I have had this book for four months, and I have been reading it for four months. It was much more technical than I expected. With a subtitle like "Astronomy and the Vatican," I expected a history book, but a number of the chapters present quite a bit of actual science. That didn't make it unpleasant...just more difficult. I would love to think my children may one day pore through this book and dream about being an astronomer, perhaps even attending the Vatican Observatory Summer School. (Seriously, how cool would that be?)
This book is, of course, stunningly illustrated. There are some marvelous telescopic images and beautiful photographs. A great many artifacts owned by the Vatican are pictured, as well. The sections are coded by color, so it's easy to see where you are and move around in the book.
I felt like some of the chapters were better written or easier to follow than others Many of the chapters are adapted from longer essays or translated, which could make a difference. There were also a number of different authors so it's likely some are better writers than others, at least for someone like me with a limited knowledge of astronomy and physics. (I did go to the physics building a couple of times when I was in college, but, you know, not for a class or anything.)
My favorite parts early in the book were the "Seeing Stars" chapters: "The Specola in Castel Gandolfo" and "At the VATT." These chapters described a few experiences of real people at the observatories. I love having a bit of insight into the life of an astronomer.
The real treat was later in the book, though. I loved just about everything under "Pondering Stars," most notably the chapter by Fr. William R. Stoeger, S.J., "Is Big Bang Cosmology in Conflict with Divine Creation?" I did not understand the Big Bang theory at all before reading this essay (without any effort to understand it, to my chagrin). He very briefly describes the theory (in a limited way, but enough for the basic concept) and then explains how God's creation of the world is not at all in conflict with it. In fact, Fr. Stoeger believes nothing physics or astronomy can provide can address the moment of Creation. (Here's my favorite quote.) Now, I haven't read anything else on the topic and am not very adept at analyzing theological arguments (leaving that safely in the hands of the expert of the household), but I found his essay coherent and enlightening. I encourage you to read it.
If you do pick up a copy of this book, do not miss the last section, "Questions About Stars." In it, you'll find some common questions and answers. Many address earlier subjects in a brief way and direct the reader to the more detailed chapters. The questions touch on everything from whether the universe is infinite to intergalactic travel to the possible destruction of Earth by a meteorite. (You will be pleased to learn, for example, that the mission of the Vatican Observatory does not include searching for aliens to baptize.)
A theme appearing in many areas of the book is the relationship between science and faith. Some of you may not realize my college degree is in genetics. I have chosen not to pursue work in that field (for a variety of reasons), but I well remember how awestruck I was as I studied the workings of cells. We have been created with such precision, such perfection: I could only love God more, and wonder more at our world. I think, perhaps, some of the same feelings are present in those who gaze through telescopes as those who stare into microscopes.
We do take the Bible seriously. It teaches us that the physical universe was made by God, in an orderly fashion, Who found that His creation was good, and Who indeed so loved this world that He sent His only Son. This motivates us to study the physical universe, in order to become closer to its Creator. The Bible tells us Who made the universe; science tells us how He did it.
This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. I have not received any payment for this review, but I did receive a free copy of the book The Heavens Proclaim. Learn more about joining the reviewer program here.