There are three books out now by astrophysicists discussing God and I have just heard about a fourth one in progress. First, Arnold Benz, a distinguished professor of astrophysics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, author of two textbooks and over 200 scientific papers, published The Future of the Universe: Chance, Chaos, God? Second was my own book, The God Theory: Universes, Zero-Point Fields and What’s Behind It All. Close on its heals was God’s Universe, by Harvard professor of astronomy and historian of science Owen Gingerich, the world’s foremost expert on Copernicus . (The one in progress is by a well known researcher in the field of solar-stellar astrophysics who is not yet ready to go public.) All of these books take the idea of a God behind the Universe seriously — though not necessarily in a conventional fashion — and all of them accept a 13.7 billion year old Universe born in a Big Bang and Darwinian evolution of life forms on Earth.

And on the other side we have a trio of new strident atheist books: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris and God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist by Victor Stenger.

Things are heating up in part because there are some extremely suggestive discoveries emerging in physics and astrophysics over the past two decades that are now essentially undisputed: that certain key physical constants have just the right values to make life possible. In principle these constants could have taken on values wildly different from what they actually are, but instead they are in some cases within a few percent of the “just right” values permitting us to exist in this universe. As Sir Martin Rees, the British Astronomer Royal and one of the world’s foremost cosmologists writes in his widely read Just Six Numbers: “Our emergence and survival depend on very special ‘tuning’ of the cosmos — a cosmos that may be vaster than the universe that we can actually see.”

The dominant mainstream interpretation is that there is one and only one way to explain the fine-tuning of the universe. An infinite number of universes must exist, each with unique properties, each randomly different from the other, with ours only seemingly special because in a universe with different properties we would never have originated. Our existence is only possible in this particular universe, hence the tuning is an illusion. But is an infinite number of undetectable universes any less difficult to slice with Occam’s razor than the existence of an infinite intelligence? It is high time for some open-minded recognition and discussion of dogmatism in both religion and science.

Bernard Haisch

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I gave Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation five stars in my Amazon review.

Having just published my own book, The God Theory, in which I propose a concept of God which is, from my perspective as an astrophysicist, completely consistent with science, in particular the Big Bang and evolution, I thought for sure that I would disagree with a lot in Harris’ book. Instead, I found myself cheering for his clear and compelling demonstrations of religious lunacy and the suffering it is causing.

Harris is absolutely correct in faulting religion for intolerance, violence and hatred, things that are the exact opposite of spirituality. But just as our understanding of nature has evolved, so too should our understanding of God evolve. It is possible to conceptualize a God different from the anthropomorphic one of most religions and that is fully compatible with the Big Bang and evolution. Indeed, it may even be required by Occam’s razor.

A remarkable discovery has emerged in astrophysics over the past two decades and is now essentially undisputed: that certain key physical constants have just the right values to make life possible. Most scientists prefer to explain away this uniqueness, by claiming that a huge, perhaps infinite, number of universes must therefore exist, each with unique properties, each randomly different from the other, with ours only seemingly special because in a universe with different properties we would never have originated.

A rational alternative is that the special properties of our universe reflect an underlying intelligence, one that is fully consistent with the Big Bang and Darwinian evolution. This has nothing to do with “Intelligent Design” of lifeforms. It has to do with the origin of the fundamental laws of nature and a rational purpose behind that. This view is also elegantly expressed in the book God’s Universe by Harvard astronomer and historian of science Owen Gingerich.

At this time both views are equally logical and equally beyond proof. Both views require the preexistence of something: quantum fluctuations cannot arise without the preexistence of quantum laws, so where did they come from? It becomes a matter of personal preference whether one prefers the preexistence (prior to the Big Bang) of quantum laws or inflation fields… or an intelligence. However exceptional human experiences and accounts of mystics throughout the ages do suggest that we live in a purposeful universe with an underlying intelligence.

Moreover such ideas are not limited to mystics. Astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington, who verified Einstein’s general relativity in 1919 and who first proposed that stars are powered by thermonuclear processes, also wrote Science and the Unseen World. Astrophysicist Sir James Jeans wrote that the Universe looked more like a great thought than like a great machine. And even comologist Sir Fred Hoyle called the Universe “an obvious fix.”

The absurdities of most religions which Harris rightly exposes as nonsense should be rejected as outmoded and in some cases dangerous to the world. But those absurdities may have nothing whatsoever to do with the possible intelligence behind the Universe. Religion and God do not mix. A very different perspective on who we are and what God might be is implied in Pierre Teilhard De Chardin’s statement: “Surely, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Someday I hope, along with Harris, that religion will have outlived its questionable usefulness, but I also suspect that spirituality will become a branch of knowledge alongside astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, etc.

Bernard Haisch