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Many popular books make such claims and argue that key developments in twentieth-century physics, such as the uncertainty principle and the...
Many popular books make such claims and argue that key developments in twentieth-century physics, such as the uncertainty principle and the butterfly effect, support the notion that God or a universal mind acts upon material reality.
Physicist Victor J. Stenger examines these contentions in this carefully reasoned and incisive analysis of popular theories that seek to link spirituality to physics. Throughout the book Stenger alternates his discussions of popular spirituality with a survey of what the findings of twentieth-century physics actually mean. Thus he offers the reader a useful synopsis of contemporary religious ideas as well as basic but sophisticated physics presented in layperson’s terms (without equations).
Of particular interest in this book is Stenger’s discussion of a new kind of deism, which proposes a God who creates a universe with many possible pathways determined by chance, but otherwise does not interfere with the physical world or the lives of humans. Although it is possible, says Stenger, to conceive of such a God who "plays dice with the universe" and leaves no trace of his role as prime mover, such a God is a far cry from traditional religious ideas of God and, in effect, may as well not exist.
Like his bestselling book, God, The Failed Hypothesis, this new work presents a rigorously argued challenge to many popular notions of God and spirituality.
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The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. -Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the US Senate and signed by President John Adams in 1797
RELIGION AND WEALTH
America is certainly an anomaly when it comes to religion. A recent report by the Pew Research Center studied the relationship between a nation's religiosity and its wealth as measured by standardized per capita gross domestic product (see figure 1.1). Pew defined religiosity using a three-item index ranging from 0 to 3, with 3 representing the most religious position. Respondents were given a 1 if they believed faith in God is necessary for morality; another 1 if they said religion is very important in their lives; and a 1 if they prayed at least once a day.
A clear negative correlation between religiosity and wealth is seen for most countries, the curve on the figure representing an average over all countries. At the low end of the wealthscale and high on the religiosity scale are the countries of Africa. Near the opposite end of the wealth scale, falling just a bit below the curve, are the nations of western Europe. And way out at the end of the wealth scale but well above the religiosity curve we find the United States.
Americans seem unusually religious. However, we need to examine the types of religious beliefs in America and look at the latest trends.
NO LONGER PROTESTANT
Another Pew study published in 2008 found that 28 percent of American adults had left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion or no religion at all. The number is even greater, 44 percent, when switching from one form of Protestantism to another is included. This alone indicates some measure of turmoil among religious Americans.
Perhaps the most significant result of this survey, which is backed up by other surveys, is that America is rapidly losing its Protestant majority. In 1993 the nation was 61 percent Protestant. By 2006 this had slipped to 50 percent. Catholics have held steady at about 25 percent, but this is attributed to the large flux of immigrants from Latin America who now constitute almost half of all Catholics in the United States. In fact, more than 10 percent of Americans raised as Catholics have left the faith.
The Pew survey lists 16.1 percent of Americans as unaffiliated with any religion, breaking down into 1.6 percent calling themselves atheists, 2.4 percent agnostics, and 12.1 percent "nothing in particular." The latter group is further broken down into 6.3 percent "secular unaffiliated" and 5.8 percent "religious unaffiliated."
THE NATURE OF AMERICAN BELIEFS
The Pew results are largely consistent with an extensive study on the nature of American religious beliefs conducted in 2005 by Baylor University. The overall results based on the respondents own statements of religious preference are summarized as follows:
Evangelical Protestant 33.6 percent Mainline Protestant 22.1 Catholic 21.2 Black Protestant 5.0 Jewish 2.5 Unaffiliated 10.8 Other 4.8 Table 1.1. Religious preferences of Americans (2005)
Note that Pew gives 16.1 percent as unaffiliated. The difference with the above survey may be in the 5.8 percent who, in the Pew survey, called themselves "religious unaffiliated." In any case, those unaffiliated with any religion are not all atheists or agnostics. In the Baylor survey, 62.9 percent of the unaffiliated say they believe in God or "some higher power." While about a third say that they pray, nine out of ten never attend church services.
While most respondents agreed that God exists, they differ widely on their ideas of God, the paranormal, and religious practices.
The investigators found that they could divide their subjects into believers who followed four different types of gods, with the remainder being nonbelievers:
Type A: Authoritarian God (31.4 percent): Individuals who believe in the Authoritarian God tend to think that God is highly involved in their daily lives and world affairs. They believe that God helps them in their decision making and is also responsible for global events such as economic upturns or tsunamis. They also feel that God is quite angry and is capable of meting out punishment to those who are unfaithful or ungodly.
This is the largest belief group in all demographic categories except those with household incomes greater than $100,000 and those with a college education. The numbers fall off slightly with age.
Type B: Benevolent God (23 percent): Like believers in the Authoritarian God, believers in the Benevolent God tend to think that God is very active in their daily lives. But these individuals are less likely to believe that God is angry and acts in wrathful ways. Instead, the Benevolent God is mainly a force of positive influence in the world and is less willing to condemn or punish individuals. This belief group is twice as high among females as males, higher for whites than African Americans.
Type C: Critical God (16 percent): Believers in a Critical God feel that God really does not interact with the world. Nevertheless, God still observes the world and views its current state unfavorably. These individuals feel that God's displeasure will be felt in another life and that divine justice may not be of this world. This belief group is high among African Americans but low among whites, those with a college education, and those with higher incomes.
Type D: Distant God (24.4 percent): Believers in a Distant God think that God is not active in the world and not especially angry either. These individuals tend to think about God as a cosmic force who sets the laws of nature in motion. As such, God does not "do" things in the world and does not hold clear opinions about our activities or world events. This belief group is highest for those with a college education and those with household incomes of more than $100,000 per year. It is the belief of 28 percent males, about the same as Type A, but only 3.4 percent of African Americans.
Atheists (5.2 percent): Atheists are certain that God or gods do not exist. Nevertheless, atheists may still hold very strong perspectives concerning the morality of human behavior and ideals of social order, but they have no place for the supernatural in their larger worldview. The survey found negligible atheist African Americans, 7.8 percent males compared to only 2.7 percent females, 6.7 percent among college educated, and 6.2 percent of those with high incomes.
The above definitions are all from the survey. In the Type D case, I don't think they meant to imply that God does not hold clear opinions but that it is not clear that he cares about our activities.
Remarkably, these results indicate that many people who think of themselves as Christians disagree with basic Christian teachings. Of the four types of belief defined above, only the Type A Authoritarian God seems to be strictly traditional Christian, with Type B Benevolent God probably still consistent with general Christian teachings. The rest do not hold traditional Christian beliefs.
THE DEIST GOD
If we combine the Type C Critical God and the Type D Distant God with atheists we may have almost half of all Americans, 45.6 percent or 137 million people, who either do not believe in God or believe in a God who does not act in the universe except setting it going on its way according to natural laws he created. He seldom or never interferes with the world, in this view. This result agrees with a 2006 Harris poll, which found that 44 percent of American adults believe that God "observes but does not control what happens on Earth."
The Type C and D gods are far closer to the deist god of the eighteenth-century Age of the Enlightenment than the Christian God. Now, I am sure most believers in these gods still regard themselves as Christians (as did many Enlightenment deists). Nevertheless, we can safely label as deist anyone who believes in a god who created the universe but plays no further role in it.
Even before this book appeared in print I was criticized for attempting to define Christianity, admittedly a difficult task even for a theologian. Please note that I am doing no such thing. I am not saying what a Christian is. I am simply saying what a Christian is not. As we will see in later chapters when we get deeper into theology, someone who does not believe that God acts daily to heal and empower human lives is not a Christian.
Although no denominations today except perhaps Unitarian Universalism associate themselves with deist thinking, this was once a very respectable view and has probably existed all along, unrecognized, since the Enlightenment. In chapter 4 we will discuss the rise of deism and see how it became a popular belief among intellectuals in the eighteenth century, including many of the Founding Fathers of America. Indeed, our first four presidents all seemed to share some form of deist belief. Jefferson's "creator" in the Declaration of Independence was the deist god.
As we move to the modern world we will find that the original concept of a deist god is no longer compatible with existing scientific knowledge and we will investigate how deism must be updated to be consistent with that knowledge. Several prominent Christian theologians and scientists today will be seen to be moving toward a modern form of deism that requires them to do some mighty logic twisting to still call it Christian.
The Baylor study also examined the relationship between religious belief and belief in what is generally termed the paranormal. These are supposed phenomena that lie outside conventional science. Subjects were asked about their attitudes toward ancient civilizations (Atlantis), alternative medicine, astrology, psychic phenomena, haunted houses, Ouija boards, prophetic dreams, UFOs, and strange creatures (Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster).
The survey found that almost 76 percent of Americans believe that some alternative treatments are at least as effective as conventional medicine. Over 50 percent believe dreams can sometimes foretell the future. Over 37 percent believe houses can be haunted, and 28 percent think that the world can be influenced directly by the mind.
Those who investigate paranormal phenomena disagree on whether they necessarily involve supernatural forces. But at least some such phenomena, if confirmed, would be difficult to explain by natural forces alone.
Many scientists argue that science has nothing to say about the supernatural and so should not even get involved in such cases. The claim is that science, by definition, only deals with the "natural." I emphatically disagree. Whether any of these proposed phenomena are of supernatural origin or not, they all involve physical observations and so can be empirically studied by normal scientific means. Let me give an example.
A common claim among self-proclaimed psychics is that they can tell the future. This can easily be tested by some prediction coming true. Now, these can't be obvious predictions like an earthquake will strike Los Angles someday. Predicting the exact day well before the actual event would be positive evidence for psychic powers, although one or two additional successful predictions of this type by the same psychic would be needed to be sure it wasn't a lucky guess. Needless to say, no such successful prediction has ever been recorded.
For the most part, all of the phenomena listed in the Baylor study have been tested in controlled scientific experiments and have failed to be confirmed at a level where they have become accepted scientific knowledge. If they had, they would be normal rather than paranormal. This includes all of alternative medicine, which fails to be confirmed as effective other than as a placebo despite widespread testimonials and belief even among health professionals.
The Baylor survey found another interesting result. An inverse relationship exists between church attendance and paranormal belief, with those who attend church weekly rating the lowest in paranormal belief and those who attend rarely or never rating the highest. However, note that the list used to define paranormal beliefs does not include any that are normally associated with religion, such as belief in demons or mystical revelations. So I would not read into this that religion provides any kind of shield against paranormal belief. The safest conclusion is that most people believe there is more to existence than what we see with our own two eyes and what science reveals with its most powerful instruments. Churchgoers just share a different set of paranormal beliefs than nonchurchgoers.
SOMETHING OUT THERE
Perhaps three out of four Americans believe that there is "something out there" and if it is not the God of religion, deist or theist, then it is still some cosmic force that acts outside the range of both normal human experience and conventional science, that is, a divine intelligence-the ground of all being.
Somewhat over 50 percent of the population believes in an authoritarian, creator God who plays a dominant role in the universe-the God of the three great monotheisms. They are theists. Of these, 30 percent also believe that this God plays a dominant role in human lives. In my previous book God: The Failed Hypothesis, I argued that such a God should have been detected by now, by science if not common experience, and so can be shown not to exist beyond a reasonable doubt. This also agrees with the conclusions of many philosophers that such a God is a logical impossibility.
These arguments still hold but with perhaps slightly less force for the 20 percent who think God does not participate significantly in their own lives. They still believe in a divine creator, an intelligent designer. In my book I showed that the universe looks very much as it should look if it were not created or designed but appeared and evolved by natural forces alone. I also showed that the universe looks very much as it should look if there were no creator who designed the universe with a special place for humanity. In these cases I demonstrated that a God with these properties also would be empirically detectable and that the lack of evidence that should be there is sufficient to falsify the hypothesis of that God.
Now, the 44 percent of the population whom I have labeled (without their knowledge or approval) deists believe in a creator that is more difficult to rule out scientifically. Their creator authored the laws of nature but then let the universe carry on according to those laws, never stepping in to change anything. For now let us assume this is a possible god, but we will see later that the only viable deist god may be one that few deists from the Enlightenment to the present really have in mind.
This leaves atheists and about the 5-7 percent or so of Americans who are unaffiliated with any church and yet still believe in a higher power. The latter also think "there must be something out there," but it is not the god of either theists or deists.
I surmise that this group is very sympathetic to a variety of ideas now in the marketplace that are labeled "spiritual." Evidence for this can be found in the sales strength of books and popularity of films that tout the notion of a cosmic consciousness that pervades the universe that includes the human mind. Since much of that movement is linked to Eastern philosophy and mysticism, we can add to the sample a good fraction of those who call themselves Buddhists or Hindus.
This "New Spirituality" (or "New Age Spirituality") will be the second set of beliefs, along with modern deism, that will be discussed in this book. We will see that physics, in particular quantum mechanics, plays a big role in the theory behind both these movements.
One of the most important developments in religion in America in recent years has been the "megachurch," a huge facility with a weekly attendance of thousands. The megachurch provides almost everything an individual or a family needs for their social and religious lives. The large sanctuary has the finest in visual and sound effects and the music is lively and popular. The sermons typically are the very opposite of hellfire and brimstone but promise an easy life and prosperity just by following Jesus. And almost everybody (in their community) goes to heaven.
Excerpted from QUANTUM GODS by VICTOR J. STENGER Copyright © 2009 by Victor J. Stenger. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 23, 2009
The author makes a compelling case that quantum mechanics can't be used to justify the concepts promoted in books like 'The Secret' or to explain consciousness or some even greater cosmic consciousness. He also makes a compelling case that you do not need to call on some external force or being to account for all that we see around us in the universe. Of course, there are a lot of smart people who disagree, as pointed out in the review by Dr. Stenger. As of now, however, I don't believe anyone has conducted an experiment whose outcome is not explained by ordinary particle physics. Maybe it will happen someday, maybe not. Until then, the idea of quantum spirituality seems to mostly be a thought experiment that hasn't lead to any concrete evidence.
For those that find the superficial quantum theory arguments used in books like 'The Secret' convincing, this book is probably a must read as they may not be aware that there are strong scientific arguments that the reasoning in these books is seriously flawed. For the more serious proposals made by scientists like Penrose this book can probably not do more than let the reader know that these proponents have a long way to go before they have proved their case.
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Posted July 18, 2009
I Also Recommend:
Quantum mechanics is strange. It presents us with a worldview that is against common sense. This strangeness has led gurus and the religious to make absurd claims about how quantum mechanics 'proves' their beliefs. Using established scientific theories and hard-hitting analyses, Stenger shows how the claims of the gurus and religious are void of any truth. He explains what quantum physics says, and what it does not. 'Quantum Gods' is a fascinating science book, as well as a useful guide for debunking new age nonsense.
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Quantum spirituality--the idea that some aspect of consciousness plays a fundamental role in the universe and that advanced physics should be interpreted as having to some extent already incorporated this principle--has had distinguished representation among both physicists and philosophers. It has generated an upsurge of grassroots enthusiasm because of the widespread sense that science and spirituality, rather than being fundamentally separate or even opposed, are in fact deeply connected and mutually reinforcing. Victor Stenger's purpose in writing Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness is to "debunk" this idea--but attention to the details shows that it is actually Stenger's arguments that need the debunking.
Stenger--a retired physicist who is leveraging his scientific background to try to discredit anything and everything that smacks of spirituality--doesn't respect his intellectual opponents enough to get their positions right; in some instances he appears to deliberately misrepresent their views; and, most important, his own reasoning is characterized by unremitting carelessness. Moreover, there is a method to his carelessness--it enables him to systematically avoid addressing the tough arguments of his opponents. Hence we find him frequently setting up a straw man by misrepresenting the debate as a simple matter of science and reason versus superstition. Once having defined this as the issue, all he needs to do is assume the attitude of an outraged scientist and heap on the ridicule. But if he had done his homework and taken the trouble to really understand the science and logic supporting quantum spirituality, he would have discovered that it is harder to dismiss than he had imagined. Indeed, the more carefully--and yes, critically--one considers the issues, the more one finds quantum spirituality to be eminently worthy of serious consideration, as a plausible and measured approach to the most long-standing and intractable questions at the basis of science.
My full-length critical review article is posted at: www.truthabouttm.org/truth/SocietalEffects/Critics-Rebuttals/StengerRebuttal/index.cfm.
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