Book by St. Tom Rudelius (and me, a bit)

So my friend St. Tom Rudelius is a physicist who works on string theory, QFT, and early universe cosmology (e.g. the theory of inflation).  He is also a brother in Christ who I have had the privilege to both mentor, and learn from.

He has just written a book about his conversion to Christ (it's a pretty interesting story, involving rather more "polygraph tests" than this sort of story usually involves) and also his experiences as a Christian in academia.  The book, which was just released today, is called:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was asked by the publisher to include an excerpt from the book to help promote it.  Completely disregarding their proposed selections, I have chosen one of the later chapters of the book, after he's already become a Christian:

People often ask me what it’s like to be a person of faith in the field of science. It’s a hard question to answer, because my experiences have varied widely.

Sometimes, physicists will ridicule religion. Once, while visiting the University of Texas to give a talk on my research, I went to lunch with a number of physicists, including the late Nobel laureate (and outspoken atheist) Steven Weinberg. Unaware of my religious leanings, Weinberg began the lunch with a pointed question toward the antievolution movement: “Do all these people who reject evolution also reject cosmology?”

I thought about explaining the difference between young earth creationists and old earth creationists, but ultimately held my tongue.

Sometimes, physicists simply steer clear of religious topics. One day when I was a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, the man whose donations to the Institute helped pay my salary came to have lunch with Ed Witten—quite possibly the greatest living theoretical physicist, if not the smartest man on earth—and me. A quick online search had made the donor aware of my religious views, so he spent the entire lunch asking me (very respectfully) about my opinions on religion and politics. It was probably the most stressful conversation I’ve ever had—talking about Jesus and Donald Trump with the smartest man alive and the man who paid my salary.

During the entire conversation, Ed Witten was surprisingly quiet. His only remark came when we were discussing God’s miraculous intervention. “I think a lot of people wish God would intervene more often,” he said.

Sometimes, physicists respect religion. Several of my colleagues have expressed admiration for my religious faith, or religious faith in general, though they themselves do not have any religious convictions.

Sometimes, physicists embrace religion. I don’t know very many Christians in my field, but whenever I meet one, I feel an immediate kinship. Our scientific drive for knowledge pushes us to learn as much as we can about the physical universe, and as Christians that same drive pushes us to learn as much as we can about God. The result is a common language of science, theology, and philosophy not so different from the “twin telepathy” my brother and I have shared since childhood. Though sometimes it is discouraging that so few of my colleagues embrace religious faith, it is encouraging—perhaps even more so—that the ones who do are so strong in their faith and so capable of defending it intellectually.

In much of the world, there is intense animosity, and sometimes even violence, between people of differing religious faiths. Perhaps it’s because we religious physicists represent a minority in our world, but I’ve certainly never felt anything like that from my Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu colleagues. And I hope they’ve never felt anything like that from me. Rather, there seems to be a sense of solidarity among religious scientists. Though there are important differences between our faiths, there’s an even deeper sense of mutual respect among us: I’ve probably received more comments of admiration regarding my faith from Jewish colleagues than I have from Christian ones, and a Muslim colleague once told me that my public interviews and articles on science and God had strengthened his own faith.

On the whole, though, I can say with certainty that I have never felt persecuted or personally attacked for my faith. There are places in the world where Christians are suffering for their faith. But America is not one of those places. I can go to church, pray, read my Bible, and even write books like this one without fear of losing my job. Some of my colleagues may not agree with my faith, but fortunately my success in physics depends on my ability to do physics, not on how I worship in my free time.

Though science and faith are often viewed as enemies, I can also say I have felt less hostility toward religious faith in the upper echelons of physics than at the lower levels, or in the soft sciences or humanities. Anthropology, history, and religious studies departments are famously dismissive of Christianity—a trend many of my Christian friends and I experienced during the course of our university studies.

One of my friends who studied chemistry at Princeton had a high school science teacher who forced the class to learn the definition of a so-called scientific theory—an explanation for some natural phenomenon supported by a vast body of evidence—to refute the common creationist retort that “evolution is only a theory.” But when he got to college, my friend soon realized that such definitions are nonsense: In practice, scientists use the term theory to describe many different things. Some theories, like quantum field theory, are among the best tested phenomena in all of science. Other theories, like string theory, lack any experimental verification whatsoever.

My high school physics teacher—who was one the best and most important teachers I ever had—occasionally made snide remarks about religion. Yet at Cornell, Harvard, and Princeton, I met several religious physics professors. One professor even suggested to his class that God might be the best explanation after all for the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life—and he wasn’t even a theist.

Now, it’s also true that most of my extraordinarily brilliant colleagues do not embrace religion. But I’ve found that their reasons are generally quite ordinary. If you ask the average atheist why he or she doesn’t believe in God, you’ll probably get some version of the problem of evil: “If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, why do evil and suffering exist?” If you ask one of the world’s most brilliant scientists why they don’t believe in God, you’ll probably hear the exact same thing.

That’s not to say that the problems of evil and suffering are easy for theists to deal with. It’s simply that the most brilliant minds don’t have a huge advantage over others when it comes to questions of faith. We all have basically the same questions, objections, and doubts. In my experience, the ones who find answers to these questions are typically those who need answers the most. Personally, before Steve’s conversion and subsequent conversations with me, I never felt much need for religion, as I was generally able to get by on my intelligence alone. Perhaps other scientists feel similarly.

Finally, I have found that most scientists—even nonreligious ones—believe in some sort of power greater than ourselves. It’s very common to hear physicists refer to Nature as a sort of placeholder god. For example, Ed Witten once said in an interview, “If I knew how Nature has done supersymmetry breaking, then I could tell you why humans had such trouble figuring it out.” There is a widespread acknowledgment that Nature has chosen a particular way for our universe to be, and it could have chosen something different.

What’s the difference between this Nature and the God (capital G) I believe in? I think the biggest difference is simply that Nature doesn’t really care much about the affairs of humanity, whereas God does. Most everyone would agree that Nature has a preference for order, simplicity, and beauty, but many balk at the suggestion that it would concern itself with the affairs of one particular species on one little insignificant planet. We humans are, to quote astronomer Carl Sagan, nothing but “a mote of dust in the morning sky.” [1] Why would God care about us?  

[1] Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980).

To this, I like to point out that size is not a very good measure of value. I care more about the life of a baby than I do about most galaxies. I care more about the ten-nanometer transistors that make my computer work than I do about distant stars. And even as someone who studies black holes and the big bang for a living, I find nothing more incredible about the cosmos than the fact that it somehow birthed intelligent, conscious beings like us.

Ultimately, one can choose to view the size of our universe as a sign of our insignificance, or one can choose to view it as a sign of the great significance of its creator—a creator whose attention is not divided, who built and sustains the intricate workings of the cosmos, yet who simultaneously cares enough about humanity to become a human himself, to experience pain, suffering, and death so that we could have life.

Perhaps you noticed that my name is also on the front of the book, in much tinier yellow letters at the bottom.  (Or more likely, you didn't and are even now scrolling back to see if my claim is true.)  This is because I was asked by St. Tom to write a foreword to his book.  (And not only that, I did.)  My foreword begins as follows:

Foreword

(from this formative experience with the publishing world, I have learned that the word has an "e" in it) but after that it goes on to say:

The book you are holding is a remarkable one. There are lots of books out there promoting Christianity, by a type of person you might call salesmen. The goal of a salesman is to produce a watertight and squeaky-clean argument, to convince you that only one position is intellectually respectable, and fully capable of servicing your needs. He is afraid to admit any weakness in his arguments. He is afraid that if he talks honestly about his own doubts and struggles, his audience will take it as a reason to reject the product he is promoting. If you want a book like that, I suggest you look elsewhere. My friend Tom is not a salesman. But he is a person who cares deeply about what is real, both in scientific and religious contexts. And because of this, he is also unafraid to share his spiritual doubts and struggles, both before and after he became convinced that Christianity is objectively true.

After that, the foreword includes eleven more juicy paragraphs, and importantly the only way to read them (if you don't know about libraries) is by buying the book.  You can do this by clicking on one of the following links:

Amazon

ChristianBook

Tyndale

Target

That's right, you can now buy the equivalent of one of my blog posts, at the same store you can get detergent and kid's T-shirts from!  But, you should probably also buy the book to read an interesting and sincere account from Tom, about his obstacles coming to Christ and his emotional struggles with faith afterwards.

Now, you are going to buy the book at any time in the future, it would probably be helpful to Tom if you would buy it ASAP, for example TODAY, so it can go into the early sales figures that make the industry decide whether this book is hot stuff or not.  Sorry, I don't make the rules of worldly success in the publishing industry, that's just how it goes.

Having said that, some of you may be tempted to write comments asking, well when are you (Aron Wall, PhD) going to write your own book about Sciencey-and-Religiony stuff, and not just a foreword or backewards glued onto somebody else's book?

Well, as you can probably tell from my recent blog performance: I'm just way too busy (with mentoring PhD students and postdocs, parenting my 2 & 4 year olds, quantizing gravity, and doing faculty busywork) to get any useful writing done, for the most part.  Nevertheless, you should expect some book about the Fine Tuning Argument for God and/or the Multiverse to appear under my name (as well as that of my coauthors, philosophers John Hawthorne and Yoaav Isaacs), some time in the next oh 1-50 years from now.  Just thought I'd give you a heads-up about that since a file looking deceptively like a rough draft basically already exists, more or less.  Mostly less.

(If any skeptical promotion committees are reading this post, I promise I spent very few of my months working on the Fine Tuning book, and any deficit of actual physics papers is explained by the other stuff in my life...)

Anyway, life is short so don't save your money for a book that might or might not come out in the next couple of years.  Instead BUY TOM'S BOOK NOW (if you feel led to do that) and trust that you'll have the spare change to buy mine later.

[Disclaimer: I understand that I will be receiving a free copy of Tom's book in the mail.  But it will come too late to change my opinion of the book—I will always think of Tom's manuscript primarily as a Word file.  I'm sure the publishers put a lot of effort into making it look like a real book; but I'm sorry, that's just the way it is.]

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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12 Responses to Book by St. Tom Rudelius (and me, a bit)

  1. JT says:

    Ever considered that your blog may have a more lasting impact than all of your other works combined…

  2. Eric H says:

    So good to see another post here, and to hear about this book. Since I am inteested in cosmology (as a total layperson) and the stories of Christians, I reckon I'll get this book. Thanks.

    I don't want to be a pedant, but there is an "e" in foreward because it is really Foreword, a word before the text.

  3. Philip Wainwright says:

    'I have learned that the word has an "e" in it'--notice also that it has no 'a' in it. Thanks for the post; I bought a copy on the strength of it. I miss your regular posts...

  4. kashyap vasavada says:

    Hi Aron,
    Nice blog. I think most scientists would not have any problem with the concept of God or some creator (say Brahman which is property less, formless) as a place holder for something we do not understand ). I personally do not think that God comes to earth in a human form. In my own religion, Hinduism, there are plenty of gods or one God who comes to this measly little planet in the boondocks of our vast universe. Yet evil keeps on increasing as we see on news everyday. Then there are questions of miracles. In Hinduism, there are routine talks (many frauds) of materialization, ability of Siddhis (powers by using consciousness for making changes in physical world). These are far more than changing water into wine or waking on water!!! Scientists would have problems with these beliefs. But everyone would or should agree that spirituality, kindness and love are good things for mankind to believe and important for survival .

  5. Aron Wall says:

    Erik & Philip,
    Standardized spelling! It seemed like a good idea at the time... I've corrected it in the blog post since I figure the book copyeditors will have done so as well...

  6. Dr.Beef says:

    Realistically, most people do believe in God, including most scientists and atheists - which is precisely why they're so vocal. They're angry for him not intervening to their level of satisfaction(this doesn't account for the fact that he might be interacting, and they just don't know or understand how.) Not understanding his methods & mouthing off about him doesn't equal true non-belief.

    Also, I'll absolutely purchase this book. when my father passed away right as Covid was hitting, I went down a deep rabbit hole of depression and doubt. It was literally your blog that I stumbled across that started me correcting that ship. I just want to say thank you, Aron. I can't stress enough how important your blog was a few years back for restoring my faith and my mental health.

  7. Ryan from Houston says:

    Aron,

    Perhaps you should reconsider your synopsis of a salesman because you did a wonderful job of promoting the book. I look forward to reading it and hopefully more posts for you in the near future.

  8. Fireine says:

    This post is definitely big brain.

  9. Scott Church says:

    Just bought my copy this morning Aron. Can't wait to start it!

  10. Tom Rudelius says:

    Thanks for promoting my book, Aron! And great job on the Foreword.

    Definitely looking forward to your book on fine-tuning...whenever it comes

  11. Aron Wall says:

    Ryan,
    Oh, I'm perfectly happy to be a salesman for St. Tom's book.

    I just think there is a danger in Christian apologetics of thinking of oneself to much as a salesman for God. It's too easy to get into a mindframe where the Ark of the Covenant is unsteady and God needs our help in keeping it supported...

    Dr. Beef,
    Thanks for your kind words, I hope you continue to find joy in your difficult circumstances.

  12. Darius-Andrei Luca says:

    Hello Dr. Wall! Recently I've stumbled across a paper called 'Do Black Holes have Singularities?' by Roy Patrick Kerr which has just been published. In it, I believe that (based on my sadly very primitive knowledge of the subject) he attacks the notion of singularity. He ends the paper with "In conclusion, I have tried to show that whatever the Penrose and Hawking theorems prove has nothing to do with Physics breaking down and singularities appearing. Of course, it is impossible to prove that these cannot exist, but it is extremely unlikely and goes against known physics". I was wondering if this paper's conclusions in any way affects your own work, as you have said before that it more or less uses or has to do with the Penrose Singularity Theorem. Moreover, if somehow this paper did really demonstrate that the Penrose Singularity Theorem 'fails' (to use a layman's term, I hope it is not too ambiguous for a specialist in the domain as physics such as you), does this in any way affect the relationship between Christianity and science?

    Also, if it's not too much, I was wondering what your view is on the whole debate that the Resurrection evidence is alone sufficient for faith in Christianity. I am currently going through some quite difficult times philosophically and personally, and thus my already very imperfect reasoning abilities have been even further impaired. Since you've defended the Resurrection as a historically correct foundation for Christianity on this blog (which it is, and also I think you've done a great job at defending it!), I was wondering if you have any position on this issue.

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