Elsewhere, September 13, 2010 (The Post-Blackout Edition)

The universe’s personal nature, authentic artifice, Scott Pilgrim, cosmology as theology, science fiction, Watchmen, religious search engines, and Marilynne Robinson.

Elsewhere: A collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.

The Universe is a Human Interest Story:

The fact is that it is the personal nature of the universe that should drive us toward doing scholarship rigorously and carefully. It gives us hope that things will indeed make sense, because we as rational creatures are dealing with the work of a rational Creator (I do sometimes wonder how the materialist isn’t just peering closely at his aforementioned alphabet soup and furiously jotting things down on his notepad, but that’s another discussion). What’s more, it doesn’t just mean knowledge can be rightly understood, but it must. By their nature, ethical norms cannot exist outside of relationship. I cannot misinterpret meaninglessness, but I am doing something wrong when I misrepresent what my wife asks me to do. I am morally obliged by the act of communication to try to understand what the other person is trying to say, whether it’s a friend speaking English or God speaking math.

Life in the Age of Authentic Artifice:

We are — hundreds of millions of us — broadcasting our lives and following the broadcasts of others as if our lives depended on it. I’m not just referring to Facebook or Twitter. I’m talking about memoirs, based-on-a-true-story movies, daytime talk shows, blogs, confessional songs, reality TV, and every other form of “sharing” that’s taken the culture captive.

It’s as if we each bought a one-way ticket — no cancellations, no refunds, no turning back — to Realityville before we even decided that’s where we really wanted to go or figured out why we’d want to travel there. (Personally, I’d rather go to Barcelona).

What are we hoping to find once we arrive? Entertainment? Distraction? Comfort? Truth?


What do today’s versions of reality — wall posts and Jersey Shore antics and Lady Gaga tweets — make us realize? There are times when they make me, personally, realize that fictional characters like Scout Finch and Elizabeth Bennett and Rob Fleming feel more real to me than real people.

Scott Pilgrim vs. Thematic Clarity:

There’s nothing really wrong with Scott Pilgrim as light, gamey entertainment. In some ways, Ubisoft’s sidescroller adaptation is the most native of its three formats and definitely the most fun just to sit back and enjoy. The concerning part for me is that Pilgrim’s narrative brings up these different moral scales between games and real-life relationships and then neglects (by error or design) to thoroughly address them. We accept the unreality of archetypes in nostalgic titles like this in part because they remain self-contained and stylized. Bringing in an element of critique, as Pilgrim does, feels as though it should be taking on an added measure of self-analysis. It just doesn’t or perhaps deliberately avoids it.

Is cosmology a form of theology for a secular age?

Why is cosmology so popular? Books by writers such as Paul Davies and Stephen Hawking on fine-tuning or the multiverse routinely become bestsellers. They’re good writers, of course. And there’s the aesthetic appeal of cosmology too, offering a ceaseless stream of heavenly images at which to wonder and gaze. But I suspect there’s more to it than that.

After all, many other branches of physics are progressing as fast, and arguably have a bigger impact upon our daily lives. But when did you last pick up a paperback on solid state physics, one of the largest contemporary research fields? Or who would choose a book about optics over one about the Big Bang? Chaos theory gets a look in, as does quantum theory — though that’s very close to cosmology, as the history of universe turns on the physics of the very small.

So here’s a possibility. Cosmology is so popular, not just because of the science, but because it allows us to ask the big questions — where we come from, who we are, where we’re going. It’s metaphysics by other means. If the Scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages liked to speculate about the number of angels on the heads of pins, we today like to speculate about the number of dimensions wrapped up in string theory. The activities are similar insofar as they feed the delight we find in awe-inspiring wonder.

10 of the best science fiction TV episodes that ever aired:

Science fiction has been a television staple for the past 60 years. And of the thousands of episodes that have been produced in that time, we’ve chosen 10 of the most memorable, transcendent hours of sci-fi TV — the best the genre has to offer. As always, your mileage may vary, but if you wanted to show an alien civilization how we feel about our own tomorrow — as well as how we view ourselves today — these episodes are a good place to start.

Alan Moore says comics have been all downhill since Watchmen:

Watchmen is considered one of the best comic books of all time and a seminal work in the field. We all know that. But according to author Alan Moore, the 1986 book was actually the pinnacle of an art form, and nothing as good has been published since then.

Religious Search Engines Yield Tailored Results:

In a world where Google has put every bit of information at our fingertips, some people are now demanding less information when they surf the Internet.

Some Jews, Muslims and Christians are abandoning Yahoo and Google and turning to search engines with results that meet their religious standards.

Shea Houdmann runs SeekFind, a Colorado Springs-based Christian search engine that only returns results from websites that are consistent with the Bible. He says SeekFind is designed “to promote what we believe to be biblical truth” and excludes sites that don’t meet that standard.

Houdmann says a search on his site would not turn up pornography. If you search “gay marriage,” you would get results that argue against gay marriage. And if you type in “Democratic Party,” your first search result is a site on Marxism.

Christianity Today interviews Marilynne Robinson:

Christians acting like Christians would be the most effective possible evidence for the truth of what they profess. And here I am referring to the Sermon on the Mount, to Matthew 25 — those hard teachings that run so strongly against the impulses toward judgmentalism and exclusivism that assert themselves whenever any group decides to feel threatened. If Christians believe what they claim to believe, that the church is the body of Christ, how can they think any “culture wars” are necessary to its survival? Its wars, past and present, are the most telling charge brought against it. And Christians should care for what is true in every sense of the word true. This emphatically includes good science — understanding always its necessarily hypothetical workings.

One thing that can be affirmed with confidence is that human beings tend to be religious. Care should be taken to protect the beauty, dignity, and integrity of Christianity so that people are not turned away by experience that makes it seem corrupt, hypocritical, subject to manipulation by other interests, or simply crude. Again, I am not speaking here of anything besides adherence on the part of Christians to the teachings of Christ. This would be beauty and dignity enough.

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