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Book Review: The God Experiment: Can Science Prove the Existence of God? by Russell Stannard

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The God Experiment: Can Science Prove the Existence of God? begins with a description of a prayer experiment conducted at a New England Hospital where three groups of people were studied. All were recovering from heart surgery. The purpose of the research was to determine if prayer could be a factor in determining the rate of these patients recovery. There were three groups:

  1. Those told they may or may not be prayed for (and who weren't)
  2. Those told they may or may not be prayed for (and who were)
  3. Those told they would be prayed for (and who were)  

The God Experiment by physicist Russell Stannard was written before any conclusions from this study could be drawn. It is now complete. The American Heart Journal reports that, “… intercessory prayer (is) not effective in reducing complications following heart surgery.” However, Stannard had already concluded that a null hypothesis would have no effect on his discussion of the evidence for a belief in God.

He explains that even in his own field of research, high-energy nuclear physics, only after analyzing data from many highly controlled experiments can scientists synthesize conclusions. Thus, any single experiment involving prayer or the supernatural is just as insufficient in proving results as any single experiment in nuclear physics. 

The God Experiment discusses causality in terms of the quantum theory. The tiniest particles that have been examined so far cannot be analyzed at all. Why? In order to observe them or their motion, science must bombard the particles with photons of light. When light strikes these sub-atomic particles, its photons transfer some of their own energy to the very particles being studied distorting any view of their existence either as a particle or a mere energy wave. 

As a result, when experimenting in the subminiature world of atomic physics, science cannot predict with certainty where a particle is or what causes it to exist in any given place. In fact, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle would allow a mere guess as to where a particle is: only the probability that it even exists in any given place.

This is incredible considering that these possible particles determine how an atom interacts with other atoms to form the molecules that make up all existing things, including us with self-conscious awareness and apparent free will. 

Physicist Stannard questions what kind of personality, “if we can call it that,” might God have? Using the Bible as an a priori authority, he accepts that God is supposed to be one, unlike the Canaanite baals. He claims that theology must evolve just as science evolves by criticizing and then changing its own accepted paradigms according to newly discovered facts.

An equally gentle feminine side of God is slowly eradicating the harsh, punishing, masculine God of wrath.  Although Stannard feels that genuine theological progress is being made, this reviewer questions such progress in light of what is going on politically in our world. Consider for a moment the often murderous relationships that exist between Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all peoples who have accepted specific religious dogma down through the centuries. Where is the theological progress toward the day when all-may-be-one? Hopefully, this will not be a oneness in a global nuclear melt-down. 

The God Experiment discusses the place of pain and suffering in a God sustaining universe. If every person had every need fulfilled, Stannard claims “…It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible…” to love. One person shows love toward another by reacting to their needs. A needy person suffers whether it is mental suffering or physical suffering. Freely choosing to help that person eliminate their need demonstrates love.  

Love also involves risk-taking. To many people, living alone has countless advantages. But the fact that so many individuals choose a loving partnership with another person shows they are willing to take risks: “self-sacrifice, compromise, difficulties, and conflict of interest.” Stannard reasons that divorce is proof of human nature’s desire to seek a loving relationship. People who have lost their willingness to relieve the needs of their partner or spouse will divorce, but then they may seek out another partner to share their lives.

The story of Job in the Bible, Stannard says, is the epitome of how to understand pain and suffering in God’s world. There is no real answer, nor will there ever be. Job prays to God for relief or at least an understanding of all the calamities which have befallen him. God answers his pathetic cries with a series of questions as if Job’s troubles are mere pains he must endure. It is as if Job should be trusting and loving and patiently bearing what the all-powerful has willed. 

From here, The God Experiment delves into the physical mystery of where the universe, space, and time came from and what is its ultimate end. As a physicist, Stannard falls back on the Big Bang theory as an explanation of how existence occurred in the first place. He revisits quantum physics but explains that even if quantum fluctuations caused the universe to explode from an infinitely small singularity with tremendous mass, a force (God) is still necessary to be a first cause of the fluctuations, even though physicists claim they existed in nothingness. 

Physicist Stannard seeks the laws which the universe appears to be following. The randomness of adaptive evolution appears purposeful. Its course includes all the laws up to and including us. He ponders whether these laws are present in "things-in-themselves" or in a reality outside of existence. To this reviewer, Stannard’s preference lies in the mystery of the Wholly Other. 

As a whole, The God Experiment is a fascinating read which delves more into the thinking mind of a physicist who firmly believes God is necessary to explain the existence of our universe and mankind’s humble place in it. His physics is not hard to follow. In fact, he details concepts with such lucidity that the non-scientific reader might very well understand difficult scientific theories for the first time.

The book never claims to be a proof of God’s existence. It provides the reader with an investigative look into reality to see why God is needed. I would recommend the book to anyone who either believes in divine reality or has questions about that hazy crossover point between scientific and religious belief. The God Experiment will provide you with hours of relaxing thought for inquisitive meditation.

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