March 21, 2019

Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science- Part 1, The Language of Mathematics, Chapter 2: The Hound of Heaven across the Multiverse By Andy Walsh

Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables from Modern Science
Chapter 2: The Hound of Heaven across the Multiverse

By Andy Walsh

We are blogging through the book, “Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science” by Andy Walsh.  Today is Chapter 2: The Hound of Heaven across the Multiverse. Walsh begins the chapter by recounting the story of the recent movie, “The Martian”.  The Martian is the story of astronaut Mark Watney inadvertently stranded on the surface of Mars and his struggles to survive and be rescued.  Walsh notes there are a couple of math equations vital to the story and to Watney’s survival.  One would be CT=ϵd, where ϵ represents Watney’s eating rate in calories per day and CT the total calories needed to survive d days. Looking in his pantry tells him he does not have enough food to survive the 400 days until he can be rescued.  The equation is straightforward reality; to survive he has to change one of the variables.  He can lower his eating rate ϵ, but only to a certain extent because he still has to be able to function.  He can hope for rescue sooner, but that is out of his control.  His third option is to increase CT by ingeniously fashioning a garden and growing his own food.

Another equation relevant to The Martian is the rocket equation:

Δ V = Vex log [(mr + mf )/ m] – gt

At some point, Watney will have to accelerate his rocket, or change his velocity (ΔV) into orbit around Mars to rendezvous with his rescue ship.  He knows how much fuel (mf) he has, which is fixed by what’s in his tanks, and he knows the required exhaust velocity (Vex) or propulsion needed to get high enough into orbit.  Acceleration due to gravity (g) is in the opposite direction and is constant for a given planet over the time (t) to achieve the necessary height.  The only factor he can change is the mass of rocket (mr) by discarding as much material as he can that he doesn’t need.  As Walsh says:

All of that drama flows from the equation, because it encapsulates the relationship of gravity and rocket fuel.  The cleverness of the storytelling is to connect that relationship with Watney’s relationship to his home, his future, and his fellow astronauts.  The narrative establishes a new equation: lowering rocket mass equals increasing thrust equals Mark Watney catches a ride home.  We intuitively understand the human elements, the need to commune with other people and to return home.  By constructing the narrative equation this way, we now have a connection between something we understand well and the less familiar physics of rocket science.  As we go forward here, we can build on what we have learned about rocket science and the math involved to understand more about God.

Walsh is talking about a mathematical principle called “optimization”.

Graph of a paraboloid given by z = f(x, y) = −(x² + y²) + 4. The global maximum at (x, y, z) = (0, 0, 4) is indicated by a blue dot.

In the pictured example, the optimal or “highest” point on the figure is indicated by the blue dot.  In everyday life, optimization often means finding an alternative with the most cost effective or highest achievable performance under the given constraints, by maximizing desired factors and minimizing undesired ones. We all do this on an almost daily basis; we shop for groceries where we can find the most food that is the most nutritious and best tasting or freshest at the lowest price.  If price and quantity are what we want to optimize, we shop the bargain bins, if freshness and nutrition are to be optimized, we shop the pricier stores.

Walsh relates this optimization process to having made the choice of faith discussed in the last chapter to know God as an axiom and explore the truth contained in that axiomatic system, we accept the particular behavioral evaluation function that God establishes.  (And he does make the point that there may well be the empirical observation that plenty of people lead functional, socially constructive, and happy lives following another moral code; those alternatives aren’t completely bankrupt or vacuous.)

However, having decided to hold himself to a “biblical” standard, he needs to know what God is trying to optimize.  In Isaiah 28:17 it says, “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line” and Micah 6:8 says, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly”.  Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness”.  Walsh is trying to say the standards of morality in the Bible are presented within the framework of covenants.  Rather than saying, “You must do this because I said so”, God describes what a relationship with Him entails, both the benefits and the conditions.  Such relationships can then be built on informed consent, not blind obedience.  One common thread through concepts like justice, fairness, and peacemaking is a sense of communal well-being.  We are not simply finding the best possible versions of ourselves independent of everyone else, but the best possible collective version of ourselves.

He points out another notable feature of these values we are trying to optimize is the tension between some of them.  If we were to maximize only justice, there would be little or no mercy, while maximizing mercy would yield very little justice.  In mathematical optimization it is common to have multiple constraints.  The optimal solution across all of them might not correspond to the optimal solution for just a single constraint.  He asserts that the Bible calls us to balance justice and mercy rather than purely optimizing just one or the other.

He cites the conquering of Canaan that is often held up, if not as an example of God’s wrath, then at the very least of his extreme sense of justice.  Yet Joshua also recounts in chapter 9 the experience of the Gibeonites, a group who lived in Canaan.  They convinced Joshua and the other Israelite leaders that they weren’t local as a pretense to secure a treaty.  Even after the truth is revealed, Israel upholds the treaty and the Gibeonites are spared.  This mercy is never condemned, and indeed years later when the Israelite king Saul violates the treaty, he is sanctioned for it (2 Samuel 21).

Jesus also stands up for justice as well as mercy.  He cleanses the temple courts of merchants who are exploiting the poor.  When he spares a women accused of adultery from stoning, he is showing her mercy while also standing against the injustice of prosecuting her alone.

Walsh wants to conceive of sin as deviating from the path of an optimal version of ourselves.  Sin starts when we choose to optimize qualities other than the ones God invites us to optimize.  He thinks the Genesis 3 story of Adam and Eve describes this scenario.  Adam and Eve walk with God, and he leads them down the path to an optimal existence.  The one condition of their arrangement is that they not eat from one specific tree.  This is not a hardship, as food is available in abundance.  Not eating from the tree is how they communicate that they want to participate in the relationship God offers.

The serpent comes along and offers a different interpretation of what God meant.  Adam and Eve could have chosen to use their relationship with God to explore his intended meaning, but instead they decide to make their own meaning.  So in choosing their own interpretation for why God prohibited eating from that tree, Adam and Eve also chose to use their own optimization goals rather than God’s.  They were no longer following God by his map; they were drawing their own map and forging their own path.  And thus their sin was born as they began to deviate from the optimal version of their lives that God offered.  Walsh says:

The idea of choosing one’s own qualities to optimize, to forge one’s own path, to be master of one’s own destiny—these may all sound quite positive.  Self-determination is a core virtue of libertine society in general and the American mythos I grew up with.  I appreciate and respect the value placed on deciding one’s own fate.  A great number of injustices have been perpetrated precisely by taking away self-determination, and restoring self-determination has been an important force for justice.  Therefore, I am not advocating complete rejection of it, especially in the context of how we relate to each other, and I don’t believe God calls us to that either.  At the same time, just as God calls us to balance justice and mercy, he also calls us to balance self-determination with submission to his will.

Comments

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    I don’t see God’s justice as somehow conflicting with his mercy – they are the same thing. Saying they are in conflict is saying that God’s justice is (as if human justice) the infliction of suffering in retaliation for slighting God’s rules, and his mercy the soft hearted refusal to inflict the proper punishment. I can’t see that either is the case as portrayed in the Bible. In the Bible God’s justice consists in correcting injustice, in overthrowing the powerful and restoring right relations amongst people and between them and God. His “mercy” likewise usually refers to his taking pity on those oppressed in need or suffering and rescuing them. Both his justice and his mercy consist of the same thing – his justice is mercy for the oppressed, and his mercy justice against the oppressor.
    Setting self determination against submission assumes, I would say completely wrongly, that our interests and those of God are in conflict, that what we want is not what God wants. The Bible assumes that what we want is to be freed from suffering, sin and death, and what God wants for us is to be freed from suffering, sin and death and that is not God, but suffering, sin and death that has imprisoned us and stripped us of our self determination, because we are helpless to escape sinning. As I understand it is a very recent development of thought that self determination consists not of the ability to be as we would wish to be, achieve what we wish to achieve and become what we would wish to become but rather the “freedom” of acting arbitrarily to no particular purpose or consequence.

    • Politically, self-determination and freedom mean to be free of the direct imposition of other human being’s will and decisions, where one’s own choices are systematically suppressed and dominated by the choices of another or others, i.e., slavery, in one form or another.

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        That is political self-determination which is about submission to human will. Human will is directed by self interest in the interest of the governors, where the governed’s good is subordinated to the good of the rulers. God has no self interest, needing nothing from us, and willing only what we will – our own ultimate good. The purpose of political self determination, in the words of the US constitution (I think) is the pursuit of happiness, the ultimate self determination is freedom from the vsin that hides our true happiness from us and prevents us successfully pursuing it. “Freedom” otherwise is the freedom of the penniless to starve in whichever way they choose.

    • “Saying they are in conflict is saying that God’s justice is (as if human justice) the infliction of suffering in retaliation for slighting God’s rules, and his mercy the soft hearted refusal to inflict the proper punishment. I can’t see that either is the case as portrayed in the Bible.”

      Except in the Old Testament. And Revelation. Humor me, but there are a LOT of passages that infer this very system. What is to be done with them?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Yep.

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        The OT passages very frequently (if not always) refer to condemnation of state or temple because God has heard the cries of widows and orphans and the oppression of the stranger in the land. OT divine punishments are all about bringing the mighty down from their seats and lifting up the lowly.
        Revelation taken as a whole, with the ending, is still about the same thing: God’s justice is fulfilled only when death and the grave and everything that harms and is evil are cast into the pit, and all tears are wiped away.

        • Christiane says:

          The Old Testament must be interpreted in the light of Jesus Christ’s revelation of ‘Who God Is’ or we make a terrible mistake of viewing ‘God’ through our own inadequate human lenses.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””Both his justice and his mercy consist of the same thing – his justice is mercy for the oppressed, and his mercy justice against the oppressor.”””

      This is rotating the square, it is still a square. The issue is that there is no tidy clean bright line between the oppressed and the oppressor- not unless one operates on a astonishingly short time-line. The sins of the fathers visit themselves upon – and through – subsequent generations; oppression infects the oppressed.

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        This is precisely true. The oppressed become the oppressors, and are themselves supplanted by new oppressors in turn. Revenge begets revenge, violence violence and “an eye for an eye turns the whole world blind”. Which is precisely why God’s justice can’t be like human justice and based on revenge, in counterpoint to mercy. God’s justice is restorative justice, restoring right relations between people. The last become first, and the first become last, but the former first are still invited – the oppressor is overthrown, but will ultimately also take their proper place at the feast. That is the only form of justice that doesn’t perpetuate the cycle, and it requires mercy as am; inherent part of it to operate – it is not opposed to mercy.

        • Mike the Geologist says:

          Iain: “God’s justice is fulfilled only when death and the grave and everything that harms and is evil are cast into the pit, and all tears are wiped away.” On the whole I agree with you. God’s mercy and justice ultimatley flow from his perfect love. It is in the human realm that wrestling between justice and mercy takes place. The Bible reflects the human reality.

          • Christiane says:

            We, on our own, cannot ‘fathom’ the truth of this: “God’s mercy and justice ultimately flow from His perfect love. It is in the human realm that wrestling between justice and mercy takes place.”

            I wonder how evangelical people understand the concept of ‘the Divine Mercy of God’ ?

            If they did, would it make a difference in how some who are extreme are perceived by others as judgmental, contemptuous of ‘the others’, and self-righeous to the point of phariseeism?

    • Christiane says:

      Hello IAIN LOVEJOY

      you wrote, this:
      ” In the Bible God’s justice consists in correcting injustice, in overthrowing the powerful and restoring right relations amongst people and between them and God. His “mercy” likewise usually refers to his taking pity on those oppressed in need or suffering and rescuing them. Both his justice and his mercy consist of the same thing – his justice is mercy for the oppressed, and his mercy justice against the oppressor.”

      and I agree +1000

      well-said, Iain!

    • ChrisS, broken record, here. An other possibility is the blind spot as posited by CG Jung in Answer to Job. Perhaps it is something similar to exactly what we see on the face of it. God has exhibited both justice and mercy in ways that do actually conflict. There is an evolving process within God as God relates to humanity. The Old agreement (testament) illustrates the initial approach to the creation. Create. Love. Be Rebuffed. Punish. Threaten (to coerce good behavior). Dictate (you will do such and such). God sees that while He calls us gods and expects us to reciprocate in kind with His loving nature and the gifts of kindness we, in cahoots with Lucifer, the other light that He has left to shine in our eyes, are not reciprocating, even under threat. The Angel of Light was once His Son, walked in His court and as such was an object of love. He is the source of the blind spot. In the oneness of eternity Satan is part of God’s essence that is now behaving against Him. There is a conflict just as there appears to be. We only know it in outline but are nonetheless at the very center of it. The resolution of it is of course God With Us. His death and resurrection. Now it is up to us to be born again to the light of awareness and seeing. We are now evolving into a light of consciousness, seeing the blindness and dispelling it. Most of the time it seems we are really bad at it, earthen vessels that we are. From one vantage point the evolution has occurred. Jesus said, “It is done.” From another it continues to unfold every moment as each soul endeavors to fully hear and see.
      I know this idea sounds strange but logically it is sound. Two questions, essentially the same question, which have never been satisfactorily answered are these: Why suffering? Why place Satan in our path? The temptation to follow the Prince of Darkness is the source of suffering. Living in darkness could be characterized as living in a world where something is hidden and not everything can be seen. “Lead us not into temptation…” we are told to pray. A strange plea that very very few would think to include in a model prayer. Save us from temptation? Yes. Give us the fortitude to resist? Certainly. Please don’t lead us directly into it? I don’t think it would occur to too many people to make that odd request.

  2. senecagriggs says:

    “The idea of choosing one’s own qualities to optimize, to forge one’s own path, to be master of one’s own destiny—these may all sound quite positive. Self-determination is a core virtue of libertine society in general and the American mythos I grew up with. I appreciate and respect the value placed on deciding one’s own fate. A great number of injustices have been perpetrated precisely by taking away self-determination, and restoring self-determination has been an important force for justice. Therefore, I am not advocating complete rejection of it, especially in the context of how we relate to each other, and I don’t believe God calls us to that either. At the same time, just as God calls us to balance justice and mercy, he also calls us to balance self-determination with submission to his will.”

    EXCELLENT IMHO

  3. In this way, starving . “weave” the cards together.
    I now play all my casino games online in the convenience my
    own back home. In a short time you can easily zone out thanks to it’s
    repetitive nature. https://1borsa.com/live22823578171