Episode 50: A perfect world free from suffering? “The Enormous Tiny Experiment”
Dan welcomes a new guest and author, Martha Sales, to talk about her zany novel, The Enormous Tiny Experiment. In the story, aimed at 8 to 12 year olds, a somewhat idealistic professor creates a perfect world free from suffering – or so he thought. What could possibly go wrong when 21 tiny people are placed together in a wonderful environment without rules or regulations?! The conversation ranges from the New Atheists and questions about suffering to plate tectonics, go-karts and the universal existence of morality. Listen in to discover more about the book and Martha’s approach to stimulating discussion on the important issues of life.
Dan begins by introducing Martha Sales and welcoming her to the podcast. Martha introduces her middle grade book The Enormous Tiny Experiment, (written under the pen name Anna Tikvah), as the first in a series of three novels that chart the adventures and mishaps of 21 tiny people living in a perfectly created dome hidden in the centre of a university research facility. The professor behind this mad experiment is certain that he’s created a perfect world free from suffering and sure that this will show how any God, if he really exists, should have made a much better and safer world than planet Earth. In this imaginative setting, many stories and themes emerge that deal with difficult questions about the origins of the universe, the existence of a loving God in the face of suffering, free will and guiding principles of morality.
Martha explains that she wrote the book in response to prevalent arguments about the existence of God in the face of terrible suffering in this world. Dan agrees that these are important and perplexing questions, which many people have struggled with. He cites the Barna Group research on common reasons why young people leave church, noting that one big reason is the feeling of being unable to raise doubts and questions. The Enormous Tiny Experiment is a welcome tool to help initiate conversation about these issues with young people, helping to give them language to talk about their doubts and questions. Dan notes how this discussion complements earlier episodes with different authors whose books also deal with similar topics, (Episode 13: Founding a Faith and Episode 47: Life’s Biggest Questions!).
Dan and Martha talk through several features and themes that run through the book. They discuss the origins of the universe, and how scientific thought changed from believing a steady state model to understanding that the universe had a beginning, i.e. the Big Bang. One of the characters draws out the implications of this. The beginning of the universe requires something that caused it to come into existence. (We examine this argument for the existence of God in more detail in Episode 11: The God Question).
A perfect world free from suffering?
They move on to talk about the adventures and tragedies that the tiny people experience. A bump on a hill that the professor placed for their enjoyment becomes the source of tragedy. A hi-tech fire suppression system designed to prevent disaster becomes the source of grave danger. Martha explains how this feeds into a conversation about disasters in the world. The atmosphere in the planet is partly regulated by the activity of plate tectonics, an essential aspect of the world to keep us all alive. Yet this very same feature of the planet brings inherent danger, especially when we live and work close to the danger zones.
Rules or no rules?
Dan and Martha talk about how the professor in her book wants his world to be completely free from any rules. He is convinced that this will create a better standard of living, allowing happiness to be found in unrestrained freedom without the shackles of religious order.
Martha explains how this feature was designed to shine a light on the problems with adopting a completely Post-Modern or relativist worldview, where everyone is free to choose what they want to do. The way some of the ‘tinys’ act shocks the rest, since this is what happens when there are no guidelines and no means of discerning what is right and wrong.
Critical thinking and radical skepticism
A final feature of The Enormous Tiny Experiment that Dan and Martha discuss is how the professor is surprised to find that some of the little people he introduced into his world end up not believing his existence. He is saddened that these people do not accept the evidence around them, nor even the testimony of those they can speak to as his witnesses. This of course opens up a whole conversation about whether belief in God in the real world is rational, and whether or not there is sufficient evidence to believe him, both around us in the world and from witness testimony, such as within the Bible.
The professor is, however, overwhelmed by the joy he receives from seeing the other ‘tinys’ perform thanksgiving ceremonies for him, including songs and poems, completely unprompted and of their own accord. This gives us a hint of why God might value worship that comes from those who have built their conviction about him not under duress but in reasoned and evidenced faith. Martha points out the difference between critical thinking, which is good and which can provide evidence to strengthen faith, and radical skepticism, which can never be satisfied.
More adventures in the perfect world
Dan and Martha close by reflecting on the intended age range of the books, (between 8 to 12 years old for the first book, 10 to 15 years old for Pain in Paradise, the second installment, and 12 to 16 years old for the final novel, Treasure in Paradise).