March 21, 2019

Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science- Part 2, The Language of Physics, Chapter 4: The Kamala Khan Conundrum By Andy Walsh

Faith Across the Multiverse: Parables from Modern Science

Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science- Part 2, The Language of Physics, Chapter 4: The Kamala Khan Conundrum

By Andy Walsh

We are blogging through the book, “Faith Across the Multiverse, Parables from Modern Science” by Andy Walsh.  Today is Chapter 4: The Kamala Khan Conundrum.  Kamala Khan is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. Created by editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona, Khan is Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline her own comic book.

Kamala Khan

Khan is a teenage Pakistani American from Jersey City, New Jersey with shapeshifting abilities.  Her “conundrum” is the latest update of the Spider-Man archetype; the teenager next door just trying to be accepted as normal by her peers while adjusting to abilities that are anything but.  And also, of course, there are the additional issues of her Pakistani culture and Islamic faith in modern American society where she faces the challenge of maintaining her heritage while deciding who she will be as an independent adult.

Walsh is trying to draw the parallel with our personal experiences as our identities as spouse or parent, and contrast that with our identity as a member of the workforce.  Younger people might express a tension between their identity as a student and their social identity.  These multiple identities are often talked about as if there is a tension between them, that the primary dynamic is one of conflict.  He then segues into a discussion of the conception of Jesus’ identities as both human and divine. He says:

In the last chapter, we encountered human free will and God’s sovereignty, two concepts traditionally presented as incompatible.  We also explored an alternative model that allowed us to describe those concepts in a way that doesn’t require one to be defined as the opposite of the other.  I believe we can accomplish something similar to reconcile Jesus’ divine nature and human natures, this time by moving into the realm of physics.  While physics relies heavily on mathematics, it also deals with tangible reality that we can experience with our senses instead of relying primarily on our minds.  Likewise, for the Christian, Jesus is God made a tangible reality whom some experienced with their senses in the past, and whom we all may have a chance to experience with our senses in the future.

The model from physics that Walsh presents as an analogy to help us understand the two natures of Christ is the wave-particle duality of light.  We covered this fairly extensively in our review of John Polkinghorne’s book, Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship.  Light, under certain experimental conditions, will behave as a wave, like the ripples emanating from an object dropped into a pond.

Like a wave, light will be reinforced or experience cancelling interference, a phenomenon in which two waves superpose to form a resultant wave of greater, lower, or the same amplitude.  This was demonstrated in the famous double slit experiment, first reported by Thomas Young in 1801.  His demonstration of interference by alternate bright and dark lines was taken to be clear evidence for the wave nature of light.  One can find YouTube videos giving instructions for repeating Young’s experiment at home.

As the 20th Century dawned, a young Albert Einstein re-introduced the idea of light as a stream of particles to explain the photoelectric effect (the observation that many metals emit electrons when light shines upon them).  In 1909 he demonstrated that two distinct terms appeared in Planck’s equations describing black-body radiation [a mathematical relationship formulated in 1900 by German physicist Max Planck to explain the spectral-energy distribution of radiation emitted by a blackbody (a hypothetical body that completely absorbs all radiant energy falling upon it, reaches some equilibrium temperature, and then reemits that energy as quickly as it absorbs it].  Those two distinct terms indicated a duality in the nature of light.

Walsh then notes that Superhero fiction explores the facets of resolving the issues of dual identities.  To us older generation, the Superman-Clark Kent duality is the most familiar.  Mild-mannered, milquetoast Clark Kent couldn’t possibly be the same person as the indestructible, unconquerable, super-powered Superman, could he?  In the pages of X-man Legacy , David Haller is written as having dissociative identity disorder; each identity has its own superpower.  As the story begins, David has them imprisoned in his mind and hauls them out of their cells when he needs to exploit a given ability.  Walsh says:

Over the course of a world-saving adventure, he realizes the value of employing grace to allow the various parts of himself to integrate organically.  Whether that is a viable model for dealing with a genuine mental health concern, I cannot say, but I found it a moving portrait of how to deal constructively with the multitudes we all contain…

Still these are all stories, and fiction isn’t always constrained by the same rules as reality.  Integration and unification of identity are clearly the goal for understanding the nature of Jesus, but are those goals plausible?  Just as we looked at various experiments that revealed properties of light, we’ll need to look at the data we have for Jesus from the Bible.

Raising of Lazarus Icon

Walsh then recounts one of the starkest examples of the human-divine duality in the accounts of Jesus—the story of Lazarus’ resurrection in John 11.  Lazarus falls ill and his sisters Mary and Martha send for Jesus, fully aware of his healing ministry.  He agrees to come, but knowingly delays while indicating a plan is in place that will maximize God’s glory.  When he finally arrives, Lazarus is already dead; the narrative leaves little doubt if Jesus had come right away, he would have found Lazarus alive.  Lazarus’ sisters recognize that Jesus might still have the power to help their brother.  They seem to be appealing to his divine nature, to exercise authority over life and death in a way no human being would be capable of.  And the immediate response they get is the shortest, and one the most famous verses in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35); a most human and emotional reaction.  Walsh says:

The Gospel of John does record that Jesus ultimately brings Lazarus back from the dead, apparently confirming his divine nature, but not without complicating our ability to understand what that means.  Or does it? Maybe what Jesus is really showing us is that our understanding of humanity and divinity is flawed.  That fits with our ultimate premise, that Jesus represents God’s ultimate effort to model for us concepts that we would otherwise have been unlikely to arrive at, in order to facilitate communication between us and God.

Of course, far more people dispute Jesus’ claim to divinity that his claim to humanity.  But the life of Jesus regularly challenges many of our popular notions about what is significant or distinct about humanity.  He intentionally forfeited his life for the benefit of others, instead of seeking to extend it to the maximum possible.  And yet, there is also the sense in which Jesus’ entire mission was to make eternal life possible for everyone.  In one act he affirmed the desire for our existence to continue, and yet challenged us to consider the cost of how that will be actually realized—“Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)

Walsh then returns to the wave-particle duality of light for another metaphor.  He connects the discrete particle duality of light to Jesus’ humanity.  The discreteness is fairly straightforward; humans come in distinct units, and Jesus is likewise separate and separable from the rest of us.  The waviness he connects to his divinity.  One consequence of waves interfering is that adding two waves together yield one wave.  And for our purposes, adding three waves together yields one wave.  He says:

This gives us a useful way of thinking about the triune, or trinitarian, nature of God.  It’s a difficult one to grasp; the analogies that are often used, such as yolk, a white, and a shell being three parts that add up to a whole egg, don’t really capture what is meant by the Trinity.  God is not Voltron; in fact, the early church rejected such a compartmentalized view of the Trinity as heresy.  But with waves, we have three waves adding up to one of the same kind of thing, a wave.  Going a little further, if you have the single wave, there are techniques to decompose it into multiple waves, but the solutions are not unique and require some assumptions about the nature of multiple waves.  This would seem to mirror our difficulty in identifying exactly how God as the Father, as Jesus, and as the Holy Spirit relates differently to us and to each other, or in our need to be explicitly told about the Trinity in the first place rather than just being able to figure it out for ourselves.

Walsh acknowledges his debt to Polkinghorne and his book, Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, for the analogy with the duality of light.  He also agrees with Polkinghorne’s reluctance to push these analogies with quantum physics too far.  After all, so many of quantum physics phenomena are beyond regular experience and counterintuitive, so they are described and even named using metaphors to more familiar experiences.  People then see a connection between that familiar phenomenon referenced by the metaphor and a topic they are interested in and make the further connection to quantum physics.  But I still think that’s OK.  After all, there is no other way to understand God’s transcendence except through metaphor and analogy with what is familiar to us.  The ancients evoked the splendor of an oriental king on his gilded and bejeweled throne to model God’s majesty and magnificence.  Most of us modern’s are pretty unfamiliar with, and unimpressed by, kings on a throne anymore.  But quantum physics—even the modern scientists/priests bow in awe to what is seemed to be revealed.  I think it is entirely appropriate: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the quantum physics sheweth his handywork.”

Comments

  1. Dana Ames says:

    Wow, I’m up early enough to be first…

    Only one comment. Phrases like “maximizing God’s glory” unfortunately make me think of the neo-Calvinist take on what God is up to. But the word is used in the Lazarus narrative. Again, the Eastern understanding is that the supreme glory of God is Christ on the Cross; the titulus on a Russian crucifix is always “The King of Glory”. We know Pilate had something else written (Fact), but King of Glory is the fullest revelation of what the meaning of the cross actually is (Truth).

    Again, the wave/particle thing is probably useful for scientifically-inclined folks. I prefer the Definition of Chalcedon, which holds before us and retains the beautiful paradox:

    “…as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation of Mary the Virgin, the Theotokos (God-bearer); one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person/hypostasis, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ…”

    This remains the closest we can approach putting what we can understand of the two natures of Christ into words. Nothing better has appeared in 1600 years.

    Dana

    • Christiane says:

      Yes! the definition from Chalcedon seems solidly ‘orthodox’/’catholic’ in the best sense . . . thank God for the wisdom of the Greek Fathers

      • Christiane says:

        my own reaction to the post was an image of ‘The Shroud of Turin’ as a possible product of the Resurrection

        that possibly the action of the forces of the Resurrection imprinted onto the Shroud by some mystery of ‘light’ or radiation . . . . just a theory, I guess, but who knows . . . . the Shroud still has mysteries to be unfolded

  2. WOW! It’s 9:55 am EST and no comments yet! The early birds must have slept in.

    Some random thoughts:

    “Most of us modern’s are pretty unfamiliar with, and unimpressed by, kings on a throne anymore. But quantum physics—even the modern scientists/priests bow in awe to what is seemed to be revealed.”

    Very true. Unfortunately, most physicists bow to the creation, not to the creator. Romans 1 mentions what happens with this kind of thought. Some numbers from Pew Research:

    http://www.pewforum.org/2009/11/05/scientists-and-belief/

    “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the quantum physics sheweth his handywork.”

    Substituting words in Psalm 19. Probably not necessary.

    I am all for this series and for Walsh’s book if it brings even one scientist to faith, but God cannot and will not be described by science alone. Some faith is required to understand God and even believers will come nowhere near a full understanding of God.

    Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first Muslim superhero. I don’t follow comic books much, but I will be interested to see when the movie of this comes out.

    Will Marvel release “Evangelical Man” soon? Hero of villain? What superpowers will he have?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first Muslim superhero. I don’t follow comic books much, but I will be interested to see when the movie of this comes out.

      As long as she’s not the latest Social Justice Warrior Superhero flash-in-the-pan.
      To which the starry-eyed new comics SJWs response is to FORCE such Enlightened Social Justice Superheores down the throats of the Unenlightened Lowborn.
      “EAT YOUR BRUSSELS SPROUTS! THEY’RE!! GOOD!!! FOR!!!! YOU!!!!!”

      (One of my regular writing contacts is a comics fan, and he’s been telling me about this SJW Propaganda as the latest incarnation of DARRRRK and EEEEEDGY.)

      • I haven’t seen the movie, but I saw that Aquaman (a masculine male) has grossed almost $1BILLION ($963M) in 1 month and will pass the Dark Knight Batman movies to become DC Comics biggest hit. I wonder how Captain Marvel will fare in comparison.

        As I’ve heard it said, get woke, go broke.

        • ….Aquaman (a masculine male)….

          I think Aquaman looks sorta like Aqualung, before he got old, became homeless, and his leg went bad.

          • I saw Jethro Tull do Aqualung in the fall of ’72. Best concert of the rock variety that I ever attended. They were tight and not overbearingly loud like most every other one I went to.

        • Donalbain says:

          Yeah. Wonder woman made no money. None at all.

          • Patriarchy always insists on its greater earning power over feminism/progressivism, even if that requires not releasing income tax returns.

          • My point in this whole part of the thread is that audiences don’t want to be preached to by Fundamentalists or SJW’s when they go to a comic book movie. Write a good story with good characters (male or female) and people will come.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          As I’ve heard it said, get woke, go broke.

          And when you go broke, blame it on the Stupidity of your readers/viewers and Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, double down, and SCREAM LOUDER! LOUDER! LOUDER!

          Because it can’t possibly be your fault. You are So Enlightened, So Intelligent, So Correct, So Woke. It’s all got to be THEIR fault, SHOVE IT DOWN THEIR THROATS!

          Just like Fundagelical Culture Warriors.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Looks like DC finally did something right in its movie division. (Though Aquaman appears very different than I remember from Sixties comics.) Marvel Cinematic has been racking up a good track record while DC hasn’t.

      • Burro (Mule) says:

        Kamala Khan is as far from an SJL as Peter Parker. A devout but very American Muslim girl, she struggles a lot with her faith as she goes about thumping baddies.

        I wish someone who do a Pentecostal Kamala. It would be good for everybody, especially Pentecostals.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Since Stan Lee first introduced Spider-Man, Marvel’s strength has been in making their superheroes human and fallible, whereas DC continued on the pulp-era four-color road. It’s the difference between “enhanced everyman” and “larger-than-life HERO” and has stood them well.

          Just I had experience with Social Justice(TM) types in the Eighties. At that time, Social Justice(TM) = Marxism-Leninism, entered into with all the Fundamentalist zeal of 20-year-old Trust Fund Kiddies getting even with Mummy and Dadsie for telling them “No”.

  3. Burro (Mule) says:

    In my 20s and early 30s, the concerns of the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon seemed to be light years away from any religious concern I might possibly entertain. The relationship between the human and divine nature of Christ? C’mon, there’s folk out there that need to get saved and filled with the Holy Ghost! I mean, C’mon!

    Language casts shadows. When the Orthodox talk about the synergy between the human and Divine natures of Christ, it sounds deep and mystical when at root it isn’t anything more than the less empyrian cooperation or even the humble Anglo-Saxon working together. I believe I’ve gained more sympathy for the plight of a young Muslim woman in America by reading Marvel Girl than from any number of scolding NY Times opinion pieces, soI am not surprised that what presents itself immediately when I think of synergy is that scene in Guilleromo Del Toro’s monster movie Pacific Rim where two monster-fighters are suited into their monster-fighting suits and the neurological link between their two nervous systems is activated. At once the two formerly separate suits begin to think and act in perfect concert. Of course, the monster’s butt is later properly kicked.

  4. senecagriggs says:

    Admit to off-topic but since my Orthodox friends, Dana and Burro have commented, I wonder if they had noted this from the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/01/08/smartphones-paving-way-antichrist-says-russian-church-leader/

    [ I kinda think he has an interesting assessment ]

    • “Interesting” in the Chinese definition, the polite-way-of-saying-he’s-nuts definition, or the Hoban Washburne definition? 😉

    • Sounds like Patriarch Kirill has been reading too much Hal Lindsey. If so, and he’s intent on going down that road, maybe he should look to the leader of his own country as a possible candidate for the Beast, which might make Kirill himself the False Prophet.

      • Norma Cenva says:

        The Patriarchs themselves were plenty bestial in times past.
        I’m told they blessed the Cossacks sabres with relish when they went Jew butchering in the Pale.

        • From what I’ve read, Kirill is a Cossack sabre blesser, only the targets are Muslim now, and the Cossacks are Putin and his henchmen. It’s pure irony that he would talk about the Antichrist.

          • Well, actually, Muslims, the gay community, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses, Pussy Riot, and a host of others.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            The Antichrist are all who are not Tsar Putin.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The Russian Orthodox Church has always been the panting lapdog of whoever’s in power in the Kremlin. A Court Church for the Tsar (no matter what title the Autocrat of all Russia bears). And all so-called churches who are NOT the Russian Orthodox are Heretic and Apostate and must be dealt with.

        But is this so different from Court Evangelicals bending the knee to The Trump in this country? Other than the RO has REAL political power?

        • Christiane says:

          Headless,
          apparently the Trump worshipers are WHITE evangelicals, according to stats, which doesn’t bode well for the racial angle

          thank God for the witness of Southern Baptists who are black and opposed Trump and the overt racism of ‘the Wall’ and the ‘slightly’ veiled other attempts at dog whistles to the worst of ‘the base’, especially during the campaign which got very ugly when comments by Trump of ‘throw them out’ were openly aimed at black people at his rallies. If it weren’t for people like Dwight McKissick of the SBC, I don’t know if the SBC would have got clear of the ‘alt-right’ thing, but they did, and that was an encouraging sign.

          But now, ‘the Ru-sha Thing’ surfaces in a new glaring thing, as it is learned that the FBI was so concerned with Trump’s behavior vis-a-vis the Russians after he fired Comey, that they started a new investigation into whether or not Trump himself was serving Russian interests that opposed our own country’s interests. (which begs the question: was Trump a ‘witting’ or ‘unwitting’ ally to our enemy Putin?)

          This is where the prophet ‘Mark Taylor’ gets interesting IF he pushed the ‘Russia is our friend’ thing. . . .
          it’s complicated

          thank God for Mueller’s professionalism and discretion . . . it will all come out what has happened

          but will 30-40% of our nation accept the Mueller findings? we shall see . . . .