Fathers of Modern Science and Christianity


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Fathers of Modern Science and Christianity

Leonardo da Vinci

Dates: 1452-1519
Disciplines: Mathematics, Music, Architecture, Painting, Sculpture, Inventing, Engineering, Geology, Anatomy, Cartographer, Botanist
Nationality: Italian
Largest Discoveries: Masterpiece paintings, theory of plate tectonics, concept of a flying machine, concept of solar power, idea for an adding machine, contributions to hydrodynamics
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Role of God in Natural Universe: Reason should rule the examination of the natural world.

Leonardo Da Vinci was perhaps the most diversely talented human recorded in history. A true Renaissance man, he born of an unmarried peasant named Caterina, and his father, a prominent lawyer. While a number of popular culture portrayals of Da Vinci show him as both blatantly anti-Catholic and perhaps anti-Christian, he is known for several famous religious paintings. The most famous of which is the Last Supper. Though Da Vinci had for some time focused on more philosophical aspects of the the good life, and saw aspects of the natural world that he believed were inconsistent with a literal interpretation of Genesis, he was always at least nominally a Catholic, and towards the end of his life reacquainted himself with his faith, preparing himself for death.


Dates: 1473-1543
Disciplines: Mathematics, Astronomy, Economics, Medicine, Politics
Nationality: Polish
Largest Discoveries: Heliocentrism, quantity theory of money, Gresham’s Law
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Role of God in the Natural Universe: God appears as the mathematical laws of the universe.

While the ideas of Copernicus were tied up in heresy through a number of those who later expounded upon them, Copernicus himself was a canon in the church and actually urged to publish by his Bishop. In fact, the Church even accepted his heliocentric theory of the universe before waves of Protestant opposition led the Church to ban his ideas for some 200 years following. During his life, Copernicus was pious, even if what he saw in the stars went against what the Church later said the universe looks like. After years of revisions, his “De revolutionibus” was published in 1543, he died two months later. The Church harbored no resistance to the book until it was banned some 60 years later (1616). The book remained banned until 1835.

Tycho Brahe

Dates: 1546-1601
Disciplines: Astronomy, Astrology, Alchemy
Nationality: Danish
Largest Discoveries: refuted belief in unchanging celestial realm, accurate measurements of the cosmos
Denomination: Lutheran
Role of God in the Natural Universe: At times a Biblical literalist, taking descriptions of the Universe from Genesis.

Tycho Brahe was a master of observation in the night sky, but he was also a biblical literalist, who cited the authority of scripture in his actual proofs on the structure of the universe. While Tycho did verify some early and important notions, like the fact that Mars is closer to the Earth than to the Sun, he also upheld measurements based on the fact that a provident creator would not be so wasteful as to stretch his solar system out to such an asymmetric creation. While in the end not all of Brahe’s theories ended up being true, his lasting discoveries and his faith were deeply intertwined, feeding off of one another to create the way this master saw the night sky.

Francis Bacon

Dates: 1561-1626
Disciplines: Philosophy, Science, Author, Statesman
Nationality: English
Largest Discoveries: The scientific method, vision for a utopian North America
Denomination: Anglican
Role of God in the Natural Universe: Inductive reasoning can only speak of God’s existence, we cannot know of God’s nature, action or purpose save through special revelation.

Francis Bacon was raised by a mother who was thoroughly Calvinist, however Bacon was relatively moderate in his religious beliefs. He was middle of the road Anglican, neither authoritarian nor sectarian, and according to the Galileo Project his religion was more formal than fervent. This is consistent with Bacon’s prudence navigating politics and his public image. Though Bacon’s scientific method led to the negation of many aspects of traditional Aristotelian and thus (at the time) Church-backed science, it was but the vehicle for such new progressive scientific thought was brought about. Largely shielding Bacon’s scientific thought from the strictures of the Church.

Galileo Galilei

Dates; 1564-1642
Disciplines: Physics, Mathematics, Engineering, Astronomy, Philosophy
Nationality: Italian
Largest Discoveries: Observational astronomy, kinematics, strength of materials, many inventions.
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Role of God in the Natural Universe: Strictly empirical, non-mystical about the physical world.
Additionally: One time heretic

Galileo Galilei was a devout Catholic throughout his life, even though he was turned over to the inquisition for his (at the time) heretical view of the Copernican universe (that the Earth is not the center of the solar system). It should be noted that though he was held in house arrest by the Church for his latter days due to the inquisition’s investigation, that this had nothing to do with heretical theological views. Though Galileo was forced to publicly recant his heliocentric views, apocrypha tells that–at the end of his recantation–he muttered “but the Earth still moves.” Galileo’s revolt against dogmatism had nothing to to with the faith-based messages of the Church, only against authoritarian attempts to stifle freedom of thought and investigation into scientific matters.

Johannes Kepler: the Founder of Modern Astronomy

Dates: 1571-1630
Disciplines: Mathematics, Astrology, Astronomy, Natural Philosophy
Nationality: German
Largest Discoveries: Three mathematical laws of planetary motion (Kepler’s Laws)
Denomination: “Unorthodox Lutheranism”
Role of God in the Natural Universe: God is represented in the order of the cosmos. The heavenly bodies represented the Trinity.

Johaness Kepler exemplified religious acceptance long before it was common. As a Protestant, he was allowed to stay in Catholic Graz as a university Professor, with his University chair opened to members of any denomination in perpetuity. While Kepler was an early proponent of a heliocentric system, he suffered no persecution, and in a more symbolic than scientific vein, often wrote about how the order of the universe represented the Trinity. Kepler wanted to become a theologian, but was later thankful that necessity pushed him towards mathematics, as he found a religious calling in trying to discover exactly how the universe was set into motion.

Simon Marius

Dates: 1573-1625
Nationality: German
Largest Discoveries: named moons of Jupiter, observed Andromeda nebula
Denomination: Lutheran
Role of God in the Natural Universe: Biblical Literalist about the natural world.

As a strict Protestant, Simon Marius was dedicated to the literal truth of the scriptures, and worked this into his understanding of the cosmos (leading to, in the end, scientifically mistaken conclusions). What this meant for Marius, whose lasting contributions were more about the observation of new bodies, and not his traditional Tychonic view of the Universe (Earth-centered and at the time Church-accepted), was that his religious views and scientific views did not clash, and he was at peace with the Church.

Rene Descartes

Dates: 1596-1650
Disciplines:Philosophy, Mathematics, Optics, Writing
Nationality: French
Largest Discoveries: Cartesian/Modern Philosophy, “I think, therefore I am.”
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Role of God in the Natural Universe: Upholder of the very senses through which we perceive the world.

Rene Descartes was accepted by orthodox religion at his time due to his argument against a heliocentric universe, as well as his argument against epistemological skepticism (a movement in philosophy) that rested on a provident creator keeping order in the world. It is ironic, however, that some of his most lasting contributions include his arguments for radical skepticism, and not his God-based rebuttal of such arguments. While Descartes is most remembered for his philosophical writing, at the time he was an important scientific figure for traditional Christianity.

Sir Isaac Newton

Dates: 1642-1726
Disciplines: Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy, Economics
Nationality: English
Largest Discoveries: Calculus, Laws of Motion, Gravity, Newtonian Fluid, validated the heliocentric model of the cosmos.
Denomination: Unorthodox Christianity/Antitrinitarian monotheist
Role of God in the Natural Universe: The uniformity of the planetary system is proof that someone chose to make it that way.

Sir Isaac Newton was deeply and traditionally religious early in his life, through his undergraduate days at Trinity College Cambridge. And while he was deeply preoccupied with religious matters throughout his life, he was far from orthodox by the end. Denying that Jesus Christ shared any essential characteristics with God, Newton was an antitrinitarian. He also wrote over 2 million words on the nature of prophecy, believing that he was chosen to explain what was truly revealed in scripture to his contemporaries. Due to the illegal nature of his antitrinitarian views, he kept most of his views fairly private, and wasn’t in direct conflict with the Church. And even if he wasn’t traditional, Newton was undoubtedly a deeply religious man in his own right.

Carl Linnaeus

Dates: 1707-1778
Disciplines: Botany, Medicine, Zoology, Biology
Nationality: Swedish
Largest Discoveries: Binomial nomenclature/modern taxonomy, modern ecology, humans as primates
Denomination: Lutheran
Role of God in the Natural Universe: We may see divine order in all of nature.

Carl Linnaeus was raised by a Lutheran minister and remained a stalwart Lutheran throughout his life. Like his father before him, Linnaeus loved gardening, and coupled his scientific observations on taxonomy and plants with the belief that God’s beauty could be seen through the natural order of the world. For Linnaeus, this was added incentive (besides his natural curiosity) to explore the natural world, leading to some of his greatest scientific discoveries.