2015 Reading Log – The Science of Interstellar

Thorne, Kip. The Science of Interstellar. Amazon

In December 2014, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar was released. As a nerd in general and a space nerd in particular (I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation and still appreciate the campy wonderfulness of the original Star Trek series), I knew I had to see it. Sure enough, the movie did not disappoint.

I read a lot about the movie prior to actually seeing it, and one detail that really intrigued me was Nolan’s extensive use of actual astrophysicist Kip Thorne as a consultant. The visualization of the black hole Gargantua is the most scientifically supported and accurate one in any film. At this point, my nerd-o-meter was red-lining, and the desire to see the film only deepened.

I also learned that Thorne had written a book, The Science of Interstellar, in which he attempted to explain the scientific underpinnings of the movie. The book assumes that you’ve seen the movie first, and the cover even has a helpful spoiler alert to that effect.

I took physics and astronomy in college because lab sciences were required for my major, and I did well in the classes. I was interested in the subject matter and had very good professors (Drs. Lionel Crews and Cahit Erkal). All that to say, I’m not an astrophysicist or the son of an astrophysicist.

Nonetheless, I found Thorne’s writing generally accessible. I don’t pretend to understand all of what he wrote, but much of it was understandable. The chapters include many diagrams and illustrations, without which most of the text would be unintelligible. Thorne certainly has the spirit of a teacher, and it comes through in his writing.

The book generally walks through the flow of the movie, stopping to note background history and science as appropriate. The chapters and even subsections within chapters are also marked based on the scientific confidence upon which Thorne stands with respect to them: T for Truth, EG for Educated Guess, and S for Speculation. That which is mathematically and/or physically certain is marked T, that which is largely supported but not yet provable is marked EG, and that which is assumed for the sake of the story based on what is known presently is marked S. I found this simple scheme remarkably helpful in delineating where creativity and empiricism intersected. I also found it refreshingly humble.

Some (perhaps many) Christians might be fearful of or put off by Dr. Thorne’s rabid empiricism, or even more simply by his unabashed acceptance of the Big Bang theory, evolution, and billions-of-years age of the universe. I didn’t find anything in the book that was untoward or offensive; Dr. Thorne simply stated his foundations and presuppositions and showed his work from there.

While I personally do not believe in evolution or a billions-year-old universe, I was still moved to wonder by both the film and the book. (I could’ve watched 45 minutes alone of the Saturn approach and orbit, then the other 1.5 hours of Gargantua. But, as I’ve already said, I’m a general nerd and a space nerd, so…) The God who created the heavens and the earth is the God whose mind is the basis for all logic, mathematics, physics, and every bit of knowledge in the universe. The complex mathematics of Einstein’s relativity and everything known and unknown about the universe is upheld and maintained every moment by the word of Jesus’ power (Hebrews 1:3).

This book is not for the faint of heart, but certainly for those who enjoy science, physics, space, and other matters of nerdiness. It’s a helpful guide to seeing the mind-boggling bigness of the God who made all things, and an indirect reminder that He who made all things loves and cares for me.

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