May 292011

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I was looking for a good book that made a good case for the theistic beliefs without being preachy. That is, a book that introduced me to the arguments upon which the world religions build their theologies. The three world religions I speak of are the Abrahamic religions. Abraham, a prophet recognized by the world religions, is considered the first man to have had the honor of being spoken to directly by God. The oldest manuscripts to recognize Abraham’s status and record the encounter can be found in the Bible, or, as the Christians call it, the Old Testament. As such, the Jewish theology seemed to be the most reasonable source to contain the foundations I was looking forward to studying. This is one of the books suggested.

Cover of "God According to God: A Physici...

Cover via Amazon

Gerald Schroeder‘s book is subtitled “A Physicist Proves We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along.” I get it, he has a degree in physics. What has that to do with anything? Is that not an attempt at appealing to authority? Should we trust his views, before even reading a single line, just because he has a degree in physics? Or does that show that he knows what he’s talking about any better?

God According to God is well written. The author is clearly not only a good writer, but he’s also well-versed in all the topics he touches upon. Schroeder frequently admits the obvious counter-argument to the points he makes. In chapter 3 “The Unlikely Planet Earth,” where, using Drake’s equation, he calculates the number of Earth-like planets in the visible universe. At the end of the chapter he concludes by saying:

The estimated number of stars in the entire visible universe is in the order of 1022. This indicates that in the entire universe there may be approximately 104, or 10,000, earthlike planets circling a sunlike star. These 10,000 potentially earthlike planets would be distributed among the 1011, or 100,000,000,000, galaxies in the entire visible universe. That comes out to be one earthlike planet for each 10,000,000 galaxies. The probability that any one galaxy would have more than one life-bearing stellar system is slim indeed.

To be honest, at this point I had already read 3 chapters and was a bit surprised that his conclusion wasn’t that Earth was by far the only possible host of life. Part of the reason for this expectation is his obvious bias to demonstrate how unique and rare life on Earth is. Although his assumptions are a bit conservative (for example he doesn’t consider the possibility of life on moons orbiting large planet, such as Titan,) his conclusion is spot on. For what it’s worth, I thought he wasted a good bunch of papers in this chapter, as the conclusion, if anything, convinced me that Earth is just a fluke, with a possible 10,000 more sprinkled around. What is so special about that escapes me.

The book can be divided into two logical domains: Physics and Theology, but of course they don’t share an equal number of pages. The division is so stark, that one might think the respective chapters were written by completely different authors. As a matter of fact, there are contradictions between them. In chapter 2 “The Origins of Life” he writes:

Our cosmic genesis began billions of years ago in our perspective of time, first as beams of energy, then as the heavier elements fashioned within stars and supernovae from the primordial hydrogen and helium, next as stardust remnants expelled in the bursts of supernovae, and finally reaching home as rocks and water and a few simple molecules that became alive on the once molten earth.

Later, in chapter 4 “Nature Rebels”:

In the Garden of Eden, 2,448 years prior to this revelation at Sinai, Adam and Eve were confronted with the identical options.

This caused me so much cognitive dissonance that I went back to find the section where the cosmic origin, what he calls the “Big Bang Creation,” is described. This physicist apparently holds the belief that our planet has billions of years behind it, yet he maintains that Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden exactly 2,448 years before the revelation at Sinai! Considering the era when the Garden of Eden encounters supposedly occurred and the lack of numbers in any biblical or other sources, the above number is extremely precise. Not only that goes unexplained, Schroeder assumes the reader has already agreed to the Garden of Eden events as told in the Bible. In fact, that is my main point here: The author assumes the reader is a believer and well-acquainted to the theology and he’s basically giving scientific backing and, as is apparent in later chapters, throwing his own interpretation and understanding of the nature of God.

Perhaps the title might have given a clue or two as to the conviction of the author regarding his understanding of God’s nature and plan. There is perhaps less color hues in a rainbow than different interpretations and explanations of God’s nature, plan and instructions to the human race. The author of God According to God adds yet another, and it’s not a conventional one, at least it isn’t to me.

In chapter 6 “Arguing with God”:

The sequence of events at and following the binding give compelling force to the supposition that the God of the Bible not only wants a dialogue with us humans, but even more than that. God expects such, and if the situation seems unjust or unjustified, then, beyond a dialogue, God wants us to argue. If our case is strong enough, God will even “give in,” or at least modify the Divine directive. Moses seems to have understood this trait of the Divine.

A few pages down:

Argument seems to be the standard and the expected biblical operating procedure in our encounters with the Divine. The surprise is that, having designed and created our universe with all its magnificence and granted us the freedom of choice, God wants us, expects us, to interact with the Divine about how to run the universe.

In the next chapter “In Defense of God”:

As I read the events of the Bible, in human terms I see God in a sort of emotional bind. God desperately wants us to choose life, a dynamic, purposeful existence, but doesn’t want to force us along that line. Hence we are granted the liberating tzimtzum of creation. God has to hold back and let us try. When we really mess up, God steps in. It’s so human. Mom teaches junior to play chess. Looking over his shoulder as her son makes his moves on the board, she sees a trap developing. He is about to lose his queen. If she wants her kid to learn to think ahead, to envision the distant outcome of the initial move before that move is made, she will do well to keep her hands in her pockets and let him make the error or at most give a few very general suggestions, as God through the Bible gives to us. It’s frustrating, even painful, but it is part of the learning process, Divine as well as human.

The above quotes are not the only cases that made me stop reading, and pause… for a while. It might have been that I had expected the run of the mill explanations and arguments. Instead, I found radically new concepts. Ideas I hadn’t encountered before. I can see that some of these ideas could be called heretical. If we make a strong case arguing with God, “God will even “give in,”” and “[…] God wants us, expects us, to interact with the Divine about how to run the universe.” And apparently, there is a “Divine as well as human” learning process!

Whatever your stance on God and religion, God According to God isn’t a rehash of age-old arguments. Nor is it the typical “science proves the existence of God” kind of book. Gerald Schroeder is very well read on ancient Jewish texts. His Hebrew skills are of the translator caliber. His science is, as far as I can tell, solid. Overall, I learned quite a bit from the historical writings and the ancient Jewish theology that is blended in with the science and God’s strive to learn as we go. It’s just that I didn’t get what I paid for.

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  10 Responses to “Review: God According to God”

  1. Then ask for a refund for the book and then write a book about “God according to Me” point by point debunking Schroedrer’s thesis. So we may be enlightened better (?).

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    • Jess,

      Schroedrer might have been better advised to title the book “God according to Me” himself. However, that wouldn’t be persuasive or serious enough for those who won’t take anyone’s word but God’s. As if saying something is according to God makes it any more valid than saying “it’s just my opinion”. But hey, it seems to work, so why not.

      And for the record, I only criticized his weak arguments, not his arrogance. I think that’s fair game. Your attack should be more useful if it were directed to my criticism rather my person.

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  2. Bs’d

    If you would have read his previous books, then you would have had no problem with what you now perceive as “contradictions”.

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    • Oh, I get it, I’ve read his book “out of context.” And the context is what, 20 other books? Contradictions are contradictions.

      No context makes a contradiction “right”. You can’t be both your parents offspring and *their* parent. That’s a contradiction. If writing a complete book isn’t good enough to clarify things, I think that’s a major fail on the part of the author, not the reader. Or are we expected to buy everything the author every produced to start figuring out what they “meant” to say?

      P.S. You could have made the same point by saying “If you were a devout Jew, then you would have had no problem with what you now perceive as ‘contradictions'”. You see why your point doesn’t work?

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      • There are no contradictions between modern cosmology, physics, scripture or ancient commentary, pre 1250AD/BCE. That is what Schroeder is noted for writing, especially in “The Science of God.” Interestingly, the harmony between Big Bang cosmology has gotten closer to Genesis’ six day creation since the book was published in 1997. At that time 15.? billion years equated to six and tiny fraction more days. With the recent discovery of accelerated expansion of the universe and 13.72 billion years there correlation is now 5.5 days, which matches Genesis, the Talmud, and ancient commentary.

        Of course you read enough to know that we are talking about from Quark Confinement to the point were Adam became a neshamah.

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        • > At that time 15.? billion years equated to six and tiny fraction more days.

          In what sense does 15+ billion years equate “six and tiny fraction” days?

          What does it mean to say the age of the universe correlates with the creation duration? That’s like saying you know how long someone’s birth took because you know their age!

          If you don’t see contradictions, then perhaps “modern cosmology and physics” can learn a thing or two from said scripture and ancient commentary.

          If you find yourself (as Schroeder does) validating ancient texts with modern findings, isn’t that itself acknowledgement that the latter is the reference and standard for truth?

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          • You miss point of Schroeder altogether. He avoids validating new to old or old to new. He lets the writings of the Talmud, modern cosmology, and the Torah speak for themselves. As all the documents are separated in origin by hundreds to thousands of years it would be a fool that would ignore the facts as mere coincidence.

            There isn’t much room for interpretation as to what has been written and translated by hundreds with the same meaning.

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  3. Dear Ashod;
    I appreciate your seeming, although perhaps grudging appreciation of Schroeder’s credibility. He has also opened my eyes, in my case away from a simplistic “young earth” predisposition. Schroeder currently has 3 other books, with reviews and summaries on his web. He also has free audio and video on you tube with most of his background info. Keep searching; the truth will make you free. So far I have bought none of his books, only availed of the free material, but plan to do so soon, as 2 of his books are very cheap, order from the link on his web, they are from 1 cent and 3.99 shipping from amazon, I just bought one a minute ago, $4 total.

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  4. Hi Ashdod,

    I haven’t read this book but I have seen a clip of Gerald explaining why science does not contradict the Bible but in fact agrees with the creation account of the Bible, written three thousand years ago. He explained the wordings in Genesis are not literal as it had been discovered by Nachmanides eight hundred years ago.

    Basically his ideas revolve around the awe in realizing that 800 years ago we realized that creation was not literal in terms of days, but that it could be calculated to be more than 13 billion years.

    I do not remember how the calculation was made but it has something to do that with the expansion of the universe so does time.

    In sum, science finding the order of creation to be correct is another proof of the reliability of the Bible.

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    • Hi Chris,

      The problem with this reasoning is that you still need science to tell you how old the universe is. To say that the Bible really doesn’t talk about literal days gives you nothing but discredit.

      The fact is that whatever the Bible has to say, it has no numbers (except for “6 days”). So if science adds precision to the 13 Billion age due to new discovery, you have to claim that the Bible had always stated that new age! You are playing catch up and bending and twisting the words of the Bible (days -> era, 6 -> 13, etc) to make the math work (which it still doesn’t). Anyone else doing the same gymnastics with their holy book will not impress you, I’m sure. (Also do note that the Bible goes out of its way to define what it means by ‘day’… “And the evening and the morning were the first day.” Evening and Morning are not abstract, unless words have no meaning anymore.)

      This trick of “it has always agreed with science” only works on people who already believe the holy book in question to be accurate and need the nagging feeling of contradiction between hard facts (science) and their beliefs (the Bible) to go away. It’s a band-aid.

      Not very enviable, considering almost anyone can do that with any text. Not impressed.

      Ashod (not Ashdod, which is a city)

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