The Galileo Connection:
Resolving Conflicts between Science and the Bible

Author: Charles E. Hummel
Date: 1986
Publisher: InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois
ISBN: 087784500x
Reviewed by: Allan H. Harvey, steamdoc@aol.com


The Author

Charles Hummel holds advanced degrees in chemical engineering (MIT) and biblical literature (Wheaton). At the time this book was written, he was director of faculty ministries for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.

Evaluation

"The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." That statement, attributed to Galileo, is one of my favorites, and it is what Charles Hummel chooses to begin his book. Each chapter starts with a well-chosen quote - I particularly liked those by Copernicus: "The universe has been wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator," Augustine: "The Spirit of God who spoke through [the biblical writers] did not choose to teach about the heavens to men, as it was of no use for salvation," and Harvard's 19th-Century Christian biologist Asa Gray: "I do not approve either the theology or the science of those who are prompt to invoke the supernatural to cover our ignorance of natural causes."

From those quotes, one can see where Hummel's sympathies (which resemble my own) lie in the controversies involving science and the Bible. Like many Christian scientists who write on this topic (Howard van Till and Richard Bube, for example), Hummel believes that nature (as interpreted by science) and the Bible offer complementary insights on a single, God-given reality. He rejects as unproductive and untrue to the nature of the Biblical revelation efforts at concordism, whether it be the pseudoscience of young-Earth creationism or the more respectable efforts to make Scripture "line up" to match modern science.

So what makes The Galileo Connection unique among books with this viewpoint? Put simply, it is accessible. As enlightening as, for example, Bube's Putting it all Together is, it requires more scientific and philosophical sophistication than that of the average college freshman. I could give Hummel's book to a freshman (or even a bright high-school student) and be fairly confident that the message would get through.

I think the key to this accessibility is that the book devotes its first half to a well-written account of the history of scientific thought, with particular attention to astronomy. Hummel starts with the ancient Greeks, showing how dominant the influence of Aristotle was for almost 2000 years. He then tells how Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo challenged the old views, making use of what we would now call the scientific method. There is an extensive account of the interaction of Galileo with the Catholic Church. Hummel is careful to show some of the aspects of this controversy that often get overlooked, such as Galileo's provocative insults of some church authority figures and the fact that there were many in the church who agreed with him that nothing in the Bible was compromised by teaching that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Most important, he makes it clear that those who opposed Galileo had a view of the world that was, to a greater extent than they realized, built not on the Bible but on a shaky Christian borrowing of the philosophy of Aristotle.

A chapter on the contributions of Isaac Newton closes the historical section. It is worth noting that Hummel takes time to point out the Christian faith of these men who contributed to the "revolution" in astronomy. At this point, halfway through the book, the point has already been made by example that there is nothing wrong with Christians (or anybody else) investigating the physical universe, and that it is dangerous to read scientific truth-claims into the Bible.

The next chapter, called "Modern Science," is more philosophical than historical. The chapter gives a very readable account of how science works. Particularly valuable is a brief section on the often unspoken presuppositions of science.

The next three chapters turn to the Biblical revelation. The first of these discusses how Christians should approach interpretation of the Bible in general. Hummel takes a high view of Scripture, but insists that the inspired texts be interpreted with attention given to their purpose and contexts. The next chapter discusses the place of miracles in a scientifically described universe. Hummel rejects the "God-of-the-gaps" approach in favor of a view of God as working his purposes in all things, not just those things for which we have no scientific explanation. He defends God's ability to act outside his normal ways (what we might call natural laws) for special purposes, such as the miracles recorded in the Bible.

The next chapter explores Genesis 1. While Hummel shows some sympathy to the day-age viewpoint, he comes down in favor of what he calls the historical-cultural approach, where the focus is on what the message would have meant to the original audience in ancient Israel. The chapter closes with some thoughts on the actual teachings of the chapter (often lost in heated creation discussions) and what they mean for us today.

The final three chapters discuss conflicts (or apparent conflicts) that have arisen between science and faith, mostly with regard to origins. Only a single chapter is devoted to the "creation science" controversy; I think a strength of the book is that it concentrates on the broad issues of how one views science as a Christian, and treats the "creation" controversy as the small issue that many of us think it should be. As already mentioned, Hummel sees the apparent conflicts between science and faith as being caused by a failure to recognize the complementary nature of God's revelations in Scripture and in the universe he created.

An epilogue describes the life of Blaise Pascal, one of the greatest scientists of his time, whose Christian writings still inspire many today.

In summary, this book uses the historical example of the Copernican revolution in astronomy to demonstrate the proper relationship between science and the Christian faith and some of the consequences when this relationship is corrupted. The understanding gained from this example and from reflecting on the purpose and context of the Biblical revelation is then built into a more explicitly stated picture of this relationship that can be applied to any issue where science and faith may intersect, not just creation.

I occasionally have the privilege to recommend books to others on these matters. Number one on my list, especially for readers who have not previously given much thought to the issues involved, is The Galileo Connection. It is an excellent starting point, and anybody who reads it will come out better equipped to think in a mature, productive, and God-honoring manner about all science/faith issues.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this review are the opinion of the author of this review alone and should not be taken to represent the views of any other person or organization.

Review originally written October 1996.
Page last modified September 2, 2000