- Hardcover: 292 pages
- Publisher: Prometheus Books (May 12, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1591027136
- ISBN-13: 978-1591027133
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 27 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,781,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness Hardcover – April 21, 2009
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"Lots of biologists defend evolution against creationism. Unfortunately, few scientists in the physics community speak up about the pseudoscience in their own field. The public understanding of modern physics is seriously out of whack, thanks largely to pop junk like The Secret and What the BLEEP Do We Know?
These books and movies promote a bogus version of quantum mechanics--the belief that 'you create your own reality' by controlling the laws of physics with your mind. They offer instant wealth and happiness, but they deliver medieval superstition. The sad part is that so many scientists are willing to let the public get their knowledge of physics from celebrity quacks.
That's why we re so lucky to have Victor Stenger. He knows quantum theory as well as anybody and, unlike most of his colleagues, he's willing to step outside the ivory tower and face those who misuse science. In Quantum Gods, Stenger confronts mainstream theologians and New Age gurus--anyone who tries to link physics to mysticism. He takes their theories seriously enough to examine them in detail and he finds that, so far, none of them live up to the standards of scientific truth. As we accompany him on his investigation, he guides us through the most important concepts in modern physics from relativity to string theory.
The world has needed a book like this for a long time. If you care about scientific literacy, Quantum Gods is not optional." --Geoff Gilpin, author of The Maharishi Effect: A Personal Journey Through the Movement That Transformed American Spirituality
About the Author
Victor J. Stenger (1935 - 2014) was an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii. He was the author of the New York Times bestseller God: The Failed Hypothesis, God and the Atom, God and the Folly of Faith, The Comprehensible Cosmos, and many other books.
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He wrote in the Preface to this 2009 book, “In I tried to be very clear that I was not talking about every conceivable god, just the God with a capital ‘G.’ This is a God who not only created the universe but continues to play a central role in its operation and, most important, in the lives of humans for whom he has reserved a special place in the scheme of things… I am not finished. Other conceivable gods can be imagined whose attributes also lend their actions to be examined under the light of reason and science… Many people in nations less religious than America believe there must be more to the universe than matter. I will focus on two concepts of realities thought to lie ought there beyond the material world of science that at the same time are based ostensibly on scientific principles---specifically quantum mechanics… The first concept, which I term ‘quantum spirituality,’ asserts that quantum mechanics has provided us with a connection between the human mind and the cosmos. The second concept, which I term ‘quantum theology,’ argues that quantum mechanics and chaos theory provide a place for God to act in the world without violating his own natural laws.” (Pg. 13-14)
He continues, “I will [also] consider … a God who created the universe but does not act in any way that is inconsistent with the laws of nature. This God would be very difficult to detect by the means I applied in ‘God: The Failed Hypothesis.’ Such a God would not perform miracles… Such a God would have left no evidence behind at the creation, so we would expect creation to appear perfectly natural to physicists and cosmologists… Such a God would not answer prayers… Such a God would not reveal facts to humans that they cannot have obtained by sensory means… A moral God who deliberately hides himself, exacting punishment on those who do not believe for good reasons… However, we can imagine a God who deliberately hides from us but issues no punishment… and no reward… Such a God would not need his creations to grovel before him.” (Pg. 15-16)
He acknowledges, “The story of Galileo’s trial by the Inquisition… is also part myth and part fact. Historians now largely agree that Galileo was not tried for teaching heliocentrism, but for disobeying a Church order… in 1616 he was instructed not to discuss heliocentrism as a fact until he had definitive physical proof. This he claimed to have in 1632 with the publication of Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. In fact the proof presented there, which was based on the assumption that Earth’s motion causes the tides, was wrong. The argument… incorrectly predicted only one high tide a day. Galileo dismissed as ‘useless fiction’ the proposal by Kepler that the moon caused the tides, which turned out to be correct… In 1633 Galileo was tried for disobeying the order of the Church. He agreed to a plea bargain in which he would admit that he had gone too far but for still unknown reasons the Inquisition overruled the agreement and handed down a harsh sentence in which Galileo was forced to recant.” (Pg. 89-90)
He asserts, “Since we still do not understand how life originally came about on Earth, anyone is free to propose that God initiated the process. However, saying that ‘God did it’ is no more an explanation than ‘Nature did it.’ We need to know how it was done. Furthermore, just because science cannot currently explain the origin of life, we have no reason to expect it never will. Seeking God in the gaps of scientific knowledge has never proven to be a fruitful enterprise. Science has always had a way of filling its own gaps.” (Pg. 103)
He also notes, “However, Darwinism is perfectly compatible with the deist god of the Enlightenment. Evolution can be seen as the way the deity decided to create life in the universe, the whole development of life including humanity being written into the laws of nature at the creation. The problem is, this requires an acceptance of the clockwork universe and leaves no room for human free will… However… the clockwork universe has been refuted by quantum physics, thereby pulling the rug out from Enlightenment deism.” (Pg. 104)
He says of Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, “To Capra, bootstrap theory was a beautiful example of the connectedness that he found in Eastern philosophy… Capra joined [Geoffrey] Chew’s group in 1975, just having written his best seller, and… just as the bootstrap began to unravel.” (Pg. 145) Later, he adds, “Capra was putting his money on bootstrap theory, which did away with the notion of elementary particles. However, even by the time of the publication of Tao, elementary particles were back in fashion and had become part of the standard model… Capra’s contention that physics implies a universe as one interconnected whole is edifying and poetic. Certainly, parts of the universe are connected in various ways. But Capra insists that we cannot understand our world unless we treat it as one inseparable whole.” (Pg. 171)
He argues, “The main message about complexity… for the purposes of this book is the fact that complexity can arise naturally from simplicity… The development of complex systems from simpler systems has been demonstrated in virtually every field of science and, indeed, everyday life. Snowflakes develop spontaneously from water vapor. Amino acids and other molecules of life are easily assembled from basic chemical elements… Once life exists, organisms develop from the splitting or merging of cells.” (Pg. 151) He continues, “Emergence is just a name for the evolution of complexity out of simplicity, no doubt a notable phenomenon and little doubt that it arises purely from particles of matter.” (Pg. 161)
He explains, “The difference I have with creationists is they think the Bible is correct and science is wrong, while I think that science is correct and the Bible is wrong. As we shall see, however, evolution does not conflict with the new deism… while we do not know exactly the mechanism by which our universe appeared 13.7 billion years ago, we can present any number of plausible scenarios based on well-established physics and cosmology… Similarly, we cannot explain exactly how life originated, but many proposed scenarios consistent with well-established chemistry and biology can be found in reputable scientific journals. Thus no rational basis exists for claiming that a supernatural origin for life or the universe must have occurred… no case can be made that we need something more than matter to understand the universe.” (Pg. 211-212)
He asks, “If life is converging inevitably toward high intelligence, how is it that of the millions of species on Earth we have only one, Home sapiens, with that ability? Look how far ahead we are than other animals in intelligence. Indeed, since most life forms are microbial, intelligence would not seem to be very high at all on the universe’s agenda.” (Pg. 231)
He states, “The new deist god creates the universe but includes in it a huge element of chance. Of course apologists will work very hard to reconcile this new god with Christianity, but… It is hard to see how they will make this god into one who still should be worshipped and prayed to… I have bad news for them. Modern physics and cosmology imply that all the creator did when he made the universe, if he existed at all, was make a single toss of the dice.” (Pg. 235-236) Later, he adds, “The Enlightenment deist god, who created a perfectly predetermined universe, can almost but not quite be ruled out… And science has no reason to introduce into its explanatory systems an Enlightenment deist god.” (Pg. 261) Still later, he observes, “Deism and Christianity have always been totally incompatible---as incompatible as science and Christianity.” (Pg. 243)
He summarizes, “My main arguments against the existence of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God are scientific ones. A God who plays such an important role in the universe as the God of the great monotheisms should leave observable, physical evidence for his existence… he cannot deliberately hide from us and remain a moral god… Absence of evidence can be evidence of absence beyond a reasonable doubt when the evidence should be there and is not found… God’s actions in the world, including the creation itself, should be detectable. Of course, an all-powerful God is free to do whatever he wants, but it is inconsistent with his omnipotence for God to violate presumably perfect laws that he instituted in the first place. Furthermore, such a God would be much easier to detect by our direct observation of natural law violations. We see no such violations… We can safely conclude that an omnipotent God who takes direct divine action in the world without violating natural laws can be ruled out.” (Pg. 241)
He concludes, “So we appear to have good evidence for a universe that came about spontaneously, without cause, from nothing. The laws of physics also came from nothing. The structure of the universe emerged from nothing. Indeed, we can view that structure, including Earth and humanity, as forms of frozen nothing.” (Pg. 262-263)
This book is a substantial addition to Stenger’s earlier arguments; this book focuses more on the “religious/philosophical” issues than the “scientific” issues, but it will be of great interest to those who like his other books (although it should be supplemented with at least one or two of his more scientifically-focused books).
The motivation behind the book is a good one: a sequel to his prior book which moves beyond traditional religion to criticize some newer and less traditional ideas about God and spirituality. He identifies two targets: the first is the group of new age-type ideas which invoke quantum mechanics (QM) to support ideas about personal spiritual powers and/or cosmic consciousness; the second is a set of attempts to accommodate God's putative role as creator or intervening agent with modern science.
With regard to the first target, I liked his debunking of new-agers who think humans "create their own reality" and thereby acquire something like paranormal powers. What I didn't like is that his own interpretation of QM is idiosyncratic: he tries to hew as close as possible to the worldview of classical materialism. He dismisses the reality of the wave-like aspect of QM, and tries to argue we can have a particle-only ontology (with one twist: the particles need to be capable of moving backward and forward in time). This is an unusual and unpersuasive interpretation.
I thought the best part of the book were the late chapters criticizing "quantum theology" - some recent ideas about accommodating religion and science. I agree with Stenger that attempts to locate divine action in emergent phenomena or in subtle manipulation of quantum outcomes are fraught with difficulty. He admits it's possible we could have a deist God if we accept that this God created an indeterministic cosmos and was willing "play dice." Such a God, of course, isn't very attractive to those who yearn for a more traditional deity. But even here Stenger's own view is that there are natural accounts of the birth of the universe which do away with the need for a creator.
Stenger doesn't devote significant space to the idea of the multiverse, although there are an increasing number of physical and cosmological theories which suggest its existence. While I agree with most of Stenger's criticisms of theology, I think the multiverse is the one conceptual place where there's the potential for a naturalistic worldview to make contact with a (non-traditional) notion of God: a transcendent and creative entity of which we are but a small part.