February 22, 2020

Review of “Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace, Part 11.

Review of “Love and Quasars: An Astrophysicist Reconciles Faith and Science” by Paul Wallace, Part 11.

The final Chapter 13 is entitled, Why I Came Back: Love Embraces the Cosmos.  As he noted in earlier chapters, despite the conservative evangelical background he was raised in, by the time he left home for college, Wallace’s childhood faith was gone.  At college he found little to draw him back.  He adopted the whole “rebel” outlook including long hair, old army coats, and worn-out Chuck Taylors plus attitude.  He recounts conversations with Baptist students trying to convert him and responding with the argumentative, smart-alecky, atheist attitude.  This continued until his senior year, when he met Elizabeth, his future wife-to-be.  He says:

This went on until September of my senior year.  That’s when I met Elizabeth, a Christian I couldn’t argue with.  I don’t mean she had all the answers or was a skilled debater. She just didn’t argue.  She had no interest in it.  And it didn’t matter how she dressed or what her theology was, because on the day I met her… she looked at me and didn’t see a conversion project or a physics major or a freaky rock musician.  I felt like she saw me beneath all that, and she had no agenda.  This immediately shut down the rather prominent smart-ass component of my persona, which was unpleasant… But we got along so well.  We talked for hours, night after night, with zero effort.  It was the first time I had ever dated someone and not gotten all locked up by nerves and self-consciousness.  But the faith thing held us back.  She had it and I didn’t, and that mattered to both of us.

Over the next six months, she stood still as I skittered toward her and away from her like a nervous squirrel.  It caused her some pain, but she held out.  In the level gaze of her love, I eventually calmed down, began to pray with her, and months later, attended church with her.  Within two years of meeting, we were joined in Christian marriage… So it was love, not science or an argument, that brought me back and opened up my world.

I’m having an extremely tough time not being cynical here.  Wallace is trying to say that Elizabeth’s agape’ is what drew him back.  However, it seems likely to me that storge’, philia, and even eros were equally involved.  Not to mention the strong cultural identity that he was raised in.  It’s hard not to imagine that if he were raised Hindu and she were a Hindu beauty, that it would be Hinduism he would be returning to, or Muslim and a Muslim beauty… you get the idea.  Still – it is Wallace’s story – and he has to tell it as it occurred to him.

Wallace’s larger point – that scientific knowledge is not opposed to Christian faith – is still being made.  After all 1 Corinthians 8:1, “But knowledge puffs up while love builds up” is still true.  He says:

Love and reason work together like faith and science.  And in the same way that faith must contain all science, love must encompass all reason and knowledge and sound argument.  Love puts these tools in their proper context and sets them to their rightful task of building a better and more just and more beautiful world.

Search the cosmos, and you will find no bottom and no boundaries, but faith can contain it still.  God does not explain the world the way gravity or evolution does, and faith does not compete with science.  God is not a theory of everything.  God does not close the door on our not-knowing but throws it open and invites us to experience the joy of knowing and to deepen the great mystery of not knowing.

God is not knowledge but love, a love embracing all-knowing and all not-knowing, a love in which fear – of the unknown, of our own questions, even of death – has no place.  And we are perhaps the strangest of all things: walking talking assemblies of atoms that have found ourselves in an infinite and evolving universe that somehow makes no sense and carries no meaning and offers no hope outside the great and shining reality we call love.

Well said, Paul, well said.

Comments

  1. God is not knowledge but love, a love embracing all-knowing and all not-knowing….

    In my own experience, the unknowing has outstripped the knowing by a wide margin. All my striving for certainty, for understanding and explanation, has not yielded much fruit. So much of it has been striving against the wind. I’m beginning to accept not only that I can not understand many things now, but that there are many things I may never understand, even if I live forever in eternity. The other morning, as I walked across the church parking lot in the harsh winter wind and snow, felt its bite and bitterness, I also saw and felt its beauty, felt the love within it, that arranged it, just as it was, for weal and woe. How that harshness and beauty can exist together in love, I do not understand, and may never understand — but they do.

  2. “God is not knowledge but love”

    Why can’t He be both?

  3. Wallace ends well.

  4. Regarding Wallace’s “missionary dating” experience: we often want to be able to tell ourselves and others that we are rational beings who behave or believe in a certain way as a result of following a chain of rational arguments to their logical conclusion. But more often, those arguments are actually something we construct after the fact to justify and rationalize something we’ve already decided for other reasons.

    If we were more honest with ourselves, we’d realize that rational thought is only one small fraction of the inputs to our decision-making. Other inputs include our emotions, intuition, culture of origin, peer pressure, self-interest, etc. More importantly, one of those inputs is the quiet, persistent voice of God speaking to us through the Holy Spirit.

    If we pretend that we’re only being driven by reason, we are lying to ourselves and remain blind to the true forces that are driving our decision-making. But if we take a more honest look at ourselves, we can recognize what’s leading us to a certain decision – e.g. “I’m doing this because all my friends are,” or “I’m acting this way because I’m insecure,” or “I am responding to a gut-level feeling that I can’t articulate,” or “I think God is calling me to do this.” That lets us also judge which of those “inputs” are harmful and misleading and should be ignored, and which ones we should pay more attention to.

    • Mike the Geologist says

      ” But more often, those arguments are actually something we construct after the fact to justify and rationalize something we’ve already decided for other reasons.” Happens more than any of us care to admit.

      • Well if we follow the disturbing results of neuroscience and behavioral studies this may be all we ever do. We make up a convincing sounding story to explain stuff to ourselves and then spend the rest of our time accepting confirming signals and rejecting disconfirming ones. And we do this even when it’s pointed out to us that we’re doing it. (A feature not a bug.) The only way to mitigate the effects of this it seems to me is to consciously and deliberately expose ourselves to different points of view. Of course we live in a media drenched environment that encourages us to surround ourselves with like minds*. But, if the neuroscientists are right doing that results in utter blindness.

        *Because it makes it easier to sell us stuff. Notice how all the online sales algorithms are predicated on the assumption that all your future choices will resemble your past ones. And most of the time they’re right.

    • –> “Regarding Wallace’s missionary dating’ experience…”

      Because of how my mind operates, and where it sometimes “goes,” I almost did a spit-take with my coffee while reading that line.

  5. “She looked at me and didn’t see a conversion project…”. Oh what beautiful words! Ah the purity of love! Would that we all had the ability to see, sans projects!

  6. Iain Lovejoy says

    Regarding the “missionary dating” (and yes now I have spotted the accidentall innuendo) it seems to me you can either say you are more likely to give new or opposing ideas headspace if the person proposing them seems smart and nice and you enjoy talking to them rather than ignorant a-hole you can’t stand, or, if determined to be cynical, quote Theodore Roosevelt completely out of context: “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”