copyeditcat.
47 reviews2 followers
June 29, 2015
Abrams gives readers a science-based creation story that places God firmly in reality and expands human consciousness to a cosmic level. The result is a sense of deep personal meaning despite the way Abrams' ideas transcend personal concepts of time and space. Loved it!
Profile Image for Mike Smith.
472 reviews15 followers
August 29, 2015
Nancy Abrams is a journalist and historian of science and has been a lawyer. She is married to a world-class physicist who is doing ground-breaking work in dark matter and dark energy. She is also an atheist. Some years ago, when acknowledging a severe food addiction, she turned to a 12-step support group. One of the techniques the group taught her was to "talk" to a "higher power". She felt foolish at first when she found herself essentially talking to herself, but she also, surprisingly, found it worked; she was able to control her urges to eat. But this only worked when she thought of her conversational partner as something outside herself, not just one part of herself. She wondered why this worked. The results of her study and investigation led to this book.

Abrams spends some time explaining why the traditional view of God as an independent, self-aware, cosmos-creating, all-powerful consciousness is not possible within the real universe as science currently understands it. That God was acceptable when our understanding of the universe was more limited, but our knowledge has changed, and so must our view of God. She suggests that God is an emergent phenomenon of human activity, in the way that the global economy is an emergent phenomenon of the actions of individual buyers and sellers, or in the way that an ant colony is an emergent phenomenon of the behaviour of individual ants. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We, as individuals, may have a vague sense of the existence some higher-order something, but because we are the sources of that something, we can't quite grasp it, except through meditation and prayer -- mindfulness, essentially.

Abrams goes on to explain her theory and what this view of God means for spirituality and our sense of our role in the universe. She ties this in with our duty to take care of planet Earth for ourselves and for all future Earthly life. Several times, Abrams says we are living in a critical era where our actions in in this century will decide the fate of humanity, and if we don't get our concept of God right, if we spend our time arguing or even engaging in violence over different views of God, we may make the wrong choices.

Abrams's arguments and theories aren't exactly new; as I mentioned above, much of her suggestions on how to interact with God remind me of modern mindfulness instruction. Some of her ideas also reminded me of Scott Adams's book God's Debris : A Thought Experiment, which asks readers to consider the idea that God, who had never experienced death, killed himself by causing the Big Bang, and all the particles of Creation, including us, are little parts of God re-combining themselves into God once more. God is us and we are God. That said, I haven't seen these ideas combined in quite this way before.

Abrams is definitely enthusiastic about her theory, and it seems clear that this view has helped her gain control over her life. As Desmond Tutu says in the foreword, however, many people from established religions will have a hard time accepting her view of God as limited, bound to our species and our planet, and emerging from our actions. While this book is obviously sincere and heartfelt, and although it is well written and easy to read, I don't think it has the narrative, mythical power that a new conception of God is going to need to succeed against existing traditions. And yet...

I remember a few times in my early 20s (about 30 years ago), when I was into naked-eye astronomy, looking up at the stars and imagining myself as a speck on a rotating planet. I tried to imagine how big, how three-dimensional, space is. For a few moments, I truly felt like I understood my scale and place in the cosmos, yet at the same time I felt a part of it. That very activity is part of Abrams's instruction on how to interact with God. So I do get that there is something in what she says. I admit I haven't tried to recapture that feeling in decades. If you see me out in a field late at night with my face to the sky, just give me a few minutes.
Profile Image for Geoff Glenister.
117 reviews3 followers
June 16, 2015
I loved this book. I loved the way Nancy Abrams challenged me to think in new ways about God. I'm not sure I fully agree with her conclusions, but that's what's so fun about this book.

Nancy's husband was instrumental in formulating and proving the "double dark theory". This theory has two postulates: 1) only "dark matter" (my oversimplified explanation: matter which cannot be directly observed as is does not interact with light) can explain what holds galaxies together (without it, there shouldn't be enough matter for them to be held together by gravity: they should fly apart) and 2) only "dark energy" can explain how the expansion of the universe is speeding up.

A few great things about the book:
- One of the two forwards is written by Desmond Tutu, and I just love his opening statement:
I must begin by acknowledging that I do not agree with everything that Nancy Abrams says about a scientific understanding of God. I dare say many religious believers will be deeply challenged by this book, but they will come away better for having read it, as we all do when our most cherished views are explored more deeply.

I wish all Christians would engage like this. More and more I am just so sick and tired of the way that Christians seem to typically engage with people they disagree with - an immediate hostility and attempts to defeat that quite often completely miss what the other is saying as well as one's own biases. If we could learn to treasure challenges, as Tutu does here, it would be much more healthy.

- Abrams starts out by introducing how she went from completely dismissing any idea of "God" to questioning what kind of God could exist in our universe, given the current understandings of science. She talks about how she suffered from an eating disorder, and joined a group that basically sounds like it reused some of the Alcoholics Anonymous ideas for eating disorders - thus, the group starts from the assumption that one must accept that there is a "higher power", and must appeal to this "higher power" in order to overcome the eating disorder. Abrams rebelled against this, initially, but then decided to go forward AS IF such a being existed, and to imagine this being, regardless of her beliefs. When she discovered that doing so seemed to help her with her eating disorder MORE than anything else she'd tried, this got her thinking along the lines of "what kind of God could exist in our universe, given what we know about science?"

- The first chapter hits the ground running, and Abrams gives a very nice (though brief) overview of the history of God - meaning in this case, how "theology" developed over time. She does an incredible job of summarizing this history - one of the best quick overviews of the development from polytheism to monotheism to the challenge of Copernicus (and why that challenged the current theological paradigm) I've seen. One of the best parts of this chapter is that she talks about how these earlier theological paradigms were fully coherent - given these cultures' current scientific understanding. In contrast, our modern society seems to have completely avoided the problems that modern science creates for certain understandings of God - we end up with a God that is immune to any scientific challenge because this God is completely and fully removed from the cosmos (she doesn't use this terminology, but I think "magical thinking" applies here). Thus, our modern theological systems are nothing but hearsay - we can basically play "Calvinball" with them (my words) and make up the rules as we go along.

- I loved her chapter on prayer. Prayer is something I struggle with - it just doesn't make sense to be presenting our wishlist to an infinite being. But her thoughts on the subject really helped me. And I appreciated how she also included some thoughts on how meditation and imagination can be forms of prayer as well.
Profile Image for Joy H..
1,342 reviews62 followers
September 30, 2016
Added 8/6/16. (Published March 10th 2015 by Beacon Press )

I discovered this book when I asked a neighbor what he was reading. Then I read the sample by clicking on the word "Preview" at the book's GR page at:

It sounds fascinating!

9/16/16 - I borrowed the book from our public library. I'm still reading it. I'm on p.70 of 163 pages. So far, I cannot relate to her definition of the "God that could be real." The author says that "God" will emerge but will not have the same characteristics of the traditional God (who is a divine "person") . It won't even be a "person". I cannot relate to her idea of this new "God".

The following is from GR review of Nancy Famolari:
"Abrams set out to discover a god that was compatible with science, as she understands it. Her concept is that God didn't create the universe, or the planet Earth. In fact, God didn't exist until human beings developed the capacity to think. God is an emergent property of human consciousness. This is a fascinating theory and one that no matter what your religious beliefs, or even if you're an atheist, is challenging to read and worthy of debate."
SEE MORE OF Nancy Famolari's REVIEW AT: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Nancy Famolari's profile page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show...

9/23/16 - I'm still trying to get through this collection of vague statements mixed with scientific facts or theories. I can't relate to much of what this author says (except for the actual scientific info). It's even hard to explain what she is saying. Seems like a vague theory to me. IMO, she is using the word "God" in the wrong way. It's a misnomer. What she is explaining isn't "God" to me, it's simply the unknown part of the Universe. She says that God will emerge.

Horsefeathers, hogwash, claptrap and poppycock!

To me this book is just a roundabout way of motivating people to protect our environment for the sake of the human species, for all other species, and for the sake of the Earth and the Universe itself. She's trying to unite us by changing our perspective (or our "consciousness"). However, it seems to me that she could have done it better by not confusing the issue with the concept of "God". After all, she is an atheist (or perhaps an agnostic) (if we use the common definitions of the words).

AND THINK ABOUT THIS: So many people WANT to believe that there is a God, that they suspend disbelief. They accept what Abrams is saying, and parrot her, hoping that Abrams, in some way, has found "God" for us. No she hasn't. She has simply added more BUZZWORDS to our vocabularies, e.g., the cosmic "Uroboros" and "Midgard" (the setting of our "mental zoom lense"). Such metaphors are fun but they don't convince me.

Also see the review of Goodreads member, Casey Nicholson. He says:
"Abrams is clearly arguing ... that she believes in God as a concept. Her entire argument is that humans create God, not vice versa, but since we have created God that we now should make good use of the concept of God."
SEE HIS ENTIRE REVIEW AT: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Michael.
68 reviews
May 26, 2015
Abrams has an ambitious task of engaging traditional monotheists and Richard-Dawkins-like-Atheist types (atheists, henceforth). On the one hand, she challenges traditional monotheism arguing that historical doctrines about God cannot be true given contemporary physics. I don't think she really means that it cannot be true. Rather, I think it should probably be interpreted as claiming that God shouldn't be an entity that is merely compatible with contemporary physics, but that nature and God should be connected in a more intimate way akin to the way the Egyptians thought of the Nile as both a part of the natural world and part of the religious world. In that line of thought, the doctrines that Abrams argues must be abandoned are:
(1) God existed before the universe.
(2) God created the universe.
(3) God knows everything.
(4) God plans what happens.
(5) God can choose to violate the laws of nature.

On the other hand, she was helped immensely by the higher-power in a particular 12-step recovery program in which she participated. She argues that the recovery program would not and did not have the same effect when she considered the higher-power merely as a better part of herself, a psychological need/crutch, or some other such non-God entity.

Abrams argues that one can have a "real" God (described above) and have a being valuable for something like a 12-step program by thinking of God as an emergent entity. Just as biology emerges from chemistry and physics but can't be reduced to them, so God emerges from human beings but cannot be reduced to them. Biology is no less real than physics. It has its own principles, regularities, and methods of study. For Abrams, God is something like economics. It is a emergent discipline/entity that arises from the complex set of interactions that we humans have with one another. It continues even when particular human beings are no more, and it is "real" just like the market is real.

Positives: I saw a great deal of value is thinking about what difference the world makes to our faith. That is, if our faith pulls us away from the world, research, learning, and each other, then we miss something integral to (at least) the Christian faith.

Historical Similarities: But I also saw Abrams' book as something like a contemporary, popular version of Hegel's philosophy of religion. Like Hegel, she sees some value in traditional thinking but we need to go beyond it. We need a God who can be real, or actual in Hegel's language.

Possible Criticisms: This line of thinking made me wonder how Kierkegaard's relations to Hegel might be a way forward for faith. A way that faith can be united to the world in the way that Abrams describes without abandoning at least some versions of the traditional doctrines.
Profile Image for Wayne.
9 reviews4 followers
July 3, 2020
The author's hypothesis is interesting. You can boil the whole book down to this: 'God' is an emergent property of humans just like culture is. Is 'culture' a physical reality? Can you dissect it with a knife? No, but it is quite real. The same is true of 'God' which emerged from the collective aspirations of all humanity.

The main idea in the book is worth thinking about and the author's approach is fairly unique. My issue with the book is that it 'drones on'. There are sections where there is page after page of verbiage that is just rehashing points that have been made. She could have used more examples and thought experiments to make the book more engaging. The basic points could have been made in 50 pages. In other words, what is a book should have been a pamphlet. (A common problem with non-fiction today).
1 review
September 1, 2015
My review is actually 4 times longer than their maximum length allowed on this Website.

Nancy identifies her god as emerging out of the highest aspirations and creative works of art made by human beings throughout its evolutionary history. In the Whiteheadian sense, Nancy's emergent god is an individual, just as real as you or me, but it is not a person. This emergent god is capitalized by Nancy, indicating it is her God.

Nancy realizes that some will think that her limited concept of God is inadequate for those with a more traditional idea of the nature and place of God. Therefore these people will think that her emergent god is -- ugly word --idolatrous. The thought is that she's mistaking her god for the True God.

That accusation presumes a lot. Her God is a finite individual, emerging from the cumulative highest aspirations and creations of humanity since it arrived at self-consciousness. That is one mighty powerful individual. It holds tremendous sway over current shining stars of humanity. Yet, surely its power and glory are well beneath the power and glory of the True God, so these traditional worshipers believe.

People who feel that way today are probably reacting somewhat thoughtlessly. After all, Nancy's god is demonstrably real. It is a real individual that exists at the pinnacle of the greatest and most celestial creations of historical humanity. It is not the True God however.

At this point let me identify myself as someone who agrees with the wording of their belief, but who rejects the unbelievable properties of their worn out, obsolete, scientifically absurd God. Yet it remains that Nancy's god is below the true source of the universe, what many people believe is the True God, with a capital G. Nancy would say that she's unaware of the existence of any God or individual higher than her emergent god (although she would spell it with a capital G), but it seems that her entire attitude would be open to the idea that if there was scientific evidence for the existence of a higher God, she'd be willing to examine it and she might accept the existence of this higher God, and perhaps even try to communicate with it.

The trouble is, the most prevalent concepts of God in the modern world are simply not believable for anyone who has a scientific understanding of the way the world really is. In addition, it is a grievous mistake to take literally so-called "Sacred Scripture," that at least it must be reinterpreted metaphorically (I prefer to call it "mythologically," using Joseph Campbell's understanding of this word). This is the only way to recover the original spiritual insights of the sacred writings, in the light of what we know today about the way the world really works. Nancy also explains how big and how small things are in the universe, and that we're right in the middle of the possible size scales, which should make us feel special: we're at the center of things, Copernicus notwithstanding.

But we don't have to limit ourselves with any of the current idols most of the world names "God" -- literally blaspheming, I believe -- in their worship. We don't want to worship a mere idol and call it God. The True God is part of reality and more fundamental to reality than any idol currently worshiped by human beings. The "God" of most religions in the current world have been ground down into finite idols, disconnected from Ultimate Reality.

Nancy's god is unabashedly limited. Through Nancy, her emergent god knows itself as depending on the existence of the human race for its own existence. If humanity flickers out, Nancy's god fades out of existence as well. Meanwhile, the True God lives on, the highest individual in the universe, who has existed since the Big Bang, and before. We honor the True God by attributing the Big Bang to his generosity and curiosity, and all of the Big Bangs ever to have occurred or will occur.

The tale I'm about to tell is radically different from all the historical tales that Nancy is ridiculing because people take them literally and they were conceived before our scientific discovery of what the world is really like. With that scientific outlook, my theology recognizes that the True God has a separate existence from every other individual in the universe, but made of the same fundamental "stuff" that human beings and everything else is.

The True God is primordial, the most fundamental individual in the universe, the source of everything that the universe is made out of. Further, the True God is much more at ease with a self-conscious species at ease with the modern scientific picture of the world, than a self-conscious species hostile to the scientific picture of the world, because science is a route to understanding the way the universe really works with the True God at its foundation.

Before I can deal directly with issues raised in Nancy's book, I have to elaborate my claim that there is a way of conceiving the True God as fundamental to reality, on which all reality is built, and in terms that are supported by the findings of modern science.

My views owe a lot to Whitehead's and Hartshorne's process philosophy of religion (which I have studied for decades), except for one fundamental difference that 20th century process philosophers, especially Christian process philosophers, would deem heretical, and undoubtedly complete nonsense by Christian literalists. This is that God creates the universe out of himself.

The following are what I consider are the characteristics of the True God, which I believe any logical investigation into the matter will eventually uncover. However, we're talking about God. The only way to do that is to talk in mythological language.

Characteristics of the True God
1. God creates the universe in Big Bangs that spray into the world a mist of particles "made out of" God himself. This assertion is what the 20th century process philosophers will regard as heresy, and they seem to have specifically denied this in their writings. But in my theology, the world is indeed made out of God, the mist of God.
2. Each particle in the mist -- which is actually a field in the scientific sense -- has the nature of God, but is capable of only minimal reflection of God and no reflection on God. Instances of the fields in the mist of God are properly called "individuals." What I'm calling an individual, Nancy calls an entity that is the result of emergent processes. I use the word, individual, in the technical sense that Charles Hartshorne does, and I define it below in items 4 and 5.
3. The mist of God thus contains the nature of God buried in its potential, since it is made out of "God-stuff." The mist is God-stuff.
4. The particles in the mist of God are the simplest individuals in the universe. All individuals are capable of combining into hierarchical groups that receive a new central focus. That new, emergent central focus of all the subordinate individuals is itself an individual, what may be termed a "top level" individual.
5. A human being is a top level individual. So is a biological organ, cell, organelle within a cell, all molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles, namely all physical fields in the universe are individuals. An individual has a center that all of the individuals beneath it support, either directly or indirectly. A lump of coal is not an individual because it is not a hierarchically organized conglomeration of individuals: it is a random lump of them. This use of the term, individual, is straight out of Whitehead's and Hartshorne's process philosophy and is explained very clearly in Griffin's Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism.
6. God himself is a field in the universe that has always filled the universe, something like the Higgs Field, only potentially rich without limits. This field is Ultimate Reality. (It is realized that this doctrine will be regarded as one of those "kooky" tales one raises one's eyebrows about, but unfortunately, it is pivotal to my central vision of the True God. And of course it is outrageous religious heresy (but that concept is suspect these days).
7. The field of God is attracted to and concentrates growing divine energy on each individual emerging in the world from the mist of God. These energized points in the field of God may be called "the peaks of God." Highlights of God are distributed around the universe in randomly emerging peaks engulfing pyramids of individuals composed of the mist of God.
8. God is a natural individual in the universe. So his field is a natural feature of the universe. (Of course we humans can't see this field of God with any of our current scientific instruments, anymore than we can see dark matter.) The peaks of God being natural features of the universe, God's vision from his peaks is limited by the speed of light. So one peak of God does not know about other peaks of God beyond their event horizon. This point is another one of those laughable heresies I'm asking the reader to stick and have patience with, as well as the previous one I started with in the first item.
9. The peak of God enveloping the individual attempts to lure the finest potential out of the emerging individual. But the divine lure comes into conflict with the urgings arising naturally within the emerging individual. God cannot coerce an individual. (That would make the whole universe meaningless, if the truth be told.) He can only lure an individual in a certain direction in the individual's decision making process, in competition with all the other lures affecting the individual. These other lures come from within the individual itself, as well as from the environment in which the individual finds itself.
10. The complexities in the universe are created through the consolidation of the divine mists of God.
11. Immortality and the topic of consciousness. The field of God, which is part of reality itself along with all the physical objects and individuals in the universe, is the seat of all consciousness. All consciousness is the consciousness of God. This is why the "end" of our consciousness in death does not one iota affect that consciousness we had while were alive. That consciousness is immortal: it is the one and only consciousness of God. Our consciousness now, at this moment as you are reading this? It's the consciousness of God.
12. My take on Nancy's discussion on human immortality. This consciousness which lives on after we die does not by any means entirely fade back into the fathomless depths of God. While alive, your consciousness continuously swims in your memories. Some of this consciousness lives on in the intricate net and memories among the living that we created while we lived. That "memorial" consciousness actually continues to evolve in all the connections it makes as its human environment moves into the future. So don't sweat death.
13. The treasury of the consciousness of God increases with the complexity of the component individuals at any given point in his field. Here, God's attention lights up and the complexity of the required divine attention sets the intensity of the divine energy peak rising out of the field of God.
14. The field of God itself has unlimited potential at every point, but it takes the draw of an individual at a point to concentrate the divine attention on that individual. The attention is complete and exhaustive on the top-level individual at that point, as well as complete and exhaustive on the complete hierarchy of individuals forming the pyramid of the top-level. The top-level individual is thus enveloped by the peak of God, which intimately intermingles with the detailed structure of the hierarchy of individuals making up that top level individual.
15. God has perfect visibility into every individual at all levels of complexity and sees the connections that every individual has with other individuals in his own pyramid and in his environment.
16. Minor point: The environment however of an individual embedded deeply in the hierarchy of a top-level individual might be more closed off from the rest of the universe than a "freer" individual "in the open air" so to speak, such as a human being, or a parrot for that matter.
17. When God is concentrated in a peak in the field of God, God has a local focus of consciousness which is an exhaustive knowledge of the structure of every individual in the pyramid of individual levels out of which the top-level individual is constructed. But God's knowledge and what God exhaustively sees also includes connections with the other individuals in the world that have connections with the individual at the top of the hierarchy that God is enveloping and shining his light on. Thus from any peak in the mist of God, God's knowledge extends out into the world as far as there are connections with other individuals. This distance of course is limited by the speed of light defining our event horizon.
18. God's wish is to maximize the self-actualization of every individual, taking into consideration its environment and its ability to recognize the lures (temptations) of God. This is a description of the Love of God.
19. The Love of God floods over every individual, even when individuals come into conflict with each other. God "rooting" for both sides and influencing the individuals as much as possible, given the inherent freedom of every individual to choose promptings from everything in its environment including its own nature, results in the unfolding and evolution of biological life in the midst of the Perfect Love of God.
20. This Perfect Love of God for all individuals eventually invades and increases the heights of consciousness until it erupts into self-consciousness.
21. The human species finds itself near the beginning of its awakening into self-consciousness. The arrival of self-consciousness only happened in the last few tens of thousands of years, the mere beginning of where it might lead in a billion years or so, which will probably happen if Earth with humanity's help can survive its current environmental crises.
22. God has a perfect understanding of all of the aspirations of all individuals striving for their future. But the future is available to God's visibility only as a series of probabilities of future events, realizing that all individuals have degrees of freedom independent from God in deciding what to do from moment to moment.
23. Why are the fields of the mist of God independent from God? Because that's what God did when he sprayed out his mist in the Big Bang. He made them rudimentary individuals! This very act of God can only result in individuals who are unresponsive to the lure of God, simply because they are not conscious enough. This makes them independent from God, even though they are made out of him, in spraying a mist of himself composed of individuals so simple that each has only one quantum of consciousness, the smallest amount possible. This natural independence from God is then left to its own devices and the individuals are completely free just to be themselves. But they all have the nature of God. When they form groups that themselves are individuals, consciousness gradually emerges.
24. In fact, that's the whole point of doing Big Bangs in the first place. God wants to see his own Self constructed from practically nothing, namely the individuals unreceptive to consciousness that were the original members of the mist of God. For God, watching individuals emerge as more and more conscious from his virtually unconscious mist, that is an unlimited adventure whose paths of development are entirely unpredictable by God or anything else.
25. This is how God sets up the rules of the game, rules that bring about his greatest enjoyment. He pulverizes himself into a mist so fine that even though each individual field/particle in the mist has the nature of God, the level of consciousness of each field in the mist is as close to zero as you can get. But particles in the mist of God can join together and when they do, higher level individuals emerge, up to the Fullness of God.
26. What an adventure, one that lasts for hundreds of billions of years! Although the actual path of this emergence is not known to God beforehand and so therefore is an adventure for God, like a good Hollywood script, with certainty, everything turns out ok in the end. Over the hundreds of billions of years of emergence, individuals that are perfect reflections of God will be coming out of the woodwork. God will have been constructed and realized in individuals separate from himself, and the full potential of the unconscious mist of God will have been realized. We will literally have Christs walking the Earth and even traipsing through the galaxy.
27. The laws of nature in the universe are a direct emanation from both the One True God (at every point in the universe) and the mist of God. Neither the mist nor the One True God can violate the laws of nature, as this would be a violation of the divine nature itself. The supernatural (whatever that is) cannot counteract or violate the natural, and that is perfectly all right, because nature is just following the nature of God.
28. Wherever there is the birth of a highly conscious and rational individual, there will be an "outbreak" of God penetrating into the depths of the individual and understanding it completely. Thus it makes sense to admit you had the feeling that the True God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Often, the individual has no idea that it has been lured by God in an especially fine decision that it has made. This should not be surprising. Individuals often don't know why they make a decision, whether it was from a divine lure, from urges within his own body, or from suggestions from the environment.
29. Matter is sacred. It is made out of the consolidation of the mists of God. Spirit is thus a natural emanation from matter.
30. According to Nancy, her god emerges out of the achievements and highest aspirations appearing on Earth. Her god is a top level individual with as much reality as the individual human beings and their creative works making up her god.
31. It perhaps goes without saying that Nancy's god, as with any individual in the universe, is embraced by one of the peaks of the field of God that always fills the universe and embraces individuals that are hierarchies of the mist of God. Nancy's god is sensitive to the promptings from the divine peak that embraces it, but her god is still molded by the individuals within its pyramid of individuals (which includes humanity, with all its religious vagaries and conflicts).
32. Insofar as it is within its power (which varies, depending on the degree of enlightenment in humanity) Nancy's god is 100% dedicated to helping ever individual within its hierarchy of individuals. Its very existence depends on the existence of humanity. If humanity fades away, so will Nancy's god, up to the tragic but (currently) unnecessary point where they're both gone.
33. If humanity does not cut the mustard in its current monumental crisis, humanity will fade out, Nancy's god will fade out and the peak of God enveloping Nancy's god will melt down to its background level, into its unexcited state. Memory of that divine blip will permanently flicker out of existence, if planet Earth has no self-conscious extraterrestrial connections.
34. The True God is as much God in the isolation of its peaks within the field of God as it needs to be to have full knowledge of the world this individual is and that this peak embraces. It's no big deal that an eruption of God's consciousness in its field is ignorant of the indefinite number of eruptions beyond its event horizon. All being God, each peak is equal to the task of enveloping the high level civilizations within its grasp and of understanding them exhaustively.
Profile Image for Steve.
125 reviews1 follower
May 1, 2018
It's rare for me to finish a book that I don't like, so I don't make many one-star reviews, but I read this as a favor to a friend who was interested :-)

So: Abrams rejects religion (presumably because it's not scientific), yet finds herself needing to believe in a higher power, so she invents one out of the concept of emergence - thus, what I will call Lambda because God has an established meaning, emerges from the "aspirations" of people, in the same way that new phenomena emerge from complex systems - consciousness itself, for example.

There's some interesting stuff along the way about complexity and how different theoretical models can be "true" in their own domains even if they diverge from reality in other domains, but all can be found in better books.
Profile Image for Bill Mattingly.
13 reviews
September 2, 2015
Thought Provoking. Evangelical Christians commune with God via the Holy Spirit part of the Trinity. Ms. Abrams has found how to do that in a secular manner, rationalizing "science ". She advocates a new religion, or belief of a God hidden or created in humanity. This religion is not Scientology, or secular Judaism, but most closely seems to resemble Gaia worship? It's noble goal is in part to protect humanity, that part living now and in the future, by protecting the earth. She believes humanity's course is not sustainable as now directed. A troubling aspect is that she bases the new religion on the immutable laws that govern the universe, discovered and forever proven by science. She claims that the limits of the universe are now known, invoking such terms as dark matter, dark energy, Planks constant or measure. It is above my pay grade to know if those things are true, but it seems she takes those limits as a matter of faith. Reality is as she understands it in the language of science.
Few of us with our own beliefs will abandon them on that basis. Other faiths can protect humanity and the earth without worshiping "science" as we all know scientific theories can be disproved and discoveries explained by new evidence. I do think her new religion would be preferable to the present worship of climate science which is so close minded!
Profile Image for James R.
254 reviews7 followers
July 6, 2015
This was an extremely important book for me. It's not just her idea of what might be real enough and worthy enough to be called God in an intellectually, emotionally and spiritually coherent way, that makes it so in my mind. I'm still sorting out her idea of God. No, not just an answer to what God is, but why having a coherent concept of God is important for us as individuals and to us as a human species. Her explanations of the current understanding of the universe was fascinating enough, so that I will be reading more from her and her husband about this. Her guardedly optimistic view of a positive long term future for our earth and our progeny, if we choose to become worthy ancestors, was compelling and inspirational. I readily confess I have never had the courage to believe in nothing, but struggling to define what that vital something might be in light of modern science and philosophy has been a significant quest. Ms. Abrams has given me a lot to consider and the encouragement to continue to believe that the effort is worthwhile and important. I'm going out today to buy a print version of her book, which I only do now days to books that are particularly meaningful to me.
Profile Image for Sebastian Ku.
3 reviews
May 6, 2015
By far one of the more mind-blowing books I've come across in recent memory. Some of the ideas presented in the initial chapters are a little hard for me to follow, but Abrams does a fabulous job leading her readers through an intellectual journey of re-constructing theism using emerging paradigms in modern cosmology. I finished reading the book in two sittings and absolutely plan to revisit it a slower pace to take in and understand her thesis. Highly recommended for anyone who has the slightest inkling that the model of classical theism is perhaps no longer sufficient to account for a belief in God. I came away feeling like there was a sincere and honest attempt to push boundaries and challenge dogmas, without asserting as truth what is a postulate.
Profile Image for Julie.
48 reviews31 followers
May 4, 2015
The title of the book does actually cover what is to be found inside, on the aspect of God, and how we need to redefine its meaning, also, how important is to believe in something higher and how it can help people achieve more, reach further and generally hold strong aspirations. At times, I felt it to be something of a lecture on how to save the planet and so forth. There is plenty here to think about in terms of having faith in the big man upstairs. Usually meaning to move towards something bigger and more encompassing to cushion the soul.
Profile Image for Michelle Carrell.
476 reviews32 followers
April 8, 2016
"Many people are fed up with the way traditional religion alienates them: too easily it can perpetuate conflict, vilify science, and undermine reason. " This is all very true and I can personally relate to this statement. The book itself was well written and the author seems to know what she is talking about but for me it was a bit hard to get through. A slow but worthy read.
March 13, 2015
A Deeply Inspired Work

The concept of emergence was mind-blowing. So much of what the author delineated were things I had danced with in my mind but hadn't yet articulated. She posits a fresh and useful outlook that encompasses the best facets of human experience and potential.
Profile Image for Gregg Sapp.
Author 19 books19 followers
October 11, 2022
A significant number of Americans today say they aren’t atheists, even though don’t believe in the God as depicted in most religions, because they do believe in “something.” This contention has always baffled me, because whatever “something” is, it isn’t God. So far as I know, every deity in every belief system possesses some anthropomorphic features. If you don’t believe in that kind of god, then you are, by definition, an atheist. So call “something” a universal spirit, a cosmic intelligence, or, hell, call it The Force, but don’t call it God.

In “A God That Could Be Real,” science writer Nancy Ellen Abrams does call it God, although it sounds to me more like the “something” of so many searchers. She, too, was a searcher, albeit one with a scientific world view. Thus, a God that could violate the laws of physics would not do. Her vision depicts an “emergent God,” the existence of which is the product of collective human aspirations expressed through our innate “god capacity:”

“God has emerged from aspect of us, something we were already doing in prehistory, something so ancient and fundamental that it was in our ancestors before the first ideas of gods arose. It has to be something so basic to us that without it, we might not be human.”

To simplify: As humans, we are biologically programmed to seek spiritual meaning, and that characteristic has historically manifested by imagining deities of various kinds. Contemplating a God that satisfies human needs gives meaning to the concept, and it becomes real to people in the form of faith. The idea of God emerges from these myriad yearnings, as a byproduct of our essential humanity. The emergent God thus exists, and by internalizing this perspective, we can bring it into our personal lives.

In some respects, the emergent God is no more or less real than, let's say, an emerging Kpop Mania. Just about any complex phenomenon can be considered emergent. Abrams compares it to the media, which arises from the contributions of thousands of individual sources to create something bigger, that is entirely real and has the power to influence world events. Nobody seriously doubts its existence. God can be like that, emergent from the complex interplay of human culture and psychology.

To appreciate the grandeur of participating in the human drama from which God emerges, Abrams beckons us to think big, and also to think small. My favorite sentence in the book is, “There is just as much universe within us and there is without.” She employs the image of a Cosmic Uroborus, a snake swallowing its tail, to delineate the range of sizes in reality, from the entirety of the universe to the minimum mass that quantum mechanics allows to be confined in one region.

She explains, “Every phenomenon of or creature has its place in the range of sizes on the Cosmic Uroborus, and could not exist much larger or smaller.” And “Of all the sizes possible in the cosmos, there is one size range that is special for human beings like us.” You are a child of the universe, indeed. This is trippy stuff.

The purpose of employing this perspective is to understand how our lives and consciousness are interconnected with greater realities, past and present, and to see our selves as unique individuals, but also part of, okay, let’s call it God's plan.

Furthermore, when you internalize this epiphanic awareness, you can cultivate a “planetary morality,” which is equally valid for all human beings. Thus fortified with enlightened morals, maybe we have a chance of reversing some of the destruction that we’ve wrought, and which threatens our species’ continued existence.

It can work, I think. It can nurture spirituality, meaning and purpose. Still, I’m not optimistic that the religion of the emergent God is likely to force any churches to shut down anytime soon. The emergent God is an idea, a concept of God, not any kind of extant being, and thus not, to my mind, a God. It’s that “something.” Divested of myth, based in science, this “something” is indeed real. While this kind of God might satisfy some searchers, I doubt that it is likely to win many converts from those who prefer a traditional, all powerful supreme being.
Profile Image for Cassie Sands.
33 reviews2 followers
July 17, 2018
I had several issues with this book. It seemed that the author couldnt make up her mind about if the god she was discussinrh were real, or a collective narrative. She also, in a roundabout way, seemed to be saying that we should hold this belief because it is useful to us as a species. I dont have an issue with that idea, but it was never explicit enough in the writing and I would like to see her fully own that idea if that is the intent. Overall, I found the first two parts to be a confusing mix of personal experiences, side narratives about specific scientific breakthroughs, and the constant insistence that whatever it is she is working towards has to be called god.

I really enjoyed most of the last part of the book, as well as the proposed iconography of the cosmic oroborous. The last part, which is essentially about creating a global set of moral principles, I think could have stood on its own and would have been more focused. This book is worth a read if you are interested in the idea of a common human morality. There are some good ideas but the book should be much more concise and clear.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Katie.
375 reviews3 followers
January 2, 2021
This was a strange little book, and I have really mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, some of her ideas were interesting and thought-provoking. Sure, it's great to feel awe at the vastness of the universe! I'm even on board with her basic ideas about God, though I'd quibble a bit on the specifics.

But her writing style didn't work for me - she came across as somewhat arrogant. And I wasn't particularly convinced by her overall message. She was focused on the idea that our concepts of God must make sense with our scientific understanding of the universe, and she seemed to think bringing those into coherence would fix a lot of our global problems, particularly climate change. I don't agree that having a concept of God aligned with modern physics is the most important spiritual task out there.
2 reviews
March 1, 2022
This book is a subtle attempt by a vainglorious author to deny the existence of God. She has attempted to take those who believe in God for fools. She proposes a compromise - an imaginary god that is helpful for psychological reasons.
She relies on science. However, isn’t it scientific conclusion that there must be a Creator behind the universe? Or is it just because our limited brains are not good enough to comprehend this we must deny it? The scientific answer is clear and inevitable. There is certainly a Creator of the universe - Who human beings are not equipped to comprehend with their limited brains.
It is nothing new that hostility towards religions has been one of the main reasons as to why some people go to the extreme of denying the obvious - a Creator behind the creations. The other reason? Vanity, ego, too much pride on one’s power of brain?
Profile Image for Alibinsaleh.
39 reviews2 followers
July 3, 2017
The author is trying to create an imaginary God to satisfy her denial of a real God which all religions are preaching. She believes in a phenomenal emerging God which is a collective aspirations of all human kinds through out the years.
For me it's a good book, because it made me look at God and the universe from a different perspective other than the perspective given by religions. It made me respect good and evil in this world.
We humans need to unite in one real God regardless of the teachings given by different religions and try to think bigger than our individual interests but rather on a cosmic scale to make our world better place for future generations.
Profile Image for Michiel.
666 reviews
September 6, 2020
Interesting book. Something to think about for a while. Se makes a great case for a god that emerges from humanity. How that could be a good thing, a useful thing. She recognizes that there is a spiritual component that we need. Her premise still is science and the scientific way of thinking. The call for action, to think about the generations to come is much needed! Like I said, will be thinking about this.
Profile Image for Toofan.
968 reviews17 followers
August 1, 2020
This book can be divided into two parts: One discussing the author's view of God which is rather interesting and the other part consists of endless rantings about global issues. As if we are not bombarded enough with similar speeches on a daily basis.
Profile Image for Barb Cherem.
152 reviews1 follower
September 22, 2021
Nancy Abrams has this imaginative view of God as emerging collectively since the coming of oxygen about 20 million years back when human ancestors emerged. It is an intriguing concept that makes science and God come together nicely. Yes, God can be literally "everywhere" therefore. and even our thoughtful energies contribute to this Entity. It is so unconventional that I found it quite thought-provoking and challenging. A very novel concept for God, and reconciling Science with the notion of God.
Profile Image for Robert Lee Hadden.
Author 11 books2 followers
March 29, 2016
An odd book to read, and it is difficult to follow in places. Evidently, as the universe got more and more complex, God emerged from the complexity, and is based on the combined aspirations of everyone alive on the planet, or who has ever before lived and died.

This book is based on the revealed experience the author had in going through a weight reduction program, when as an atheist she prayed and asked for help. From this mysterious help she received, the author rationalized an "emerging god" of the planet earth. This emerging god seems to be based on a combination of Hare Krishna's "god consciousness" from the 1960s, Jewish guilt, Buddhist teachings, Greek mythology on Mother Earth or "Gaia", and Egyptian lore on Ouroboros, the eternal serpent that swallows his own tail.

As a scientist, she does have a little bit of math that I appreciated, although she shuffles the numbers around somewhat like Enron. The Tail Devouring Serpent, Oroboros, shows the relation of man's size as half way between the smallest particle at 10 to the minus33 centimeters, the smallest particle in space called the "Planck length", and the largest size of the entire universe at 10 to the 29th centimeters. On different size scales things react differently. This is supposed to mean something significant since man is halfway along the scale of the serpent. Or something.

General observations about Capuchin money behavior showing the origins of morality, and how we owe future generations a moral life today, get a little vague and guilt ridden. I paused a number of times while reading this book in order to go back and make sense of what she said, but the logic did not resolve itself easily.

The author did have several turns of a phrase and simile that were good. A man who drops a bowling ball off the skyscraper won't accept responsibility for killing a man deep down below, because he did not think of the consequences from so far away. This lack of regard for space is similar to the man who does not think about about the consequences of an action far away in time, either.

But, on the whole, I thought this was a waste of time to read. It is spirituality for the atheist crowd, who recognizes an emerging god made from human aspirations, while denying traditional beliefs. She says: "God is emerging from the interactions of billions of aspirations, and once we begin to see that, it becomes clear that God did not hand down moral laws: we are actually expanding God by aspiring to figure out how best to live." This, of course, is just as clear as phrenology.

Several assumptions, for example the western ideas of good and bad behavior (all scientists are honest; many religious people are narrow minded bigots), are taken for granted. Also that people today should live for the health and happiness of future generations by reducing our resource use and cutting our carbon footprints rather than just killing unwanted populations to preserve the earth for our own offspring. The universe is filled with dark energy and dark matter, which is an exciting new concept, but may not still be considered a scientific fact in 100 years, any more that the obsolete chemistry Phlogiston theory, once thought to be fact, is not believed today.

An interesting work sometimes, but filled with the unicorn, rainbow and butterfly attributes of god. And there is no examination of an emerging anti-god like an anti-particle. As we have an emerging god based on our combined human aspirations that the author proposes, we may also have an emerging god based on our combined human malice. This is not even considered.

This is book for the newly perplexed. It has a jumble of ideas, but they are not really brought altogether and reconciled. The book also needed a good editor and the application of a fog or readability index.

This is one of the books I've read recently that I don't really recommend.
Profile Image for Tucker.
Author 28 books192 followers
January 25, 2016
“…there is nothing we humans resist more passionately than changing our ideas of God. But for that very reason, there is nothing more liberating than the experience of actually doing so.” (p. 55)

What Stephen Jay Gould happily endorsed as “non-overlapping magisteria,” meaning that religion and science are not supposed to get involved with each other, Abrams unhappily rejects as “the profound incoherence between our spiritual lives and our physical reality.” (p. 17) When God “is immune to the way the universe is known to operate,” then “we have no believable big picture of how we and our God fit into the cosmos.” (p. 3)

She acknowledges that “[s]omething about God is real to most humans” (p. 20) but – for reasons I am not clear on – rejects the idea that God is “a purely psychological need” (p. 19). Thus she tells us to “demand that God be real”. My concern is that, if we are too busy demanding that God be real, we are not open to the possibility that God might be a purely psychological need. Science “allows us to discover a God that can be real, if we choose to” (p. 37), yes – but a God that is real, only if that God exists to be discovered.

Her explication of the idea that God is emergent from human aspirations, just as the abstraction called "the economy" emerges from a multiplicity of marketplace transactions, makes sense. This is a good way of explaining how God can be real while still being a product of humanity.

Of this type of God, we can say: “God did not create the universe. God created the meaning of the universe.” (p. 51) For this reason, anything not owed to God is “meaningless.” (p. 52) In other words, what emerges from the sum of all human thought and action is a kind of meta-structure or context that provides a greater meaning by which we can analyze individual thoughts and actions.

This all seems true and agreeable to me. I am just not sure why it needs to be called "God," if not that the speaker has a pre-existing psychological need to do so. We could just say non-theistically that we like to feel connected to the cosmos and to identify our place within a broader human story.

Abrams is spot-on in her criticism of literalism in theism: "Literalism is a step backward in cognitive evolution" (p. 117). People who try to interpret God as some kind of personal being as they believe that God has been defined in religious scripture, she says, are "putting all this heartfelt energy and dedication and love into experiencing a prescientific metaphor instead of the reality they’re actually living in." (p. 87) So good.
Profile Image for Faith.
71 reviews16 followers
September 11, 2016
It was the subtitle “Spirituality, Science and the Future of Our Planet” that piqued my interest in this book. Spirituality and science have always been interests of mine. I've never been one to see them as opposites and have always tried to make them work together for me. But I don't have a great deal of knowledge in either area. Nancy Ellen Abrams has the knowledge of science and the experience of religion (both positive and negative). This book is her result of trying to make science and religion work together.

From the beginning, Abrams had me hooked. Not that I believe everything as she explains it, but the idea of an emergent God is intriguing. I am an unabashed born again Christian, so sometimes her depersonalization of God was discomfiting, but as far as I can tell, her logic is sound and she goes into some detail to back up what she's saying. One thing I really appreciate is that as I read her explanations of several things, the Bible verse that said the same thing (as far as how we should respond, in particular) came to mind. What she said did not tear down my faith, but reinforced it.

Since I never did believe God was an old man beyond the sky, and have pretty much always believed our view of him changed as our comprehension of ourselves and our universe has changed (though he has not changed), what resonates most strongly with me is her definition of God on page 74.

“God is … not the atoms, humans, stars, or galaxies; it's the conceptual framework that holds them together and gives meaning to our universe.”

That fits just fine with my view of a personal God. When she talked about truth boxes, I wondered if perhaps God is a box framed beyond string theory (or what replaces it). For me, God will always be unknowable, except on that personal level. I don't need more and that doesn't in any way conflict with anything science has to say.

Her third section gets somewhat “preachy,” which I found rather ironic. Nonetheless, I do agree with what she's saying. Believers and non-believers need to come to some consensus on common ground and stop the “us” versus “them” attitude. Truly, our world does depend on it. Now.

I would recommend this book to anyone. We need to talk about who/what God is and not hate each other for our differences.
Profile Image for Arseny Khakhalin.
22 reviews2 followers
October 4, 2016
I received this book for free, in exchange for a review, but it took me half a year to finish it. Every now and then, feeling guilty, I tried to pick it up, but it just would not go. I hope that it would make a more pleasant read to a non-scientist (as it talks a lot about science), or a non-believer (as it talks a lot about God), but if you happen to be interested in both religion and science, then this book may be too slow for you. In one sentence, the author revisits post-Hegelian dialectics and applies it to religion, defining God as a truly (dialectically) existing teleological representation of meta-humanity.

At the same time, the book is definitely thought-provoking. I kept thinking, for example, how the Jewish background of the author had a profound influence on her theology, even though this theology is completely reinvented, and decidedly postmodern. She writes for example that it is impossible for a human to relate to a deistic God, that God has to be personal, but as a personal God cannot be above physics, he has to be very limited, and bound to the humanity that worships and so creates him. What's curious here is that the author does not notice, and does not even mention several important alternatives that could potentially solve the conflict between faith and modern physics in different ways. For example, Abrams is not interested in Pythagorean mysticism, in the God of math (because it would not be personal, it would not be a "He"), and she does not even consider spirituality in which relatable person-figures emanate from God, or represent (project) God in our lives (be it Hindu avatars, classic Nicene understanding of Christ, or folk Christian perception of saints). She always works under assumption that God is one, and he is a person, a lonely person, which obviously limits the realm of possible theologies to consider.

The book also contains several interesting, poetic metaphors that were a pleasure to read, and a nice discussion of physical scales that could be welcome in any classroom. It has some really nice material, but it did not quite work for me as a book, and I definitely cannot subscribe to its main argument.
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