Monday, April 26, 2010

Science and faith - a book review of sorts


I just finished reading 'Galileo's Daughter' by Dava Sobel. I've read it a couple times before, and really enjoyed it each time.

Galileo's elder daughter, Virginia, was sent by her father (with her younger sister) to live at the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri (near Florence), Italy, shortly after her 13th birthday (in 1613). (As both girls were illegitimate, the children of his long-term relationship with Virginia Gamba of Venice, he considered them to be unmarriageable. Securing their future through the convent was what he thought best for them, and was a very common practice at the time.) A few years later, she took her vows as a "Poor Clare" (Franciscan nun), and assumed the name Sister Maria Celeste, in honor of the Virgin and of her father's fascination with the heavens. She lived the remainder of her life confined in body (but not in spirit or intellect), and died at the age of 33. The book by Sobel chronicles Galileo's life and trials, using the letters from his daughter to him to add texture and color to the account. It's a remarkably rich book, a real pleasure to read, and it gives a very intimate portrait of life in the late Renaissance, and explains the background of the furor that accompanied Galileo's scientific discoveries. Galileo himself remained a devout Catholic to his death, and did not understand how his study of the heavens could bring anything other than glory to the Lord who created them, and who gave humanity the intellect to study His handiwork.

I find this book fascinating because of my own struggles with faith and science. I have always enjoyed learning about the natural world, but turning my gaze to the stars gives me spiritual whiplash. God is so HUGE, His universe so immeasurably great, and I am infinitesimally small in the scale of things - how could I matter to Him? And yet He is as close to me as my own heartbeat, even closer, and He took on the form of a man in Jesus to die for my salvation from my sin. Absolutely astonishing.

One of our children is currently fascinated by dinosaurs and fossils. I have no wish to curb their exploration of science, but I confess to a certain uneasiness in answering their questions, since although I know the Lord created everything, I'm less certain of the time frame. Evolution obviously occurs on the micro level, but on the macro level it's much less cut and dried, and frankly unbelievable at times. I don't have "the answers," just lots of hard questions mixed with thoughtful faith. I think I understand Galileo just a little bit more now. . . .