All posts by jbair

Revelation of the Magi – Review

Revelation of the Magi. Trans. & ed. Brent Landau. New York: Harper, 2010. E-book.

Revelation of the Magi is from an eighth-century Syriac (Aramaic) manuscript that had never been translated into English until Dr. Landau did it. The book is therefore subtitled The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem.

Even though this is being posted around Three Kings’ Day or Epiphany, these are not your typical three kings. Of course, the Bible does not actually tell us how many wise men there were. Generally people portray three of them because the Bible mentions three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

While the Bible only says that they came from the East to Judea, usually it is assumed that they were Persian because the Septuagint and other Jewish writings in Greek use the term magi to describe the Mandarin class royal advisors to the Persian kings.

The twelve wise men in this tale come from the far East. Their land of Shir is said to border the Ocean. (Yes, educated people in the Middle Ages understood the world was round, even if they did not know about the continent between East Asia and Western Europe. The writer tells us that they believed in a supreme God even though they did not have knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, perhaps like the Chinese who traditionally acknowledged the King of Heaven.

In this tale the star was not a planet, nova, comet, or anything like that. It was a supernatural star that only the wise men could see. Sometimes the star would contain or turn into the Christ Child who would speak to them. Not only does the child tell them how to get to Bethlehem, but he shares lots of orthodox teaching about the Messiah. Parts echo the first chapter of the Gospel of John or the Athanasian Creed.

Painting by Rogier van Weyden c. 1450 showing child in star with Three Magi. Altarpiece, Middleburg, Belgium. Photo by Sailko, Wikimedia Commons.

The wise men do stop in Jerusalem and consult with Herod and the city elders. Nowhere does it mention what the gifts they gave were other than to say that they came from a secret cave in their homeland.

The story itself is straight from the Middle Ages. The various apparitions, magic caves, hidden treasures, magical foods and fountains that show up reminded this reader of various King Arthur stories, especially ones about the search for the Holy Grail, with some Arabian Nights thrown in. The theology is consciously quite orthodox. Even though it varies significantly from the Gospel account and comes across as a work of fiction, it does not have the doctrines of any of the Gnostic writings.

The translator has an extensive introduction and detailed footnotes. He tells of the provenance of the story and how it compares to similar Medieval tales from Ireland to Arabia (there used to be Christians there). He is a scholar of Biblical languages, but he does tell the reader up front that he does not believe Matthew’s account of the magi, either.

He also notes a number of Medieval and Renaissance works of art portraying the wise men that include such things as a cave, a fountain, or a child in a star which would indicate that the Revelation of the Magi tale had traction in some form through Christendom. We will not get particular insight on the magi from reading this , but it is an interesting historical artifact.

Smithsonian Baseball – Review

Stephen Wong. Smithsonian Baseball. New York: Harper, 2005. Print.

Smithsonian Baseball‘s title misleads a little. It is not about baseball related items in the Smithsonian Institution, America’s national museum. As the subtitle tells us, it is a look Inside the World’s Finest Private Collections. The author himself is a collector of baseball memorabilia, and each of the 21 chapters features a different baseball related collection with plenty of great photographs. Indeed, the layout and photography by Susan Einstein makes the presentation exceptional.

There are three chapters devoted to collectors of nineteenth and/or early twentieth century memorabilia and equipment. Here we see evidence for some of the actual history of the game, for example, a printed rule book from the 1850s which has rules for both the Massachusetts and New York games. One collection specializes in World Series scorecards and programs from 1903 to the present. There are collections of baseball cards (the famous Honus Wagner tobacco card gets some attention) and advertising ephemera.

We learn about early photographers who specialized in sports, along with collections of pins, folk art, trophies from baseball. One collector specializes in trophies and championship rings. Another focuses on material from overseas tours, which American players took periodically between 1874 and 1934.

There are, of course, interesting autographs and game-used gloves, bats, and uniforms. We get discussions of provenance. How can we prove that an old bat was actually used by, say, Home Run Baker in games? What advice does the author have for collectors of today?

Some collectors are quite specialized. Dan Knoll collects material connected with the 1969 Chicago Cubs. Among other things we learn about the goat jinx. Actress and director Penny Marshall specializes in older baseball folk art. That she is a baseball collector should come as no surprise; after all, she directed A League of Their Own, about a women’s professional baseball league.

The author specializes in what he calls “immortal brethren,” memorabilia from players who are linked together in some way. He has material from Tinker, Evans, and Chance, even some uniforms; the 1951-55 Brooklyn Dodger Boys of Summer (Snider, Hodges, Robinson, Reese, and Campanella); the Dean brothers; the 1946 Red Sox “Team Mates” who remained lifelong friends (Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Pesky, and Williams); and the Joe DiMaggio-Ted Williams “rivalry.” This is probably the best written chapter because we see the author’s heart behind it and get more in touch with the humanity of professional athletes.

There are many fascinating pictures and great collections. My own memorabilia? Just a few things that somehow survived my childhood. But maybe if I ever did want to sell, I might have an idea about who to contact.

The Case for a Creator – Review

Lee Strobel. The Case for a Creator. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2004. E-book.

The Case for a Creator follows a pattern that journalist Lee Strobel has successfully used in other works. He interviews various experts to present his “cases”: for Christ, for Faith, for Easter, and so on. Here he interviews a series of scientists and philosophers on the problems and significance of evolutionary theory. In addition, he quotes many other authors and speakers on the subject.

In the beginning of the book, Strobel notes:

Science has become identified with a philosophy known as materialism or scientific naturalism. This philosophy insists that nature is all there is, or at least the only thing about which we can have any knowledge. (17)

He also notes that according to pro-evolution debater William Provine there are “five inescapable conclusions” if Darwinism is true:
(1) There is no evidence for God
(2) No life after death
(3) No foundation for right and wrong
(4) No meaning for life, and
(5) There is no free will

As an aside, I would be interested in seeing this proponent of evolution debate Jason Lisle or Greg Bahnsen. If there is no meaning, no right and wrong, and no free will, how is it possible to know that anything is true, even evolution? It appears to be a self-defeating argument. But that is a different discussion.

In other words, for Strobel and most people the issue of nature creating itself is not just about science. It is philosophical and moral. Strobel then shares his own experience of how, like so many Westerners, he became a religious skeptic when he studied evolution in high school. As I would note from my own experience, I believed in evolution because it was the only show in town.

Strobel gets it. As an adult, he has been on both sides of the issue. He knows the arguments for both. Now he is an evolutionary skeptic. He presents a fairly detailed case for why he is.

First, he explains or tries to show that belief in a different origin story does not mean one is unscientific. Indeed, there is very little religion in this book until close to the end because that is its purpose. At one point he notes that creationists often quibble over the age of the earth. Strobel explicitly tells the reader that that discussion is beyond the scope of this book. He does seem to accept the uniformitarian idea that the earth is very old, but for his case that is beside the point. He presents challenges to Darwinism.

There are many challenges to Darwinism. Most have been discussed in other works, but Strobel puts many of them together.

One idea we read about is the anthropic principle—that if there were even very slight differences in the measurable forces in the universe, life and even matter could not exist. Strobel cites the work of many on gravity, atomic forces, the presence of elements heavier than helium, among other things to show how it appears that the universe must have been ordered by a very skillful mathematician. This is similar to Ivey’s argument, though Strobel’s language is plain and more direct. Even the Solar System’s location in the Milky Way is significant for the existence of our “privileged planet.”

Strobel discusses the Cambrian Explosion with scientists. The sedimentary layer known as the Cambrian layer has virtually all new species appear at the same time. Even Darwin recognized this and said that if people could not find earlier examples of transitional and intermediate forms, his theory was doomed. 170 years later, people are still looking. Strobel shows that the “punctuated equilibrium” theory to explain this was simply an attempt to avoid bringing creation into the discussion.

There are a couple of chapters on biochemistry. Back in Darwin’s day people knew next to nothing about microbes and biochemistry. I recall reading a book from the 1950s saying that all cells were basically made of the same organic jelly called protoplasm and that the only difference between plants and animals was that plant cells had a stiff “cell wall” surrounding the protoplasm and animals had flexible membranes around their cells.

Now we know that cells are very complex. They have numerous organelles and their biochemistry is often irreducible. In other words, if one piece of an organelle or one step in a biochemical process is left out, the cell dies. For one creature to change into another would require multiple changes at the same time that were successful and recurring at relatively high rates. We have never observed either. Indeed, most such changes or mutations are deadly. And the probability of even one such change is infinitesimal.

At one point one of Strobel’s interviewees briefly discusses and effectively dismissed the multiverse theory, which this reviewer mentioned was espoused by Josh Gribbin. To sum it up, there is no evidence.

Strobel also does readers a favor because one of his interviewees debunks a popular myth about evolutionary thought. When I critiqued The Beak of the Finch, I pointed this out, but I thought it was just an error on the part of the author of that book. Apparently it is a widely held belief: Received Academic Tradition tells students that the scientific revolution, which began around the time of Copernicus when Westerners began using the scientific method, put an end to a religious perspective. That was just not so. Copernicus was a monk. Galileo was a lay brother. Newton was a devout Bible believer who wrote books on Bible prophecy. Later, Priestly was a Unitarian minister.

The Case for Creation correctly points out that the early scientific astronomers tended to see the scope of the universe as a sign of God’s greatness and man’s relative insignificance. Newton saw the mathematical precision of the motions of the heavenly bodies as a sign of intelligent design. (If you have any doubts, read the conclusion of his Principia.)

It was the skeptics of the so-called Enlightenment like Rousseau, Hobbes, and Voltaire (later Kant) who emphasized that “man is the measure of all things.” The evolutionary interpretation of cosmic history that both the universe and mankind are some kind of random accident was (and still is) more of a challenge to that man-centered enlightenment thinking than to any traditional or Medieval religious thought. Man is no longer the measure of all things, but even his thought processes are suspect.

To this reader, the most original argument is one that Strobel saves for last. How do we explain consciousness?

Although many people (including Darwin) see consciousness as simply neural activity in the brain, it is pretty clear that there is more to it. We do make choices. We do have wills. Even people with severe brain damage still have awareness. And there are too many out of body and near death experiences which testify that people are more than just “computers made of meat.” (We reviewed a great book written by a brain surgeon on this subject a few years ago.)

Strobel quotes a Darwinist who asks rhetorically, “Why should a bunch of atoms have thinking ability?…The point is there is no scientific answer.” (247) One interviewee said:

A scientist could know more about what is happening in my brain than I do, but he couldn’t know more about what was happening in my mind than I do. He has to ask me. (259)

As he makes his case for a creator here, Strobel notes that just as man’s mind is rational, intelligent, creative, sentient, and invisible, so is the Creator. Superficial thinkers dismiss the idea of God because He cannot be seen. Neither can our thoughts, creativity, and sensations. We see their evidence. So it is with God.

Strobel also notes that all living creatures contain and pass on genetic information. This is what DNA, RNA, genes, and chromosomes are all about. “Information is the hallmark of mind,” said one scientist being interviewed, and “no hypothesis has come close to explaining how information got into biological matter by naturalistic means.” (282)

There is a lot more to this. The Case for a Creator presents a solid challenge to the believer in evolution. Ultimately, the experience of most scientists who believe in design note that “some people don’t just disagree; many of them jump up and down and get red in the face.” (215) For what is supposedly an intellectual scientific theory (and it is still only a theory), the issue of evolution seems to create a lot of emotional responses. Readers with an open mind can learn as Strobel himself did. Read it and see.

The Missing Heir – Review

Recently we reviewed a book about the Sherlock Holmes stories and a Sherlock Holmes spinoff. This is another spinoff, geared towards later elementary or middle school readers. The Missing Heirs is Book 4 in The Sherlock Files series.

Xena and Xander Holmes are descendants of Sherlock (Don’t you know he married?). Their friend Andrew Watson is a descendant of you-know-who (He did marry). With some adults, these kids are members of SPFD, the Society for the Preservation of Famous Detectives. They solve mysteries.

Xander and Xena are Americans living in London where they attend an international boarding school. One of their schoolmates is Alice Banders, the heir apparent to the throne of Borogovia. Her nanny is Miss Mimsy, so, yes, we are to think of Alice in Wonderland. (“All mimsy were the borogoves”; “the frumious bandersnatch”). Well, Doyle himself did something similar when he wrote of the ocean liner Ruritania in homage to The Prisoner of Zenda.

Alice knows that the Holmes siblings have a reputation as detectives and asks them for help. They do not have an occasion to go over Alice’s problem in detail when she is kidnapped from her mansion in London. The mansion has been owned by Borogovia for over a hundred years. It is technically a private residence but is known for very curious trompe l’oeil (optical illusion) paintings on some of its walls.

To solve the kidnapping, Xena and Xander refer to some old files of Sherlock Holmes. These files contain not only successful Holmes cases (such as “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”—hint, hint—not The Sign of the Four) but also unsolved cases including a strange kidnapping of a Borogovian princess in 1894. The child was returned in a few months without a ransom payment or any explanation. Still ancestor Sherlock did not think that the case was closed.

These kid detectives do some homage to Sherlock, though at this level, readers may be ready to read the originals. Still, for young mystery lovers, this may be just the thing.

Seeds – Review

Greg Belliveau. Seeds. Colorado Springs: Crosslink, 2017. Print.

Seeds is subtitled Meditations on Grace in World with Teeth. Sooner or later we all discover that the world has teeth. Usually this begins in junior high, at least on a small scale. College teacher Belliveau gives an example that he uses in one of his classes. Here is an arc of life: college, work, marriage, children, promotions, comfortable retirement, grandchildren, and eventually death after a long, happy life.

He admits that most of the students recognize that such goals do not usually work out in such a simple manner. Life is hard. The oldest book in the Bible is Job which points this out and deals with the reality of God’s grace in an evil world.

Belliveau tells stories. One is about a childhood friend who had a poor memory. As a kid, he tied strings around his fingers to help him remember things, but then he forgot what he was supposed to remember. As an adult, he used stones for the same purpose with a similar result. Eventually, he had four reminders tattooed so that he would not forget.

Another story is about another friend who was a successful and prosperous surgeon until he nicked a blood vessel while operating on a twelve-year-old boy who died as a result. He lost nearly everything in the subsequent lawsuit. Life has teeth.

A recurring theme derives from the literary term in medias res—in the middle of the thing. Stories are often told this way: begin in the middle of the action. So in life we are always in the middle of the action. We cannot know for sure what will happen tomorrow. Belliveau vividly tells us we can look ahead with fear or with grace.

Along with those things, he meditates on truth. What if we had the ability to know what people were thinking, or if they knew what we were thinking. Would we be willing to acknowledge the truth? Belliveau considers Nicodemus and the woman at the well (see John 3 and 4). Jesus started out speaking in symbols (“born again,” “ living water”), but then becomes direct. Would they be willing to acknowledge the truth?

Seeds is direct with the reader: short (only 75 pages) but worth taking a look. Each separate meditation stands on its own, but like those potato chips, I bet you cannot eat just one.

Disclosure of Material: We received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review.

Creating Sherlock Holmes – Review

Charlotte Montague. Creating Sherlock Holmes. New York: Chartwell, 2017. Print.

Creating Sherlock Holmes is a picture-filled resource for the Sherlock Holmes fan. It is a basic biography of Arthur Conan Doyle: his family, his education, his unorthodox religious beliefs, his writing, with a focus on Sherlock Holmes.

There are copies of numerous family photographs and illustrations from the original magazine and book issues of the Holmes stories. It has, for example, a photograph of the cover of the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual, which carried the very first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, and which was a key property in Elementary, She Read, a novel recently reviewed in these pages.

For the fan, there are also photos and brief descriptions of some of the better known film and television adaptations of Holmes stories. There is also something else that would make this not only an appealing book to look at and read, but also a helpful resource. Creating Sherlock Holmes contains a summary of each of the 56 (or so) Holmes stories written by Doyle. This can be helpful for the reader who has read the stories, even The Complete Collection but may not recall the details of each one.

Like most readers, Montague believes that The Hound of the Baskervilles may be the best of all the Holmes stories. She does not necessarily subscribe to the idea that the stories after Holmes’1903 resurrection were inferior. Indeed, she calls The Valley of Fear “one of his [Doyle’s] greatest achievements.” (128)

Because there are many illustrations from the original magazines, we can see how Holmes got to be imagined a certain way. All the stories tell us is that Holmes was taller than average and had boxed when he was younger. The tweed coat, aquiline nose, and deerstalker hat seem to have been used by illustrator Frederic Dorr Steele. And Steele may have been partly inspired by actor William Gillette who began portraying Holmes on stage in 1899.

Creating Sherlock Holmes also describes most of the other works Doyle is known for, including some of his science fiction, notably The Lost World, and his political writings such as The Crime of the Congo. This reviewer recommends the latter for anyone interested in Joseph Conrad and especially Heart of Darkness. Doyle was a studious researcher, though there is probably a reason that today he is best known for Mr. Holmes.

Creating Sherlock Holmes
is a relaxing trek into the world of Arthur Conan Doyle, especially the ins and out of 221B Baker Street. It is best appreciated at a leisurely pace, taking in all the text and illustrations.

Emma (Smith) – Review

Alexander McCall Smith. Emma. Prince Frederick MD: Recorded Books, 2015. CD-ROM.

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books which we like so much. Here he retells the Jane Austen story with a modern cast of characters. I cannot say that it is really a modern setting, since the rural setting is very similar to the original.

Emma Woodhouse is the somewhat spoiled daughter of a landed property owner. Like the original, Mr. Woodhouse is a hypochondriac, only with modern diseases and all we now know about microbes and nutrition, he is a much more fully developed character.

The names have rarely been changed. In the modern setting Frank Churchill was raised in Australia and Harriet works for an aging hippie teaching English to foreign students, mostly from Italy and Poland. There are no gypsies. There are some drugs rather than fortune tellers. It also seems that everyone goes on a honeymoon before they get married. Even in America, many couples “live together” first, but Smith would have us believe that the English take it a step further.

Still, this is a lot of fun. Emma was certainly Austen’s funniest novel, and with Smith’s modern perspective, the retelling is even funnier. To use the title of another Emma retelling, our modern Emma is probably more clueless than the original. Because of that, the Emma-Knightley relationship is not as developed as in the original, but we still get a kick out of nearly everything that goes on. Those who know the story will still relish the dramatic irony.

A pattern we have noticed with most of Smith’s other novels is that he loves his characters. He loves the ladies of the detective agency and the men of Speedy Motors. Here he really enjoys the characters he has re-created, and once again the love and joy comes through. Smith has a knack for making readers happy.

We listened to this on the audio book. Susan Lyons does a delightful job of reading. In an auto or to rest the eyes, that is not a bad way to take the story in.

The Forgotten Jesus – Review

Robert Gallaty. The Forgotten Jesus. Grand Rapids MI; Zondervan, 2017. E-book.

The Forgotten Jesus is subtitled How Western Christians Should Follow an Eastern Rabbi. This is not some Dan Brown type “secret life of Jesus” book, but rather an attempt to look at some of the Gospel narratives from a Jewish perspective. This can be valuable to many people interested in understanding the New Testament better.

Gallaty starts out noting some of the differences in Jewish thought as opposed to Western (i.e., rooted in Greek and Roman) philosophy. He does mention, for example, the classic book by Thorleif Boman Hebrew Thought Compared to Greek, but Gallaty tends to be more concrete. Here is something Jesus said or did: How would a first-century Jew understand this? There is little of Boman’s comparison, but Gallaty has a different purpose.

He notes that to the Jew, “all attempts to systematize God fall short.” (27) This is reassuring to this reviewer. Most if not all divisions among Christians come from someone’s attempt to systematize something. If another believer either does not understand or does not experience the system in the same way, that person is separated, whether he or she is dismissed or leaves. To me both sides miss out.

So Gallaty says, “God revealed himself to the Israelites in history, and not in ideas…His being was not learned through propositions but known in actions.” (29) When I came to the Lord, I recall the Holy Spirit telling me two things “preach my presence in history” and “love” (the verb). Thanks to the many remarkable Bible prophecies that had been fulfilled, when I saw that the God of the Bible was the God of history, I was on my way to becoming a Christian.

Gallaty says that in the West:

“We have bought into the fallacy that we grow by the introduction of new information alone. We focus on new teachings and more information, rather than a single teaching to saturate our minds by meditating on it and applying it to our lives. (34)

I am reminded of the Athenians in Acts 17 who listened to Paul because they “spent their time in nothing else but to tell or hear of some new thing.” (Acts 17:15) We are more like those ancient Greeks than we think.

Rabbis, on the other hand, valued going over old teachings and meditating on something till it becomes part of who we are. Some Christians in the West are becoming more aware of this. Caroline Leaf’s Switch on Your Brain tells us that for a new thought to really take hold so that we change, we have to think about it for at least twenty-one days.

There are many insights in this book. Gallaty’s observations concerning Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac are especially profound and meaningful.

Some have wondered why God would ask a man like Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Remember that when God asked this of Abraham, God did not expect anything he wasn’t going to do himself. (52)

He also notes that Isaac was a grown man when this happened. He also carried the firewood for his own sacrifice as Jesus carried his own cross.

Gallaty’s observations about the Last Supper also is eye-opening. Gallaty compares this to a Jewish supper between two fathers who have come to an agreement on terms for marrying one’s son to the other’s daughter. Gallaty says that there are enough specifics in the meal to indicate that the disciples would have understood that Jesus “had just negotiated the price for them to belong to him. The price was his body; the covenant was sealed with his blood.” (114)

Gallaty notes that the term “Son of Man” is not just a “code word” for Messiah as in Daniel 7, but “it is an implied reference to Cain and Abel.” The Bible says that “Abel’s blood is crying out for vindication.” (115) So I have learned elsewhere that some rabbis thought the Messiah would actually be Abel because he was killed by his brother and his blood was still looking for justice. Even those who did not take it that literally understood that Messiah would have to become a man because only one who had been a man would be able to understand what it was like to be human and to judge people fairly.

Even the term “pass by” in the New Testament may mean more than simply strolling beyond someone. In the Old Testament God “passes by” Moses and later Elijah on the mountain to reveal something of his nature to each of them.

There is a lot more in this little book. It is clear that the author is in awe of God. I am sure that it is his prayer that readers will be also after reading this book—not, of course, so we can impress others with our new knowledge, but so that the living God can become more real in our lives.

In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat – Review

John Gribbin. In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality. 1984; New York: Bantam, 2011. E-book.

In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat is one of the more accessible books on quantum physics. Quantum physics, which deal with the properties of subatomic particles, is based on fairly esoteric experiments and somewhat opaque mathematical formulae. Even more than the theory of relativity, it is for the experts. Relativity sort of makes sense. Quantum mechanics does not.

Gribbin explains things pretty well: that many of these subatomic particles are both waves and particles. One could say that they have the properties of both a tiny object and a wave, but they do not necessarily have both properties at the same time. Instead of traditional Newtonian mechanics which are described by fairly clear mathematics, in quantum mechanics “events are governed by probabilities.” (2) Hence the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, there is a 50-50 chance it is dead or alive, but we do not know till we open the box. Indeed, Niels Bohr, one of the pioneers of both relativity and quantum physics said. “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.” (5)

Gribbin also points out that atoms are really not those neat little planetary systems that we usually see in chemistry books. The size of the nucleus of an atom is about one hundred thousandth the size of the whole atom. Electrons are even smaller than the protons and neutrons in the nucleus, so atoms are primarily “empty spaces, held together by electric charges.” (32)

Much of In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat is the history of the main discoveries of quantum mechanics. It seems like just about everyone named in the book has won a Nobel Prize unless they died young. This helps us see how we arrived at where we are and what the different researchers were looking for or what they discovered. One great ironic/paradoxical sentence: “In 1906 J. J. Thomson had received the Nobel Prize for proving that electrons are particles; in 1937 he saw his son awarded the Nobel Prize for proving that electrons are waves. Both father and son were correct, and both awards were fully merited.” (91)

Some connections were made because someone had studied esoteric mathematics in his past. So Max Born discovered some of the strange properties of quanta because he had studied matrices in college. At the time, matrices were interesting mathematical constructions developed in calculus but had no known practical application. Now they do. As in a matrix the numbers may not be commutative—that is, 3 + 2 might not equal 2 + 3—so it is with properties of certain quanta.

Beyond the scope of this book, this reviewer notes that a little over a hundred years ago mathematicians started playing around with multidimensional geometry. Not that there was any application, but it was an interesting exercise. Now it appears that the relationship between gravity and the atomic and subatomic forces can be explained by mathematical models—as long as there are eleven dimensions.

So Gribbin notes:

Wave mechanics is no more a guide to the reality of the atomic world than matrix mechanics, but unlike matrix mechanics, wave mechanics gives us an illusion [Gribbin’s italics] of something familiar and comfortable. (117)

We have all seen rainbows and ripples on water; these things indicate waves. But “the atomic world is totally different from the everyday world.” (117)

We finally get to the main observation concerning probabilities and particles.

It is a cardinal rule of quantum mechanics that in principle it is impossible to measure certain pairs of properties, including position/momentum, simultaneously. (121)

While this does sort of make sense since quanta are both waves (with motion) and particles (in a position), Gribbin’s conclusion? “There is not absolute truth at the quantum level.” (120)

Even Richard Feynman posited that if one knew enough math, he could predict the future. This reviewer is reminded of Thomasina’s question about free will in Stoppard’s Arcadia: “Is God a Newtonian?” Gribbin denies this. The most we can say is that there is probability, kind of like a weather forecaster. Perhaps, then, this demonstrates the paradox of free will and predestination both being true.

It does appear to illustrate Ivey’s basic argument that the fact that even matter is mostly empty space with tiny spots of mathematical complications proves the existence of a very intelligent artist behind it all. Gribbin, however, does use the self-defeating “no absolutes” argument. In all fairness he admits that he does not know about origins. There might be a God.

Gribbin notes that quantum mechanics explains why the sun shines, when according to “classical theory” it cannot. (Kind of like bees flying…) When he quotes Heisenberg as saying “We cannot know as a matter of principle the present in all its details,” Gribbin states:

This is where quantum theory cuts free from the determinacy of classical ideas. To Newton it would be possible to predict the entire course of the future if we knew the position and momentum of every particle in the universe; to the modern physicist, the idea of such a perfect prediction is meaningless because we cannot even know the position and momentum of even one [Gribbin’s italics] particle precisely. (157)

Gribbin notes perhaps the greatest curiosity about quantum physics, that particles like electrons seem to change their properties or state when they are being observed.

In quantum physics the observer interacts with the system to such an extent that the system cannot be thought of having an independent existence. By choosing to measure position more precisely, we force a particle to develop more uncertainty in its momentum, and vice versa. (160)

If man is made in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26), then maybe in some way our intelligence is wired to not only observe nature but to interact with it in ways that we do not yet understand.

Gribbin also notes that a photon travels at the speed of light, “and this means that for a photon time has no meaning.” (190) If that is the case, then this is another reason why the universe may not be as old as some say. We detect distant galaxies that are thirteen to fifteen light years away, so we say that the universe mush be thirteen to fifteen billion years old for the light to reach us. But if photons are timeless, then they do not have to be that old. They could have been born yesterday. Maybe they were… (Starlight and Time has a different explanation that has to do with the universe’s expansion and the effects of gravity on photons.)

This reviewer makes no apology for suggesting a Creator or a young earth, certainly not in reviewing In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat. Gribbin believes that a way to resolve the paradoxes of quantum physics in a more unusual way: parallel universes—universes that are similar to but not quite identical to ours. This reviewer has come across this hypothesis before, but where is the evidence? Gribbin believes science fiction writers may be ahead of the curve on this one. He names The Man in the High Castle as one such example.

This is really getting wild. Years ago I had a friend who worked in nuclear physics. He said that where he worked (unlike Gribbin, he worked in the corporate world, not academia) most the people believed in some kind of God because they saw the unmistakable design in what they were working with all the time.

To his credit, Gribbin does not bring personal beliefs like these until the last chapter, and he is direct about it. So we get to see the discoveries of the mysteries of quantum physics without much getting in the way other than the mystery itself. He understands that the reader might not see things his way, but he sees his multiverse hypothesis at least as good as any of the others. Also, unlike many scientists in academia, he is not afraid to mention the anthropic principle.

This reviewer recognizes that unless I go back to school, I will never have a completely clear understanding of quantum physics, but In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat is about the best introduction to the subject that I have read.

The Colson Way – Review

Owen Strachan. The Colson Way. Nashville TN: Nelson, 2015. E-book.

The Colson Way’s subtitle reads Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World. The subtitle really sums up the purpose of the book. I recall reading Chuck Colson’s Loving God a number of years ago. At the time Colson was still searching. He had found God and was trying to see how to live for him.

In that book, Colson asked a number of very famous Christian leaders what Jesus meant when He said that the most important commandment was “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” He was really surprised at the simplistic answers most of these people gave him. Clearly, if that is the most important of God’s commandments, it must be something we ought to be living by, not just doing a vague Hebrew or Greek word study on. According to Strachan, Colson would live it.

In this book, Owen Strachan gives an overview of Colson’s life and then shows how we can learn from this. Strachan especially focuses on the way Colson interacted with the culture. After serving time for a Watergate-related crime, Colson began a prison ministry which became Prison Fellowship and its spin-offs including Angel Tree, Justice Fellowship, and the Wilberforce Forum (since Colson’s passing known as the Colson Center for Christian Worldview).

Strachan notes two things about Colson’s approach: (1) He knew—not only believed, but knew—that Jesus changes lives, and (2) he did not wittingly compromise the Gospel in his work. Many times he was challenged for bringing religion to the “public square,” but if Jesus is truly Lord, He is lord of governments as well. I believe the Bible calls Him King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Strachan also notes that there are many ways people can minister in the public square as Colson did. He believes the three most significant problems in our country are at their root moral questions. These three are abortion, the natural family, and religious liberty. Also important are sex trafficking and racial unity. A few years ago I happened to see a film of a Billy Graham crusade in San Francisco from 1958. Even back in the fifties, Graham believed that the two biggest sins Americans faced were sexual immorality and racism. It really has not changed much in sixty years. Indeed, in many cases it has gotten worse.

The Colson Way is direct and clear. Learn from Colson. Work in whatever field God has called you to and bring God’s love to the culture. In some instances the culture will be hostile, but God’s truth is eternal.

The book is very consciously geared to “millennials.” Strachan does this because he fears that many younger Christians do not know who Charles Colson was, what he did, or what he stood for. I think of a former student of mine who was recently challenged by a well-known senator for his orthodox religious beliefs. Who would have thought? Doesn’t the Constitution say there shall be no religious test for public office? Doesn’t the Bill of Rights tell Americans that they are free to live according to their religious beliefs?

We live in an upside-down world. Indeed, it is so upside down that one writer called God’s way the Upside-Down Kingdom because our way of doing things without God is so different, even though it ultimately makes little sense. I am reminded of Acts 17:6 when some of the disciples were accused of “turning the world upside down.” Ah, but who promised that the first shall be last and the last shall be first? It was neither a politician nor a philosopher. (See Matthew 19:30)

The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

Millennial Christians, read this book. Those of you older and younger, take a look, too. It will be worth it.