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The New Flatlanders

Templeton Foundation Press.

In recent years there have been a number of introductions to the ongoing dialogue between theology and science which open up the spiritual dimensions of contemporary science. Middleton takes a unique tack re-imagining an old Science fiction classic.

Isaac Asimov once described Edwin Abbott’s 19th century Novella Flatland as the best introduction to thinking about dimensions. It describes how its main character who lives in a two dimensional world comes to a mind expanding even spiritual understanding of the wonders of space the third dimension. Whereas Abbott’s story is pessimistic, lamenting human inability to see beyond the obvious, Middleton offers the reader hope that there are real spiritual dimensions to the world.

In The New Flatlanders, Middleton takes a contemporary group of young university students through a journey of discovery where they discover for themselves how they can explain the larger realities of this universe which do not fit into a purely materialistic “scientific” description.

In fact, science as they discover points to suggestions of purpose, intervention by a designer and dimensions beyond the obvious. Middleton suggests that just as the sphere broke into flatland in the novella to show the reality of a world beyond, God also does this in our apparently three dimensional existence.

The book explores in very simple terms the potentially mind-bendingly hard concepts of multidimensional physics, superstring theory, Quantum theory, the anthropic principle, the place for miracles and chaos theory.

The New Flatlanders does not offer clean cut answers, but instead offers a way to explore meaning and the spiritual dimension of life with people who have serious contemporary questions about both materialism and traditional faith.

The journeys of the people, the flatlanders in the book go through a variety of often unorthodox spiritual phases, but their appreciation of the universe, God and their place in it grows through out. It moves from finding a place for the spiritual in scientific descriptions of the world through to opening up as a reasonable possibility the claims of God in the person of Jesus.

Abbot’s Flatland is worth reading as a background to this book. It is fairly short and can be found online at http://www.geom.uiuc.edu/~banchoff/Flatland/ Warning: it is typically 19th century in tone, imperialistic, class-ist, and sexist. The main character ends up imprisoned for speaking about the good news of the third dimension.

Reviewed by Rob Brennan of Banora Point