Proof of God

Once again, the first thing to be said about this third book I’ve been involved with containing “Proof” in the title is… false advertising. Though I was (don’t let anyone tell you different) the person who came up with the title “Proof of Heaven” (the title before that was the somewhat snoozy “Into the Afterlife”), I don’t really think that this was a totally good idea in terms of anything but sales. Poor Eben, when the title was sprung on him, tried to get everyone around to the less incendiary “My Proof of Heaven,” but that was roundly rejected by the marketing department. Proof was snappy, proof was suggestive, and – perhaps most importantly – proof was aggressive. I strongly suspect that had the book had a different title, Eben would not have called down upon himself quite the avalanche of wrath from the scientific community that he did.

“Proof” is a profoundly problematic and troublesome word to use in conjunction with things like God, angels, or the spiritual worlds, but most specially with God. The reasons for this are numerous and complex, and quite frankly I’m not sufficiently intelligent or educated to outline them for you here in anything but the most general terms. The basic point, though, is that in order to prove something, one needs to work within a set of manageable categories. Those categories may be scientific, or philosophical, or even theological. To prove that water is composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, or that a feather and a bowling ball falling in a vacuum will hit the ground at exactly the same time, or that the sum of the angles of any triangle will be 180 degrees…. Things like this can be demonstrated, and – more importantly – they can be demonstrated repeatedly, by anyone with the wit and the materials to do so. Philosophical proofs of God certainly exist, just as proofs of his non-existence exist. But all of these are bodied forth with concepts, and any God whose existence is worth proving lies before, beneath, above, and entirely beyond all conceptual frameworks (just as, in the other direction, he lies so close to us, as the ground from which our individual being arises, that attempts to separate ourselves from him sufficiently to make judgements on his existence or non-existence are equally vain).

But book contracts are book contracts, and I knew, after Bernie Haisch first contacted me about doing a book with him, that the biggest and best chance we had of getting a contract for such a book would be by calling it Proof of God.

Interestingly (and contra everything I just said), Bernie himself had no problem with the title. (In the book I ask him to quantify his degree of certainty that God exists. His reply was that he was 99% sure, adding that as a scientist he didn’t like to say that he was 100% sure of anything.) Bernie is a respected and profoundly accomplished astrophysicist. There is nothing flaky about him, so when he expressed nothing but enthusiasm for a book with that title, I lost whatever hesitations I might have had and set myself to producing it with him.

To date, Proof of God hasn’t sold a tremendous amount of copies. It certainly (to understate the matter) hasn’t performed (I did warn Bernie about this) on the level of Proof of Heaven, which I took pains to explain was a book in a million; a book in which perhaps a dozen unlikely things had to happen, and happen at just exactly the right time. It’s a shame that Proof of God hasn’t sold a bit more though, because while flawed in all sorts of ways (my fault, my fault, my fault), I do believe that it gets across, in simple, average-reader sorts of terms, a handful of basic ideas that are, if you ask me, as important as any ideas around.

It’s not that these ideas are not to be found elsewhere. They are, in quantity, but they lie, by and large, in books that fall under the subject category of Intelligent Design, a term that has been tarred by the (many) books that employ the term while attempting to prove that God really did create the world in six days, and that he grew cross, on an afternoon not long after this feat of craftsmanship was accomplished, with Adam and Eve for eating fruit from a tree he had specifically told them to stay clear of.

In other words, books connected to Intelligent Design arguments (arguments that there is evidence for God’s work in the world) vary widely in terms of content and quality. And the easiest approach for people who dislike the idea on principle is to lump outstanding and brilliant books by people like Michael J. Behe and Stephen C. Meyer in with the books that attempt to show that the earth is only a few thousand years old, that Moses parted the Red Sea, and so forth.

It’s a shame, because in order to be dazzled by the intelligence at work in the universe, one does not need to accept Christian dogmas, or the dogmas of any other faith. The basics of the science involved, vastly complex as the actual science is, can be laid out very simply, and when taken in with an open mind is both fascinating and extraordinarily convincing. This, in any event, is my argument in Proof of God, and for that reason I think the circumstances under which it was produced (I had just broken up with my second wife) were helpful. They were so because they helped me to suggest that the discoveries made about the nature of the universe in the last century or so are not only profoundly suggestive of God’s existence, they are also very cheering. 

The dominant view of popular scientists – those who speak and write to mass audiences – is that human life is an entirely accidental and essentially pointless affair. That’s problematic enough, but what I find more irritating is the good cheer with which most of these popular figures deliver this message. Sure, we humans are accidental products of natural selection and nothing more. Sure, our individual consciousness is dependent on our physical brains, and arose because possessing this consciousness proved valuable at a certain point in our evolution. And yes, of course, when we die, it’s all over. We’ll head on back to the nothingness from which we emerged, just as those who came before us did in their time, and those who come after us will do in their time. But so what? Why bother yourself with these admittedly rather depressing facts? Life is meaningless. Big deal! Instead of moping about it, take a look around at this big wonderful universe and marvel at how cool it all is, even if it’s ultimately meaningless. Check out these killer new photos of the Crab Nebula, and marvel that we accidental hominids have come so far so fast.

And so on. The point argued in Proof of God is that not only are proclamations like these the norm among scientists who address themselves to a popular audience, they’re also just… wrong.

To my mind, the best illustration of the correct way to look at the universe around us is the famous watchmaker analogy, given originally by William Paley in his 1802 book Natural Theology. If you’re walking along and come across a pocket watch lying in a field, this argument runs, you are very unlikely to ascribe its existence to random forces. Pocket watches don’t just… show up. They are extremely complicated devices requiring enormous skill and intelligence to create.

This argument of Paley’s has been pretty much tucked in the closet of late, as it has been surpassed by other, much more convincing arguments that the universe had a creator. But I still like it, precisely because it is so simple and straightforward. It’s really all you need. But if more evidence and arguments are wanted, they exist in abundance, and in Proof of God Bernie lays out some of the easiest to grasp.

One very useful way to see the hand of God at work in the world (one which Bernie uses in the book) is to see life as analogous to a computer generation. In this view, the world is something like a fantastically complex and deeply interactive video game – one in which every last pixel is there because it has been made to be there. Look at the world as a place of horror and boredom, or look at it as a place of wonder and beauty. Or (the obvious choice) look at it as both these things. However you choose to see the spectacle of existence as it presents itself to your mnd and senses each day, the important thing to realize is that it is a spectacle that requires a lot of work to be there. Considerably more work, and considerably more skill, and considerably more smarts than it takes to make a pocket watch. In this simulation view, nothing is just… there. Nothing is just sitting around, existing in some dead, dull, Sunday afternoon sort of way. A crushed Pepsi can lying on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike just north of Exit Two is a Pixar spectacle of unspeakable brilliance – an event which requires unimaginable amounts of labor and intelligence simply to continue to exist at each second. God, in this view, is holding everything up, all the time, and if the plug were pulled, everything would blink instantly back into the void from which it emerged.

To my mind, all arguments for the universe as a random event, something that just happened to arise fourteen or so billion years ago, are now obsolete. Who am I to say so? No one, but that’s actually part of the point, and part of what I try to get across in the book. You really don’t need to be all that smart to understand that the universe is a purposeful event. It’s obvious to anyone who pays attention to the discoveries of science, most especially those of the last 125 years. Arguments for the universe as a random happening all have their roots, it seems to me, in the emotions. People refuse to pay attention to the scientific evidence of God’s existence, or spin that evidence so that it appears different from what it is, because the world is so visibly horrible in so many ways. How (to state an argument that usually comes to people in early childhood) could a God who is good create the sh-t-show we see before us?

That is where the difficulties lie, and that is why the Christianity that I am really interted in – the one that I really and truly spend much of my time with – is something strange and raw and ragged. It is all mystery and sharp edges, all shock and paradox. Yet at the same time it is childish, in the sense that it believes that creatures as small as sparrows are known about and cared about and are, in fact, upheld, in a manner that simulation theory does not explain but helps me envision. This is the weird, knotty, ground-dropping-out-from-under-your-feet sort of Christianity of which G. K. Chesterton wrote that “even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags.” It’s a Christianity that has something to do with my decades-long fascination with those two poems that I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site – Tomas Tranströmer’s “The Half-Finished Heaven” and Louis Jenkins’ “Violence on Television.” It is a completely private, completely quirky sort of Christianity, yet at the same time it is completely universal, having nothing whatsoever to do with my particular tastes and inclinations.

It’s a Christianity that – as I mentioned somewhere else on this site – is poorly served by the name Christianity, that word having been flattened by overuse and misuse. Whatever name it might best go by, this Christianity I am interested in is one which addresses, first and foremost, not whether or not there is a God (because really, there is one), but the question of suffering, injustice, and death. In other words, the questions that are unanswerable in any linear, logical kind of way. It’s easy, if you pay attention and are able to let go of whatever preconceptions you might have on the matter, to understand that the universe is not a random, accidental event. All the theories devised to make end-runs around this fact, from the Many Worlds Theory to the Multiverse (all dealt with by Bernie in the book), just don’t hold up, and one does not need to be an astrophysicist to see that this is the case.

But things like suffering and death are another matter. To my mind, they are the real reason it is so hard to get so many otherwise intelligent people to stop for a moment and take seriously the fact of the Divine origins of the cosmos and everything in it. To be convinced of God’s existence one does not need Christianity in any form, or Jesus in any form. One does not even need the word “God” itself, for that matter, for that word too has been ruined far beyond repair at this point. The world may often seem to be, to borrow from Baudelaire, a desert of boredom punctuated, here and there, by the occasional oasis of horror. But to legitimately wrestle with questions of why this is so, one needs to begin, or at least one should begin, from the fact that the universe did not emerge by accident, any more than human beings did. Though it is generally passed over by the anti-religion bunch, the fact is that none of the great Christian or Jewish theologians were unaware of the horrors of existence. If anything, they were considerably more aware of them than we are. But to wrestle with the great questions of pain and suffering and injustice and all the rest of it is different from wrestling with whether the universe was a random or a keenly purposeful event. It is the latter, it really is, and while this fact may lie outside the reach of human proofs, it is because of the largeness of God, not his non-existence, that makes this so.

If you are interested in the evidence that our universe is not the big happy accident that so much of popular science presents it to be, Proof of God presents what I think is a fairly good primer on that evidence. But I do mean primer. Proof of God was published by Howard Books, the Evangelical line of Simon & Schuster, and while Bernie and I were blessed with an outstanding editor, she was also an editor working under Howard’s strictures of understandability. Writing a book on questions of the origin of the cosmos, the role of a central Intelligence in the creation of the world, the nature of things like the Zero Point Field, and why current theories accounting for the existence of inertia in the formation of matter (or rather, the knotted intersections of force that we experience as matter, there being no actual matter in the universe at all) while adhering, in every sentence, to the demand to keep things soccer-mom simple is tiring work. I did the best I could, and I do feel that there are readers out there for whom the occasionally breezy, occasionally mopey, and at all times somewhat self-involved stroll that I take through these issues in Proof of God might actually prove useful to some people. I’ve actually even met a few. However, if you want to find out what Bernie thinks about these matters without the framing device of my marital troubles and all the rest of it, I heartily encourage you to read one of his other books, my favorite of which (and which I had in fact read long before Bernie contacted me about doing a book) is The Purpose-Guided Universe.

One of the more irritating results of Howard Books (the division of Simon & Schuster that published Proof of God) disintegrating at basically the same moment the book was released was the book’s being printed without some promotional lines that had been provided by Dr. Larry Dossey. Larry is the author of many excellent books (His One Mind is, in my opinion, something of a masterpiece), not to mention being the man who coined the phrase “non-locality.” I was delighted that he had taken the time to write the lines, so I include them here:

"If you are among those who are torn between science and religion, for whom the concept of God needs empirical proof, Proof of God is your book. In these fascinating conversations with eminent astrophysicist Bernard Haisch, author Ptolemy Tompkins pulls back the curtain and reveals developments in modern science that are deeply cordial to the reality of a Creator God. Tompkins and Haisch show how we've been played by materialist scientists eager to reduce all of existence to meaningless, purposeless, accidental processes. Proof of God is CPR for the good, the true, the beautiful. This resuscitation is essential because our very survival on this planet may well depend on the hope and meaning conveyed in these pages. For the sake of every individual on Earth, I hope Proof of God sells millions."