Fortress Press, 132 pages
Reviewed by David A. Douthett
What would we do without subtitles in our theological libraries? They are the bridges that get us beyond clever titles to actually buying and maybe reading a book. Paul Wallace’s subtitle for “Love and Quasars” also makes a pretty bold promise to bridge the immense gap between faith and science. Remarkably, he goes on to deliver on that promise. He does this primarily by exploring the many shapes of the science-religion relationship.
I say “many shapes” because people imagine this relationship with broad variety depending in large part on their own relationship with science and religion. Wallace looks at several of these options in turn, including science and faith as strangers, friends, lovers and exes. Then he brings historical context, philosophical underpinnings, practical implications and his own personal experience to bear on the interpretation.
That makes this sound like a really dry book, but on the contrary, it is anything but dry. Wallace is an excellent writer, deeply embedded in and deeply in love with both science and faith. He brings a great deal of life and passion to the subject in this book as well as his previous title, “Stars Beneath Us,” which is a look at how theology and cosmology shape each other. In “Love and Quasars” he uses a lot of science to make his points, including astronomy, particle physics and biology, but he never gets too technical. He includes a lot of theology as well, but he never gets too esoteric. Both his scientific examples and theological developments are equally accessible. By threading these together with a masterful blend of pop culture references and his own story in surprisingly short chapters, Wallace has produced an extremely readable book.
It is Wallace’s own journey that serves as a model for us. As a child, he was raised in a conservative Christian faith where he learned of God’s deep love for us, but this faith had little room for a modern scientific worldview. Rejecting his faith when he was in college, he pursued science, not only as a career path but also as a way to understand life, the universe and everything. He discovered, though, that science was insufficient to address questions of ultimate meaning and purpose. We might say that God’s grace led him back to a place of balance and reconciliation — you know, that thing God does! Fortunately for us, Wallace’s abiding sense of God’s love and his passion for clear thinking and the joy and wonder of exploring the mysteries of the cosmos make him an excellent ambassador for reaching both sides. In “Love and Quasars” he demonstrates why and how everyone benefits from a right relationship between faith and science. We also find through his arguments that the divide between faith and science is itself an artificial construct based on faulty assumptions from both sides.
As a 30-year pastor who is also an amateur astronomer with a degree in aerospace engineering, I loved this book — but you don’t have to be a nerd like me to enjoy it. The arguments are thought out clearly and carefully. The writing is engaging and personable with well-timed stories, illustrations and humor. Its theology is grand and beautiful, both able and unafraid to approach the hardest questions of existence.
David A. Douthett is pastor of Catoctin Presbyterian Church in Waterford, Virginia, and owns six telescopes.