Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist

by Guy Consolmagno, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-135428-X, 2000
(Book review by Darrick Dean,
who operates a science apologetics website

Recent years have seen an abundance of books addressing the relation between science and religion. Some have been attacks, generally superficial ones, against all forms of creationism such as Robert T. Pencock's Tower of Babel. Others, such as Stephen Jay Gould's Rock of Ages have attempted to convince readers that science and religion are both important, but must remain separate. This type seems a feint attempt to appease those who oppose naturalism.

Consolmagno argues that true theology cannot be in conflict with science "because it is itself a branch of science--indeed, the first branch of science." The skeptics and naturalists persistently remind us of the Christian attacks on Galileo, Bruno, and Darwin; but how often have those histories been twisted? In truth, there are relatively few times Christianity and science have had visible splits. History reveals that Christianity and science were completely intertwined until recent times. What we now refer to as the scientific method was a "direct development of scholastic medieval theology." For example, Gregor Mendel, Albert the Great, Roger Bacon, and Angelo were respectively the fathers of genetics, geology, chemistry, and astrophysics. They were also all monks or priests.

Consolmagno explores the supposed rift between science and religion and determines it is a rift in popular culture itself. Scientists generally are not "anti-God;" the "proportion of churchgoers among scientists is not much different from that of the general public." It is the extremists on either side that create the rift by turning their particular scientific theories into religion rather than searching out the truth. Naturalists begin by stating that nature is all that there is. Some creationists want to teach their theories as fact, regardless of what the scientific method produces. Both of these extremes stem from the a priori fallacy of deciding the conclusion beforehand and then rationalizing to this preconceived outcome. Consolmagno does not focus on these thoughts, but instead spotlights the lack of education, which leads to such extremes.

Consolmagno discusses the perceived contradiction that science states earth must be millions of years old even though the Bible claims it is only thousands of year old. However, that is not actually in the Bible, and it has "become a `straw man' perpetuated by those who want to take Bishop Ussher [who produced the young date] as a stick to beat religion." The result being that many people are told "they must choose between their religion and science." Nevertheless, it seems that he contradicts himself when discussing the cosmology of Genesis.

He refers to the Genesis account as being attributed to the standard Babylonian cosmology. The author of Genesis added God "stuff" and this old cosmology naturally became dated. This seems to be a purely poetic or metaphoric interpretation of Genesis. Perhaps Consolmagno has never closely studied the day-age interpretation that reveals a precise description of scientific knowledge in Genesis that was not discovered until millennia later. This knowledge is a crucial vindication to his belief that "the truth of the natural world, was given to us by God in order to lead us to God."

Overall, Consolmagno adhered to his statement that "A faith that fears the truth has no faith. And a philosophy with no God has no point.anyone dedicated to the Truth is dedicated to the same God as the One who proclaimed Himself `the Way, the Truth, and the Life.'" This is the underlying foundation to the principle that honest scientific and theological studies follow the facts and discoveries to wherever they lead.

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