Faith Across the Multiverse:
Parables from Modern Science
Paperback: Hendrickson, 2018.
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Reviewed by Fred Redekop
Andy Walsh writes his new book Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables from Modern Science, for an audience to which I do not belong (at least in this present universe). Walsh has a PhD in microbiology and has done postdoctoral work in computational biology. Suffice it to say that he is a scientist, and also a deep thinker about the intersections of both science and faith.
I had trouble getting through much of the science that Walsh offers, and admit to having skimmed many parts of the book, particularly the four chapters: “The Language of Mathematics,” “The Language of Physics,” “The Language of Biology,” and “The Language of Computer Science.” I took my last science or math course in Grade 12, so I am not well-versed in this kind of language at all. I have a great interest in science questions, and I do not think that science and faith are opposites. They should be able to be discussed as ways to understand God, but I know that many people see them as archenemies of theological conversation.
I did, however, find Walsh’s theological and biblical reflections refreshing. He goes from the science, comic books, and movies to the theology of creation and the role of Jesus in the Christian faith. He is a dense writer, and I often had to read his statements over a few times
One of the biggest challenges that I had was with Walsh’s writing style. For example, he writes, “First, let’s unpack the idea of a probability distribution. You are perhaps familiar with the Gaussian probability distribution, sometimes called the normal distribution or the bell curve.” (15). Then he writes on page 32. “Even worse, the proof that they were incomplete actually proved that whole classes of axiomatic systems will always have undecidable, or unprovable, theorems, even when expressed using the formal language developed in the hopes of avoiding ambiguity.” And finally, “So a recursive version of our fractal procedure would have a line-segment-drawing algorithm that goes something like this. When drawing a line-segment from point a to point b, first find points c and d that divide the segment into thirds. Then find point e equidistant from c and d and at 60 degree angles from line between a and b. Now draw the line segments ac, ce, ed and db using our line-segment-drawing algorithm.” (225). These sentences make sense to a physicist, but for me they are incoherent. And then he moves to some very interesting biblical reflections. It is not always clear how the faith and the science link up.
The many diagrams, mostly in the earlier part of the book that he uses to clarify his points are difficult for me, and I do not find them helpful in understanding the arguments about faith. Again, I am not a science guy, but they do not seem to inform non-scientific readers very well about the science. For me, I need much more step-by-step instructions in order to understand what he is showing in the diagrams.
The previous three quotes, the diagrams, and many other sentences are largely undecipherable to me. If I took some time, I might understand where Walsh might be leading, but it is not how I think at all. So, again the book is apparently not for me, and does make me wonder who the intended audience is for this scientific and theological work?
Walsh does ask for grace as he tries to maneuver from science to faith, and faith to science. I am willing to give him grace. He says at the end that he is writing to both lovers of the Bible and lovers of science. He is hoping to meet both of them. I think, though, he is writing for nerds (his word, not mine), and not for me. Walsh says on page 261 that he apologizes for being a nerd. There is no reason to do that. He also writes that he wants people to explore faith and science. I would really like to do that with science, but I would appreciate if he would go a bit slower to explain quantum electrodynamics and the geometry of general relativity. Good luck, Andy, on your scientific and theological quest. Thank you for being faithful.
Fred Redekop works for Mennonite Central Committee, the relief and development arm of the Mennonite Church. He lives in Elmira, Ontario, where he rides his bike, takes pictures of flowers and does counted-cross-stitch.