Exclusive Interview with Dr. Michael Guillen - An Amazing Discussion about Amazing Truths
So I don’t know about you, but it’s not everyday you get the opportunity to speak to an Emmy Award Winning, Movie Producing, Former Harvard University Instructing, Best Selling author who is waaaaay out of your league, but nonetheless humble and gracious… and yet… for me that day has come in all its glory, culminating in a riveting discussion about science, faith, love, the quest for truth, and the ins and outs of Ithaca, New York with Dr. Michael Guillen, author of “Amazing Truths: How Science and the Bible Agree.”
Logos Post: Welcome to Logos Post Michael Guillen!
Dr. Michael Guillen: I’m really looking forward to our conversation, so please feel free to ask any questions- hard, soft, whatever- I’ll do my very best to answer them as honestly as I can.
LP: Glad to hear you say that, because I’m going to start with some very hard questions. I understand you went to Cornell University. So I think we need to talk a little bit about Ithaca, NY. Ready for a little Lightning Round?
DMG: I’m ready- fire away!
LP: Ok… here we go: College Town Bagels or Ithaca Bakery?
DMG: Oh, wow. I think for me is a no brainer. College Town Bagels. Now you’ve really pushed my buttons. I’ll go anywhere, any time for a good bagel. I was at Cornell recently, as they invited me to speak about a movie I produced called Little Red Wagon. I flew there, and guess what I did the morning I woke up in Ithaca? I made a beeline for College Town bagels! I gotta tell you, they’re hard to beat. If anyone from College Town Bagels is listening in, my shout out to you. You’re still the best on the planet.
LP: It’s getting a little harder now. College Town or the Commons? [note: on this point I think Dr. Guillen thought I was talking about Cornell’s commons, as opposed to The Commons downtown… and I didn’t have the heart to clarify, as his answer was so heartfelt and passionate]
DMG: Oh wow. Ok, I lived on campus most of my time there… As I was leaving Cornell College Town was being upgraded, and it was starting to be a happening place, but would have to say the commons. There’s a bench that overlooks the valley, and the view from there was spectacular… and especially when I was working on a hard math or physics problem, you know, we scientists tend to walk around with our heads in the clouds… I would spend hours mentally walking around campus, mentally working out solutions to a problem, and very often I’d land on that bench overlooking downtown Ithaca. Just magnificent view.
LP: One more. Think very hard about this. We want an honest answer: Robert Treman Park or Buttermilk Falls?
DMG: Yeah, I have to say I was always partial to Buttermilk Falls. The whole region is spectacular. But if you put my back to the wall, I’d have to say Buttermilk Falls. I went there many times just to get away and think. Look, I’m an unrepentant nerd so any place that allows me to kind of think and be alone with my thoughts, that’s my place. Take me a bagel, go to Buttermilk Falls, and I am a happy camper.
LP: Very good. I diverge with you just on that point. That’s OK. I get it, the accessibility of Buttermilk Falls, sure. It’s right there, you’re in you’re out. It’s beautiful. But come on, Treman Park – you can’t hear a car, can’t hear any signs of humanity, just the rush of the waterfalls. I’m a little partial, but that’s OK. That’s why we live in a tolerant society.
DMG: Yes, Yes ma’am. Exactly. And may we even say now the wineries that have sprouted up all over the area… some of those wineries are world class, don’t you agree?
LP: I do! The whole area is lovely! Alright, well you have passed the initial test quite well, thank you very much, so let’s move on.
DMG: Phew! Boy, you had me on spielkes, (a nice Yiddish word my manager taught me)which means you had me on pins and needles there!- I guess it’ll all be downhill from here, it’ll be much easier from here now, right?
LP: Oh yeah, we’re going to sail right through this! Moving right along… to the (not so hard ) question of how you met your wife, and the bigger story of how you as a scientist came to the conclusion that science and the Bible are not, in fact, at odds with each other?
DMG: I would be delighted to answer that question. It just raises such precious memories in my mind. When I left Los Angeles, I said goodbye to my parents and sisters and flew east for Ithaca… I said goodbye not just to my family and my lifelong friends, but I also said goodbye to any vestige of faith I had. I was raised in a religious home, but I was an oddball, the “black sheep” of my family. From a very young age, in second grade, I remember loving science. That was my whole world. If you can keep that in mind, you’ll get me, and you’ll get what I’m about to say.
I was in every sense of the word a scientific monk when I got to Cornell. Anyone who knows me can corroborate this… I would get up at 6am and make a beeline for the lab, and hole myself up there until the wee hours of the morning, typically around 3am. I’d go back to my dorm room and sleep for 3 hours. And I’d repeat it all over again. That was my routine.
LP: Did they have 5 hour energy drinks back then?
DMG: I was already such a high energy guy, I would literally drink so much coffee I’d bounce off the walls… But yes, 7 days a week, this was my routine. And I was so happy.
So one of those wee hours in the morning I returned to my little dorm room like I had a million times before but this time I heard a little scraping sound as I opened the door underneath the door, so I looked down and there was a white envelope with my name on it. And it’s a Valentine’s Day card
LP: And it wasn’t from Carl Sagan?
DMG: I didn’t know. I didn’t care! Anyway, the card was signed Laurel. And I’m like yeah, I remember her, she was in my Physics Recitation class, and I had bumped into her before. I thought “ok, that’s interesting.” In the weeks that followed she pursued me. Good thing she did because I’d never had a girlfriend, and I wouldn’t have known what to do with one. I had absolutely no social life. So this was a novelty to me, to have a girlfriend, and a pretty one at that. She was a real beauty, and here I was… I had this head of afro type hair, skinny jeans… beauty and the beast!
LP: Or Beauty and the Geek?
DMG: Ha! I’m not exaggerating! It was a puzzle to me. She disrupted my studies… But it was interesting because she disrupted my studies right around the time something else was agitating me.
I was studying all about nuclear high energy physics, I was also interested in astronomy, my thesis was heading toward mathematics… I was a problem child, driving my thesis advisor crazy. They couldn’t figure me out, but it made perfect sense to me. I was very interested in galaxies and there was a lot of research indicating that galaxies had arranged themselves in a very interesting pattern in deep space, and I was trying to understand how they had arranged themselves. Galaxy Correlations. PJ E Peebles was doing ground breaking observational work. I was following his work and trying to find a physical principle and a mathematical technique to explain what Peebles was discovering. My professors didn’t quite understand that, they wanted me to behave myself and just stay in the physics dept, do my thesis and graduate. But that’s not the kind of guy I am. I’m always into deep truths. I want to dive deep, deep, deep into things.
But as I was doing all this I was naturally asking myself the question “How did this all happen?”I’m not just talking about Galaxy Correlations, I mean the whole universe. The whole shmegegge (Yiddish: cockamamey story)
LP: Can you say that word again? Shmegegge!
DMG: Shmegegge! So yes, I was learning about the universe from soup to nuts like no other grad student at the time at the tiniest levels in the physics dept and at the largest scales in the astronomy department.
The point is I was learning deep truths about the universe, and I was really happy about it, but I was asking myself, how did it happen? Science was offering that it all happened by an accident. And that was not intellectually satisfying. To me that was not a cop out.
Understand, I’m not a spiritual guy at this point. I’m thoroughly, thoroughly a scientist. I’m thinking there’s got to be something more to this than an accident. If it was then the universe would’ve hit the jackpot a million times over. It just wasn’t plausible to me.
I was taking a class with Carl Sagan, who was talking about the Vedas. I looked it up and I found this is the sacred literature of the Hindu religion. I thought Ok that sounds exotic. Like I did with everything else, I went in with both hands and feet and just dove in and found it fascinating, but it didn’t answer my questions. Nothing in the sacred literature really addressed the question of how the universe came to be. They have a fanciful kind of origin myth, but it wasn’t plausible to me, as an intellectual I couldn’t take it seriously, so I moved on. I started reading the I Ching, more Buddha literature, TMI, Mahareshi Yogi. I’ve always had limitless curiosity, no holds barred, just go out there and find out. In addition, my thesis advisor would take me to Shabbat services (his mother made a mean chopped chicken liver!) and learned all about Judaism. And I really enjoyed it.
But when I met Laurel, and she was pursuing me, she said to me “why aren’t you reading the Bible?” And I’m like, the Bible? That’s so commonplace, it’s just so, I don’t know, it wasn’t as exotic as all these other things I was exploring. It just seemed too familiar to me, even though I had never really read it…
LP: Right, and because of your background, you said your dad was a Pentecostal minister, so you probably had your own filter and baggage of what that meant?
DMG: It did and it just seemed so utterly prosaic. Dad had Bibles in the house… It didn’t ignite me like all the other stuff did. But this is how God used Laurel, and brought her into my life at this opportune moment. She said “Well let’s read it together.”
LP: A brilliant woman. First of all, she knew she had to slip the Valentine’s Day card under your door or it was never going to happen. I respect that.
DMG: Oh no, it would never have happened, trust, me. I’d still be in the lab right now instead of talking to you…
LP: So she’s worming her way into your heart and now she’s asking you some hard questions, and challenging you...
DMG: Yeah, and I’m thinking well you know if this pretty girl is willing to sit down and read the Bible with me, why not? So we did. Now we are both intellectuals, and it took us about two years.
It was interesting to go through the Old Testament and put the whole story together in my mind. But the day I’ll never forget was the day we finished Micah, and started reading the New Testament. It was like a light bulb went off in a dark room.
By the way, the Genesis account of the beginning was so matter of fact, it appealed to me as a scientist. This happened, then this happened then this happened. But otherwise the Old Testament was kind of depressing.
But when we started reading the NT laurel and I just looked at each other and it was like the clouds parted and the sun just burst through. For me it was a real game changer. There were truths I encountered in the NT that I found fascinating, that kind of turned logic on its ear, and appealed to me. It was not like someone just making this stuff up. It was like way out there.
At that moment I began finding answers to my questions, but the true litmus test was how do these truths I am encountering in the NT, intriguing as they are square with all I’d been learning as a grad student about the universe. If they didn’t square, sayonara, it was nice to know you.
But the more I learned, exploring the comparisons, I began to realize this is either an enormous coincidence, or there’s something here.
That was the beginning of what became many, many years later ended up being the book Amazing Truths.
I’ll tell you something. If I had found the truths didn’t square I might have written a book that says it’s amazing how science and the Bible do NOT agree. Because I’m all about truth, I have no dog in this fight. I just want to know when I get up in the morning, and when I go to bed at night, what can I rely on, hang my hat on, what can I base my life on, how can I raise my teenage son, what truths can I raise him on and know that I’m on solid ground.
And so this book is a result of my first encounter with the Bible back in graduate school…
To hear the rest of this AMAZING discussion, listen here…
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