What do failed stars, Firefly, and engineering specifications have in common? About as random as mustard plants, or misplaced coins. In (sometimes Mbird contributor) Michael Belote’s new book, the hilariously named Rise of the Time Lords: A Geek’s Guide to Christianity, all things geeky, from supply-and-demand to the Theory of Relativity, illustrate the old, Christian story. More than that, all of his illustrations are spot-on: that is, they not only make points, but also they deepen the doctrinal positions that people more than familiar with incurvatus in se – but perhaps less familiar with stellar gravity – already “know.” The theology in the book is accessible and fun while also being well-thought-out and responsible – something that’s a feat in and of itself. For science-minded Christians or searchers, or really for just about anyone interested in basic Christianity, it’s a delightful and supremely offbeat read.
Consider, for example, the people of Flatland, who are all two-dimensional shapes on a page. They’re either lines, triangles, squares, or hexagons (approximation of a perfect circle is, naturally, a status symbol), and they can only see each other’s edges (or borders), but not their “guts”, or filling (much like we humans can only see each other’s skin). When I look at Flatland, I see everything – where people are, how large their world (or page) is, their filling – I comprehend it all in a flash. And this, of course, brings off the educational feat of allowing people to see God’s comprehensive knowledge of the world in a fresh light.
A final note about Flatland: what if the people of Flatland were trying to understand a Pringles can? We’ll let Belote speak for himself:
Go grab a Pringles can from your pantry. (If you do not have a Pringles can, shame on you. They are delicious. Grab some other cylinder and it will have to do.) Place the can on your Flatland. When they examine this gift, what do they see? Draw around the parts touching the paper and you see what they see: a circle – because this is the only part which crosses through their page. As two-dimensional beings, they can only perceive of a single flat cross-section of your Pringles can at a time.
Now, flip the can on its side. Trace the edges which touch the paper again to see what they see. They now see a rectangle—the height and width of the can. You see, a lower-dimensional being (like a Flatlander) cannot possibly “see” all of a higher-dimensional being (like a Spacelander). All they can see is the cross section which touches their world. If we step into their world they see not a boot but a footprint. Now let’s have some real fun. Pick out one of your shapes to be your “prophet” to Flatland; this is the shape who will try and explain about you to the other shapes. Try and think of a way to explain to the Flatlanders that these two drawings of the Pringles can are, in fact, the same shape: both a rectangle (with which they are familiar) and the circle (with which they are familiar) are actually the exact same object. They will of course think you are crazy! It is a fun thought experiment: get a friend or spouse or yourself (if you lack friends and spouses) and one of you pretend to be the Flatlander prophet. Try and explain to the prophet, using only words which they understand, that the Pringles can is both the circle and the rectangle simultaneously. It is impossible. They end up taking the whole silliness on faith, or rejecting you as a lunatic teaching fairy tales.
But try explaining this to a Flatlander, after they examine the blueprint. What they will see is one circle and two rectangles (side and front). When you tell them that this is all one object, they will think you are crazy. In the end, after talking to you, they will end up summarizing your ridiculous claims with some list like this:
1. There is only one Pringles can.
2. This Pringles can has three Persons making it up: Mr. Circle, Mr. Front Rectangle, and Mr. Side
3. These Persons have identical natures; all are equally the Pringles can.
4. All are made out of the exact same substance.
5. All came into existence at the same time and all are equally part of the Pringles can.
6. Pringles are delicious.
And there it is! The best fifteen-minute lesson on the incomprehensibility of the Trinity that I’ve ever had, with an interactive element to boot. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Firefly, the anthropology of Schrodinger’s Cat, and the tantalizing chapter entitled “R2-D2, Spy Extraordinaire” are all things to look forward to. Fair warning: probably not the best book for you if you don’t have some kind of geekiness but, if you enjoyed Flatland, then this book is certainly for you.