A Possible Real God

The book is A God That Could be Real, Beacon Press, by Nancy Ellen Abrams. I like it particularly because it is an example of what could be; Theist or non-Theists abandoning argumentation in favor of seeking solutions. As Ms. Abrams, an atheist, says, a religion and science at cross purposes creates a fragmented culture. One either affirms reality on one side or the other, or tries to ignore that there is a problem, and live two contradictory lives at the same time. It messes us up. She is trying for an idea of God that integrates religion and science.

In brief, she sees God as an emergent property of human consciousness. Not the same as saying we made up God, but saying that much as an ant colony, or a bee hive, behaves as one center of decision making instead of many so we create God, as an uber-consciousness. Indeed that is our destiny, our future. Apparently scientists take emergent properties very seriously. In her scientific mind, (she is a philosopher of science and her husband is a noted cosmologist, the first word on dark matter) an emergent property is quite real. As real as that from which it emerges.

Boethius defines a person as, “the center of attribution of a rational nature.” Therefore the bee is not a person, but the hive is.

This perspective has similarities with Chardin’s God as Final Cause, the God at the end of the road. (I would like this thinking even better if she treated the potential of consciousness with the same respect she gives the emergence of consciousness. That might give us a God both before and after us. First potential, and then emergent. )

Ms. Abrams accepts the limitation that she cannot give us the good, omnipotent God we have imagined in recent history because such a God is impossible. A good God cannot be omnipotent. The reality of life on earth makes obvious that if God is good, then he is unable to prevent evil, for we clearly have evil, or if God is omnipotent, then God is not good because he tolerates evil. So don’t ask her to imagine a good omnipotent God. Or a God of the universe for that matter, just a local God of our planet. The God that could be real is much more limited than the God of Aristotle and Aquinas, but not more limited than the God of the scriptures or at least the God of some of the scriptures.. You have no doubt noted that in the old stories God frequently ends up getting turned around or stymied.

She links the criticality of saving our planet not to our self-interest but to our destiny as those who will carry consciousness and our conscious God to the universe, or at least more of the universe. This she sees as our sacred task.

Although I found many of the thoughts in A God That Could Be Real consonant with my own thinking, I recommend it to you not so much for what it says as for what she is trying to do. She is backing out of the fight between theist and non-theist and trying to start again utilizing both the wisdom of science and that of religion to produce a coherent picture.

She may have been forced into this. She is a food addict who was counseled by many to join a twelve-step group. The twelve step dictum that she should turn her self over to a higher power was of course impossible for an atheist, but when in desperation she finally tried it, she found it made a remarkable difference. Her scientific background told her that the God of her religious upbringing was nonsense. When at age fifteen she was asked by the rabbi to say that God created people, she responded that she thought people created God. So with that early commitment to the rational, how did she make sense of her experience? This book is the answer. Since she still thinks humans created God, just not as a figment of the imagination, I am not sure the rabbi would be pleased.

But I am. It’s a start. This would seem to me to be the eon in which to be creative about the God who might or might not exist and thoughtful about what that God might look like or not look like. And curious as to what that God needs from us. To simply say the God of our fathers and mothers is adequate seems incongruous with scientific findings and highly unlikely, and to say there is no God seems to leave some huge questions unanswered. Time to go back to work. As has Nancy Ellen Abrams.

God bless her heart!