Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review: The Power of Paradox

It's not often that I find occasion to read a book that, in all respects, appears to be a philosophical text.  However, I also don't pass up a book recommended by a friend, as "The Power of Paradox" had been, so I decided to give this book a try.

This book, written by a local retired pastor, W. Brewster Willcox, discusses in depth the idea that the Bible's stories are often full of paradoxical concepts which people outside of Christianity often use as proof that the Bible is either a collection of non-literal documents, or not inspired by God at all.

Willcox uses this book to help create an understanding that a paradox does not imply two things that cannot coexist, but instead two ideas that seem not to be able to coexist.  These seemingly conflicting ideas or circumstances are in fact quite compatible, but difficult to see because of our narrow viewpoint or understanding of the subject matter.

The central tenet behind Christianity as we understand it today is that Christ, the son of God, died through crucifixion and was resurrected three days later and ascended into heaven.  This, Willcox asserts, "is the ultimate paradox of life, of creation: sometimes when things look bad they're actually very good."

The way that Willcox goes about making his argument is quite unique.  His background in theoretical physics leads him to spend a great deal of time comparing the paradoxes of Christianity to the conflicts between various theories in physics, the greatest of these being the inability to reconcile the theories of general relativity and quantum physics. 

For those of you who have even a little background in physics, you are aware that, when taken to extremes of size, Einstein's theory of general relativity falls apart and quantum mechanics takes over, and vice versa.  The problem with this is that many of the consequences of each theory conflict with the other, leaving one of the greatest paradoxes of science.  How can we use experimentation to prove that both theories are correct, and yet yield conflicting conclusions about the universe around us?

I have bad news for you:  Willcox doesn't solve any of life's greatest mysteries in this book.  What he does do, however, is help the reader to open his mind to an understanding that conflicting ideas within the Bible are not mutually exclusive, and can actually work in tandem to create a deeper understanding of Christ's love for us.

Furthermore, Willcox has written a lengthy section on "muddling through," as he calls it.  The idea revolves around another paradox that affects not only churches, but all businesses and groups in today's increasingly connected society:  the more information you have to base a decision on, the more difficult it becomes to make the decision.

He goes on to discuss how, instead of bogging down with information overload, we muddle through with a less than accurate picture, and this process causes us to make smaller changes.  These smaller changes, in turn, build on each other over what can be a very short period of time to create huge positive change.  In fact, muddling through with small changes makes more of a positive effort in the long run, because with small changes, nothing can go drastically wrong.

Would I recommend this book to you?  That would depend upon you.  This book is not for those who are looking for a light read.  This book is also not for those who don't have a base understanding of physics, as many of the examples use physics stories to illustrate larger points.  However, I would recommend this book to anyone who truly questions the seeming contradictions in the Bible, and sees them as sticking points to growing in her religion.  Despite its difficulty, I gained a great deal of insight from this book, and believe you could do the same.

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