Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: mr.g

There need to be more books like this, books that are hard to find in Barnes and Noble because you don't know for sure which subject they're under (in this case, science or religion). Alan Lightman is a physicist who has written basically a work of natural theology for the scientific deist. The science of the creation of the universe is nicely presented (with the expected focus on physics to the exclusion of chemistry!), but the second half of the book is almost purely theological. Lightman's god (the mr.g of the title) makes the universe and has ultimate power but not ultimate knowledge.

The joy of reading Lightman for me is that he shows what you can do when you take theology seriously, even if you don't think it all comes together in Christianity. I see this as a partial illustration of what Paul in Romans calls God's "invisible attributes" which are obvious through Creation -- but only partial, because I think if no one could actually think mr.g exists, he just doesn't add up because he is not thoroughly good. Now, mr.g is essentially a good guy but he can be kind of bumbling. Actually, the evil character Belhor who shows up necessarily after creation is much more interesting than mr.g and his screechy aunt and doughy uncle. Belhor starts with a description of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and is wonderfully subtle (which I use in the old sense from KJV Genesis). There's a fascinating resemblance to the beginning of Job as well.

One of the reasons why I like this book so much is probably an unintended effect: to me, mr.g is very frustrating in his non-intervention, and he is not really that good when you think about it, and he really is not that generous, not that father-like, more ... uncle-like. Christian theology knows a much more interesting and worship-able God, in my humble opinion. But that's a debate for after this book is read and its theology digested. The presuppositions of deism are rife, but I'd like more deist/agnostic authors to write like this. Then we could get somewhere.

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