How does spirituality inspire us to weave stories of our own? How can speculative fiction and invented worlds give us insights into the role of science in our universe? How do we make meaning of chance events and meetings that can change the course of our life’s narrative?
The Reverend Doctor Ruth E. Shaver is the Interim Senior Pastor of First Church of Christ, Congregational, United Church of Christ, in North Conway, New Hampshire. In addition to her pastoral role, she is actively involved in ministerial education and formation as a course facilitator and secretary of the board of directors for PATHWAYS Theological Education, Inc., in Atlanta, Georgia. She previously served churches in central and eastern Massachusetts and in western Pennsylvania. Shaver completed her Doctor of Ministry at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2016 with a dissertation project titled, “I Wonder: Scientific Exploration and Experimentation as a Practice of Christian Faith.” She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Soviet and East European Studies from the College of Liberal Arts (now College of Arts and Sciences) and a Master of Divinity degree from the School of Theology at Boston University. Her love of science was fostered by her parents, who encouraged her to watch every episode of NOVA on PBS from its debut in 1976 until she went off to college, and by her grandfathers, who were both curious men with fascinations for dinosaurs, reptiles, space, and all things mechanical. Her first linkage of science and faith came at a very young age when she would pray for the safety of “her astronauts” on the Apollo moon missions. She is grateful for the opportunity to be a Sinai and Synapses Fellow and looks forward to the opportunities ahead to help people of all faiths become scientifically knowledgeable and curious.
Science Fiction and Fantasy author and native New Englander William D. Richards describes himself as “A writer of tales, rider of motorcycles, paddler of kayaks.” He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His fascination with all things scientific, such as watching the space program put the first men on the moon; his interest in the natural world; and his love of telling stories drove him to become a writer of Science Fiction. When taking time off writing, Richards enjoys panning for gold, which combines scientific study of geology and materials with an enjoyment of nature. “Plus,” he says, “it makes a really great excuse for a grown man to play in the mud all day.”Read Transcript
Ruth Shaver: So, my name is Reverend Dr. Ruth Shaver, and I’m a fellow of the Sinai and Synapses Organization. And I’m here with Bill Richards, who is an author and a good friend of mine. And the reason that I chose Bill for this More Light, Less Heat video is because he was really sort of instrumental in getting me into the faith and science collaborative work that I’ve been doing, especially for my doctorate.
Quick story. In 2008, I had a confirmation class of 9th graders and 10th graders in western Pennsylvania. And at one point, two freshmen came into the confirmation class one day, and they said “Pastor Ruth, why are some of our classmates asking our biology teacher questions about evolution, and then telling him that he’s going to hell for teaching evolution?” And I said “well, let me tell you…” but I had to go do some research, and out of that came a Vacation Bible School. But the question that came from Bill when I was telling him that story was…
Bill Richards: As we were sitting discussing the matter, it brings about, you know that groups are trying to say – “we have to teach religion in schools” and so on. I looked at Ruth and I said “If they want to teach religion in school, why can’t we teach science in church?”
Ruth Shaver: And thus was born this Vacation Bible School curriculum that I wrote, that became my doctoral project. So, Bill is a science fiction author, science fiction and fantasy, and I know he’s a man of deep faith, because he also belongs to the Freemasons, and part of that means that you believe in a supreme creator and whatnot, and you talk a lot about architecture in your daily life, and you use that language for God quite a bit.
But one of the things that struck me, as I was working through the two manuscripts that I’ve edited for you so far, is that when your characters use magic, especially your main character, it strikes me that they’re manipulating the universe on a quantum level. So how did that come about, and how does that play into your understanding of God and how the universe works?
Bill Richards: That’s exactly right. Basically, what I was considering was “how do you make magic work as an overlay upon the world of nature, as it was made?”. And one of the concepts in quantum physics is if you observe something, you change it. And that extends itself to “if you comprehend something, do you make that real in the universe?”
So I basically based the laws that I was creating, on how the universe would work in this story. And I had to choose a way to make it work, and I decided that basically when they’re performing magic, they’re making changes on the quantum level. And the dragons themselves actually represent beings who operate on the quantum level themselves. And magic uses some of the energies or the rules on that level, and uses that as an overlay over nature, the way things are basically as they are naturally. And hence, therefore, we have the supernatural.
And so I basically have to decide, how is this going to interact? And it gave me several different levels there. And one of the things that occurs in this story is that sorcery is kind of the “physics” of magic. And you are dealing with the direct energies and the direct powers and the rules that actually make things operate. It’s kind of a shortcut. But as physics does unveil certain dangerous things in the natural world, sorcery can unveil dangerous things in the magic world, and it’s very dangerous to manipulate.
But this is what I came up with, as a way in my mind, I could take the operation of that universe and make it function scientifically, even though I’m creating a fantastical rule set where magic exists. And how can magic exist? I was working with this.
Ruth Shaver: And what I was thinking, too, is that with – like, you have taught me a lot about nature, because you’re so observant. And you know, we’ve talked before and about the fact that growing up, a lot of your experiences of wonder and awe were related to your experiences of the natural.
Bill Richards: I’ve always noticed the little things. You know, it’s – someone would ask me, you know, I spotted a couple of insects on a branch that was tens of feet away. And this individual asked me, “how could you see these things?” And part of it was, I could see the pattern of the branch, and something broke that pattern.
So I’m always noticing all the little things. When you notice all the little things, you see how things go together, you recognize the pattern of how the tree should be growing, how the bush should grow. And when you see something different, it draws my attention to it.
And again, going back to the broader view, the more further out you look, the more broad your view, the more you see the patterns that come together. You see how the branches grow out of the tree, how they become the leaves. You see how the tree branches out into the limbs. You see how various trees in a forest are growing out of the ground, how the forest comes together and forms the, basically, the verdant green that you see covering the mountains. And you see how the mountains are all lined up together, and you begin to see that there’s a pattern here that works together. Something put this here – what put it there? And that’s where my mind goes.
Ruth Shaver: So your mind goes to who made the pattern, or who made the patterns possible.
Bill Richards: Exactly.
Ruth Shaver: And so for you, you know, God doesn’t appear to be as personal a God as other people might have, but not definitely not just the watchmaker God.
Bill Richards: This is a difficult question to answer, because, you know, I believe in a supreme being, in God, and the question is “how does God relate to us in the universe?” And this is something that mankind has been searching for forever.
Ruth Shaver: [Womankind] too?
Bill Richards: And when you look again at the universe, when you move your point of view out to the structure and all that, and you see how things go together, yes, there’s a randomness, but one of the key things to remember is that there’s order to randomness, to chaos, and how things seem to come apart – they’re coming apart in a certain order.
And the question of a supreme being – you know, I thought how could that not exist? You know, when you look at this, we say “oh, we don’t have the empirical proof,” and yet, you cannot explain away that every culture, from the most primitive to the most advanced, still believes that there is something more beyond us. And when we do even look at the most primitive cultures, who have not been touched by modern society or modern thoughts or ideas, who haven’t been told by other people “you should be thinking this way or that way,” they still do believe that there is something beyond them. You know, and how can you explain this away? And how can you explain the unbelievable balance that is necessary to keep life in existence on Earth itself? Our world is right there in that sweet zone.
And it could be argued “oh, the Supreme Being didn’t do this, it was simply luck that happened there.” But again, when you look at the odds of this happening, what we’re still – we’re just now starting to see evidence of life elsewhere, you know, possibly on Mars, possibly in the moons around Jupiter and Saturn. How can you not – we think independently, we are rational thinking beings. How can you not assume that this does not exist elsewhere? How can you accept that there is a possibility that this exists at a higher plane? When you bring these together you start to question, “all right, if we can’t quite prove God exists, how can we prove He does not exist?”
Ruth Shaver: Yeah, like, you know, Bertrand Russell’s teapot. How can you prove that the teapot does or doesn’t exist in an orbit between the moon and Mars?
Bill Richards: Or in this case, a Tesla with a mannequin dressed as an astronaut sitting in the driver’s seat.
Ruth Shaver: (laughs) Exactly, exactly.
Well thank you so much for answering the questions, and I am very happy to have you placed in my life, because I do think that there is a pattern to life, and I don’t think I would have done my doctorate in faith and science if you hadn’t asked me that question. So–
Bill Richards: When you stop and think about those words coming out of my mouth at complete random, who’s to say there wasn’t some divine inspiration? Just give me a little nudge to make those words come forward.
Ruth Shaver: Exactly.
Bill Richards: To bring your program into fruition, moving where we are.
Ruth Shaver: Exactly. So who knows. We will see what the randomness brings next.