What’s your ‘cosmic identity’? Philosopher says you have one

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Stars of a planet and galaxy in a free space. "Elements of this image furnished by NASA."

Photo courtesy of Maria Starovoytova via Shutterstock

Stars of a planet and galaxy in a free space. "Elements of this image furnished by NASA."

WASHINGTON (RNS) When she was a teen, Nancy Ellen Abrams told her rabbi that humanity created God.

She’s still at it.

And according to her new book — “A God that Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science and the Future of Our Planet” —  this God emerges from us, not the other way around.

Abrams grew up to become a philosopher of science, an attorney specializing in international science law, and co-author of books on dark energy and dark matter — the unseeable forces that comprise 95 percent of the universe — with her astrophysicist husband, Joel Primack.

Abrams’ God book is rooted in scientists’ discoveries in cosmology, the study of the origins of the universe. She expands her theory to the spiritual heavens by detailing a God that she could believe in after leaving Judaism and embracing atheism.

This God is definitely no relation to the loving, comforting, guiding God of the Abrahamic religions. Rather, Abrams says, the real God worthy of our attention is an “emergent force” generated by the collective consciousness of human beings. As she sees it, God is the “collective of our (best) aspirations.”

Nancy Ellen Abrams, author of "A God That Could Be Real." Photo courtesy of Beacon Press

Nancy Ellen Abrams, author of “A God That Could Be Real.” Photo courtesy of Beacon Press

Abrams writes:

“Collectively we are influencing God. The worse we behave, measured against our deepest aspirations, the weaker God becomes, not only for us but also for future generations. The better we act, the richer God becomes and the more useful to future generations. We have the power to strengthen the very God we turn to. …”

“The spiritual challenge for us is to accept the scientific picture of the universe and with the real help of a real God figure out how to act accordingly — in every way, not just technologically but sociologically, psychologically, spiritually, educationally, politically and every other way.”

Then, Abrams writes, we can use our “god-capacity” to save the “still-evolving cosmic clan in which each of us is a living organism.”

“We have an urgent need to identify as the cosmic beings we actually are with a huge role in the cosmos. We all have an identity and what happens when people don’t use it is a terrible waste and we endanger ourselves,” said Abrams, whose book is full of warnings about the need to care for creation, however you think it got here.

In some ways, she’s circled back to the core Jewish teaching of “tikkun olam,” the belief that humans are obligated to join God in healing and repairing the world. She is out to “reclaim the old spiritual vocabulary to interpret it in ways that make sense in our time and take back the truth.”

While Abrams finds immense comfort and joy in this God, she sees no need to outsource another major role assigned to the Abrahamic visions of the Almighty — moral guidance. Hers is no tsk, tsk, tsk God who judges, punishes and forgives. Personal salvation is irrelevant, as is the concept of grace.

 "A God That Could Be Real," by Nancy Ellen Abrams. Photo courtesy of Beacon Press

“A God That Could Be Real,” by Nancy Ellen Abrams. Photo courtesy of Beacon Press

“God does not discriminate against or judge or reward individuals,” she said in an interview. “We have a God emerging from all our good aspirations — the urge to love more, do more, be more. The best part of us is God.”

Still, there are religionlike behaviors in her own life — prayer, for one. She defines prayer not as petitions for miracles, or requests for the intervention of an omnipotent force in one’s personal drama or trauma. Prayer, she said is “putting myself imaginatively into the reality I know to exist, feeling what it is really like to be part of the earth, part of the astonishing universe.”

She writes: “The emerging God, after all, is the source of all meaning, old and new, and can be understood this way in any religion that doesn’t require taking its teachings literally.”

She said: “It really would be a challenge for a cosmologist to be an evangelical in academia. No one would respect them at all. I can’t imagine how someone could be comfortable with disassociating the science they are doing from the meaning of the science.”

When told of Abrams’ assertion, evangelical Christian astrophysicist Deborah Haarsma broke out laughing.

Haarsma, former professor of astronomy and physics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., is president of BioLogos, a public advocacy group founded by geneticist Francis Collins (now head of the National Institutes of Health) to promote the idea that there’s no conflict between science and a Christian belief in a creator God.

Haarsma quickly named a slew of world-class scientists — and Christians — who know their cosmos:  Jennifer Wiseman, NASA’s senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope; Anglican theologian, priest and acclaimed physicist Sir John Polkinghorne; and Owen Gingerich, a Harvard professor emeritus of astronomy and the history of science and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Haarsma said scientists, like religious believers, want to find “ultimate truth.”

But personally, Haarsma said, “I do not find Abrams’ picture of God very satisfying. But I don’t think science is equipped to prove or disprove God. The Christian picture of God leads us to expect a universe with a beginning, filled with order and beauty. What I find in science is in harmony with my religious experience.”

Abrams is not alone in giving selective credibility to Scripture and science, according to a study released in January in the American Sociological Review. It found that for about one in five Americans, science wins the coin toss on some issues, but religion wins on key issues such as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

Timothy O’Brien, assistant professor at the University of Evansville in Indiana, and co-author of the research study, said: “We were surprised to find this pretty big group who are pretty knowledgeable and appreciative about science and technology but who are also very religious and who reject certain scientific theories.”

KRE/AMB END GROSSMAN

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  • Eric Heidecker

    Not much new here, it all sounds pretty similar to the early writings of Mordecai Kaplan, and before that John Dewey.

  • Philip

    Dear Nancy, The two of us are two Jewish Rabbis who could spend the afternoon, if not longer, debating the points you bring up. Please take no offense if I cannot correlate your thoughts with mine.
    Creation, or a God figure, cannot be expressed or explained by any human of any intelligence. I confess to be in this group. I can only theorize, as a blind man would the stars in the sky. Everything that is, for a better word, is Energy. We can call it cosmic, metaphoric, or a God Force. Newton called it,” For every action, there is an equal & opposite reaction” (Newton’s 3rd Law). The Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang are described as” apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complimentary, interconnected, & interdependent in the natural world” (Wikipedia).
    One term I like to use is “universal construct and destruct”, which are one & the same. From birth to death to rebirth, like a plant sowed in soil, which blossoms to give forth its seeds before it dies.

  • …and even the Vedas.

  • Philip

    Nancy, your answer on who judges, punishes, & forgives, like the flower that dies in winter, we, you & me, are reborn in the spring. I feel God does His best to cultivate His garden but He does not control it, and the flower does not pray for rain, or does it?
    I believe we are made in His or Her likeness; I never pulled up the tunic to check. Re the origin of the universe; the greatest discovery we all are faced with is to discover who we are, where we came from, & where we are going. We all can play God in one form or another; the illusion is that few ever see the real truth. What is Truth? In its simplest form, everything that is, is but a drop of water in a cup.

  • clasqm

    … And Alfred North Whitehead, and Telihard de Chardin … what’s the matter, you expected something new? These issues have been rehashed for thousands of years by some of the best minds our species has produced, and the best an author can hope for is to introduce well-known trends of thought to a new audience.

  • James Carr

    Funny how some highly educated people elect themselves a god and declare themselves atheists also. What cockamamie nonsense. The highly regarded German philosopher, Edith Stein, also travelled the road from Judaism to Atheism, but found her quest for truth in Catholicism. She became a nun, finally murdered at Auschwitz.
    How can humanity create God? These things we discover in the Universe are preexistent, we do not create anything. From Who did these things come from? Our imaginations?
    I’m surprised this retread philosophy is worthy of an article, let alone a book.

  • JUAN CARLOS

    Thr best fictitious constructs are produced by scientists and religious figures…that is precisely what we are being exposed to with these never-ending discussions. Fictitious recycling for millenia!!!

  • samuel Johnston

    HELP! My thoughts are trapped in my head!

  • More delusions from the atheist community. They pile up delusion upon delusion. I can’t even keep up with their latest insanity. oy “In the beginning God…”. (Genesis 1:1) The Word of God doesn’t even bother to go into more than that. Just in the beginning God. That is, before anything or anyone existed, there was God, or God already Was. He Is. He is self-existent. When Moses asked God, “who should I tell them has sent me”, God told Moses “tell them I AM has sent you.” Arrogant man, trying to make him or herself out to be god. Nothing new. Just the same old folly. “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.” Psalms 53:1 For the majority of us who know that the heavens and the earth did not make themselves, we still need to be at peace with our Maker. This is done through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for our sins. Receive Him as Lord and Savior, turn away from sin, and follow Him as He leads you. Then you will know the meaning of life. Even…

  • Gavin Chambers

    It’s not much like Albert North Whitehead really. More like just gerrymandering to Wilfred Steppe and his sorry lot. I wouldn’t worry much about the cosmic subject mettier discord there though.

  • Gavin Chambers

    Wow, you’re really superficial and stale. You are the retread you speak of.

  • pete

    i agree – collective consciousness doesnt explode into a god. I think she taking ancient traditions of sorts and re-hashing them to make a God SHE’S comfortable with even though shes supposedly an athiest – these types are strange

  • Doc Anthony

    Nancy Abrams said: “I can’t imagine how someone could be comfortable with disassociating the science they are doing from the meaning of the science.”

    Actually, that’s a rational, reasonable statement. So why did Deborah Haarsma of Biologos laugh at it so quickly?

    Because Haarsma, whose main job is to sell the public on the notion that Evolution is somehow compatible with Christianity, understands all too well just how severely Abrams’ statement interferes with Haarsma’s sales-pitch.

    For if you carefully look at the theory of evolution, you’ll soon notice, (just like ole Charles Darwin did), that evolution’s major historical claims actually OPPOSE the foundational historical and doctrinal claims of the Bible.

    Ultimately, evolution opposes the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself, as evolutionists Richard Bozarth. Richard Dawkins, and others have cogently pointed out.

    So apparently Abrams struck a nerve with her perceptive statement there. Go figure!!

  • samuel Johnston

    I once asked a Buddhist whether life had any meaning. His answer, “To Whom?”
    Darwin confessed that the thought that the earth would one day fall into the sun depressed him. (Autobiography) Richard Feynman, wrote that the purpose of life is to make more life.
    The search for objective meaning is wrongheaded. Life is the process and the meaning.

  • “Collectively we are influencing God. The worse we behave, measured against our deepest aspirations, the weaker God becomes…”

    1. How does she know this?
    2. How dare she claim it without evidence?
    3. Which God is she talking about? The Godhead or the Yahweh God?
    4. How did she determine which God she is talking about?
    5. How did she observe this influence she talks about?

    The reflexive acceptance of a bucket load of wild claims is exactly how Religion destroys our minds.

    Who are these people who sit around with mugs of coffee on their verandas and intuit God’s wishes out of thin air? Why are such people so bereft of irony – they create the precise God they wish were real? Then, BINGO – that’s the one everyone needs to believe in.

    Transparent nonsense.

  • opheliart

    “The search for objective meaning is wrongheaded. Life is the process and the meaning.”

    After reading this article, my first thought was: hers is a process. It is a process and what she gleans from this. So, yes, we might say that “life is process”, and meaning comes in the experiences within these. Limited experience—limited life?

  • Gibberish.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hello Mark,
    You have been listening to too many preachers and not enough scholars.
    “The Word of God” meaning what? Please explain. “Inspired” would be the word of an inspired man/woman, not a/the God.
    “He is self-existent.” meaning what? Part of our universe, or no?
    “The fool has said in his heart there is no God. Psalms 53:1″ Poetry is your authority?
    ” For the majority of us who know that the heavens and the earth did not make themselves,….” You know how exactly?
    “He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool. Shun him.
    He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a child. Teach him.
    He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep. Wake him.
    He who knows and knows that he knows is wise. Listen to him.”
    From a—Persian Proverb

  • Diogenes

    I agree with Max, but not for his reasons, of course. A wise man once said,
    “Philosophy is the Art of answering questions that don’t need to be asked.”

  • Samuel, I don’t care for most preachers. Today, many are corrupted and have compromised Gods Word for the teachings of men. Jesus, who rose from the dead, taught us that the Word of God is just that. He often said such things as “.it is written”, or “he wrote in The Spirit…”, or “The Scriptures cannot be broken”. The devil, on the other hand, has consistently questioned the Word of God. From the beginning he has said things like “has God really said?” Genesis 3. Jesus also taught us that “those who are of God hear God’s Words”…Its not complicated. Do you hear God’s Words in the Bible, or not? I do. So do millions of others. And we thank God for that. Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, said: “and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” amen