What happens when an atheist philosopher of science with an eating disorder joins a twelve-step program and is asked to call on a “higher power” that she doesn’t believe in to help her recover? It works, leaving her asking why – and inspiring the inquiry of a lifetime.
Abrams’ personal experience of a higher power coincided with her front-row seat to some of the greatest astronomical discoveries of all time. Her husband, renowned physicist and cosmologist Joel Primack, helped create the modern theory of the universe, based on dark matter and dark energy. So she sought a higher power that could be plausible in the new picture of the universe, which is still being discovered.
In A God That Could Be Real, Abrams introduces us to a redefinition of God that is both true to her heart and consistent with cutting-edge science. Abrams approaches her inquiry into the possibility of a real God through the new science of emergence, an idea as central to understanding reality as evolution. Evidence of emergence is found in phenomena from water to anthills to the global economy, and, Abrams argues, God.
Abrams abandons traditional arguments for and against God that vilify either science or religion. Instead, she gives a gentle guided tour of the history of God from the ancient deities of a flat earth beneath a heavenly dome to the emergence of a cosmic consciousness born in a Big Bang that never ended.
According to Abrams, all humans are hard-wired with what Carl Jung called a “god-capacity,” prompting people throughout history to seek a higher power, as she did during her recovery. From this understanding, she launches into a deep exploration of an emerging God that can be seen as the guiding force of science. God, she proposes, has emerged from our species, and is as real as the economy, the government, or the worldwide web, which are all emergent phenomena, though God is far older.
“Talking to God is not a theoretical exercise for people like me; it can have serious real-world consequences,” shares Abrams
Beyond providing individual inspiration to face personal challenges, Abrams makes a compelling case that a shared understanding of a God that could be real is actually a planetary imperative necessary to overcome existential challenges such as the slow-moving calamities of climate change, resource depletion, and mass extinction.
According to Abrams, we’ve all grown up so steeped in tradition, whether we’ve accepted it or rebelled against it, that it’s hard to grasp that the chance to re-define God is actually in our hands. “But it is,” she proclaims, “and the way we do it will play a leading role in shaping the future of civilization.”
“Seeing the power of God entirely through fictions divides our species at a time when cooperation is the only way we will be saved,” she says. But “when we look at the wars that have been fought over religion, it’s clear that there is nothing we humans resist more passionately than changing our ideas of God. The divine challenge is to accept the evidence and become open to the possibility of a God that is real. The evolution of the universe, life, and ourselves is our sacred scripture. From a cosmic perspective, heaven is here. We’re living in it right now.”
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.