Galileo remained a sincere Catholic despite the persecution from his own congregation. Likewise, Kepler maintained his fervent Christianity despite the fact that he and his family were banished from the city of Graz for refusing to convert from Protestantism to Catholicism. (Providentially, that banishment was what took him to Prague, where he became Tycho Brahe’s assistant.)
To Kepler and Galileo, science itself was an expression of their love for God, for truth, and for the beauty of creation. In Kepler’s words, “the chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”Quoted in Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 231. Similarly, Galileo wrote that “the glory and greatness of Almighty God are marvelously discerned in all his works.”Galileo, “Letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany,” 1615.
Moreover, these men were not the only Christians who contributed substantially to the development of modern science. During the scientific revolution, a majority of the most influential scientists were Christians, and it wasn’t only during the 16th and 17th centuries that Christian thinkers were at the forefront of scientific discovery. The prevalence of Christian influence in the sciences continued well into the 20th century. Many leading figures in the history of modern science were Christians, including:
- Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 - 1543), the first modern astronomer to challenge the geocentric cosmology of the ancient Greeks
- Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642), the first astronomer to use telescopes, who also made important discoveries in physics and has been called the “father of modern physics” and even “the father of science” because of his groundbreaking work in both physics and astronomy
- Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630), famous for discovering the laws of planetary motion, finally dispensing with the ancient Greek idea that celestial bodies are attached to rotating spheres
- Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662), who was influential in developing modern scientific methodologies
- Robert Boyle (1627 - 1691), regarded as the first modern chemist
- Isaac Newton (1642 - 1726), who is arguably the most important physicist in all historyNewton’s remarkable contributions to physics will be discussed in the next chapter.
- Antoine Lavoisier (1743 - 1794), who has been called the “father of modern chemistry” because of his tremendous contributions to the development of this science
- Alessandro Volta (1745 - 1827), inventor of the electric battery
- John Dalton (1766 - 1844), considered the “father of modern atomic theory”
- André-Marie Ampère (1775 - 1836), considered founder of the science of electromagnetism
- Michael Faraday (1791 - 1867), famous for discoveries in electromagnetism and electrochemistry
- Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871), inventor of the first programmable computerIt was a mechanical computer that he never finished building. It was later built using his design plans, and it worked perfectly.
- James Prescott Joule (1818 - 1889), whose discoveries led to the first law of thermodynamics
- Lord Kelvin (1824 - 1907), who worked together with Joule to formulate the first law of thermodynamics, and also gave one of the earliest formulations of the second law of thermodynamics
- Gregor Mendel (1822 - 1884), who founded the science of genetics
- James Clerk Maxwell (1831 - 1879), who formulated classical electromagnetic theory and also discovered that light is an electromagnetic wave
- Heinrich Hertz (1857 - 1894), famous for designing experiments to test Maxwell’s theory and thereby discovering radio waves
- J. J. Thomson (1856 - 1940), first to discover a subatomic particle (the electron)
- Henrietta Leavitt (1868 - 1921), famous for a crucial discovery that enabled astronomers to calculate the distances to remote stars and galaxies (see chapter 8)
- Lise Meitner (1878 - 1968), whose groundbreaking work in nuclear physics led to the development of many nuclear technologies She has been called “mother of the atomic bomb,”Seriously. Google it. despite her refusal to participate in the Manhattan Project.
- Werner Heisenberg (1901 - 1976), considered “father of quantum mechanics”Though many scientists were involved in the development of quantum theory, Heisenberg’s groundbreaking work earned him the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics “for the creation of quantum mechanics.”
Many more names could be added to this list; but already it is clear enough that the Christian faith was hardly an impediment to the early progress of science, contrary to the popular perceptions of faith and science today.
On the other hand, there are some issues on which Christians today may find their faith at odds with mainstream science—particularly the dominant scientific theories concerning the origins of the universe, life, and humankind. Big Bang cosmology and evolutionary biology are widely regarded as contradictory to the biblical account of creation in the book of Genesis. These issues will be discussed in later chapters.