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From Y1K to Y2K

by David F. Coppedge
c. 2000 David F. Coppedge, Master Plan Productions

The Early Christian Roots of Modern Science

Now that we have seen how the underlying philosophical assumptions essential to a scientific outlook were most exhibited within a Christian culture, how specifically did modern science get started in Europe?  It helps to put some personality to these otherwise abstract concepts.  In this section, we wish to introduce some key thinkers, medieval to Renaissance, that were prologue to the scientific age.

The so-called Dark Ages were not entirely dark  The derogatory term “Dark Ages” is partly a construct of the Enlightenment that wished to distance itself from the Scholastic philosophers, but there were bright lights of scientific thought that antedated that so-called Age of Reason.  Let’s take a moment to review the interval from the time of Christ to 1000 A.D., the beginning of our scientific timeline.

From 1 to 1000 A.D.

The First Millennium was a turbulent age.  It is difficult for science to flourish without some political and economic stability.  During the first 1000 years after Christ, the world saw a decaying Roman Empire split into two, and eventually sacked by barbaric tribes.  For the first three and a half centuries, Christians were a despised and persecuted group, tortured by waves of intense persecution, seeking to keep alive the light of Christ’s message of salvation while huddled in dark catacombs and other secret places of worship.  When Constantine finally ended the persecution in 313 A.D. and made Christianity the state religion, Christians suffered an even worse threat: the corruption of their core beliefs.  It become increasingly common for pastors and teachers to compromise the integrity of Christian doctrine through political ambition and personal greed.  Christendom slowly became an unhealthy mix of Christian and pagan traditions.  The Eastern church fell to the Muslims, while the Western church became, by the middle ages, a ruthless political power, exercising its domination over governments and peasants alike, often with utter disregard for the simplicity of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, while the populace became more ignorant of the Scriptures, church leaders grew increasingly fond of Greek philosophy.  Individual curiosity about the world and its workings were suppressed on two fronts: the necessity to subsist, and the fear of transgressing official church dogma.  There was one institution that kept the flame of Scriptural truth from flickering out: the monasteries.

The Medieval Philosophers

In a staunchly Catholic culture, monastic philosophers were understandably products of their time.  In the monasteries the Scriptures were copied with great care.  Some monks had time for scholarly pursuits and were able to learn Greek and Hebrew, and thereby read Biblical manuscripts in the original language.  Irish Christians in particular, after the missionary efforts of Patrick in the 5th century, preserved some of the most important texts from classical literature.  The Emperor Charlemagne, a brilliant military strategist, brought about the most successful of several attempts to revive the glory of Rome.  His series of military victories brought most of the nations of Europe under his control by 800, when he was crowned Emperor with the Pope’s blessing.  More than just a king, Charlemagne instituted policies that unified the warring tribes and brought civilization to a continent long plagued by barbarian raids.  Charlemagne had the foresight to understand that an empire needed a common identity.  As Emperor he issued generous laws that respected basic rights, ruled wisely through effective emissaries, and made Latin the lingua franca throughout this new Holy Roman Empire.  His measures were incalculable in stabilizing and civilizing the West.

One of Charlemagne’s most enduring contributions was his edict of 787 that ordered every cathedral and monastery to open a public school.  These abbey schools, intended for poor and rich alike, elevated literacy throughout the empire.  Charlemagne hired Alcuen of York, a scholar of distinction, to implement his educational reforms.  Borrowing from old Roman institutions, Alcuen established the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) as the core curriculum; later the Quadrivium was added (arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy).  In a society where the Church was supreme, every aspect of life had a spiritual purpose, including learning.  Most scholars and educators throughout the Middle Ages saw no dichotomy between learning and faith.  Learning law, literature, languages, trades and arts were all viewed in the context of spiritual improvement; there was no division between secular and sacred.  Scholars were naturally interested in classical literature, but Christianized it, accepting what they viewed as congruent with Scripture, rejecting what was clearly pagan.  In the three centuries following Charlemagne, a growing populace led to more urbanization, more division of labor, more leisure time and more interest in scholarly pursuits.  By the late 11th century, there was enough stability for more and more educated people to dwell on natural philosophical questions.  Though slow in coming, the school movement gave rise to a unique institution of Christian Latin Europe: the university.

The first universities began as loosely-organized student guilds.  They gradually developed into centers for scholarly learning and self-improvement.  Understandably, the ideas were permeated with Catholic theology and tradition, but to the extent one was learned in the Scriptures, he could revitalize the core Biblical assumptions.  A new impetus appeared when Islamic philosophers re-introduced the teachings of Aristotle to the West in the 12th century.  Early caliphs had embarked on a remarkable translation program in the 8th century, gathering and translating Greek texts into Arabic.  The West had comparatively few texts, primarily Plato’s Timmaeus, and no Aristotle.  Adding to their Greek learning, Islamic scholars such as Avicenna and Averroes demonstrated remarkable skill in mathematics, medicine, chemistry (primarily alchemy) and astronomy (primarily astrology).  Their successes attracted the keen interest of Latin scholars.  As Islamic science began to decline in the 12th century, the Latin West awakened and borrowed heavily from Arabic copies of classical texts, some of it from nearby Moorish Spain.  Another translation movement flourished as Western scholars translated the Arabic documents into Latin and studied them eagerly.

With these new classical texts at hand, Medieval philosophers were forced to confront big questions about the compatibility of Greek and Biblical thought.  Contrary to popular opinion, medieval scholars did not swallow Greek philosophy whole, nor was there a consensus view about the relationship of classical learning to Christian theology.  Although Greek and Arabic ideas were unquestionably influential in Christian Europe, the universities had developed a disputative style of pedagogy that demanded critical analysis of all propositions.  Many valued Aristotle or Plato or Ptolemy for the elegance of their systems but brought these systems under the scrutiny of their Catholic doctrines.  Additionally, there was a wide spectrum of opinion about the validity of knowledge from pagan sources.  As we shall see, some medieval Catholic scholars, and especially later Protestant thinkers, led the skeptical disputation about Aristotle that contributed to the rise of empiricism – the understanding of the natural world through observation and experiment.  Their motivation was not only negative (reaction to Aristotle), however, but positive: the belief that nature was the creation of a transcendent, good, wise, rational God.

Hugh of St. Victor     c. 1096 - 1141.

Our millennium of creation scientists begins with a teacher named Hugh, from the abbey school of St. Victor outside Paris.  He gained notoriety for barring flower arranging in the monastery, rebuking it as a waste of time for those devoted to higher contemplations.  It was this incident that gave us the phrase, “Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.”  (Not really, but a little pause for levity before 1000 years of science doesn’t hurt.)  Actually, he probably appreciated flowers as an illustration of the wisdom of the Creator.

Hugh of St. Victor illustrates that medieval Europe should not be labeled with that disparaging anachronism, “the Dark Ages.”  A remarkably clear thinker and learned man, he had no time for superstition and magic, but instead advocated knowledge and investigation of the natural world.  He had remarkable scientific insight for someone living six centuries before the rise of modern science, and he built his philosophy squarely on the foundation of the Bible, especially Genesis.

Reaching back a thousand years, we are not looking for a fully fleshed out scientific philosophy, but for distinctive beliefs that would eventually set it in motion.  Important among these are the doctrine of God, the philosophy of nature, and the role of man.  Scientists today avoid thoughts of God, yet depend on the theology and philosophy of the early natural philosophers who changed the way people view God, the world, and man: instead of capricious acts of warring gods, intelligent design by a wise Creator; instead of magic, law; instead of superstition, creative investigation by minds made in the image of God.  Scholastic philosophers of the middle ages had many faults and were wrong about many things, but they laid foundations that could hold up a skyscraper of science.  As we shall see, modern science today is an atheistic facade on a theistic superstructure.  Not only the foundation but much of the interior that holds up the structure was built largely by creationists, and they were building on the Word of God.

If you have read the Introduction, you know we intend to present real historical characters with wrinkles and all.  Including someone in this hall of fame does not imply advocating everything the person believed and taught.  Hugh was clearly medieval in a time flooded with false notions about Scripture and nature.  He was undoubtedly influenced by classical texts available to him.  Of all civilizations to this time, the Arabs and Greeks had come closest to a true scientific understanding of the world.  Europe owed much to their contributions.  But in both civilizations, science never became self sustaining, and eventually faded.  Meanwhile, the Catholic church had corrupted Biblical views of God, man, and the world.  The pursuit of knowledge as encouraged in the Proverbs of Solomon had been replaced by mindless obedience, asceticism and reliance on authority.  The influx of Greek manuscripts (especially Aristotle) via the Arabs, and their advances in mathematics and medicine, seemed to be a wake up call to medieval scholars.  Aristotle’s system, though cogent and comprehensive, was a mix of good logic and nonsense.  His man-centered views were often contrary to the Bible.  European Christian philosophers needed to re-evaluate their core beliefs, and some looked deeper into the Bible for answers.  While impressed with Aristotle’s system, had they embraced it uncritically, it would have proved a dead end – and it nearly was, taking centuries to dethrone Aristotle as the default expert on everything.  Those who knew the Bible, and trusted its authority, were the ones who saved science from this fate*.  Hugh of St. Victor exemplified these who built natural philosophy on the Scriptures.  In time, this view would provide a more fertile soil for science than classical philosophy..

Dan Graves in Scientists of Faith says, “His assumption was simple: because the Bible is God’s reliable word, Christians need not fear scientific inquiry.  All truth, when fully understood, will support all other truth.  But to make sense of the world’s obscurities, we must start from that which is plain” (Graves, p. 18, emphasis added).  “All nature expresses God,” Hugh said, and “Nature is a book written by the hand of God.”  Such statements would be common later, but they reveal a profound difference in world view from the animist or pantheist: nature is a thing, an object other than God.  As a material system made by a transcendent Creator, it can and should be studied as a means to gain wisdom.  They also reveal a profound difference from the Greeks and Arabs whose theologies diminished the role of God as Lawgiver and sustainer of the world.  Greek gods were as mischievous as humans; why trust them?  The Allah of the Muslims was sovereign to the point of capriciousness; his actions were unpredictable.  Arabs had their Koran, but this collection of rambling, unclassified oracles of dubious origin (written down long after Mohammed had died), rarely intersected with verifiable natural phenomena or historical events.  The Koran and the Bible are poles apart.  The Bible was written by 40 authors over many centuries, and contains thousands of names of people and places and events that can be cross-checked against other sources.  Only in the Bible is there the balance of law and grace, the consistent standard of righteousness, the appeal to think and reason, the frequent exaltation of creation as the work of an omniscient God, and the consistent linear timeline from creation to consummation.  No other sacred book in the world compares with it.  This was the rock on which Hugh of St. Victor and his successors started building their science.  It worked.  The storms came, and the winds blew, but the structure stands.  It is not the structure alone, but the rock-solid foundation, that keeps it upright.

Born in what is now Germany, Hugh was one of the masters of the abbey of St. Victor near Paris for many years.  His writings were widespread throughout Europe.  In theology, he was Augustinian; some historians classify him as Platonist in philosophy, living at the time right before Aristotle’s works were reintroduced to the West.  But labels do not tell all.  Though undoubtedly familiar with Plato (the Timmaeus was the only Platonic work available at the time), Hugh was also an original and critical thinker, as were many medieval scholars.  He believed in interpreting the Scriptures literally: not slavishly, but wherever the context permitted it.  “Biblical literalism” is often a term of derision today, the assumed antithesis of scientific thinking, but Hugh’s hermeneutic (method of interpreting Scripture) was actually a stimulus for science.  Dan Graves explains his reasoning:

In order to fully understand its literal meaning, one must study the sciences that shed light on such things.  Whether one wishes to reconstruct the design of Noah’s ark, date Easter, calculate chronologies, or understand Biblical weights and measures, sciences are needed.  Curiosity then is a natural expression of reason, revealing the image of God that the Creator breathed into humanity at its creation.

Investigating the natural world and making discoveries, therefore, are to be thought of as worthy – even essential – ambitions.  Hugh also saw work and technology as virtuous, based on Paul’s admonitions (e.g., Ephesians 4:28), contrary to Greek scholars who considered manual labor beneath their dignity.  He himself worked with mirrors, geometry, and classification of the sciences.  One of his best-known works is the Didascalicon or teacher’s manual.  It discusses what is to be taught, and why.  In this “remarkably comprehensive early encyclopedia” (according to Encyclopedia Britannica), Hugh acknowledged Greek science but saw the Bible as superior.  He specifically denounced the logical errors of Epicurus and other classical philosophers who relied on reason alone.  Instead, Hugh advocated mathematics for logical validity and precision.

Hugh of St. Victor held to a literal six-day interpretation of the Creation account in Genesis and viewed it as an archetype of the divine wisdom to which man can aspire.  Jerome Taylor explains that Hugh specifically contradicted some of his contemporaries (like William of Conches) who tried to compromise Genesis with Greek philosophy, feeling that “the ancients were but laborers upon an inferior truth, while to Christians, to the sons of Life, was reserved the consummation of truth.”  Instead of allegorizing Genesis like others, Hugh insisted that “the chaos [of Gen. 1:2] literally existed and that its ordering in an equally literal six-day period is a mystery, a ‘sacrament,’ through which the Creator determined to teach the rational creature that it must rise from the disorder of its initial and untaught existence to an intellectual and moral beauty of form conferred by the divine Wisdom.”  This allegorical meaning extends from, but does not replace, the literal meaning and historical actuality of the Creation account.

Another original contribution by Hugh of St. Victor that fostered the development of science was the idea that learning has redemptive value.  In the Didascalicon, he listed three consequences of the Fall: it damaged man’s relationship to God, his understanding of the world, and his body.  Hugh taught that learning could ameliorate some of the consequences of the Fall in each of these areas.  For the relationship to God, after one is redeemed through the sacrificial atonement of Christ, a person can grow closer to God through the study of theology.  For the loss of natural knowledge that Adam had enjoyed, fallen man could regain some of it through the study of nature and the liberal arts.  For redeeming the body, one could regain some control through the “mechanical arts” such as medicine.  Here, Hugh originated a list of mechanical arts to complement the seven liberal arts.  Each of these Hugh derived directly from the Genesis accounts of Creation and the Fall.  (1) Fabric-making is needed because man is naked and not endowed with fur like other animals.  (2) Armaments are necessary because man does not have the large teeth or claws of animals.  (3) Commerce helps reconcile nations who have become alienated through selfish ambitions; it calms wars, strengthens peace, and turns the private good of the individual into the benefit of the many.  (4) Agriculture helps compensate for the “sweat of the brow” that Adam had to endure after the expulsion from Eden.  (5) Hunting formalizes the skills needed to obtain food.  (6) Medicine overcomes the loss of original perfection of the body.  And lastly, (7) Theatrics, if virtuous, can provide relaxation and refreshment to the mind.  Notice that Hugh’s method strove to build a system of inquiry directly on Scripture, specifically Genesis.  Whether his list was complete or useful to modern teachers is not the point; Hugh fostered the systematic pursuit of useful knowledge from the study of nature.  Most important, he taught that the pursuit of natural knowledge was a priority for the Christian.  It was a way for human beings to partially recover from the effects of the Fall.  Once redeemed by grace through faith in Christ, the man of God can embark on a path leading back to the wisdom of God.**

In these concepts, we see the liberating of the Christian life from asceticism and authoritarianism – two corruptions of New Testament teaching that plagued the church after Constantine.  Hugh of St. Victor encouraged his students to search for truth about the world.  He said, “the intention of all human actions is resolved in a common objective: either to restore in us the likeness of the divine image or to take thought for the necessity of this life, which, the more easily it can suffer harm from those things which work to its disadvantage, the more does it require to be cherished and conserved” (p. 54).  He went on to explain how science breeds both understanding and remedy for harms, that these are wise and just, and thereby noble outworkings of the divine image.  Hugh commended logic and disciplined thinking.  He repudiated magic (including fortunetelling, divination and astrology) as “the mistress of every form of iniquity and malice, lying about the truth...”  This does not sound like the Dark Ages, does it?  The Didascalicon is obsessed with classifying things and pursuing knowledge, wisdom and virtue.  Though antiquated in many respects, it contains core concepts that are like fertilizer and rain for deserts of authority and superstition.  It helped cultivate a soil in which the fruitful vine of science could grow.

One of his best-known quotations is: “Learn everything; you will see afterwards that nothing is superfluous.  A skimpy knowledge is not a pleasing thing” (p. 137).  It must be recognized that he was speaking here of Bible study; he was arguing that one should not skip over the historical narratives: “Some things are to be known for their own sakes,” he explained, like the ethical principles of the New Testament, but other passages, like the detailed genealogies of I Chronicles, “although for their own sakes they do not seem worthy of our labor, nevertheless, because without them the former class of things cannot be known with complete clarity, must by no means be carelessly skipped.”  Then he stated the “Learn everything” line.  While it would be invalid to lift his proverb out of context, we do see Hugh’s passion for knowledge and clarity of thinking, a passion that extended to all scholarly endeavor.  What a contrast to the surrounding civilizations!

Where does Hugh of St. Victor stand in the headwaters of scientific thought?  Encyclopedia Britannica states, “Hugh’s somewhat innovative style of exegesis [including literal interpretation of Genesis] made an important contribution to the development of natural theology: he based his arguments for God’s existence on external and internal experience and added a teleological proof originating from the facts of experience. ... Unlike some of his contemporaries, Hugh upheld secular learning by promoting knowledge as an introduction to contemplative life.”

In closing, let Hugh of St. Victor speak for himself from ten centuries ago:

Now there are two things which restore the divine likeness in man, namely the contemplation of truth and the practice of virtue.  For man resembles God in being wise and just — though, to be sure, man is but changeably so while God stands changelessly both wise and just.  Of those actions which minister to the necessity of this life, there are three types: first, those which take care of the feeding of nature; second, those which fortify against harms which might possibly come from without; and third, those which provide remedy for harms already besieging us.  When, moreover, we strive after the restoration of our nature, we perform a divine action, but when we provide the necessaries required by our infirm part, a human action.  The former type, since it derives from above, we may not unfittingly call “understanding” (intelligentia); the latter, since it derives from below and requires, as it were, a certain practical counsel, “knowledge” (scientia).

*Dan Graves looks even earlier.  He describes John Philoponus, an Alexandrian Christian scholar (late sixth century), an early critic of Aristotle, as exemplifying these same principles of Christian natural philosophy.  It is unlikely he was alone in his views.  And according to Graves (Scientists of Faith, pp. 15-17), Philoponus knew prominent early Muslims in Alexandria, and may have influenced their science with his insistence on the transcendence of God (as opposed to pantheism) and natural law (as opposed to constant intervention by God). Perhaps the Islamic scientists were indebted to Christian thought more than is commonly assumed.

**Jerome Taylor, in his introduction to the Didascalicon, claims that Hugh believed in “the spiritual perfectibility of man—a concern which dominates the whole of his theology” (p. 13), but this appears to be a distortion.  In Book Six, Hugh clearly expressed the need for repentance and grace (p. 139).  The pursuit of wisdom, knowledge and virtue is wholly in accord with New Testament teaching for the redeemed.  The apostle Paul pressed toward the mark for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).  Perfection may be unattainable, but that does not devalue the pursuit of it.  In the words of a locker room poster, “Reach for the stars.  If you don’t make it, you’ll land pretty high anyway.”

Learn More About
Hugh of St. Victor
Robert Grosseteste     c. 1168 - 1253.

The next entrant is extremely important to the development of modern science, yet sure to be almost unknown to most readers.  This medieval pastor, however, exemplifies the theme of our series, that it was Christian beliefs that motivated science, and it was great Christians who started the scientific revolution.

When studying any historical biography, we have to understand the tenor of the times.  The conditions in medieval Europe, totally dominated by the Catholic church, often corrupted by its own power, were often far from Christlike.  We would hasten to distance ourselves from the abuses that were all too pervasive: bloody Crusades, immoral popes, dogma and human tradition exalted above Scripture.  As mentioned in the Introduction, however, many of the abuses were done by the rulers, not the monks, pastors, and common people, except to the extent they believed and obeyed false doctrines.  Those nearest to the teachings of Jesus were the monks and pastors who knew the ancient languages, copied the Scriptures and had dedicated their lives to the gospel as they understood it (this can be illustrated by the fact that Jon Hus, Martin Luther and other later reformers often came from the ranks of monks).  Corrupted as church doctrine had become with works and extra-biblical traditions, there still remained a Christian outlook on the world of nature, though compromised at times by Greek philosophy (particularly of Aristotle).  It was the Christian worldview, in contrast to the mythologies of pagan empires, that was to be the seedbed of the scientific revolution.  (See our section on worldviews in the Introduction).

Robert Grosseteste was a seminal figure in the history of science; some have even characterized him as an early practitioner of the scientific method.  Although a theologian and bishop by profession, he took great interest in the natural world.  What drove this interest?  That is the question we want to explore.  Certainly most of his attention was devoted to the pastorate and the training of pastors, of which the Grosseteste website says, “During his eighteen years as a bishop, Grosseteste became known as a brilliant, but highly demanding, church leader.  He insisted that all his clergy be literate and receive some training in theology.” His insistence on high moral and intellectual standards even led him, on several occasions, to rebuke the church leadership.  He did not hesitate to lecture the pope on practices he felt were intolerable and unscriptural, such as corruption and political favoritism.  The InfoPlease online encyclopedia says, “Some historians see in Grosseteste’s protests against Rome an influence upon Wyclif and a foreshadowing of the Reformation.”  In particular, out of outrage for the corruption with which papal appointees were collecting church revenues, he resisted Pope Innocent IV to his face.  The portrayal of Grosseteste as a proto-Protestant is probably a beyond what history warrants, but even the Catholic Encyclopedia, which argues he never doubted the authority of the pope, admits:

What he did maintain was that the power of the Holy See was “for edification and not for destruction”, that the commands of the pope could never transgress the limits laid down by the law of God, and that it was his duty, as bishop, to resist an order that was “for manifest destruction”.  In such a case “out of filial reverence and obedience I disobey, resist, and rebel.” [a quote from a letter to the pope’s secretary.]

This admission is telling.  Papist or not, it shows that Robert Grosseteste had a high regard for Scripture and was a man of integrity and moral courage.  In fact, he strongly and sternly argued into his old age about the abuses of the Curia which amounted to extortion and political favoritism.  Such righteous indignation was dangerous in those days, but Grosseteste was held in such high regard, even the Pope respected his reproofs: in his mid-seventies, Grosseteste “read out in the presence of the pope an impressive recital of the evils of the time and a protest against the abuses of the Curia, ‘the cause and origin of all this.’ ; Innocent listened without interruption....” (Catholic Encyclopedia). He even resisted a nepotistic appointment by the pope under threat of excommunication, but was later vindicated.

In addition, Grosseteste steadfastly fought political corruption in his diocese and attempts to weaken the mandates of the Magna Carta.  It is easy to see in Robert Grosseteste an example of courage and integrity that set an example for later reformers who, either within or eventually outside the church, could not bear to see the purity of Scriptural teaching corrupted by personal greed.  With this background of his virtuous character, let us now turn to the subject of what made him a pivotal individual in the history of science.

Grosseteste’s love of learning was the equal of his intolerance for evil.  Though born in a poor family, he became one of the most learned men of the Middle Ages, mastering Greek and Hebrew.  He contributed influential translations of the writings of church fathers and Greek philosophers to the corpus of medieval literature.  He became Bishop of Lincoln, which included Oxford, of which he was head for a time.  He was closely associated with the young university, from which he may have graduated as a youth.  A lifelong lover of knowledge, Grosseteste both absorbed and influenced the best scholarship of the early 13th century.  The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

It is not easy to define exactly Grosseteste’s position in the history of thirteenth century thought.  Though he was from many points of view a schoolman [i.e., scholastic philosopher], his interests lay rather in moral questions than in logical or metaphysical.  In his lectures he laid more stress on the study of the Scripture than on intellectual speculation.  His real originality lay in his effort to get at the original authorities, and in his insistence on experiment in science.  It was this which drew from Roger Bacon [one of his students] the many expressions of enthusiastic admiration which are to be found in his [Bacon’s] works.  In the “Opus Tertium” he says: “No one really knew the sciences, except the Lord Robert, Bishop of Lincoln, by reason of his length of life and experience, as well as of his studiousness and zeal.  He knew mathematics and perspective, and there was nothing which he was unable to know, and at the same time he was sufficiently acquainted with languages to be able to understand the saints and the philosophers and the wise men of antiquity.”
This brings us to the scientific side of this amazing individual.  The encyclopedia goes on to describe the tremendous breadth of his knowledge and interest, from liberal arts to music to husbandry to finance to classical literature: “Besides being learned in the liberal arts, Grosseteste had an unusual interest in mathematical and scientific questions.  He wrote a commentary on the ‘Physics’ of Aristotle; and his own scientific works included studies in meteorology, light, colour and optics.  Amongst his mathematical works was a criticism of the Julian calendar, in which he pointed out the necessity for the changes introduced in the Gregorian.  He attempted a classification of the various forms of knowledge; and few indeed, among his contemporaries, can have had a more encyclopedic range.”  Why would a bishop be interested in science?  The Grosseteste website explains,
During his lifetime, Grosseteste was an avid participant in European intellectual life.  His early education had given him a taste for natural philosophy.  He began producing texts on the liberal arts, and mainly on astronomy and cosmology.  His most famous scientific text, De luce (Concerning Light), argued that light was the basis of all matter, and his account of creation devotes a great deal of space to the biblical text of God’s command, ‘Let there be light.’  Light also played a significant role his [sic] epistemology, as he followed the teachings of St. Augustine that the human intellect comes to know truth through illumination by divine light.  Grosseteste’s interest in the natural world was further developed by his study of geometry, and he is one of the first western thinkers to argue that natural phenomenon [sic] can be described mathematically.
Notice how Genesis gave him the inspiration to pursue a mathematical analysis of light.  Robert Grosseteste is a prime example of how a Biblical worldview stimulated science.  In more than one case, an actual Bible verse was the stimulus.  This counters the criticism of naturalistic scientists that presume scientific research comes to a halt when the answer is “God did it.”  On the contrary, the question How did God do it? often spurred great thinkers to uncover the laws that they believed the great Lawgiver had designed.

Grosseteste is memorable not only for his own scientific pursuits, but also for the fact that he was mentor to Roger Bacon, who caught the spark and envisioned even greater possibilities for the experimental method.  Be sure to continue our study on the life of Roger Bacon.

While in hindsight we might not endorse everything Robert Grosseteste believed and taught (such as papal supremacy and other extra-biblical doctrines), he exemplified a Christian attitude toward the natural world that almost ignited a scientific revolution hundreds of years before Galileo and Newton.  On top of that, he had a tremendous love of the truth, high standards of integrity, an exceptional inquisitiveness into nature, and a huge measure of godliness and compassion that alone would make his life worth noting.  Dan Graves says of him, “Devoted pastor, dedicated church reformer, groundbreaking scientist, renowned educator, careful historian, and meticulous translator–in each field, Robert Grosseteste raised the standard for God-fearing academics to follow for generations” (Scientists of Faith, p. 23).

Learn More About
Robert Grosseteste
Visit The Electronic Grosseteste, a website devoted to the man and his works.

Dr. Michael Bumbulis explains the importance of Christian thought to the development of science, and tells a little about Grosseteste and his influence.

Dan Graves in Scientists of Faith has a whole chapter on Robert Grosseteste.

The Medieval Sourcebook has original documents and research papers about medieval times in which Grosseteste lived.

Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Grosseteste, referred to in the biography.

Chapter 15 of this online History of the Christian Church has an extensive section on Grosseteste.  Though not mentioning his scientific work, his zeal for righteousness in the face of church corruption is compared to Elijah and John the Baptist.

Roger Bacon     1214 - 1294

Roger Bacon was a man ahead of his time.  In the so-called “Dark Ages,” he foresaw a world of flying machines, powered ships, telescopes and other inventions that would result from experimental science.  His faith in science was born out of his faith in God. 

Bacon studied at Oxford under the eminent Bishop of Lyons, Robert Grosseteste, who advocated the study of nature as evidence of the Creator.  Bacon performed systematic experiments on lenses and mirrors.  When he caught the excitement of what experimental science could do, he became an ardent promoter of the experimental method as a way to understand the world, improve the human condition, and avoid the errors of superstition and magic.  To Bacon, experimental science was superior to deduction from authority, having better accord with experience.  Bacon also saw the value of science as an apologetic, to draw people to faith in Christ.

On this theme, Roger Bacon wrote to Pope Clement IV in 1266, suggesting it would be good for the church to gather the work of scholars into a great encyclopedia of the sciences.  The pope misunderstood his request and asked to see this encyclopedia, believing it already existed.  Fearing to disobey the pope, Bacon hurriedly performed a monumental achievement - writing a three-volume encyclopedia of the known science of his day (which even included a description of how to make a telescope).  He worked feverishly on this project in secret, since his superiors at the monastery did not approve of it.  Bacon wanted to demonstrate to the Pope that science was the friend of faith and should be a worthy part of the University curriculum. 

After the pope died, hope for Bacon’s plans diminished, but not Bacon’s enthusiasm for science.  He continued to write on the value of experiment, and made remarkable predictions of what science could accomplish: powered ships and vehicles, eyeglasses and other inventions.  He wrote that the earth was a sphere and that it would be possible to sail around it.  He estimated the distances to stars, and encouraged mathematical rigor for good scientific work.  At age 64, his fellow Franciscan friars imprisoned him for “suspected novelties” in his teaching, but Bacon continued to write impassioned essays for his last 15 years.

Roger Bacon is rightly honored as being one of the fathers of the scientific method, fully 300 years before it became popular (largely through the philosophical writings of another but unrelated Bacon, Sir Francis, also a Bible believer).  While others in the thirteenth century were content with superstition, habit and acceptance of authority, Bacon saw the value of glorifying God through study of the world.  He believed science would draw people to faith in God.  It is interesting to note that it was the Christian thinkers in the Universities and in the monasteries who connected the dots between the Bible and science.  Bacon made errors, and had some superstitions of his own about alchemy and astrology (as did most people in his day), but he saw how experimental science could lead people away from the errors of superstition and magic by demonstrating how the world really works.

In order to think along these lines, clearly Roger Bacon had to have a Christian world view that nature was rational and obeyed natural laws.  While other cultures achieved successes in engineering or medicine through pragmatism, luck or necessity, Bacon’s point was philosophical (philo=love, soph=wisdom); he valued knowledge not just for its practical benefits, but for its own intrinsic value both as a means of avoiding error and for understanding the mind of God.  This was the foundation that led to a sustainable scientific enterprise.  His prophecies were to be vindicated hundreds of years later as experimental science was taken up vigorously by more great Christians - Kepler, Boyle, Newton and others - and the world would never be the same.

A crater on the moon is named in Roger Bacon’s honor.

Learn More About
Roger Bacon
Here is a secular biography of Roger Bacon, with some pictures and quotations.

Want to read some Bacon?  Here is a section from his Opus Majus on the value of experimental science, posted on the Internet History of Science Sourcebook.

In another essay, Roger Bacon laments the deplorable state of 13th Century Learning.

William of Ockham: coming soon.

Nicholas of Oresme     1320 - 1382   Nicholas of Oresme is a little-appreciated precursor of the scientific revolution.  A medieval scholar at the University of Paris, he strongly opposed astrology and superstition, took issue with Aristotle on key points, and argued for mathematical and observational proof.  Called one of the most original thinkers of the middle ages, he developed methods later borrowed and developed by Descartes, Galileo and others.

Dan Graves said, “Modern science did not spring full blown from the minds of Zeuslike creators; it was God-fearing scientists, such as Oresme who set the table for them.”  The Nicole Oresme website states that “In medieval thought, everything was anticipated,” then lists numerous “modern” ideas, from information theory to music to psychology, that have roots in medieval scholarship.  The site also calls Oresme the “Einstein of the 14th century” and describes his findings as “spectacular” that would appear “incredible” to the layman – presumably those laymen envisioning medieval scholars debating the number of angels that could stand on the head of a pin or how far one would have to travel to fall of the edge of the flat earth.

In his excellent article on Oresme (to which we direct the reader for further information), Dan Graves lists some of the original ideas that were to bear fruit in the scientific revolution:
• The universe resembles a clock wound up by God.
• All matter, even from other planets, is similar.
• An object falling inside the earth would oscillate around the center.
• The speed of a falling body is proportional to time, not to distance.
• Astrology is scientifically flawed.
• A sun-centered system would be simpler than an earth-centered one.
• Algebraic and geometric ideas can be graphed.

Oresme held to some ideas now considered absurd by today’s standards, but for someone in the 14th century, these ideas are remarkable.  Graves says that Galileo borrowed Oresme without attribution, and that Descartes may have gotten some of his ideas for analytic geometry from Oresme.

Could such original, practical, scientific, knowledge-based thinking spring from the mind of a creationist?  Oresme did not question the truth of the Scriptures.  He had more of a humility and distrust of human knowledge more than many secular scientists today.  Dan Graves ends by saying, except for the knowledge of faith, Oresme said, “I indeed know nothing except that I know nothing.”

Learn More About
Nicholas of Oresme
Basic information on Nicholas and links to more resources can be found at the History of Mathematics website of the University of St. Andrews.

More information is at the Nicole Oresme website, including a timeline of his life and selections from the book, Nicole Oresme and the Spring of of Modern Age by Ulrich Taschow.

Leonardo da Vinci     1452 - 1519  

Our next character has gotten some undeserved notoriety, with the May 2006 movie based on Dan Brown’s egregious fictional novel The Da Vinci Code.  Was Leonardo a member of a secret society that tried to protect an alternative view of Jesus?  Was he a gnostic and feminist?  Did he paint Mary Magdalene instead of John in The Last Supper?  Leonardo da Vinci himself would most likely have been appalled at these suggestions.

It’s sad to have to open a biography of a great man by defending him against character assassination.  Fortunately, a cottage industry has sprung up to debunk the foolish ideas and historical blunders in The Da Vinci Code.  Links to some of these are included in the right sidebar, but consider one blunder Brown makes that undercuts his whole story: the identity of the so-called Priory of Sion.  Brown claims it is a “fact” that this organization existed in the 11th century; in actual fact, it was a hoax concocted by Pierre Plantard and Andre Bonhomme in 1956.  In no way, therefore, could Leonardo da Vinci or Isaac Newton or any of the other famous personages could have been involved with it or its supposed secrets about Jesus.

Brown may have written a clever work of fiction, and the movie may shine like a shooting star briefly, but with the wealth of scholarly, critical responses out there, no one has any excuse to believe its phony history.
    Before getting more into the life of Leonardo, two specific slanders about him from the book should be dispensed with.  One was that he painted Mary Magdalene into The Last Supper, because the person supposed to be John looks effeminate or androgynous.  This page on compares the work with other art of the Renaissance, showing it was common practice to depict John as beardless, young and gentle (but certainly a man, not Mary).  There is no basis for the claim Leonardo painted a secret message in the piece.  Brown’s claim amounts to a slander of one of the world’s greatest artworks, and takes attention away from its powerful depiction of the Savior, whom Leonardo regarded with the highest reverence.

Another slander is that Leonardo was a “flamboyant homosexual.”  Again, this has no basis in history.  It is libelous to consider a man homosexual based on marital status; would all bachelors allow such an implication?  Leonardo was an artist of the first order.  He painted all kinds of characters in various situations in Renaissance styles.  He was also a scientist and keen observer of nature; that is why he studied anatomy so as to present his characters as realistically as possible.  He did not get along with his contemporary Michelangelo, the more likely homosexual.  There is evidence that this myth about Leonardo’s sexuality was promulgated by Sigmund Freud.  Here is what Jack Meadows says in The Great Scientists:

....both Morelli and Freud took up seemingly marginal clues from which they could construct a plausible case... Earlier, in 1910, from a single sentence in the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, he [Freud] had suggested that the artist had been over-mothered in childhood and turned into a homosexual.  Unfortunately, in 1923 it was shown that Freud’s analysis turned on a German translator’s false rendering of the Italian word for a child’s kite as a vulture.  Nor were art historians convinced by Freud’s analysis on Michelangelo.
Meadows continues by saying that these studies were “very influential” even when based on a mistranslation.    It’s easy but unfair to use innuendo against historical heroes who are no longer present to defend themselves.  Let’s give Leonardo the benefit of the doubt.  His work should speak for itself.

So who was Leonardo da Vinci?  Without dispute, he was one of the greatest stars of early science, the consummate Renaissance Man, at once a painter and sculptor par excellence, and also a keen observer, inventor and innovator.  He has been called a man ahead of his time.  He produced drawings for flying machines, parachutes, giant crossbows, battle tanks and other devices, indicating his forward-looking mind and faith in the power of man to harness the forces of nature.  He produced detailed sketches of internal anatomy based on his own dissections when those about him trusted the work of Galen.  He studied the proportions of the human body, and gave us enduring art treasures like the Mona Lisa (not, as Brown claims, an androgynous figure, but a painting of a real woman, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo), the Virgin of the Rocks, The Annunciation, St. John the Baptist, and The Last Supper.  Many of his works have Biblical themes.

The depth and genuineness of his Christian faith is less easy to ascertain.  He was Catholic in a Catholic stronghold.  How much was his artwork a matter of satisfying patrons, or a matter of the soul?  How much did his motivation stem from Christian foundations, compared to the renewal of Classical ideals characteristic of the Renaissance?  It’s hard to say, but one clue from biographer Giorgio Vasari describing his work on The Last Supper is instructive:

He also painted in Milan for the friars of S. Domenic, at S. Maria delle Grazie, a Last Supper, a thing most beautiful and marvelous.  He gave to the heads of the apostles great majesty and beauty, but left that of Christ imperfect, not thinking it possible to give that celestial divinity which is required for the representation of Christ.  The work, finished after this sort, has always been held by the Milanese in the greatest veneration, and by strangers also, because Leonardo imagined, and has succeeded in expressing, the desire that has entered the minds of the apostles to know who is betraying their Master.  So in the face of each one may be seen love, fear, indignation, or grief at not being able to understand the meaning of Christ; and this excites no less astonishment than the obstinate hatred and treachery to be seen in Judas....
Continuing, Vasari has Leonardo explaining his thoughts to the prior of the church:
He added that he still had two heads to do; that of Christ, which he would not seek for in the world, and which he could not hope that his imagination would be able to conceive of such beauty and celestial grace as was fit for the incarnate divinity.  Besides this, that of Judas was wanting, which he was considering, not thinking himself capable of imagining a form to express the face of him who after receiving so many benefits had a soul so evil that he was resolved to betray his Lord and the creator of the world.
This hint shows that Leonardo believed in creation as taught in the Scriptures.  Whether Leonardo was a devout student of theology during his life may be unclear, but Vasari claims it became more important to him later in life:
At last, having become old, he lay ill for many months, and seeing himself near death, he set himself to study the holy Christian religion, and though he could not stand, desired to leave his bed with the help of his friends and servants to receive the Holy Sacrament.  Then the king, who used often and lovingly to visit him, came in, and he, raising himself respectfully to sit up in bed, spoke of his sickness, and how he had offended God and man by not working at his art as he ought.  Then there came a paroxysm, a forerunner of death, and the king raised him and lifted his head to help him and lessen the pain, whereupon his spirit, knowing it could have no greater honor, passed away in the king’s arms in the seventy-fifth year of his age.
Since we have not the firm evidence to indicate Leonardo da Vinci was a Biblical Christian, and the Christian motivation for his achievements is ambiguous, we will not press the point.  It is clear, however, that a Christian world view was no impediment to the work of this inventive genius, and that he did express clear indications of reverence for Jesus Christ, considering him to be no less than the Creator of the world.
Learn More About
Leonardo da Vinci
Answers in Genesis has a short article on Leonardo.

Read the Notebooks of Leonardo.

Browse the Gallery of Leonardo da Vinci artworks and drawings.

Sources debunking the book and movie The Da Vinci Code:

Sir Francis Bacon     1561 - 1626  

Is Christian philosophy good for science?  In this series we showcase many examples, but the case could hardly be made stronger than to point to Mr. Scientific Method himself, Sir Francis Bacon.

Although not a practicing scientist, Bacon is considered by many historians to be the “founder of modern science.”  His philosophy and writings were largely responsible for igniting the scientific revolution in the 17th century.  Numerous intellectuals like Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton seized on the “new philosophy” of Bacon that emphasized empiricism and induction.  Casting aside dependence on authorities like Aristotle, the new science exploded on the scene, yielding a wealth of discoveries and inventions that has continued unabated to this day.  But this “new philosophy” was really nothing new; it was a return to the principles of the Bible.  The “founder of modern science” was a Bible-believing Christian, and Christian doctrine was the foundation of his thinking.

A recent book makes the connection between Bacon and the Bible clear.  John Henry, a science history professor at Edinburgh University, has just written (2002) a biography of Bacon called Knowledge is Power: How Magic, the Government and an Apocalyptic Vision Inspired Francis Bacon to Create Modern Science.  Henry claims that Sir Francis Bacon, who according to traditional wisdom “invented modern science,” was motivated by “magic” (read: Christian faith), government (read: knowledge for practical good of mankind) and “apocalyptic vision” (meaning, a literal belief in the prophecy of Daniel 12:4, “Many will go to and fro, and knowledge will be increased”).  In a review of the book in the August 22, 2002 issue of Nature, Alan Stewart states:

Bacon firmly believed that he was living in the era in which the scriptures predicted that knowledge would increase beyond all recognition.  Had not the past decades seen crucial advances in learning, warfare and navigation, in the form (respectively) of the printing press, gunpowder and the magnetic compass, he asked?  Part of his Instauratio Magna was entitled Parasceve, the Greek word for preparation, but particularly the day of preparation for the Sabbath, the ultimate Sabbath of the Day of Judgement.  “What else can the prophet mean... in speaking about the last times?” Bacon asked rhetorically in his Refutation of Philosophies in 1608.  “Does he not imply that the passing to and fro or perambulation of the round earth and the increase or multiplication of science were destined to the same age and century?”
Stewart continues, “Perhaps the most compelling section of the book deals with Bacon's ‘magic’, by which Henry means religion.  Here he makes a more convincing case than many for the profoundly religious underpinning of Bacon’s philosophical project.”  Notice that neither Stewart nor Henry are Christian apologists, but both here recognize that the Bible had a direct impact on the scientific revolution.  Like a spark to a fuse, the Bible ignited in Bacon’s mind a dream of a new instrument, a Novum Organum, that could lead to an increase of knowledge, just as the Bible predicted for the last days.

The essence of Baconian philosophy is induction: instead of deducing the nature of Nature from authorities like Aristotle and Galen, scientists should build from the ground up.  Gather facts.  Measure things.  Collect and organize observational evidence, then build a hypothesis to explain them.  Test all hypotheses against the facts.  Bacon was convinced this method would provide a more certain path to truth than trust in fallible human reason, and would issue in a golden age of discovery.  The scientific method we learn in school is largely Baconian: gather observations, make a hypothesis to explain them, test the hypothesis, and reject all causes inconsistent with the observations.  Hypotheses that pass empirical tests can advance to theories and laws.

Philosophy of science has changed and matured quite a bit since Bacon, and philosophers continue to debate what constitutes science vs pseudoscience.  The Baconian ideal seems a little simplistic and impractical; we now recognize the need for scientific theories to make predictions, and the requirement for falsifiability in hypotheses.  No matter; the value of Bacon’s method was seen in its fruits: major new discoveries in chemistry, physics, biology and astronomy; the founding of new branches of science; the overturning of long-held false beliefs, and new institutions like the Royal Society.  One of the ironies of history was that the other Bacon in our series (Roger Bacon), had promoted the same value of experimental science three and a half centuries earlier.  It would make a good research project to look for any connections or influences of Roger on Sir Francis, other than that they were both Englishmen.

But doesn’t the rejection of authority shoot down Bacon’s own belief in the authority of the Bible?  Skeptics sometimes portray early Christian founders of science as closet doubters who made a show of Christian piety to keep out of trouble.  According to this view, Bacon sugar-coated his scientific philosophy with Biblical words to make it more palatable to the religious authorities.  If that were so, Bacon would not have written elegant poetry, apparently from the depths of his soul, praising God and the Bible.  John Henry makes no such intimation that Bacon was a hypocrite.  From his research, the Biblical world view was the foundation of Bacon’s scientific philosophy, not its pretext.  Interestingly, continental scholars like Descartes and some more skeptical of the Bible disagreed with Bacon’s advocacy of induction and empiricism, placing more value on human reason.

But again, what of Biblical authority?  To Francis Bacon, the Bible provided a view of God, the world, and man that made science a noble duty.  Nature was God’s finely crafted machine, and God had given man the aptitude and duty to discover its workings.  Human reason alone was insufficient; it needed to be guided by Bible doctrine on the nature of God and the world, and by observation of the Creator’s laws.  The very belief in natural laws was a legacy of the Scriptures.  Sir Francis believed that, in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy, man would increase in knowledge in the last days by casting off unbiblical authorities like Aristotle and investigating God’s natural revelation (creation) with minds that had been created in His image.

Consider again the Biblical basis of the three foundations of Bacon’s philosophy described in the title of Henry’s biography: (1) “magic” (a poor choice of words), meaning religious belief, which Stewart calls a “profound underpinning” of Bacon’s philosophy; (2) “government,” underscoring the God-given responsibility of governments to work for the good of the people; (3) “apocalyptic vision,” the belief that Daniel’s prophecy should inspire us to advance knowledge for the good of mankind.  While the Bible does not propose a scientific method, it provides the fundamental view of God, man, and the world that makes scientific progress both possible and desirable.  “The works of the Lord are great,” writes the author of Psalm 111:2, “studied by all who delight in them.”

King Solomon, for example, was an early spare-time scientist.  He busied himself with gaining knowledge about all kinds of animals, plants, birds, insects and fish (I Kings 4:33- 34).  His Proverbs are filled with admonitions to gain knowledge and wisdom.  Though in his old age Solomon considered the search for knowledge as one of the “vanity of vanities,” (Eccl 1:13-18), unattainable (8:16-17) and an endless drudgery (12:12), it was only so if pursued without thought of creation and final judgment (Eccl. 11:9-12:1).  To one’s own heart, the reward of wisdom justified its pursuit (7:11, 12, 25).  When the Creator is foremost in mind, observation of the wonders of creation springs out of worship — Psalms 104 and 148 are good examples.  Solomon’s peacetime science was a natural outgrowth of the gift of wisdom and discernment God gave him (I Kings 3- 4).  Bacon’s thinking during the Elizabethan golden age makes an interesting parallel.

Francis Bacon was no closet skeptic; for him, the Bible was the key to liberating man from the fallible opinions of human authorities, and Genesis gave the impetus to take seriously our God-given role as stewards of creation.  That included doing science.  He viewed atheism as plebeian: “A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism,” he quipped, “but depth of philosophy bringeth a man’s mind about to religion.” (To an Elizabethan, religion was synonymous with Christianity.)  Similarly, he said “Philosophy, when superficially studied, excites doubt; when thoroughly explored, it dispels it.”  In a statement congruent with the modern Intelligent Design Movement, he declared, “I had rather believe all the fables in the legends and the Talmud and the Alcoran [Koran], than that this universal frame is without a mind.”  For Francis Bacon, science was an act of worship as well as a shield against falsehood.  He said, “There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error: first, the volume of the Scriptures, which reveal the will of God; then the volume of the Creatures, which express His power.”

Sir Francis Bacon is more remembered for his ideas than his life.  He was born in London in 1561 after the recent accession of Elizabeth I, when English society was taking a dramatic upturn.  A contemporary of Galileo, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, Bacon worked not as a scientist, but as a lawyer and politician, becoming a barrister in 1582 and a member of the House of Commons in 1584.  He was knighted in 1603 under the newly-crowned King James I, and advanced to Solicitor General, Attorney General, and by 1618, Lord Chancellor.  Unfortunately, he sullied his reputation in 1621 by taking a litigant’s bribe.  Though he had been entangled in a struggle between the King and Parliament, he admitted to the corruption and had to resign in disgrace.  He entered the world without riches; his youth had been poor, penniless at 18 when his father died; his old age saw the loss of his fortune and reputation.  He died in 1626, apparently doing experiments to illustrate his devotion to empirical science; he caught a chill collecting snow, in hopes of determining the preservation powers of cold on meat.  In all, Bacon’s life and career were rather unremarkable; his personal character “was by no means admirable,” according to Frederic R. White.  He made no significant scientific discoveries nor uncovered any scientific laws.  But his ideas were profound, reflective of deep thought and genius.

Bacon was a philosopher of the first order, influencing Western civilization for centuries, even though in his day he was roundly criticized by other philosophers.  He referred to his critics as “Men of sharp wits, shut up in their cells of a few authors, chiefly Aristotle, their Dictator.”  Rather than rehashing old ideas with deductive reason, Bacon advocated “the fresh examination of particulars,” i.e., gathering evidence by experiment and then making interpretations, rather than deducing the nature of the particulars from universal forms and principles.  Encyclopedia Britannica explains that he was no raw Empiricist; he believed in formulating laws and generalizations; “His enduring place in the history of philosophy lies, however, in his single-minded advocacy of experience as the only source of valid knowledge and in his profound enthusiasm for the perfection of natural science.”  Most of Bacon’s philosophical writing was done late in life – his first work, The Advancement of Learning (1605) at age 44; his greatest work Novum Organum (part of a larger planned work) in 1620 (age 59), writing more till his death at age 65, with some additional works published posthumously.

Like Pascal, Bacon had a flair for the piquant proverb.  His eponyms are words fitly spoken, like “apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).  Here are some examples to get a taste of his thinking:

  • Knowledge is power.
  • Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper.
  • Money is like muck, not good except that it be spread.
  • Discretion in speech is more than eloquence.
  • Choose the life that is most useful, and habit will make it the most agreeable.
  • To choose time is to save time.
  • Books must follow sciences, and not sciences books.
  • God has placed no limits to the exercise of the intellect that he has given us, on this side of the grave.
  • Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.
  • The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits but not when it misses.
  • A prudent question is one-half wisdom.
  • Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
  • To read without reflecting, is like eating without digesting.
More than entries for Reader’s Digest “Quotable Quotes,” however, Bacon’s words carried a vision of the New Atlantis, the new path to knowledge about the world.  Loren Eiseley, in The Man Who Saw Through Time, said that Bacon “...more fully than any man of his time, entertained the idea of the universe as a problem to be solved, examined, meditated upon, rather than as an eternally fixed stage, upon which man walked.”  (In a similar vein, current philosopher of science Paul Nelson has described science within an Intelligent Design framework as “an enormous puzzle- solving expedition, in which you expect to find order and rationality right at the root of things.”)  The title page of The Advancement of Learning portrays this new science taking mankind beyond the Pillars of Hercules, the presumed limits of man’s explorations.  The bottom contains the quote from Daniel 12:4, “many will pass through and knowledge will be increased.”  He was strongly opposed to a priori assumptions.  In that regard, a little neo-Baconian philosophy would be good in our day.  Darwinists typically assume that evolution is true, and mold the observations to fit that assumption.  A new book by Cornelius Hunter, Darwin’s God, demonstrates how the alleged proofs of Darwinism are ultimately metaphysical.  Whether they talk about homology or fossils or microevolution, their observations are incidental; the force of the arguments used by Darwinists against creation revolve around what a Creator would or would not do.  When pressed to the wall for evidence to demonstrate evolution, what they supply cannot justify the claims made for major transformations.  Francis Bacon would be appalled.

We stated early on that inclusion of a person in this series does not imply 100% endorsement.  The theme is that Christian thought has been good for science.  In some regards, Christians should be cautious of Baconian philosophy.  Though he was not Catholic or scholastic, Bacon apparently accepted the premise of Thomas Aquinas that the Fall left man’s reason unscathed.  He also wrote, “Our humanity were a poor thing were it not for the divinity which stirs within us,” and we all know how that idea can be taken to the extreme.  To the extent he meant we bear the image of God, that is acceptable; it is unlikely Bacon doubted that humans are sinners in need of a Savior.  In addition, it might appear that Bacon’s advocacy of experience as the guide to truth would militate against trust in divine revelation.  Indeed, David Hume took that idea to the limit.  (The tides have turned against Hume in our time, as our “uniform experience” about information and codes is forcing scientists to confront the reality of intelligent design in DNA.)  Bacon, however, was not schizophrenic about induction and authority.  He saw no dichotomy in his religious faith and advocacy of the scientific method; like he said, depth of philosophy brings a man’s mind back to religion.  With allusions to Genesis 1, he said, “The first creation of God in the works of the days was the light of the sense, the last was the light of the reason; and his Sabbath work ever since is the illumination of the spirit.”  Illumination of the spirit is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God (John 16:13).

Though best known as an advocate of fact, and a sometime critic of poetry, Sir Francis Bacon was an occasional poet himself (although it is highly unlikely he was the secret author of Shakespeare’s plays, as some have alleged).  More than with prose or philosophy, poetry allows us to look into an author’s soul.  Was Sir Francis Bacon a creationist?  Was he a believer in the Bible, and a devout man of faith?  Did he see man’s role as praising the Creator for His works?  Did he himself trust in his heavenly King and look forward to Christ’s eternal victory?  Here is his poem “Sing a New Song.” You read and decide:

by Sir Francis Bacon

O sing a new song, to our God above,
Avoid profane ones, ’tis for holy choir:
Let Israel sing song of holy love
To him that made them, with their hearts on fire:
Let Zion’s sons lift up their voice, and sing
Carols and anthems to their heavenly king.

Let not your voice alone his praise forth tell,
But move withal, and praise him in the dance;
Cymbals and harps, let them be tuned well,
’Tis he that doth the poor’s estate advance:
Do this not only on the solemn days,
But on your secret beds your spirits raise.

O let the saints bear in their mouth his praise,
And a two-edged sword drawn in their hand,
Therewith for to revenge the former days,
Upon all nations, that their zeal withstand;
To bind their kings in chains of iron strong,
And manacle their nobles for their wrong.

Expect the time, for ’tis decreed in heaven,
Such honor shall unto his saints be given.

Learn More About
Sir Francis Bacon
Here is a mega-page of links to works of and articles about Francis Bacon online, including his poems.  This should keep the Bacon researcher busy for awhile!

You can also find several of Bacon’s books online at the Internet History of Science Sourcebook.

Johannes Kepler     1571 - 1630  

By anyone’s measure, Johannes Kepler ranks as a gold medalist in the history of science.  This great German mathematician and astronomer (contemporary with the King James Bible and the Pilgrims) discovered fundamental laws of nature that have stood the test of time and are still widely used today.  He advanced mathematics in science to new heights, including the first use of logarithms for astronomy and the foundation for integral calculus.  He made useful inventions.  He was a major force in moving science away from its subservience to authority and onto an empirical foundation, and from superstition to mathematical law.  He helped mankind understand how the universe works.  When the great Isaac Newton expressed that his ability to see farther than others was due to “standing on the shoulders of giants,” he most certainly had Kepler in mind.  Yet this humble, devout Christian, from a poor, uneducated home, had a life filled with difficulty.  In spite of it, he stands as a consummate example of a Christian doing excellent science from theological motives; Kepler pursued science as a mission from God.  In his words, he was merely “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”  Anyone who thinks Christianity is inimical to science should take a close look at the life of this giant of science – and Christian faith.

Kepler is considered the Father of Celestial Mechanics.  The story of how he worked for eight years trying to figure out the orbit of Mars and the other planets from the observations of Tycho Brahe is legendary.  Kepler was a perfectionist; “close enough” was not good enough.  He started by assuming the common belief that the orbits of the planets were perfect circles.  Moreover, he had a tempting hypothesis that the ratios of the orbital distances matched the proportions of the regular solids, but it did not quite work.  It was Kepler’s genius and integrity that forced him to abandon his pet theory and discover the truth.  After many years of work, and thousands of pages of tedious calculations, he fit the data to the formula for an ellipse, and finally, everything fell into place.  This illustrates how in science frequently a fundamental truth lays lurking in the minute details that do not fit the expectations.  To an honest scientist, the data must drive the conclusions, and Kepler’s discovery ranks as a seminal point in the history of science.  With this finding, he overcame 1500 years of error based on the thinking of Ptolemy, Aristotle and even Copernicus that the heavenly orbits must be perfect circles.

From his discovery, Kepler derived his famous Three Laws of Planetary Motion.  These were the first truly scientific laws, based as they were on empirical data and not authority or Aristotelian logic.  Kepler established precise mathematical relationships describing orbital motion: (1) the orbits of the planets are ellipses, with the sun at one focus, (2) the motion of a body is not constant, but speeds up closer to the sun (a line connecting the sun and the planet sweeps out equal areas in equal times), and (3) the farther away a planet is, the slower it moves (the square of the period is proportional to the cube of the semimajor axis).  Newton later explained these relationships in his theory of universal gravitation, but Kepler’s Laws are just as accurate today as when he first formulated them, and even more useful than he could have imagined!  Even today, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory navigates spacecraft around the solar system using Kepler’s Laws, and astronomers routinely speak of Keplerian orbits not only for the solar system but for stars orbiting galaxies, and for galaxies orbiting clusters and superclusters.  The whole universe obeys Kepler’s Laws, or as he would have preferred to say, obeys God’s laws that he merely uncovered: he said, “Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”

These discoveries would be enough to guarantee Kepler membership in the science hall of fame, but there’s much more.  Not only was he the Father of Celestial Mechanics, Kepler is also considered the Father of Modern Optics.  He advanced the understanding of reflection and refraction and human vision, and produced improvements in eyeglasses for both nearsightedness and farsightedness, and for the telescopes that his colleague Galileo (with whom he corresponded) had first turned toward the heavens.  He invented the pinhole camera and designed a gear-driven calculating machine.  He investigated weather phenomena and also made other fundamental discoveries about the heavens, such as the rotation of the sun, and the fact that ocean tides are caused primarily by the moon (for which Galileo derided him, but Kepler was proved right).  He predicted that trigonometric parallax might be used to measure the distances to the stars.  Though the telescopes of his day were too crude to detect the parallax shift, he was right again, and the recent Hipparcos satellite used this principle to refine our measurements to thousands of stars.  Kepler’s “firsts” make an impressive list of accomplishments.

One would think a man must be the son of a privileged family to rise to such heights, but nothing could be farther from the truth for this, and other, great Christians in science like Newton, Carver and Faraday.  Kepler was from a poor, uneducated family.  He was often ill, and lived with no advantages that would have predicted his success.  His mother was a flighty woman given to superstition, and his father was a roaming mercenary, frequently off to the battlefield to fight for the highest bidder.  At age six, Kepler saw the Great Comet of 1577 which in those days people assumed were bad omens, but Kepler was fascinated.  Later, his father bought and operated a low-class inn, and young Johannes was required to do hard labor to help the struggling family business (later, when it failed, his father deserted the family).  When given a chance to go to school, Kepler’s genius coupled with diligence advanced him quickly.  Devout by nature, he decided he would serve God as a clergyman.  He studied for two years in a seminary at the University of Tubingen, receiving training in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, mathematics and the usual Greek philosophy, but there also became acquainted with the newer ideas of Copernicus and those who doubted that the Greeks were the last word in knowledge.  It was only when he was pressured to accept a position as a mathematics instructor 500 miles away in Graz that he reluctantly postponed his goal to become a Lutheran minister.  Driven away from Graz in 1597 by pressure from the Catholic counter-reformation, he moved to Prague, where he became assistant to the great but eccentric Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, the best celestial observer of his day.  When Brahe died in 1601, Kepler inherited all the Mars observations.  He devoted himself to figure out the problem of the orbit of Mars, and the rest is history.  Kepler became imperial mathematician till, in 1612, religious wars again forced a move of his family, this time to Linz.  As district mathematician in Linz, he published additional works, and discovered his third law of celestial mechanics.  He moved three more times in 1626 before his death in 1630.

In spite of his successes, Kepler’s life was filled with hardship, poverty, political turmoil, false accusations and difficult work.  Afflicted with complications from an early bout of smallpox, he suffered many ailments throughout life.  His first wife was unappreciative of his work, and died early; three of their five children died in infancy.  Later remarried, Kepler saw only two of their seven children breach adulthood.  He repeatedly was forced to move because of the 30 Years War.  A Lutheran, he was caught in the middle not only between Catholics and Protestants, but also between the Lutheran and Calvinistic controversies over communion, baptism and other issues.  Finding neither group completely in accord with his understanding of Scripture, and loyal to the Word of God alone, he found himself at odds with some of his fellow Protestants.  In a time of religious tumult and superstition, he seemed to be the only one with real wisdom and balance when poised between extreme positions.  He had to defend his mother who was falsely accused of being a witch.  He was forced to move on several occasions due to war or pestilence; three times in the prime of his career, and another three times after age 55.  He was never paid near what he was worth; even then, it was often in the form of IOU’s that never seemed to arrive.  His untimely death came about from catching fever during a hard journey trying to collect long-overdue funds owed him from the imperial treasury; even his heirs had difficulty collecting it later.
    Kepler never thought of himself as famous and was often depressed by the harshness of his circumstances.  Yet he had an inner joy that would make his imagination soar when he thought of the heavens and how everything worked according to the Creator’s mathematical plan.  Astronomy was his “escape to reality” when the hardships and follies of civilization bore down on him.  He imagined space travel and speculated about earthlike planets around distant stars.  He wrote 80 books, including the first science fiction story, The Dream (about an imaginary flight to the moon), and of course more technical treatises such as the consummate compilation of Tycho’s data using logarithms, The Rudolphine Tables; this work did much to advance the heliocentric theory.
    Kepler built on a Pythagorean conception of the universe, in which number and mathematical relationship form the essence of things, but he cast it into a distinctively Christian form.  To him, the God of the Scriptures was the great Mathematician.  Kepler’s signature work, the Harmony of the World described his conception of the heavenly bodies making a kind of celestial “music of the spheres” as the outworking of the mind of God, perfect in geometric harmony.  It expressed his belief that the world of nature, the world of man and world of God all fit together into a harmonious system that could be explored by science.

Kepler had once believed that becoming a clergyman was the only way to serve God and proclaim His truth, but he found that astronomy and mathematics were also a ministry, a way to open windows to the mind of God.  Deeply spiritual all his life, he said, “Let also my name perish if only the name of God the Father is elevated.”  On November 15, 1630, as he lay dying, he was asked on what did he pin his hope of salvation.  Confidently and resolutely, he testified: “Only and alone on the services of Jesus Christ.  In Him is all refuge, all solace and welfare.”

Craters on the moon and Mars are named in Kepler’s honor, and NASA’s Kepler spacecraft will be launched in 2008 to search for earth-size habitable planets around other stars.

Learn More About
Johannes Kepler
NASA-Ames Research Center has a good biographical sketch.  You can also learn about the Kepler spacecraft that is being prepared for launch in 2005.

John Hudson Tiner has an excellent biography as part of the Sowers Series, suitable for young and old.

Here is an online secular biography of Kepler, with pictures and links to other sites.  Here’s another biography where you can find a picture of the cover page of Harmonices Mundi (Harmony of the World).

The Galileo Project has a short biography on Kepler.  And of course, there is the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The premiere biography in book form is Max Caspar’s Kepler (Dover new edition, 1993).  Caspar studied Kepler’s life for 45 years and had access to the best historical documents.

Dr. Michael Fowler of the University of Virginia has an online lecture on Kepler.

Want to see how Kepler figured it out?  Here’s an interesting site that shows Kepler’s Proofs of his three laws of planetary motion.

A teacher at Central Valley Christian School has animations of Kepler’s laws and a brief biography.

JPL’s excellent self-teaching course Basics of Space Flight shows how NASA uses Kepler’s laws to navigate in space (see Chapter 3).

Galileo Galilei     1564 - 1642  

A 68-year old scientist, in ill health, hauled off to Rome to stand trial before the Inquisition.  Forced, under threat of torture and imprisonment, to renounce his scientific writings, which are declared to be heretical and against church dogma.  Put under house arrest, he is heard sobbing uncontrollably: “The injustice of the sentence tormented him so that he did not sleep for several nights, but could be heard crying out, babbling and rambling in distraction” (Sobel, p. 298).  Undeniable facts of history, forming an open and shut case for religious intolerance of science, right?

Any history of science must deal with the Galileo affair.  In many circles it is an icon of science vs religion.  Fortunately, in recent years scholars having been taking fresh looks at the circumstances of Galileo’s trial and realizing there are complexities that dramatically change the conventional interpretation.  A recent PBS documentary admitted that the usual slant is quite incorrect.  Astronomer and historian Owen Gingerich, often one to debunk historical inaccuracies, has researched the incident and challenges the science vs religion spin.  And a recent (1999) new historical biography by Dava Sobel, Galileo’s Daughter (an award-winning, captivating, original work we highly recommend) sheds refreshing new light on the life, times, and legacy of this giant of early science, Galileo Galilei.

Our purpose here is not to exonerate the Catholic Church, which is surely culpable for the injustice done to Galileo (for which the Pope formally apologized in 1992).  And as non-Catholics, we condemn all the injustices of the Inquisition, not just this one.  But a quick look at some of the factors involved in the heresy trial will show how the conventional spin is often greatly misinterpreted:

  • Galileo was a personal friend of both major popes that ruled during his lifetime.
  • Galileo enjoyed a wide popularity and high reputation by many, if not most, within the Catholic Church.  He had many friends in high places that had no problem at all with his views or with those of Copernicus.
  • His book that was condemned in the trial, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World, had received the official imprimatur of the church, and had been approved by the official Roman censor, Father Niccolo Riccardi.  Galileo readily made all suggested alterations, which did not alter anything of substance.
  • Pope Urban VIII had been a lifelong friend of Galileo and had said of him, “We embrace with paternal love this great man whose fame shines in the heavens and goes on Earth far and wide.”  He praised Galileo for his uprightness and virtue.  Before and after he had become pope, Galileo enjoyed personal, cordial contact with him; in early years prior to becoming pope, he [then Cardinal Barberini] wrote to him, “I pray the Lord God to preserve you, because men of great value like you deserve to live a long time to the benefit of the public.”  Pope Urban VIII did not condemn Copernicanism or Galileo’s arguing for it, he only urged that Galileo treat it as hypothesis and not limit God’s inscrutability.  Also, correcting another popular misconception, the Pope never invoked infallibility in the affair, which was not even a Catholic doctrine at the time.
  • Copernicanism at the time of Galileo was fairly new, and did not have the observational support it has today.  It lacked the essential extension by Kepler and Newton.  Many found Copernicanism interesting and useful, but others clung to the traditional Ptolemaic view because it seemed more intuitively obvious, and because it had such a long reputation of utility. 
  • Pope Urban VIII was in a bad mood at the time of the trial.  The papacy had gone to his head, and he had spent fortunes on self-aggrandizement.  In addition, he was accused of being soft on heretics by not acting stronger against the Reformers.  The Thirty Years War was giving him great stress.  Galileo’s Dialogue came at a very inopportune time.  The pope trusted what others said about it, without reading it himself.  He was led to believe, contrary to the facts, that Galileo had double-crossed him by going against explicit orders.  These factors tended to make him inflexible against his former friend.
  • The trial represented a brief portion near the end of Galileo’s long and productive life, during which he gained wide fame for his discoveries and his books across Europe, and within the Catholic church.  Contrary to popular perceptions, most churchmen, including Pope Urban VIII, were delighted with Galileo’s discoveries with the telescope. 
  • In 1616, there was an anti-Copernican edict under Pope Paul V which came just short of calling Copernicanism heretical and banning the book; Galileo acquiesced by holding to it as opinion or hypothesis and not fact.  Though foolish by today’s standards, the Edict did not seriously hamper his scientific work and writing, until accusations flew again seventeen years later. 
  • During and after the period of house arrest in Rome, and when he was allowed to return home to Arcetri, Galileo continued to do scientific experiments and publish with relative freedom.
These are just for starters.  Most important, what comes out of the details of the record, is that Galileo was a staunch Catholic Christian his entire life, never wavering on his devout belief in God, creation, and the Bible.  In fact, Galileo was afraid that the Church’s reputation would be damaged if they rejected Copernicanism; he took pains to protect the church from foolish and mistaken interpretations.  Neither Copernicus nor Galileo ever intended their works to be considered criticism of the Bible and the church.  Galileo regretted deeply that his work was twisted and misunderstood as such.  He went to great lengths to explain that his science was in no way incompatible with Scripture.  Early on he explained in a long letter to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, “I think in the first place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the Holy Bible can never speak untruth – whenever its true meaning is understood.”  Much later, after his trial, he wrote to a friend, “I have two sources of perpetual comfort, first, that in my writings there cannot be found the faintest shadow of irreverence towards the Holy Church; and second, the testimony of my own conscience, which only I and God in Heaven thoroughly know.  And He knows that in this cause for which I suffer, though many might have spoken with more learning, none, not even the ancient Fathers, have spoken with more piety or with greater zeal for the Church than I.”

So how are we to explain the ugly accusations of the trial?  In a word: vengeance.  Galileo had a knack for making loyal friends and bitter enemies.  His razor-sharp logic and penchant for sarcasm won him admirers and detractors.  Some felt he was ramming Copernicanism down the throat of Christendom.  In Dialogues, he created characters to debate Copernicanism, and portrayed the protagonists as wise scholars and the antagonists as simpletons (he even named one opponent “Simplicio”).  Some of Galileo’s enemies understood him to be mocking them, and this inflamed their passion to get even.  Sadly, some of these dishonorable persons wrapped their vice in the cloak of the Church and used their position to cast the debate as Galileo vs the Bible, or Copernicanism vs the Church: leading to trumped up charges of the dreaded H word, heresy.  Galileo was framed.  He was caught up in a maelstrom of colliding currents: politics, personalities, ambitions, new discoveries, wars both physical and theological, suspicions, superstitions and misunderstandings.  Unfortunately, Galileo found himself at the center of the vortex, a victim of circumstances partly his fault and mostly beyond his control: a church in conflict with Reformers, just past the Council of Trent and trying to assert its authority, suspicious of those who, like Luther, felt they had the right to interpret the Scriptures for themselves.  Galileo knew that his detractors were, out of insecurity, fabricating “a shield for their fallacies out of the mantle of pretended religion and the authority of the Bible” (Sobel, p. 68).  In no way was the Church unanimous in condemning Galileo.  Even during the trial, numerous Catholics supported him, and like the archbishop of Siena, despised “those who have control of the sciences, and they have nothing left but to run back to holy ground” (Sobel, p. 286).

It could be argued that, rather than science vs. religion, the debate was not about the Bible at all, but about experimental science vs Greek philosophy.  Galileo’s opponents were primarily academics and professors, not churchmen.  To complicate matters, the Catholic church itself had compromised Biblical teachings with pagan Greek ideas about nature.  Dava Sobel explains that Thomas Aquinas “grafted the fourth-century-B.C. writings of Aristotle onto thirteenth-century Christian doctrine.  The compelling works of Saint Thomas Aquinas had reverberated through the Church and the nascent universities of Europe for hundreds of years, helping the word of Aristotle gain the authority of holy writ, long before Galileo began his book about the architecture of the heavens” (Sobel, p. 152).  It was Aristotle, not Scripture, that taught the immutability and perfection of the heavenly spheres in contradistinction to the corruption of the earth.  Finding blemishes on the moon and spots on the sun violated Aristotelian teachings, but not a word of Scripture.  Galileo’s “heresy” was against Aristotle, not the Bible!  He wrote, “To prohibit the whole science would be but to censure a hundred passages of Holy Scripture which teach us that the glory and greatness of Almighty God are marvelously discerned in all His works and divinely read in the open book of Heaven.”  Galileo believed that “Holy Scripture and Nature are both emanations from the divine word: the former dictated by the Holy Spirit, the latter the observant executrix of God’s commands” (Sobel, p. 64).  There was no contradiction between the two, in his view, but he distrusted the fallibility of human interpretation: “Holy Scripture cannot err and the decrees therein contained are absolutely true and inviolable.  I should only have added that, though Scripture cannot err, its expounders and interpreters are liable to err in many ways.”

Along this line, although relatively blameless himself, Galileo seems to have started a philosophy of interpretation that, taken too far, would later lead to a form of intellectual schizophrenia: the idea that the Bible is concerned only with spirit, while nature is the exclusive domain of science.  In the modern world, this has gone to extremes.  Some Christian creationists subscribe to a dual-revelation theory, that nature is just as authoritative a revelation from God as Scripture.  This is a half-truth, for the Bible certainly teaches that the works of God declare His glory, but proponents of this view often fail to take into account the fallibility of human interpretation of natural revelation.  They tend to accept whatever secular scientists say as authoritative, and mold the Bible to fit it.  Secularists and atheists, on the other hand, are sometimes patronizingly willing to let religious people have everything they wish in the spiritual realm, as long as scientists retain their hegemony over the study of nature.  Stephen Jay Gould, for instance, proposes a peace accord called “non-overlapping magisteria” (with a play on words from Catholic vocabulary), in which the church gets the art, music and theology, but science gets physics, chemistry and biology.  In both these views, dual-revelation and NOMA, inevitably nature winds up devouring the spirit, and Scripture becomes the servant of secular science.

We can see the seeds, but not the fruit, of this false dichotomy in Galileo.  Quoting Baronio, he believed the Bible was a book about how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.  He warned against literal interpretations of Scripture that would have us, for instance, picturing God with hands and feet and eyes, and human and bodily emotions.  He said, “I believe that the intention of Holy Writ was to persuade men of the truths necessary for salvation, such as neither science nor any other means could render credible, but only the voice of the Holy Spirit.  But I do not think it necessary to believe that the same God who gave us our senses, our speech, our intellect, would have put aside the use of these, to teach us instead such things as with their help we could find out for ourselves, particularly in the case of these sciences of which there is not the smallest mention in the Scriptures; and above all, in astronomy, of which so little notice is taken that the names of none of the planets are mentioned.  Surely if the intention of the sacred scribes had been to teach people astronomy, they would not have passed over the subject so completely.” (Sobel, p. 65).  This statement is sensible as far as it goes, but there appears to be a hidden assumption: that the mind of unregenerate man is capable of discovering truth on its own.  This may be practical with regard to repeatable, observable phenomena like falling bodies and motions of planets, but what about the origin of universe, the origin of the life, and the origin of the soul?  There is no subject under heaven today that modern science does not feel it has authority to explain by natural causes, even prayer and sexual mores.  Reductionist science even goes so far as to explain love as the sum total of neurotransmitter reactions in the physical brain.  Modern science has usurped the spiritual world; it has gone far beyond Galileo’s principle, and so we must watch his statements with awareness of where, in hindsight, an idea can go astray.  Nevertheless, Galileo himself attempted to explain Biblical passages like Joshua’s long day as real events, not allegories.  He accepted the creation account in Genesis as literally true.

Galileo’s scientific achievements are so well known as to require little elaboration here.  First to turn a telescope to the heavens; discoverer of sunspots, lunar craters, stars within the Milky Way, the phases of Venus, and the four large satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean satellites in his honor); staunch proponent of experiment over authority, discoverer of laws of falling bodies (in the process disproving Aristotle’s contention that heavier bodies fall faster), popularizer and publisher, mathematician, his work is of monumental importance in the history of science.  Einstein overstates the case that he was the “father of modern physics–indeed of modern science altogether,” because of his insistence on experiment over logical deductions.  He was a giant, but a giant among giants.  His Protestant contemporaries Johannes Kepler and Francis Bacon similarly espoused the same values of experimental science over authority.  And they were building on giants before them, Christian philosophers who viewed nature as the rational work of a transcendent God, worthy and capable of being explored by men created in His image.

In keeping with our theme, Galileo considered his faith a driving force behind his science.  According to Sobel, “The Dialogue resumed his importuning that truths about Nature be allowed to emerge through science.  Such truths, he still believed, could only glorify the Word and deeds of God.”  He was thankful to God for enabling him to see farther than any man before him.  In the euphoria of discovery during those nights turning the telescope toward the heavens for the first time, he expressed, “I render infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries” (Sobel, p. 6).

For a delightful and enlightening read, we recommend Dava Sobel’s excellent book Galileo’s Daughter, (Penguin Books, 1999).  It has the unique amenity of a newly-translated collection of letters from Suor Maria Celeste, his daughter who spent her life in poverty as a nun.  The biography is woven around these sweet letters from his devoted and deeply spiritual child.  Around these intimate, innocent epistles, Sobel masterfully limns the spirit of the times, the superstitions as well as the achievements, the nobility and notoriety of numerous persons that came into contact with Galileo during his long and productive 75 years, which could have continued many more had his body kept up with his tireless mind.  Through many original quotes and sources, Sobel illustrates how the Galileo affair was far different than the simplistic portrait of science vs religion.  And she gives the book a surprising and poignant ending.

Dava Sobel says that “Galileo remained a good Catholic who believed in the power of prayer and endeavored always to conform his duty as a scientist with the destiny of his soul.‘Whatever the course of our lives,’ Galileo wrote, “we should receive them as the highest gift from the hand of God, in which equally reposed the power to do nothing whatever for us.  Indeed, we should accept misfortune not only in thanks, but in infinite gratitude to Providence, which by such means detaches us from an excessive love for Earthly things and elevates our minds to the celestial and divine.’” (Sobel, p. 12).

In 2002, the Galileo spacecraft completed its 12-year orbital reconnaissance of Jupiter and its Galilean satellites, the “little solar system” that overturned Greek dogma and opened a heavens far more wondrous than even the wise old bearded scientist himself could have imagined.

Learn More About
Galileo Galilei
Here’s a page about Galileo’s contribution to mathematics.

The History of Mathematics site has a biography with pictures.

The official site of Galileo’s Daughter, the historical novel by Dava Sobel.  Here is one of many independent reviews of the book on the web, almost all favorable.

A lesson to Bible compromisers from the Galileo affair by Russell Grigg. explains the nature of Galileo’s conflicts with the Catholic Church.  It also compares and contrasts Galileo’s conflicts with modern creationism.

Visit the home of NASA-JPL’s Galileo Spacecraft and browse the fantastic photos that would have taken Galileo’s breath away.

William Harvey     1578 - 1657  

A contemporary of Galileo, Kepler, Bacon, Descartes and Shakespeare, William Harvey is another important figure in the establishment of the scientific method, this time in the field of medicine.  His claim to fame is for demonstrating the circulation of the blood and the action of the heart as a pump driving this circulation.  Through a series of clever experiments, he furthered the acceptance of experimentation for determining the workings of nature, rather than putting excessive reliance on authority.  Most interestingly, his primary achievement was inspired by a statement in the Bible.

Overt indications about Harvey’s personal faith are rare, though he did speak often of design, and felt that science was a godly vocation.  Few of his manuscripts survive.  Most were looted by rioters in the Civil War of 1642 when Harvey was 64 years old (a severe trial for him), and the extant works reveal little about Harvey the man.  One short biography by a contemporary librarian divulges little else; Robert Boyle filled in one important blank.  What is clear, however, is that Harvey believed in the divine authorship and authority of the Bible and the deity of Christ, and that the search for purpose in nature resulting from God’s creative wisdom was a strong motivation behind his work.  One particular explicit reference to Scripture he made is particularly instructive for our purposes, and will provide the conclusion for this story.

Born in 1578 of “yeoman stock” in a family of Kentish farmers who had succeeded enough to move into commerce, William was eldest of six brothers, all of whom became successful merchants.  His father was a man of means who became mayor of the town.  From age 10, young William studied in Canterbury, then moved on to Cambridge on a medical scholarship.  After graduating from Cambridge in 1597, he went abroad to further his studies in medicine at the best medical school of the day, the University of Padua.  Having achieved his degree in Italy, he returned to England in 1602 and gave an impressive performance on his exams before the College of Physicians.  A couple of years later he made a fortuitous marriage to Elizabeth Browne, daughter of the king’s physician, but they had no children.

William Harvey practiced medicine in London and in 1607 was elected to the Royal College of Physicians, where he received a lifetime post as a lecturer in 1616.  His reputation as a leading physician in England was established and well earned.  Around this time, he also was making his views on the circulation of blood known.  Shortly thereafter, in 1617, he became the personal physician of King James I (of King James Bible fame), and later to King Charles in 1625, with whom he stayed during the Civil War of 1642-1648 (the Puritan Revolution and short-lived reform government of Oliver Cromwell).  With the return of royal government, Harvey, now 69 years old, returned to London in 1647 to live out his days with his brothers.  Most of his long career was spent at St. Bartholomew’s hospital in London.  Late in life, Harvey was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians but refused the honor.  He died in 1657, shortly before the careers of Robert Boyle and Antony van Leeuwenhoek took off.

Harvey’s lecture notes show him to be a witty and independent thinker.  Once he rhymed, “There is a lust in man no charm can tame: Of loudly publishing his neighbor’s shame: On eagles wings immortal scandals fly, while virtuous actions are born and die.”  Though his work on blood circulation is legendary, we should pause to observe that most scientific discoveries are elaborations of previous work.  While it is true that many physicians in Harvey’s time placed undue influence on classical authority, particularly of Galen, not all did; the popular maverick Paracelsus, for instance, declared his intellectual independence by burning the works of Avicenna and Galen.  Many read the classics only to critique them.  Harvey, like most in his time, was a staunch Aristotelian, but not slavishly so.  Furthermore, his experimentalism was heir to a long line of empirical work by his predecessors Vesalius, Fabricius and Colombo.  He was not, in other words, working on questions that had not already been matters of intense study, and he was not the only “discoverer” of blood circulation.  The Egyptian physician Ibn Al-Nafis had made significant headway 300 years earlier explaining pulmonary circulation.  Some of Harvey’s hypotheses later proved false, and his theory was incomplete in itself.   A recent book claims that the widespread story that Harvey predicted the existence of capillaries is a myth.  Nevertheless, his primary work An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals (1628) was “certainly immeasurably influential on Western medical practice” according to historian Michael Hart, and his Essays on the Generation of Animals (1651) also formed the basis for modern embryology: Ex ova omnia, he wrote: “Everything from an egg.”

Harvey’s clever experimental approach that demonstrated the circulation of blood from one side of the heart to the other, through the lungs and around the body making one big circuit, is well known.  (Interestingly, he was not all that impressed with the opinions of Francis Bacon, one of his patients.)  Diagrams of Harvey pressing fingers at precise points on veins on the arm to illustrate his ideas are readily available.  The details of how Harvey’s theory overcame classical and medieval concepts of the motion of blood, the function of veins and arteries, the action of valves in the veins, and the role of the heart, are all available in the secular literature.  Students of history can unravel these details.  What concerns us here is William Harvey’s place in the Christian influence on science.  Some surviving references provide glimpses into his motivation and beliefs.

In a recollection by Robert Boyle, Harvey, shortly before he died, related to the young chemist the clue to his discovery.  Writing 31 years after Harvey’s death, Boyle recalls how he had asked the eminent physician about the things that induced him to consider the circulation of the blood:

He answer’d me, that when he took notice that the Valves in the Veins of so many several Parts of the Body, were so Plac’d that they gave free passage to the Blood Towards the Heart, but oppos’d the passage of the Venal Blood the Contrary way: He was invited to imagine, that so Provident a Cause as Nature had not so Plac’d so many Valves without design; and no Design seem’d more probable than that, since the Blood could not well, because of the interposing Valves, be sent by the Veins to the Limbs; it should be sent through the Arteries, and Return through the Veins,, whose Valves did not oppose its course that way.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)
Lest this design by “Nature” appear Deistic, Emerson Thomas McMullen in Christian History (Issue 76, XXI:4, p. 41) stated that Harvey frequently “praised the workings of God’s sovereignty in creation—which he termed ‘Nature’”  We must not, in other words, read back 18th-century French concepts into 17th-century English terminology.  McMullen, a PhD in the history and philosophy of science and a specialist in the life of Harvey, provides quotes that show Harvey’s provident Nature was an active, intelligent, wise, personal agent: Nature destines, ordains, intends, gives gifts, provides, counter-balances, institutes, is careful.  Harvey spoke of the “skillful and careful craftsmanship of the valves and fibres and the rest of the fabric of the heart.”  According to McMullen, Harvey’s primary achievement, the explanation of the circulation of the blood, was occasioned in part “by asking why God put so many valves in the veins and none in the arteries.”  He believed that nature does nothing “in vain” (in Vein, perhaps, but not in Vain).

William Harvey also viewed natural philosophy as a sacred calling.  This recurring theme in this series is clearly evident in a comment he made to a friend, “The examination of the bodies of animals has always been my delight; and I have thought that we might thence not only obtain an insight into the lighter mysteries of Nature, but there perceive a kind of image or reflex of the omnipotent Creator himself.” (McMullen, Ibid.).  This glimpse into Harvey’s leitmotiv shows him to be acting freely in a worshipful spirit as he undertook his scientific studies, not under compulsion as a naturalist trapped in a predominantly Christian culture.  McMullen says that William Harvey was a “lifelong thinker on purpose” in anatomy and physiology, mentioning this throughout his writings in an effort to discern the final causes of things.  This was not mere Aristotelianism.  “Harvey was a Christian,” McMullen states unequivocally, “who believed that purpose in nature reflected God’s design and intentions.”  The appeal of being able to glimpse something of the mind of God, to understand how he had made things work, in the hope of understanding more fully both God and his works, has been a frequent and productive force in the development of modern science.

To what extent Christian faith was realized in Harvey’s personal life is hard to say for sure, but McMullen claims Harvey was influenced by the Calvinist environment at Cambridge, and had George Estey, a clergymen and lecturer in Hebrew, as a tutor.  A couple of anecdotes reveal his faith was more than cultural or intellectual assent to prevailing opinion.  Once he referred to the Apostle John’s account of the crucifixion when discussing the pericardium, hinting at his familiarity with Scripture.  On another occasion, when discussing parturition, he spoke of Mary’s pregnancy.  It’s interesting that instead of calling her child simply Jesus, he called him “our Savior Christ, of men most perfect.”

One other Harvey quote is particularly instructive on the relation of the Bible to science.  Here is where a Scriptural passage can be cited as both a scientific fact corroborated thousands of years later, and also as a principle acting as a stimulus for scientific discovery.  In Leviticus 17:11, Moses wrote, under divine inspiration, that “the life of the flesh is in the blood.”  Again in verse 14, God says through Moses, “for it is the life of all flesh.  Its blood sustains its life.... for the life of all flesh is its blood” (NKJV).  Recall that the Greek doctrine of unbalanced body humors (fluids) as the cause of disease would not be discarded till the time of Pasteur 200 years later; for many more years, physicians would routinely perform blood-letting to try to restore the balance, often hastening death by removing the very life-giving substance God had set in circulation to nourish the entire body.  Would that physicians had taken seriously this ancient Biblical insight recovered by Harvey.  It was perhaps his most important finding.  According to McMullen, Harvey concluded after demonstrating the circulatory system, that “life therefore resides in the blood (as we are informed in our sacred writings).”  Harvey also quoted these specific passages from Leviticus when making a point about the beginning of life.  There is a lesson for 21st century scientists here.  If the Bible truly is the word of the Creator, it should provide clues that can open up new areas of research – even if it was not intended primarily as a science textbook.  There could be many more scientific insights waiting to be discovered in its pages.  Could the Bible again provide keys to unlock today’s greatest scientific questions?  Could it steer us away from disastrous mistakes, like bloodletting?  Let a new generation of scientists put the word of God to the test.

In the Bible, the heart is often symbolic of the innermost being of man: the mind and the will.  Considering this chapter in the history of science, the counsel of Proverbs 4:23 is vital in both the figurative and literal sense: “Keep your heart with all diligence,” Solomon wrote under divine inspiration, “for out of it spring the issues of life.”  Harvey could not have agreed more.  The heart, he echoed, “is the household divinity which, discharging its function, nourishes, cherishes, quickens the whole body, and is indeed the foundation of life, the source of all action.”

Learn More About
William Harvey
Emerson T. McMullen’s short article on Harvey is posted on the Christian History website.  The entire issue 76 contains a wealth of information on Christians in scientific history, including our own chapter on Leeuwenhoek.

McMullen has a longer article on William Harvey at Georgia Southern University complete with Harvey’s drawings.  He discusses the details of Harvey’s hypothesis and discovery.  A shorter essay at the same Georgia Southern site mentions Harvey in “The Biblical Basis for Modern Science.”

A website on Univ. of Dayton contains links to information on William Harvey.

The History of Science Sourcebook at Fordham University contains links to excerpts from two of Harvey’s surviving original works.

Introduction Table of Contents Science Takes Off