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Science, Pop Culture, and Apologetic Thinking

Deep Space Galaxies, photo credit
This picturesque view from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope peers into the distant Universe to reveal a galaxy cluster called Abell 2537. Galaxy clusters such as this one contain thousands of galaxies of all ages, shapes and sizes, together totalling a mass thousands of times greater than that of the Milky Way. These groupings of galaxies are colossal — they are the largest structures in the Universe to be held together by their own gravity. Clusters are useful in probing mysterious cosmic phenomena like dark matter and dark energy, the latter of which is thought to define the geometry of the entire Universe. There is so much matter stuffed into a cluster like Abell 2537 that its gravity has visible effects on its surroundings. Abell 2537’s gravity warps the very structure of its environment (spacetime), causing light to travel along distorted paths through space. This phenomenon can produce a magnifying effect, allowing us to see objects that lie behind the cluster and are thus otherwise unobservable from Earth. Abell 2537 is a particularly efficient lens, as demonstrated by the stretched stripes and streaking arcs visible in the frame. These smeared shapes are in fact galaxies, their light heavily distorted by the gravitational field of Abell 2537. This spectacular scene was captured by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide-Field Camera 3 as part of an observing programme called RELICS.  

[Originally published as: Book Review: Faith Across the Multiverse]

If ever there was a book that made me say, “Well…that was unexpected!” it has to be this one: Faith Across the Multiverse by computational biologist, Andy Walsh.

Dr. Walsh is a force to be reckoned with, make no mistake. His vast array of knowledge spanning across multiple scientific disciplines makes him the perfect candidate to take difficult concepts and convey them in relatable, understandable terms.

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His skill and effectiveness in this regard is not only an observation of my own, but a recognized element of his professional repertoire among peers. So much so, in fact, that one Carnegie Mellon University professor remarked that:

Andy Walsh is an expert at communicating across multiple disciplines. By combining images from science, faith and popular culture, he has done a brilliant job of bringing to life and shedding light on some notoriously difficult concepts. — Barry Luokkala

Andy’s personality is on display throughout this book, and carefully-crafted explanations (with a welcome dose of nerdy comedic influence) are arguably its defining characteristics.

Book Summary

Dr. Andy Walsh takes his reader on a journey that transcends time, space, and even universes!

Drawing from his background as a Christian and a scientist, and further capitalizing on his love for comics and science fiction, Walsh helps us understand the pervasive nature of the Christian story and worldview.

He successfully attempts to draw parallels between observable concepts in nature, the conceptual stories of animated (and less-than-animated) fiction, and truths about the nature of God and reality.

Material Review

I have to say—if you’re a nerd who loves the Lord, you will absolutely love this book and want to read it again and again. Many of us likely share the same passions as Andy: a love for God, the sciences, and pop culture (movies, comics, video games, and the like).

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What’s interesting is that many of us have probably never made these connections. Our knowledge is fragmented; we understand the bits and pieces with respect to their own paradigms, but fail to consider what these looks like within the overall paradigm of our worldview.

Faith Across the Multiverse does this exceptionally well. Though there are a few caveats, one or two of which will become apparent toward the end of the review. For now, an important thing to note is how technical the book is. I don’t think this is any fault of Andy’s; as a technologist myself, I can relate. It is often difficult to explain something to a “layperson” that requires a working knowledge of specialized terms and concepts.

I will say that Andy goes to great length throughout this work to bridge the gaps and overcome this particular hurdle. Suffice it to say, to thoroughly understand this book would probably require multiple times through for the average reader. As a matter of recommendation, I might actually recommend reading this book four separate times to assimilate (1) the overall concept, (2) the pop culture parallels, (3) the scientific concepts, and (4) the theological significance.

The book is well-written and concise—not wordy at all, despite the page-count (300!). Walsh communicates clearly and I cannot recommend or praise this book highly enough! Its purpose is not to craft an argument for the existence of God, but it boldly contradicts the absurd message that the scientist need not engage in theological matters.

Key Insights

  • Regardless of their absolute truth, there are many conceptual frameworks spanning multiple fields in science that can help us more tangibly understand difficult truths about God.
  • Communication happens through language; thus, we can understand why God used a book—the Bible—as a primary means of revealing himself to us.
  • Language conventions allow us to speak in more communicable terms about difficult concepts. However, there are limitations to language.
  • The language of mathematics allows to understand paradoxical realities. It may be paradoxical that God is both divine and human, but in the same acceptable sense that we can define a specific set of integers using language that requires us to make numbers which would seemingly be ineligible, eligible.
    To Walsh’s general point, this is further acceptable in the same sense that it’s acceptable to call Indiana Jones both a spiritual believer and an esteemed intellectual; or, the same sense in which Beast (Dr. McCoy) from the X-Men comics is both a skeptical rationalist/denier of the religious and a man who has died multiple times, experienced multiple afterlives and underworlds, etc.
  • Mathematical language also helps us to understand how God can have sovereign control over a world in which humans seem to have free choice. The parabola (best illustrated by the path traveled by the “angry birds” in the popular game of the same name) provides a helpful framework for understanding this.
    Velocity and angle will come in play and can drastically affect the outcome, but at the end of the day, gravity still reigns supreme. God’s ultimate will can be accomplished in any situation, regardless of the input which we give the “system” of our lives. We still have only a range of options from which to choose that are consistent with our nature, and God is aware of those choices and options before we ever arrive to them.
    In the case of the Israelites upon leaving Egypt, for example, God desires that they enter the promised land of Canaan, but they choose not to cross the river and instead disobey and find themselves wandering in the wilderness for 40 years—nevertheless, they eventually landed right where God wanted them—in the promised land.
  • The language of physics gives us a beautiful window into the nature of Jesus. The Bible describes him as “light.” Incidentally, the nature of light helps us understand the nature of Jesus. It’s not clear whether light is a wave, or a particle, or both. There are experiments which can prove either scenario.
    How can Clark Kent be Superman? How can Peter Parker be Spiderman? How can Jesus be God? In every case it becomes clear that our preconception of categories will not do. It may be “unlikely” that Jesus is God, but it is equally unlikely that light is both a wave and a particle—but it is, and thus, we can logically accept that he is.
  • Entropy and information theory help us understand our need to share the gospel. There is an asymmetry that must be introduced in order to transfer meaningful instruction and information into a system. Similarly, we may “die to ourselves” by introducing some symmetry into our own lives in order to bring asymmetry to others. Christ’s death, for example, produced symmetry—but this in turn produced the asymmetry of the gospel message which gives life and hope to all.
  • There is much similarity between the genome and the church. For example, no single cell expresses all of the necessary genes to the proper function of your body, much like no single person can accomplish God’s purposes and mission for the church. There is thus room for much individuality in the church, as well as in the physical body, whose parts all comprise the whole.
  • Walsh uses ants to demonstrate how a collective consciousness of sorts develops amongst unique members of a colony. His extends his analogy to an “emergent” model of human consciousness that I disagree with on theological grounds; nevertheless, his example is instructive in showing that working together toward a collective goal within our individual strengths is the desired way forward for church growth and activity.
  • The language of computer science, and particularly “just-in-time” computing helps us understand the need to iterate and innovate when new problems arise. It would have been detrimental for Nehemiah to have over-prepared for his building project, such that there would have been no room to organize the necessary defense when adversity arose. Innovation with a “just-in-time” response allowed Nehemiah and his crew to be battle-ready, while still acting on the plan set forth by his careful planning and organization.
  • The final chapter has Walsh drawing parallels from evolutionary biology (in the Darwinian sense) with biblical principles such as the renewing of the mind, etc. I once again disagree with Walsh’s view on evolution, but commend his submission that there are various views on this within Christian orthodoxy and his realization that many will disagree, despite any useful parallels.

Practical Takeaways

  1. We would do well to learn to look harder for parallels between our spiritual convictions and external hobbies, stories, etc.
  2. We ought to explore the concepts in science more deeply. It only makes sense that we would find extreme similarity between the sciences and biblical concepts, since consistent scientific exploration is only possible on Christian theism.
  3. One can learn a lot from people with whom they fundamentally disagree. Walsh is a good Christian brother who differs wildly from me on some important issues, for example; nevertheless, I’m glad for the opportunity to read this book and see what he had to say. My personal and spiritual life is much better for it, and I wholly believe yours will be too.

It’s been mentioned briefly, but one point in this book is Walsh’s views on human evolution. He is not forceful about them, but does not shy away either. Walsh’s goal with each concept mentioned in the book–including evolution–is merely to draw helpful parallels and analogies.

This book was not an attempt to smuggle his view on evolution into a Christian paradigm, but merely an attempt to show how scientific methodology serves to illuminate theological truth. If my word means anything to you, take it from me that this book will absolutely enrich your understand of our beautiful Savior and his world, no matter your specific view of the details.

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Written by Steve Schramm

Steve is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world. He trains Christians to become confident, passionate servants of Jesus, so they can grow in their walk with God and share their faith more persuasively. Enroll in Steve's FREE email course, The Battle for the Beginning, by going to steveschramm.com/battle.

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