That Time Rob Bell Quoted Doctor Who And Made Me Rethink Materialism (Macro Edition)

(I didn’t realize at the time, but this post ended up being three parts.  This is part 1, part 2 is here, and part 3 can be found here)

Usually I start at the beginning, but because these next two posts will be about quarks and muons and spooky entanglement and quantum mechanics, I thought I’d start at the end.

“Time is bendy and curvy and not consistent, the universe is curved, and if Earth were slightly closer to the sun we’d all cook and if it were slightly farther away we’d all freeze.”

Rob Bell authored a fantastic book last year entitled What We Talk About When We Talk About God.  Chapter 2 in said book should be required reading for absolutely everyone who calls themselves Christian in any sense of the word.

The above quote is at the end of Chapter 2 and is almost a direct quote of a very awesome Messiah Archetype, Doctor Who himself.


(Series 3, Episode 10, Blink)

Chapter 2 in What We Talk About When We Talk About God starts out like this, “Can a person believe in things that violate all the laws of reason and logic and then claim to reasonable and logical?” (I can’t give page numbers as I  have the Kindle Edition which uses location numbers based on which device you are reading from.  My Galaxy Note 3 says Location 266 so I’ll use this from now on)

To state it succinctly, this was the crux of my personal metaphysical crisis.  As I previously posted, I have an EITHER/OR personality, so I had to believe EITHER science OR Christianity.  There could be no believing both.

I will warn you now, before you read much farther, there are lots of quotes from Bell’s book that describe a plethora of scientific ideas about quantum mechanics and the theory of strong emergence.  The beauty of the quoting Bell is that he is a very gifted communicator and makes difficult ideas easy to understand.

So, if you are still with me, let us dive in!

“The universe, it turns out, is expanding….The visible universe is a million million million million miles across, and all of the galaxies in the universe are moving away from all of the other galaxies in the universe at the same time….

The solar system that we live in, which fills less than a trillionth of available space, is moving at 558 thousand miles per hour.  It’s part of the Milky Way galaxy, and it takes our solar system between 200 and 250 million years to orbit the Milky Way once. The Milky Way is….a part of a group of fifty-four galaxies creatively called the Local Group, which is a member of an even larger group called the Virgo Supercluster…And [this] happens to be traveling at 666 thousand miles an hour.” (locations 286-287)

What I deeply appreciated was Rob Bell’s lack of apologizing for science.  He just stated the scientific facts as 99% of scientists know them today.  There was no “if evolution is true” or “if the universe is 14 billion years old”.  Bell accepted modern science and still had faith.

From here he goes on to describe neutron stars that have such strong gravity within themselves that they collapse under their own gravitational pull.  He basically scales down the universe from galaxies to our solar system until he gets to our Pale Blue Dot. (If you want to see this scale yourself, check out this link!  Go forward and backwards to see the Macro and Micro size of the universe!) Once he describes planet Earth and how fast we are going through space around the Sun and how fast the plate tectonics are moving, he talks about our entire concept of time.

“Our concepts of time, then, are shaped by large, physical, planetary objects moving around each other while turning themselves.  Time is determined by physical space. No planets, which are things, no time.” (location 343)

I can seriously let my mind wander thinking about this…What if our Earth took 730 days to go around the Sun..would we generally live twice as long?  What if we finally invent space travel where there is no planetary orbit, do we age the same?  It gets much weirder.

“If you stand outside on a starry night, the light you see from the stars is the stars as they were when the light left them.  You are not seeing how those stars are now; you in the present are seeing how those stars were years and years and years in the past.

Time is not consistent:  it bends and warps and curves; it speeds up and slows down; it shifts and changes.  Time is relative, its consistency a persistent illusion.  It’s an expanding, shifting, spinning, turning, rotating, slipping and sliding universe we’re living in.  There is no universal up; there is no ultimate down; there is no objective, stationary, unmoving place of rest where you can observe all that ceaseless movement….There is no absolute viewpoint; there are only views from a point.  Bendy, curvy, relative – the past, present, and future are illusions as space-time warps and distorts in stunning variety of ways.” (locations 343-362)

Again, all I can say is wow.  Bell is elevating the beauty of the known physical universe in a way I could never imagine.  Starlight was one of the primary reasons I had been an “old Earther” even when I was a evangelical Christian.  But to think that we are presently experiencing that starlight as it was millions or billions of years in the past almost makes my head explode.  There is a lag, a gap, a huge chasm of time that divides us but we are still participating with it.  Our present is directly associated with those dying stars pasts.

We are linked by ways we couldn’t even imagine until 100 years ago when our scientists discovered the quantum level of the universe.

 Rob Bell is building to a crescendo of scientific knowledge that goes from Macroscopic to Microscopic.  Quantum Microscopic one might say.

I am going to dive into bosons and baryons and neutrinos next time.  The world at the quantum level is an amazing place and much crazier then you could even imagine.

Until then, I hope you too can revel in the beauty of the universe and the science we use to describe it.  You will notice Bell hasn’t even used the term “God” yet.  As an agnostic atheist, I appreciated this fact greatly.  Bell wasn’t trying to bait me with junk science, but was awed by the same hard science as I was.  And he still believed.

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