Putting It All Together:
Seven Patterns for Relating Science and the Christian Faith

Author: Richard H. Bube
Date: 1995
Publisher: University Press of America, Lanham, MD
ISBN: 0819197564
Reviewed by: Allan H. Harvey, steamdoc@aol.com


The Author

Richard Bube is Emeritus Professor of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. He is a past President of the American Scientific Affiliation, and has written extensively about the interaction between science and Christianity.

Preliminary Comments

Rather than beat around the bush, let me start by saying that I consider this the best book I have ever read on science/faith issues. Bube has obviously been considering these issues for a long time, and in this book he has distilled many years of accumulated wisdom into a clear picture of the various ways in which people relate science and Christian theology.

Summary of the Book

Bube begins with a chapter in which he stakes out the territory of the book. Particularly important is his definition of what the items to be compared really are. It is not "Science vs. Faith" because all human activities, including science, require some sort of faith. It is not "Science vs. the Bible" because science is a human interpretation of God's (general) revelation in nature while the Bible is itself revelation which is interpreted by Christian theology. The parallel categories of interest are therefore science and Christian theology. The other important part of this chapter is a careful distinction between science and some of the philosophical positions often associated with science.

The second chapter defines and describes what Bube calls "authentic science," defined as:

A particular way of knowing, based on descriptions of the world obtained through the human interpretation in natural categories, of publicly observable and reproducible sense data, obtained by sense interaction with the natural world.

Bube works from this definition to give a fine exposition of the nature and limitations of science. For example, he points out that science presupposes that the universe is objectively real and understandable. The limitations of science include its inability to answer questions of ultimate purpose and its inability to provide absolute proof in the mathematical sense. This latter point, along with the more accurate picture of science as the collection and interpretation of evidence that may support or oppose a particular hypothesis, seems to be lost in much of today's discussion. As I write this, a local school board has been involved in controversy about teaching evolution as a "fact" or a "theory", and the issue has been clouded because many seem to have the mistaken notion that those are two distinct and well-defined categories in science. Another useful section in this chapter was a careful distinction between "chance" and "deterministic" as characteristics of scientific descriptions and "Chance" and "Determinism" as philosophical views of the world. This is an issue that has confused Christians for years - after Newton there were those who though that the determinism he brought to science left no room for God, while today there are a few misguided souls who see the apparent "chance" in some of modern physics (notably quantum mechanics) as a threat to God's sovereignty. In either case, the problem results from an unjustified extrapolation of the scientific description into a philosophical position (and, I would argue, from a stunted view of the ways in which God might work).

The next chapter defines and describes "authentic Christian theology," defined as:

A particular way of knowing, based on descriptions of the world obtained through the human interpretation of the Bible and human experience.

The description of Christian theology is orthodox, focusing on points (such as the necessity of interpreting Scripture in its context and with its purpose in mind) that are important in science/faith discussions. There is a nice section on the Christian doctrine of creation, pointing out that the important elements (God's transcendence, the creation's total dependence on God, and the "good" nature of the creation) do not depend on how God did the creating. The chapter closes with a section on the common features of science and theology. These underappreciated parallels include the level of faith involved in each, the fact that both attempt to describe reality (though perhaps different aspects of reality) based on evidence (though perhaps different kinds of evidence), and that "open questions" are a natural part of both kinds of investigation.

Bube then moves into the main body of the book, which is a discussion of seven different fundamental patterns he finds in relating science and Christian theology. Each pattern is carefully defined and analyzed, particularly with regard to how well it stacks up against the previously defined criteria of authentic science and authentic Christian theology. While one could come up with other ways to divide up the viewpoints on these issues, this particular division works well.

In covering the seven patterns, Bube manages to cover most of the important ideas affecting the science/faith relationship. These include the "God-of-the-gaps" outlook (covered in the "Science has Destroyed Christian Theology" pattern and implicitly in a couple of others), the creationist movement (in the "Christian Theology in Spite of Science" pattern), and New-Age pseudoscience (in the "A New Synthesis of Science and Christian Theology" pattern). The analysis of the issues raised by each pattern is both concise and insightful.

While Bube has sympathy for some aspects of the other patterns, he clearly comes down in favor of the "Complementary Insights" pattern, which he defines as follows:

Science and theology tell us different kinds of things about the same things. Each, when true to its own authentic capabilities, provides us with valid insights into the nature of reality from different perspectives. It is the task of individuals and communities of individuals to integrate these two types of insights to obtain an adequate and coherent view of reality.

Because this position is commonly misunderstood, the author spends some time explaining what complementarity is not. It is not compartmentalization (which is described as a separate pattern), because it demands that both perspectives be brought to bear on the same reality. It is not an acceptance of contradiction, again because it affirms that there is only one reality, though there may be different angles of viewing it. While Bube's description of complementarity is good, I felt it was not quite as strong as most of the other sections of the book. This may be natural; at least in my own life I find it easier to explain flaws in beliefs I do not hold than to clearly explain what I do believe and why. Readers looking for additional explanation and eloquent advocacy of the complementarian view would be advised to find some of the writings of Howard van Till.

A final brief section sketches out a philosophy of science from a Christian perspective, covering what science is, why it is possible, and how it can be a part of a Christian's walk with God. As one who does science at least some of the time, I found the material both sensible and helpful.

Evaluation

While this book is extraordinarily clear and insightful, it is not for beginners. Readers with no knowledge of science whatsoever, or readers who are unwilling to take the time to give these matters some careful thought, may not get the full benefit of the book. A better place for beginners to start would be Charles Hummel's The Galileo Connection, which is written at a level more suitable for, say, a college freshman. If one made the analogy to college courses, Hummel's book would be a great text for Science and Faith I, while Bube's could be the primary text for Science and Faith II.

For those who are ready to think about science and faith in a through and mature manner, I can't imagine a better book. No space is wasted; an impressive amount of wisdom and information is packed into about 200 pages. Putting it All Together should be on the shelf of everybody who has to deal regularly with science/faith issues, and it should at least be borrowed and read by anybody with more than a passing interest in this area.

I dearly wish that this book had been published through a major Christian publisher. While I know nothing about University Press of America, I don't think one sees many of their books in the average Christian bookstore (or secular bookstore, for that matter). [A major publisher might also have avoided the pervasive and annoying typesetting glitches.] I ordered mine from the publisher after seeing an ad in the June 1996 issue of the ASA's journal Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith. I fear that the lack of easy availability (and the price, which is above average even for the paperback edition) will hinder this book from getting the widespread circulation it deserves.

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 December 1996.
Page last modified September 2, 2000