Now that the philosophical foundations of science were laid, and the practical benefits in explaining previously mysterious phenomena became apparent,
the scientific method became a powerful tool not only in astronomy but in biology, geology and other realms. From the late 17th century to the
early 19th, science was dominated by great thinkers and experimenters who, propelled by a Christian world view and no longer slaves to Aristotle,
advanced our understanding of the laws of nature and natures God.
In the process, they uncovered more wonders of creation than had ever been imagined.
While the names of these great scientists will be familiar to the educated, not many in schools ever learn about the theological motivations behind their discoveries. These are great stories that should be shared! They are wonderful role models for the
young. They are stories of adventure, adversity, perseverance, and triumph. Read on be encouraged enjoy!
Blaise Pascal 1623 - 1662
Blaise Pascal was one of those students classmates hate; the kind that keeps the average so high,
everybody looks dumb by comparison and has to struggle to get Cs.
This genius did not offend too many classmates, however,
because he was home-schooled. And although his father did not feel mathematics was
a proper subject till age 15, young Blaise took interest at 12, and when his father relented, math
became his best subject one of many best subjects.
Pascal went on to excel at just about everything he tried: physics, hydrostatics, hydrodynamics, mathematics, statistics,
invention, logic, debate, philosophy, and prose. We speak of pascals of pressure,
Pascals Principle, and a computer
language named Pascal. Computer scientists remember the Pascaline, an early
mechanical calculator he invented, and mathematicians speak of Pascals triangle.
Literary historians call Pascal the Father of French Prose, and theologians debate Pascals
Wager while evangelists use it to reason with sinners about the gospel. Few, however, know
much about the personal life of this scientific and mathematical genius. He knew pain,
he knew conflict, and he knew Jesus Christ with a depth and sensitivity few experience. And he
accomplished all his discoveries without reaching his 40th birthday.
Blaise Pascal was the youngest of three children, the only boy. His mother died when he was
three years old. His father, Etienne, a tax collector, took to schooling the children himself.
At age 19, Blaise started working on a mechanical calculator to help his father with his work.
The Pascaline was the second such invention (the first, by Schickard, was 18 years prior).
Pascals invention consisted of toothed wheels which engaged each other in such a way that
rotating the first 10 steps would increment the next by one, and so on. It was not successful
because the French currency was not a decimal system, and the calculator could only add, not
subtract. Nevertheless, it was a clever piece of work for a young man who went on to greater
Pascal grew in reputation as a mathematician so that in his prime he corresponded with other
notable scientists and philosophers: Fermat, Descartes, Christopher Wren, Leibniz, Huygens, and
others. He worked on conic sections, projective geometry, probability, binomial
coefficients, cycloids, and many other puzzles of the day, sometimes challenging his famous
colleagues with difficult problems which he, of course, solved on his own.
In physics, Pascal also excelled in both theory and experiment. At age 30, he had completed
a Treatise on the Equilibrium of Liquids, the first systematic theory of hydrostatics. In it
he formulated his famous law of pressure, that states that the pressure is uniform in all directions on
all surfaces at a given depth. This principle is foundational to many applications today:
submarines, scuba gear, and a host of pneumatic devices. By applying the principle,
Pascal invented the syringe and the hydraulic press.
Blaise Pascals perceptive mind enabled him to explain the rising liquid in a barometer
not as nature abhorring a vacuum, but as the pressure of the air outside on the
liquid reservoir. He argued against Descartes (who did not believe a vacuum could
exist) and other Aristotelians of his day. Observing that barometric pressure dropped with altitude, he reasoned that
a vacuum existed above the atmosphere. James Kiefer writes, In presenting his results,
he taunts his enemies the Jesuits with getting their methods backward, accusing them of relying on
ancient authority (Aristotle) in physics, while ignoring ancient authority (the Scriptures and the
Fathers, especially Augustine) in religion.
Pascals controversies with the Jesuits had begun in his early twenties. Two brothers
from a religious movement, while caring for Pascals father, had a profound influence on
Blaise. He took great interest in a movement called Jansenism that was a kind of back
to the Bible movement within Catholicism, that stressed salvation was the free gift of God by
grace through faith. Pascal became one of their chief apologists, and in writing his
Provincial Letters, also showed himself to be an exceptional logician and writer.
His wit, irony, perception, knowledge, and a logic honed by mathematics, made his writing
sparkle with enthusiasm and force. Kiefer writes, He taught his countrymen how to
write work that could be read with pleasure. And indeed it can! We encourage our
readers to find out by sampling his work. Pascal is a good source of pithy quotes, proverbs,
witty sayings, and thoughtful paragraphs.
His best-known work was not even titled or completed. In his thirties, he was apparently
working on an Apology [Defense] of the Christian Religion, but, unfortunately, at his
death there was only found a stack of unorganized papers that was published as
(Thoughts). Nevertheless, enough was written to give believers and unbelievers alike a
great deal of food for thought: on the nature of man, sin, suffering, unbelief, philosophy, false
religion, Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, heaven and hell, and much more. The entire work
is available online and highly recommended reading.
Much has been made of Pascals Wager, a philosophical challenge usually
unfairly oversimplified as follows: If you choose Christianity and it is false, you lose nothing.
If you reject Christianity and it is true, you lose everything. Skeptics (and many
Christians) feel this is a weak argument to become a Christian. It is, but it is not what Pascal
meant. James Kiefer
explains that the Wager is an educated choice, not a flip of the coin.
Having decided that the evidence for Christianity is strong, and having decided that union with
Christ is a worthy goal in life, it is the best bet to train for it like an athlete would train for the highest
prize, even though the athlete cannot be sure he will win or the contest will even occur.
Kiefer says, Obviously, if Christ is an illusion, then nothing will move me closer to Him, and
it does not matter what I do. But if He is not an illusion, then obviously seeking to love Him,
trust Him, and obey Him is more likely to get me into a right relation with Him than the opposite
strategy. And so it will be the one I take. Understanding this, the Wager is not
a blind hope that Ill find myself on the right side after I die; it is a positive choice that will
order my life and give me peace, joy, and purpose in the present. To avoid misrepresenting
Pascals Wager, we encourage readers to read the argument in his own inimitable words in
When used properly, its still a powerful argument for accepting Christ.
Pascals last writings are all the more poignant when we remember he wrote much of them
while suffering intensely. A contemporary wrote, He lived most of his adult life in
great pain. He had always been in delicate health, suffering even in his youth from
migraine ... Pascal died at age 39 in intense pain from stomach cancer. After
his death, a servant found a surprise in the lining of Pascals coat.
At age 31, Pascal had a spiritual experience that was so overpowering, he wrote it down so that
he would never forget it. Somehow, after a sweet hour of prayer or worship service
he never mentioned what it was to anyone he felt so close to God, so overjoyed with His grace and
salvation, so convinced of the urgency of trusting Him, that he took hasty notes of his feelings and
sewed them into the lining of his coat, to be near his heart forever. Here are those words.
Consider the brilliant scientist and mathematician, the logical
thinker and debater, the inventor and writer and genius that got this close to the heart of God:
In the year of grace, 1654, On Monday, 23rd of November, Feast of St Clement, Pope and Martyr, and others in the Martyrology, Vigil of St
Chrysogonus, Martyr, and others, From about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, (Ex 3:6; Mt 22:32) not of the philosophers and scholars.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy.
Peace. God of Jesus Christ.
Thy God and my God. (Jn 20:17)
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.
He is to be found only in the ways taught in the Gospel.
Greatness of the Human Soul.
Righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee,
but I have known Thee. (Jn 17:25)
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have separated myself from Him. They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living
waters. (Jr 2:13) My God, wilt Thou leave me? (Mt 27:46)
Let me not be separated from Him eternally. This is the eternal life, that they
might know Thee, the only true God,
and the one whom Thou hast sent, Jesus Christ. (Jn 17:3) Jesus Christ.
I have separated myself from Him:
I have fled from Him,
Let me never be separated from Him.
We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a days training on earth.
I will not forget thy words. (Ps 119:16) Amen.
Blaise Pascal took the wager, and won.
Learn More About|
Here is a secular
biography of his life and achievements.
Read James Kiefers short
biography of Pascal that discusses not only his achievements in science, but his strong Christian faith.
Read Pascals own words: Here is the Provincial
Letters defending Jansenism.
Read the Pensées
thoughts on the defense of the Christian faith. This is the best way to see into the heart and mind of Pascal, and its great reading, too.
Short of time? Read a few Pascal quotations.
Play with Pascals Triangle, and use it to compute the number of
gifts in the 12 Days of Christmas.
Learn about the Pascaline calculator.
Here is a Pascaline slide show with great close-up
color pictures of how it works. See where the Pascaline
fits in the History of Computing Timeline.
Learn about the Pascal Programming Language.
Find Pascal crater on the moon.
Robert Boyle 1627 - 1691
In this roster of great scientists who were Christians and creationists,
occasionally one stands out as worthy of a gold medal. The
requirements are stringent. The person needs to have performed
exceptional scientific work, that produced some fundamental discovery,
or advanced the scientific enterprise in a highly significant way;
perhaps to be known as the father of a branch of science or the
discoverer of a fundamental law of nature. Simultaneously, the person
needs to have been a devout Christian whose personal life and
character was befitting the honor (this eliminates Newton).
Yet some who fulfilled both these qualifications did little to relate
their Christian faith to their scientific work; they were Sunday Christians
and weekday secular scientists.
The third qualification involves
advancing philosophical understanding of the relationship between science
and Biblical Christianity, or actively combatting unbelief and skepticism.
All these requirements were met with room to spare in the next honoree of this
series, Robert Boyle. He not only can be considered a pillar of
modern science and one of its most eminent practitioners but
he also left the world a profound legacy of rich literature explaining the
Christian foundation for science. The title of one of his many
books was The Christian Virtuoso (i.e., Bible-believing scientist),
and to historians, he was one of the best examples.
Like most in this series, Boyles life and adventures make for a
good story, but lets consider first some of the impacts he made
on the practice of science: (1) An emphasis on experiment instead of
reason. (2) Publication of experimental results. (3)
Popularization of scientific discoveries. (4) Collaboration of scientists
in professional societies. (5) Mathematical formulations of laws.
(6) Putting all claims about nature, no matter the reputation of the
authority, to the test of experiment.
Of course, no one works in a vacuum (no pun intended, as we will see);
Boyle was not the only one to advance these ideals. He was
influenced by Bacon, Galileo and Kepler before him, and there were
contemporaries who also practiced one or more of these principles.
But among his peers,
Boyle was an eminent leader in all of them. He took the
initiative where others stuck to old habits, and he led by example.
He is the considered the father of chemistry and a law was
named in his honor.
The worlds first and oldest professional scientific society with
the longest record of continuous publication is due
largely to Robert Boyle and the colleagues he attracted with his
energy, drive, and enthusiasm for science. That enthusiasm came
directly out of his Christian faith. To Boyle, love of God came
first, and everything else second. Science was a means to a higher
end: loving God with all ones heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Because Boyles philosophical thought will be our emphasis, we will
give an abbreviated version of his life story and refer the interested reader to
the biographies by John Hudson Tiner and others for details.
Despite being born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the privileged son of a
rich and prestigious landowner and friend of the king, Robert Boyle would
know before long the meaning of hardship.
As the 14th of 15 children in the family of the great Earl of Cork
in Ireland, young Robyn had no lack of any material thing.
Yet his wise father knew the values of self-discipline, education and
hard work, and ensured his children were not idle
but given the best training for honorable life.
Robyn himself was sent for his first five years to be raised
by a peasant family rather than live in his fathers rich estate.
Sadly, many of the children grew up to be profligate and wild,
but not Robyn or his older sister Katherine.
In the schools of the time, Aristotle still
held sway over almost every field of natural knowledge. Education
consisted largely of memorizing what authorities had said.
Some schools actually prohibited original thinking. If Aristotle
said a vacuum cannot exist, then that was that; memorize it and regurgitate
it on the test. But early in his education, Robyn learned to
question the opinions of mere men. He was introduced by a teacher
to the new experimental method of learning. Young Boyle
also had a bright mind that asked questions, that was unsatisfied by
rote answers from experts. He wanted to know how the authorities
knew what they claimed, and why it was necessary to follow them.
After all, who had been their authorities?
At age 17 Boyles life took a dramatic turn. Though certainly
not a spoiled rich child, he was suddenly transferred to the school of hard knocks.
While on an extended, all-expense-paid educational tour of Europe with his
brother Frank and a tutor, war broke out in Ireland.
Oblivious to the crisis at home, Robert visited
leading scientists. He almost got to see Galileo, missing the
opportunity by a few months due to the great astronomers death.
Paris, Rome, the great centers of learning had been on their itinerary when
the word reached them from their desperate father that the war had hit
home. King Charles, occupied with other conflicts, had been
unable to aid the Irish landowners against the popular uprising, and the
Earl of Cork had to spend every resource to protect his estate.
In dire straits,
his father wrote to the sons that no more money could be forthcoming.
To the boys tutor, he wrote, For with inward grief of soul I
write this truth unto you that I am no longer able to supply them beyond
this last payment. But if they serve God and be careful and discreet
in their carriage [i.e., lifestyle], God will bless them and provide for
them as hitherto He has done for me.
Frank rushed back home to help,
but Robyn had been too ill to be of military assistance, and remained
back in Geneva with the tutor. It was no use. Lewis, a brother, died in
battle. Lord Barrymore, the Great Earls favorite son-in-law, died
in battle; and the grief-stricken father died the day the truce was signed
not only had the rebels destroyed his property and foundries, scattered his
family and stolen all his possessions, but as part of the peace treaty,
the king sacrificed all the Earls land to the rebels. Now
Robyn stayed two years in Geneva with the tutor, until he could no longer bear
burdening his host. Selling the last remaining valuables, he boarded
a ship for London. He was 17 years old.
Tiner describes the setting: Robyn
had begun his travels from this city. When he left hed
enjoyed every possible advantage. His future seemed secure.
He could look forward to wealth, an estate in the country, and perhaps
a family with Lady Ann Howard as his wife. Now, five years later,
Robyn walked the streets of London penniless and alone.
A famous gospel preacher once said, The test of a mans
character is what it takes to stop him. Young Robert Boyles
character now faced the acid test. Coming from such a large family,
he did have siblings. Robert moved in with his sister Katherine,
13 years older, who was a widow after surviving a very unhappy arranged
marriage to a churlish alcoholic named Viscount Ranelagh (fortunately for her,
he died young). Katherine and Robert were alike in that they both loved
learning and were not rebellious like many of the other Boyle children.
It would take years for Robert to regain control of his share of
his fathers assets, and he considered his situation unworthy of the
marriage that had been arranged for him.
Nevertheless, with Lady Ranelaghs
help and some remaining properties, he was not destitute. Another
productive influence she provided him were her social contacts.
Katherine had many friends who were scientists and intellectuals.
A group of Oxford scholars under John Wilkins had formed a loosely-knit
science club they dubbed
the Invisible College, because it had no formal organization
or meeting place. Though a mere teenager to these intellectuals, Robert
impressed them with his aptitude and knowledge. His mind continued
to flourish within this non-traditional university program.
Politically, it was a tense time; these were the days leading up to the Cromwell revolution,
when Parliament and King Charles were at odds and tensions ran high. Boyle took refuge in a
family manor in Dorset and kept a low profile. He devoted himself
to his three loves: reading, writing, and dabbling in science. During this period
some profound works came from his pen on theology and personal Christian
living, including Style of the Scriptures, Occasional Reflections,
Ethics, and Some Motives and Incentives to the Love of God.
Katherine distributed copies of some of these to her friends. As a result,
Roberts reputation as a writer began to grow. Robert recalled how
at age 13 he had learned the fear of God. Awakened by a thunderstorm,
the reality of Gods judgment flowed into his mind. He realized
right then that he was not ready to face his Maker. He knew his
good works were not enough: he needed salvation, and cried out to God for
From that night forward, he kept his promise to live as a true Christian,
not just going to church and being good, but sincerely trusting
in the gift of God through Jesus Christ and following Him as his Lord and
Savior. Now at Stalbridge Manor, the young man was writing about how
to see Gods providence in all things.
During this period of his 20's, Boyle read voraciously and also tried
scientific experiments, inspired by Galileos writings and his contacts from the
Invisible College. Bad experiences with doctors medicines
(carelessly prescribed without standards or quality control in those days)
him to learn chemistry; Robert was frail in health much of his life and
took great interest in finding effective medicines as well as avoiding
bad ones. These years were somewhat unstructured and lonely for him.
After ten years at Stalbridge, at age 27 he was invited to come to
Oxford, the leading intellectual center in England in those times.
This move launched his scientific career. Now with greater
insight and maturity from his reading and experiments, Boyle was again in
touch with the Invisible College, made up of doctors, scientists and theologians
who for the most part were devout Christians. Like the
other participants, Robert was excited about the prospects of the new
learning and experimental philosophy inspired by
the works of Francis Bacon and Galileo. Committed to the
principle that science should be used not just for pride of knowing
but for the good of mankind, the
College promoted experimentation on a variety of subjects: chemistry,
physics, and medicine. During his six years of informal association
with the Invisible College at Oxford, Boyle was
largely self-taught. He did not earn a degree or professorship.
Soon, however, he would be the most eminent
scientist in Britain.
Robert Boyle was a self-starter. He did not need a graduate adviser
to point the way. Eager to discover the natural laws the Creator
had devised, and with financial resources sufficiently restored, Robert
built a laboratory, equipped it, and hired assistants. His most
capable assistant was a young man named Robert Hooke. What Hooke
lacked in social skills he made up for engineering acumen (the prototype
nerd); the master would tell him what he needed, and Hooke would invent it.
Boyle had heard about interesting preliminary experiments with vacuum pumps.
Otto von Guericke had demonstrated by 1650 the ability to pump the air out of
a wine barrel, and then a copper globe, but the devices were clumsy and
difficult to operate, requiring the efforts of two strong men.
Boyle was intrigued by the idea of creating a vacuum. Aristotle
had claimed Nature abhors a vacuum; Descartes, many Jesuits
and most others never thought to
question that dogma. To Boyle, this was a chance to show the
superiority of the experimental philosophy, so he asked Hooke to help him
make a better air pump. What followed was groundbreaking science,
methods that set standards for empirical work that survive to this day.
Hookes ingenuity provided Boyle with an easily-operated
air pump with a glass receiver, into which the duo inserted a variety
of items that could be easily observed as the air was pumped out.
They put a ticking clock in and noticed the sound drop to silence as
air was removed. They put a bird and a kitten in and watched them struggle,
then succumb, for lack of air. They observed that sound, but not light, was
affected by the vacuum. They watched a candle go out.
Each observation was meticulously recorded,
but beyond the mere collection of facts, Boyle had the insight to
interpret the results and formulate hypotheses that could be tested.
A suite of cleverly-contrived experiments provided Boyle and Hooke with
many exciting results, some that contradicted common sense, and many
that contradicted Aristotle.
Then, Boyle set two other important
precedents: he published his results in lively English, leading
to the tradition of popularizing science,
and he carefully described his apparatus so that others could try to reproduce the
experiments, leading to the principle of repeatability.
He was even brutally honest about failures and errors,
feeling these were necessary parts of the learning process.
All this was almost unheard of in the practice of science.
His first paper in 1660, New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall Touching
the Spring of the Air, and its Effects, created no small stir.
Some critics thought it unwise to question the great master Aristotle.
Others thought science should be published only in Latin.
Most, however, read his work with great eagerness. Boyle,
in effect, showed that science belonged to every man, and that it had very
practical effects. It led to principles that could be tested and repeated
by anyone (though few could hope to exceed the precision and thoroughness
of his experiments). Marie Boas Hall, writing for Scientific
American (1967), judged one of Boyles
most novel creations the idea that one could prove a scientific
theory by experiment an idea we take for granted today, but nearly
the reverse of the Aristotelian/deductive approach to science of his time.
Boyle and Hookes lab teamwork led to many discoveries.
Air, he proved, acted much like a spring; it acted like a mechanical
substance (i.e., one subject to laws, not spirits or essences).
Air contained ingredients essential to life and combustion.
Advancing the earlier work of Torricelli, they showed air had weight and pressure.
They experimented with colors, optics, and chemical analysis, including
the first crude litmus test for acids and bases. By testing combinations
of substances, Boyle deduced that complex chemicals could be classified
into simpler elements (but not the Aristotelian view of elements such
as earth, air, fire and water, of which everything was supposed to contain
proportions). In his best-known experiment, he poured mercury into
a J-shaped tube and observed the size of the air column trapped as he added
more fluid. With fastidious measurements, he discovered that
doubling the pressure cut the volume in half: P = k/V, a relationship
later named Boyles Law in his honor. This was on the cutting edge
of the concept that there existed
laws of nature that were discoverable by experiment.
Well into his senior years, Boyle continued his experiments,
discoveries and publications. His work contributed
to the understanding of phosphorus, acids and bases, salts, precipitates
and chemical elements. His achievements in
chemistry, both practical and theoretical, began to steer it from the
mystical and secretive arts of the alchemists, leading many historians to
consider him the Father of Chemistry. Notice how Aristotles
statement Nature abhors a vacuum
implied a kind of animistic character to the world; Boyles approach began to
steer science away from a personified nature, and view it as a
machine created by God and operating according to laws. Though
Boyle was not alone in this approach, he showed originality and
creative insight. Marie Hall Boas explains:
The English scientists were much influenced by Descartes careful
formulation of his mechanical philosophy, toward which they were further
predisposed by their adherence to similar ideas of Bacons. ...
[She describes the influence also of Gassendi and Epicurus.]
By the middle 1650s Boyle had worked out his
own version of the mechanical philosophythe corpuscular
philosophy, as he called itin which he drew on both the
Cartesian and the atomic views but wholly accepted neither.
He believed those two grand and most Catholic [i.e., universal]
principles, matter and motion, sufficed to explain all the
properties of matter as we experience it.
As we experience it indicates that Boyle understood the
limitations of science. His other writings, additionally, make it clear
he believed in the immanence of God, that the Creator is active in his creation.
Boyle was not a mechanist in the sense of denying the possibility of
miracles. He believed only that in the normal workings of Nature,
Gods providence operated through uniform mechanical principles accessible
Hall describes Boyles disagreements with Descartes, Spinoza,
and Huygens who felt that the ultimate test of a theory was the
appeal to reason. On the contrary, Boyle believed it was
possible to prove a theory by experiment. This was a novel idea,
not universally accepted at the time, Hall claims, and she feels it is evidence
for the originality of Boyles approach to scientific
proofand to chemistry. Obviously, the scientific
world followed Boyles lead. This establishes his importance
not only as an experimenter, but as a pioneering philosopher of science.
The wealth of his experimental work demonstrates that he walked his talk.
Robert Boyle was one of the 12 charter members of a new organization founded in 1662,
The Royal Society for the Improving of Natural Knowledge. Its charter
was to promote the experimental philosophy for the common good.
In clear contradistinction to the Aristotelians, they made their motto
Nothing by mere authority; in other words,
submit all claims about nature to the test of experiment.
The founders and early members were predominantly Christians, especially
Puritans. Henry Oldenberg,
Boyles literary assistant, was secretary.
The charter issue of their publication,
the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, written in Oldenbergs
hand and readable on the Royal Society website,
reflects the Christian and humanitarian ideals of the organization.
Though Boyle refused the presidency of the Royal Society because of scruples
about taking an oath, he was its most influential and esteemed member, especially at the
time young Isaac Newton was just becoming a rising star. There had
been academies and scientific clubs before, like the Academy of the Lynx
to which Galileo belonged, but the Royal Society was the
first true formal institution dedicated to experimental science, and its
Philosophical Transactions is the longest-running scientific
journal in the world. As the number of fellows grew and meetings
shared the latest experimental demonstrations at Gresham College in London,
the fledgling organization became the cheerleader for the scientific revolution.
At this point it is instructive to note some early crooked swaths that soon
became entrenched, leading to unintended consequences. Why is the
Royal Society the quintessential naturalist-Darwinist-atheist
organization it is today? Surely Boyle, John Wilkins, Henry Oldenberg
and the other founders would be appalled to see their journals filled with
absurd evolutionary speculations on every subject, propounding atheism as
belief in the Bible and creation, as do most other
scientific societies in our post-Darwinist world. What happened?
In an article in Christian History magazine
(issue 76 - November 2002, pp. 39-40), Chris Armstrong argues that the
charter members defended religion but laid the groundwork for irreligion
through compromise. The Royal Society was a curious blend of Puritan
and Anglican, those who put all authority in the Bible and those who
valued tradition. They thought they could ignore their religious
differences and unite around the new experimental philosophy, because all of them
agreed that natures admirable contrivance and accurate
order and symmetry glorified the Creator, His power and glory.
It does, of course, but this lowest-common-denominator approach
glosses over deeper issues: does the authority of the word of God extend
to science? Is fallen man capable of discerning truth apart from the
spirit of God? For both pragmatic and pious reasons,
Armstrong writes, some members of the Royal Society were influenced
by the rationalist approach to religion urged by the Cambridge Platonists.
In their public discourse they gravitated toward an essential Christianity
that affirmed only the existence of God, the souls immortality,
and each persons ethical obligation to others.
why their meetings were soon obsessed with microscopic images of fly eyes and
plant seeds and euphoria about all the possible benefits of science, but
lost its focus on the Creator till the temple was filled with
syncretistic idols, and like Ezekiel describes, the spirit of God, by
stages, departed. Why didnt the deeply
religious members see this coming? Sadly, their compromise put
them on the defensive. They faced charges of irreligion
themselves, Armstrong notes, and Hall adds, they were denounced
from the pulpit, and its Fellows came to be touchy about any accusation of
godlessness. They answered these charges, Armstrong
alleges, by insisting that the evidences of lawfulness and design in
the fabric of things pointed not away from by toward God.
Little did they realize, he argues, that the broadly-shared, lowest common
denominator principle of design would become, in the next century, a
substitute for the Christ-centered teachings of the historic church.
There was a God, all would agree, but like Lewis Carrolls Cheshire
Cat, He would slowly vanish till just the grin was left. The distant
clockmaker God of the deist would displace the God and Father of
our Lord Jesus Christ, because there was no need of that hypothesis.
Is history repeating itself? Those in the intelligent design movement,
who think Muslims and Jews and Christians and even atheists can rally around
the banner of design would do well to study the history of the Royal Society.
Its not that design arguments are unsound or unconvincing; but unless
men are brought all the way to the gospel of Christ and their minds are
renewed by the Holy Spirit, the demon is not dislodged; he returns with
seven more, till the last situation is worse than the first.
This parenthesis was necessary before turning to the philosophical works
of Robert Boyle. There is no question of his commitment to historic
Christianity and the authority of the Bible. Mulfinger writes that
he was strictly orthodox in his Christian beliefs, and was intolerant
of preachers who spiritualized or allegorized important truths of the Bible
rather than accepting them at face value. Though he remained
within the Anglican church, he was a Puritan at heart, supportive of the
nonconformists who had left the state church; he even supported some financially
and had many Puritan friends. Boyle studied the Scriptures in the
original languages and accepted the Genesis accounts as literal, historical
truth. His faith was well reasoned and not traditional, refined in
the furnace of dealing with intellectual doubt, as was surely a trial any must
face in an intellectual climate. But he knew even as a young man that
doubt was a refining fire: He whose Faith never doubted, he
stated in 1647, may justly doubt his faith.
That his faith passed the refinement crucible to the point of reasoned
commitment was made clear when he said, I am not a Christian,
because it is the religion of my country, and my friends, when I chuse
to travel in the beaten road, it is not, because I find it is the road,
but because I judge it is the way.
Perhaps in hindsight the Puritan members could have taken stronger steps to steer the
Royal Society away from compromise. They did oppose the philosophy of
Thomas Hobbes, and most of its members were godly
men: John Wilkins, the first secretary, was similarly convinced of the
authority of Scripture, and over half the original Fellows were
Puritans. Nevertheless, its purpose was
to promote experimental science, not theology. The unintended
consequence of any institution that seeks to uncover truth apart from
a prior commitment to Christian revelation is that it will never be
content to stay within the bounds
of observable and repeatable phenomena. It will want to explain
everything, even First Causes, by natural means.
Eventually, it becomes a substitute religion, arrogating
to itself the right to explain all that is, was and ever will be.
The Royal Society charter, God-fearing as it is, makes the hidden
assumption that unregenerate men are perfectly capable of discerning truth,
without having a commitment to the One who is the
way, the Truth, and the Life.
It presumes an incomplete Fall, treating the mind as unaffected.
Given those assumptions, human pride
resulting from sin will generate a science that
refuses to accept its limitations and moral flaws. It gives
Satan a handle to turn an honorable thing into a tool of skepticism.
The end result is
seen in papers published in todays Philosophical Transactions
that seek to explain the evolution of morals and the origin of the
universe from nothing. It leads to arrogant addresses by its officers that
science is superior to Christian faith as a path to truth in all
areas of inquiry.
In those first decades, however, the Royal Society was blessed by the
virtuous Christian testimony and reasoned faith of Robert
Boyle. His integrity was impeccable.
Throughout his life, Boyle was humble, gracious, prayerful, and
peace-loving. He was conscientious to a fault, even stopping to
pause respectfully before mentioning the name of God.
He was adamantly intolerant of swearing.
Never physically robust, it is remarkable how productive
he was. His secret powerhouse was passionate
love of God and fascination with creation.
Boyles pastor described him in these words: His great
thoughts of God, and his contemplation of his works, were to him
sources of continual joy, which never could be exhausted.
Apparently this is part of the reason he never married, along with
his distaste for the abuse of marriage that was prevalent among men
of his day. Instead, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to his
work. Furthermore, he was strong supporter of foreign missions;
For years, he financially supported Christian missionaries and Bible translations
to the far east, to the Irish (those who had robbed his fathers lands),
and to the Indians across the sea in the thriving American colonies.
He lived frugally, but gave profligately toward the advancement of the gospel.
His zeal for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ was matched by his
zeal against atheism. To him, science never rated even a close
second to Christian faith in importance. He said,
For I, that had much rather have men not philosophers than not Christians,
should be better content to see you ignore the mysteries of nature, than
deny the author of it. (By atheism, Boyle did not mean just
philosophical denial of God, which was less common in his day, but the practical
atheism that makes even a believer live as if there was no God.)
In his will, he established a fund for
a series of eight lectures, to be given once a year, for the defense of
the historic Christian faith against atheism, and the demonstration of
the superior reasonableness of Biblical Christianity against any philosophy
or arguments of critics and skeptics. The Boyle Lectures,
as they came to be known, continued for many years.
In his writings, Robert Boyle advanced the study of the
relationship between the Christianity and science. His words
are well-reasoned, profound and enlightening.
He did not fall into the trap of relegating the Bible to matters of
morals and faith alone; without qualification, he applied II Tim. 3:16
(All Scripture is given by inspiration of God) to the
entire Bible, including Genesis. Furthermore, he believed in verbal
inspiration, meaning that Gods revelation was
contained in the very words, not just the meaning, of the text (the latter
view opening the door to unlimited human paraphrasing.)
This drove him to study the ancient languages to understand the
primitive sense of the original words, especially for
passages that, in English translation, presented difficulties.
In approaching difficulties, Boyle recognized that the Bibles
purpose was not to provide quantitative scientific descriptions
of the natural world like a textbook.
Using this interpretive framework, he dealt forthrightly with issues of when
to evaluate a passage as poetry or narrative, and when it should
be treated as descriptive vs. prescriptive.
He followed Calvins teaching on accommodation, that the Holy Spirit
used language appropriate to the common man, not specialists. The Bible
contains easily-understood phrases such as the rising and setting of the sun,
using the language of appearance instead of quantitative, technical description.
Thus, passages that seemed to teach geocentricity could be understood as
figures of speech without sacrificing verbal inspiration.
As such, Boyle is a good model for todays Christian virtuosi who
desire to advance science without sacrificing Biblical authority.
Michael Hunter, a Boyle historian and compiler of his voluminous output,
is impressed with the depth and breadth
of his thinking on these subjects:
preoccupation was the relationship between Gods power, the created
realm, and mans perception of it, a topic on which he wrote
extensively. ... Boyle laid stress on the extent to which Gods
omniscience transcended the limited bounds of human reason, taking a
position that contrasted with the rather complacent rationalism of
contemporary divines .... He also reflected
at length on the proper understanding of final causes, and in conjunction
with this provided one of the most sophisticated expositions of the
design argument in his period. Boyles significance for the
history of science depends almost as much on the profound views on
difficult issues put forward in these philosophical writings as it does
on his experimental treatises.
Hunter goes on to describe the intense hostility Boyle expressed
against any views of nature that he saw as detracting from a proper
appreciation of Gods power in his creation. These
included lengthy published arguments against Aristotelianism and
the materialism of Thomas Hobbes, despite his professed
disinclination to involve himself in philosophical disputes.
On the positive side, the
titles of some of Boyles books hint at their rich contents:
Some Considerations touching the Usefulness of Experimental
Natural Philosophy; Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Receivd
Notion of Nature; The Excellency of Theology, Compard with
Natural Philosophy, Discourse of Things Above Reason, Disquisition
about the Final Causes of Natural Things, and especially,
The Christian Virtuoso. In these, Hunter
writes, Boyle made a profound contribution to an understanding
of what he saw as the proper relationship between God and the
natural world, and mans potential for comprehending this.
It is enriching to read Boyles own words on the
relation of science and Scripture. There is so much of it, only
excerpts are provided on a separate page. For those who
wish to dig deeper into the mind of this great creation scientist,
see the Boyle website.
There, Michael Hunter and a group of scholars are compiling and publishing the
works of Robert Boyle. They even publish a newsletter, On the Boyle about
latest efforts to collect and disseminate his works.
wealth of words we could quote in closing, perhaps the most succinct
is the best. It states clearly and simply the reason a Christian
should be a virtuoso, which in his time meant a lover of knowledge
(a synonym for natural philosopher or scientist). It echoes a
familiar theme running through this book, a motivation stated by
many science-loving Christians from the early middle ages on into the
21st century. Boyle encapsulates it in only ten words:
From a knowledge of His work, we shall know Him.
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Read Boyle! See our page of
Read Robert Doolans biography from Creation Ex Nihilo Magazine
Can you afford 14 Volumes of
Boyle books? Look over the titles, and the blurbs by admirers.
A picture of the volumes can be seen on the
of Philosophy has a lengthy biography.
A short biography of Boyles life and science is at the
of Mathematics website.
This short biography by Dr. Brad D. Hume on the
History of Science
Chronology Project has a diagram of the apparatus Boyle used to discover
Boyles Law, and a picture of the cover of his book The Sceptical Chymist.
Here is the official Boyle
Project website at the University of London, headed by
Dr. Michael Hunter
of Birkbeck College, London, who has been researching his works for 15
years. Here you can find out whats
On the Boyle
(i.e., their newsletter). The site also has links, a bibliography,
lists of works, and a good introductory biography by Boyle expert
Michael Hunter, complete
The Royal Society is
still going strong, and has online history resources.
Antony van Leeuwenhoek 1632 - 1723
Its not often that a layman untrained in science makes a fundamental discovery, starts a new branch of science,
and alters the course of human history. Nor is it often that a layman shows exemplary scientific technique that becomes a
model for scientists to come. Antony van Leeuwenhoek was such a person. Extremely inventive, careful, and precise,
unfettered by false notions of the day, Leeuwenhoek was driven by an insatiable curiosity that captivated him at age 40 and kept
him going to his dying day at age 91. It started when he read a copy of Robert Hookes new illustrated book
Micrographia, which contained drawings of insects, cork, textiles and other things revealed under a microscope at magnifications about
20-30x. Leeuwenhoek took to grinding his own lenses and making his own microscopes. Perfecting a technique that
raised the power to over 200x, he opened up a whole new world never before seen by man: the world of microorganisms.
Born in Delft, Holland, Antony did not have any inclinations or opportunities to become a scientist. He would also know
hardship and grief. His father, a basket maker, died when he was five or six. His mother was the daughter of a beer
brewer. She remarried a painter and bailiff, but he died when Antony was 16. He was educated by an uncle, and
never went to a university, never learned Latin (the scientific language of the day) or any other language other than his native
Dutch. By age 16, he was apprenticed to a textile merchant, and he became a drapery shopkeeper before he was 22.
He married Barbara de Mey, the daughter of a silk merchant about that time. The Leeuwenhoeks had five children, four of whom died
Antony became a chamberlain in 1660, later a surveyor and an inspector of the measures for wine. Through his
appointments and possibly some inheritance, he attained a comfortable income with time to pursue what would later become his
famous hobby. His wife died in 1666 when he was 34; five years later, he married Cornelia Swalmius, the daughter of another
cloth merchant who was also a Calvinist minister. Her influence may somehow have stimulated Antonys investigations
into science, since these began within two years after their marriage. This second marriage lasted 23 years till her death in 1694;
Antony was cared for by his last daughter till his death in 1723, thus carrying on his scientific work for an additional 29 years after becoming a widower
a second time.
Leeuwenhoek did not invent the microscope (compound magnifying lenses were known 40 years before he was born), but he took it
to new levels of power. He was probably acquainted with magnifying lenses used to investigate the textiles in his trade.
His only trip to London (between marriages, in 1668) introduced him to the unseen natural world under the magnifying lens shown in Robert
Hookes popular new book, Micrographia. We can only surmise what sparked his interest in microscopy that
was in full bloom five years later; this book? His second wife or her intellectual friends? His own curiosity about nature? Somehow, he
began grinding his own magnifying glasses, and perfecting a way to mount them and hold specimens in position for viewing.
Crude by todays standards, they were nevertheless far superior to those used by Hooke, Swammerdam, Malphighi and others,
and were unsurpassed until the 19th century. (The electron microscope would have to wait 250 years.)
The compound microscopes of his day suffered from chromatic aberration and were not useful much above 20x. Leeuwenhoek
made tiny lenses not much bigger than a pinhead in his simple microscopes, but aided with excellent eyesight, he achieved magnifications
as high as 270x and 1.4 micron resolution. He was now in position to peer into a world never before seen by human eyes.
Other scientists of the day were content to magnify well-known objects like leaves and textiles. Leeuwenhoek wanted to
see the invisible. By 1673, when he was finding exciting things with his microscope, a friend put him in touch with the
Royal Society of London. Antony sent them drawings (made by a friend) of bee stings and mouthparts, a louse and a fungus.
The eminent British scientists were at first skeptical of the claims by this untrained layman who only spoke Dutch. When in
1676 he described finding microorganisms in water that were so small that ten thousand of these living creatures could scarce
equal the bulk of a coarse sand grain, the surprised Royal Society requested corroboration from
other eyewitnesses, especially since Robert Hooke himself could not repeat them (until later, with a more powerful microscope).
Several friends, including a pastor, and a notary public, sent affidavits that they also saw these things through Antonys microscope.
As Leeuwenhoeks observations were found to be true and accurate, his reputation grew, and by 1680 this untrained layman
was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. Though he would never revisit London or attend a meeting, the Dutch cloth
merchant kept up a lively relationship with the British scientists
for fifty years, sending them hundreds of letters with attached samples, some of which survive to this day in the Royal Society archives,
along with a few of his hand-made microscopes; though out of hundreds he manufactured, only nine survive.
Leeuwenhoeks letters sparkle with the excitement of discovery. Part of the fun of reading them is catching his
infectious joy; where words like astonished, wonderful, odd, perfect, marvelous, inconceivable are frequent as he describes his wee
animalcules and their motions. Describing protozoa and bacteria in a drop of fresh water,
he writes, The motion of most of them in the water was so swift, and so various, upwards, downwards, and roundabout, that
I admit I could not but wonder at it. I judge that some of these little creatures were above a thousand times smaller than the
smallest ones which I have hitherto seen on the rind of cheese, wheaten flour, mold and the like . . . . Some of these are
so exceedingly small that millions of millions might be contained in a single drop of water. I was much surprised at this
wonderful spectacle, having never seen any living creature comparable to those for smallness; nor could I indeed imagine that
nature had afforded instances of so exceedingly minute animal proportions. His vocabulary must have seemed
a bit undignified to the British scientists at times describing the plaque between his teeth, he wrote, I then most
always saw, with great wonder, that in the said matter there were many little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving, the biggest
sort...had a very strong and swift motion, and shot through the water (or spittle) like a pike does through the water. The
second sort...oft-times spun round like a top. but Antonys intense curiosity and amazement at what he was seeing
provided the energy and patience to hold his little two-inch microscopes, illuminated by a nearby candle-flame, up to his eyes
repeatedly for five decades.
Of his motivation, he himself wrote, ...my work, which Ive done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise
I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men.
Dobell, a translator of many of his letters, describes him thus: Our Leeuwenhoek was manifestly a man of great and
singular candour, honesty, and sincerity. He was religiously plain and straightforward in all he did, and therefore
sometimes almost immodestly frank in describing his observations. It never occurred to him that Truth could appear
indecent. His letters, accordingly, are full of outspoken thoughts which more scientific writers would hesitate
to put on paper: and to the modern reader this is, indeed, one of his particular charmsfor he is far more childlike and
innocent and modern than any present-day writer. (Dobell, p. 73).
investigated almost anything and everything that could be held up to his lens, exemplifying technical skill, persistence, curiosity, insight
and penchant for accuracy that would become a model for others working in experimental biology. He was the first to observe bacteria,
rotifers and protists like Vorticella and Volvox. He observed blood cells and was the
first to see the whiplike action of sperm cells. He also labored passionately to dispel myths. Working independently, untied to the
common misconceptions by scientists of his day, he used good empirical methods to find the truth. One year, for instance, when
people found objects that looked like burnt paper with mysterious writing on them and attributed them to messages from heaven,
Antony proved they were merely dried sheets of algae. In his proof, he did a model forensic analysis, even reproducing the
processes that led to the phenomenon. More importantly, Leeuwenhoek refuted the doctrine of spontaneous
generation that was popular in his day, the idea that living things emerge spontaneously from inanimate mattereels
from dew, shellfish from sand, maggots from meat, and weevils from wheat. He observed the complete life cycle of ants, fleas,
mussels, eels, and various insects, proving that all organisms had parents. It would take another 150 years for the false
notion of spontaneous generation to be dealt its final death blow under Louis Pasteur (although a new form of the doctrine arose in
the twentieth century, of necessity under Darwinian philosophy, under the name chemical evolution).
Antony van Leeuwenhoek became somewhat of a celebrity in his old age. Visitors to his little shop wanting to see
microscopic wonders included Peter the Great, King James II, and Frederick II of Prussia. His relationship with the Royal Society also brought
him into contact with other leading scientists of the day. He had no regard for fame or
position, though, and would rebuff royalty if he was too busy, or if they had not made an appointment. Truly his passion
was for the wonders of nature that God had allowed him to investigate. There are indications he was also interested in
navigation, astronomy, mathematics, and other natural sciences. He said, Man has always to be busy with his
thoughts if anything is to be accomplished.
It is difficult to find much detail about Leeuwenhoeks church attendance or spiritual life in most biographical sources, which tend
to focus on his experimental achievements, but it is clear that faith in God and a love for creation were the key influences behind his
scientific work. He was born into the Dutch Reformed tradition,
which had a high view of Scripture and salvation in Jesus Christ, and a firm doctrine of creation,
Of his religion, Richard Westfall of Indiana University writes, He was baptized and buried in Calvinist churches, and his
second wife was the daughter of a Calvinist minister. This tradition, furthermore, understood and encouraged mans
role in the investigation of Gods handiwork in nature. A. Schierbeek, the Editor-in-Chief of the collected letters of Leeuwenhoek,
explains that he was part of the New Philosophy of scientists like Robert Boyle, who regarded the study of nature as a work to the
glory of God and the benefit of Man. The newly-formed Royal Society was made up largely of Puritans with
similar convictions, from which we can infer Leeuwenhoek shared with them a common bond of belief, since he took great pride in his relationship with
the Royal Society, mentioning it on his title pages and even on his tombstone. Schierbeek observes, His works are full of
his admiration of creation and the Creator, a theme which is frequently found in writings of this period; in becoming better acquainted with
creation, men wanted to get nearer the Creator, a conviction which is found among many of the early members of the Royal Society.
(Schierbeek, p. 200). Thus we see again that Christianity was the driving force during the rise of modern science.
Of Leeuwenhoeks personal faith, Schierbeek says, To this we must add his deep
religious assurance, his complete faith in the All-wise Creator, a never-flagging admiration for the perfection of the most
minute, hidden mysteries of the work of His hands and the conviction that his researches would surely help to make His Omnipotence
more universally known. Without ever lapsing into high-flown phrases he repeatedly gave evidence of his religious faith:
Let us lay the hand on our mouth, and reflect that the All-wise hath deemed this needful for the reproduction of all that
hath received movement and growth, and so, the why and the wherefore we can but guess after. (Schierbeek, p. 31).
It is clear, too, from his stand against non-Christian superstitions such as the doctrine of spontaneous
generation, that he held to a Biblical doctrine of creation. He believed it foolish to think his little animalcules could have formed by chance, and he worked
diligently to prove that all things reproduce after their kind, as the book of Genesis teaches. For example, after working for
weeks observing the propagation of insects, Leeuwenhoek stated confidently, . . . This must
appear wonderful, and be a confirmation of the principle, that all living creatures deduce their origin from those which were formed
at the Beginning. (Schierbeek, p. 137). After another remarkable series of experiments on rotifers in 1702 he concluded:
The preceding kinds of experiments I have repeated many times with the same success, and in particular with some of the sediment
which had been kept in my study for about five months. . . From all these observations, we discern most plainly
the incomprehensible perfection, the exact order, and the inscrutable providential care with which the most wise Creator and Lord of
the Universe had formed the bodies of these animalcules, which are so minute as to escape our sight, to the end that different species
of them may be preserved in existence. And this most wonderful disposition of nature with regard to these animalcules for the
preservation of their species; which at the same time strikes us with astonishment, must surely convince all of the absurdity of those
old opinions, that living creatures can be produced from corruption of putrefaction. [Schierbeek, p. 171]
From Leeuwenhoeks writings we frequently sense the awe and wonder that can only emanate from a man who has a joyful, personal
relationship with God the Creator. Dan Graves, in Scientists of Faith (Kregel, 1996), writes, He often referred with reverence
to the wonders God designed in making creatures small and great. His virtues were perseverance, simplicity, and
stubbornness. He loved truth above any theory, even his own. He asked of his challengers only that they prove
their points as he proved his. Schierbeek says, Leeuwenhoek was driven by a passionate desire to penetrate
more deeply into the mysteries of creation. To him, as to many others of his time, a watch was a greater specimen of
craftsmanship than a clock in a tower; this opinion is reflected in his biological views. The microscope gave him the
opportunity to study and admire the small organisms, the animalcules, and whenever he was able he expressed
his admiration of the beautiful things he saw. (Schierbeek, p. 196).
Leeuwenhoek died shortly after dictating his latest observations to the Royal Society. Clearly his long and full life was
filled with the enthusiasm of scientific inquiry. Microscopy has come a long way since then; scientists now use electron
microscopes which, at 100,000x, are hundreds of times more powerful, investigating wonders even more amazing than those
Leeuwenhoek saw: DNA, molecular motors, and the machinery of the cell. A vast horizon of creation under the
microscope still remains largely unexplored. Do you have the Leeuwenhoek spirit? We hope his story will encourage
others to see the scientific investigation of nature as a source of joy, and a means of glorifying God. Dan Graves said,
Antonie van Leeuwenhoeks life glorified God in many ways, but perhaps most by
showing us that there is far more under the sun than we had first suspected.
A. Schierbeek, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of the Collected Letters of A. v. Leeuwenhoek, Formerly Lecturer in the History of Biology
in the University of Leyden, Measuring the Invisible World: The Life and Works of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek F R S,
Abelard-Schuman (London and New York, 1959), QH 31 L55 S3, LC 59-13233 . This book (223 pp.) contains excerpts of
Leeuwenhoeks letters and focuses on his priority in several new branches of science, but makes several important
references to his spiritual life and motivation.
Clifford Dobell, F R S, Protistologist to the Medical Research Council, London, Antony van Leeuwenhoek and His
Little Animals, Staples Press Ltd (Cavendish Place, London, 1932), QH 31L55 D6. This large book (435 pp.) contains
new translations of many of Leeuwenhoeks letters, but focuses on his observations. The author gives excessive
details about Leeuwenhoeks name, city, portraits and other matters, but seems to de-emphasize references to his faith or spiritual life.
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Antony van Leeuwenhoek
Brian J. Ford examined the archives of the Royal Society
first-hand, and found some of the actual letters and samples Leeuwenhoek had sent to them. Read his article,
From Dilettante to Diligent Experimenter: A Reappraisal of Leeuwenhoek as Microscopist and Investigator.
The site also has pictures of Leeuwenhoek microscopes and the samples Brian Ford found at the archives.
The BBC has a biography of
Leeuwenhoek in their Local Heroes series.
The Spaceship Earth website has a short
biography, and a more detailed one can be found at Who
Richard Westfall of Indiana University for the Galileo Project researched some
background material on Leeuwenhoeks family, education, religion, income, and scientific work.
Some of the best modern microphotography can be found in Microcosmos (Cambridge University Press, 1987) by
Jeremy Burgess, Michael Martin and Rosemary Taylor. It starts by saying, In 1683, the Dutchman
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek made a startling observation in one of his regular letters to the Royal Society of London.
He declared that there were more creatures living inside his mouth than there were people in the Netherlands. . . . Van Leeuwenhoek was the first person to see the teeming world of what we now know to be bacteria and protozoa.
The book continues with amazing photographs and descriptions of things Leeuwenhoek could not even have imagined.
Pictures! Heres a dazzling, colorful gallery of electron photomicrographs from
Dee Breger at Columbia University. Buckman Labs has
a collection of light microphotographs of protozoa and other organisms. Here are some images by
Ron Neuman of protozoa that Leeuwenhoek
discovered. Here is the Protist Image Data
from the University of Montreal, Steve Durrs outstanding collection of
color protozoa, and a general reference on
microscopy Much more can be found by searching the Web for
microphotography or microscopy.
Mark Armitage, a Christian and creationist, runs an electron microscope lab at Azusa-Pacific University and writes
occasional papers for the Creation Research Society
illustrated with his original micrographs.
The excellent film Unlocking the Mystery of Life is loaded with
excellent full-motion microphotography, and stunning computer animations of DNA and proteins at work. Imagine
how dumbfounded Leeuwenhoek
would have been to see molecular machines and factories at work in the cell, orders of magnitude smaller than the tiniest
parts he was able to resolve with his hand lenses!
Samuel F. B. Morse 1791 - 1872
Though an artist by profession, not primarily a scientist or inventor, Samuel F. B. Morse brought a scientific
principle to practical use and changed the world. When the grand idea of instantaneous communication
across great distances hit him, Morse caught an obsession that cost him every last penny
and earned him scorn and snubbing for twelve years, until at last the country gave him a chance to prove his
idea. Its a
great American story of perseverance, of putting science to use to improve the lives of millions.
a devout Christian, built on the exploratory work of other Christians and creationists, like Davy, Faraday and Henry.
In the process, he gave the world the first binary code (Morse Code) and a whole new industry (including
a huge boost to the American economy and thousands of new jobs), to say nothing of his other achievements
major improvements to the new invention of photography, and some of the most famous portrait and
landscape paintings in America. Did all this go to his head? When asked to sum up his lifes
work, Morse remembered the first message sent across the wires (see below), and said, It is His
work. Quoting Psalm 115:1, he confessed, Not unto us, but to Thy name, O Lord, be all
Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born in Boston when America was young, in the period when Ben Franklin
had recently experimented with the strange phenomenon of electricity. Franklin had proven that lightning was the same as the
static electricity familiar to those scuffing their shoes across the carpet. Electricity remained, however, a curiosity with no
practical use. His father, Jedediah Morse, had achieved fame as a minister and geographer who also investigated Flood
geology. Young Samuel Morse was not an exceptional student. When his father saw he had
some talent for sketching things, he reluctantly allowed him to pursue a career as an artist. Samuel
studied with American masters Gilbert Stuart and Benjamin West.
After a starving artist period of time trying
to support his new bride Lucretia with his portraiture work, Samuels skill garnered fame and aroused the
notice of the political elite in Washington. He was selected to paint the portrait of Lafayette.
While in Washington, meeting the rich and famous, he was unaware that his wife had taken sick and died!
It had taken weeks for the mail to arrive with heartbreaking news. Regretting he had not even had time
to say good-bye, Morse was reminded also of how many soldiers had died in the War of 1812 after peace had been declared,
because news traveled so slowly.
Morse had seen demonstrations of electricity during his college years and his travels, but no one had yet put
it to a practical use. It was on board the Sully on a return voyage from France that he overheard
a conversation about electricity and magnetism. A passenger was describing how Benjamin Franklin
had passed an electric current through miles of wire, and noticed an instantaneous spark at the other end.
Thus began the spark of an idea that would lead Morse through incredible trials, long hours of work, and near
starvation, trying to bring a great idea to reality.
Until the telegraph, communication over long distances was slow and tedious. The French had perfected
a system of semaphores on mountaintops to send messages from peak to peak, but it only worked on clear
days. The proverbial Indians had their smoke signals. Everyone else used feet and vocal cords.
Morses spark of an idea would bring the world the first instantaneous communication across the country
and across the ocean, day or night, regardless of the weather. But first he would have to sell his idea.
Samuel suspended his art work and poured himself into his new project. Early on he succeeded in making a working prototype.
In his endeavors, he was helped by the most famous American scientist of his day, Joseph Henry (also a devout
Christian and creationist). To his dismay, Morse found few interested in the idea. He spent all his
money trying to garner support; years went by with hopes followed by disappointments: some dismissing the idea
as foolish, some promising support but not delivering, few paying him serious attention. One day, when
he had raised enough support to attempt a public display across New York harbor, a passing
ship cut the telegraph line and made Morse the laughingstock of the day. Morse spent years experiencing
the three stages of reaction to a new invention: 1. Its crazy; 2. Its a good idea, but it will never work; 3.
I thought of it first.
Two years later Morse was in Washington with thirty-seven cents left to his name, waiting into the night for a Senate vote on
whether or not to fund a test of the telegraph. His proposal was low on the agenda after 143 other bills, the Senators were eager to adjourn for the season, and support did not look good. Preparing himself for
disappointment, he prayed and committed the work to the Lord, then slept. At breakfast the following
morning, he was approached by Annie G. Ellsworth, daughter of the Commissioner of Patents, with the exciting news that the Senate passed his proposal just before midnight
without debate, and it was already signed by President Harrison. This meant a test between Washington and Baltimore would be funded by the U.S. Government. Re-invigorated by the news, Morse immediately set to work.
The good news, however, was beset by more troubles: the underground
cables shorted out and melted the insulation, wasting the first seven miles of work and thousands of dollars - over half the funding. By
now Europeans were testing telegraph designs of their own; it was a race against time. With the advice
of Ezra Cornell and Joseph Henry, Morse agreed on a new design destined to change the American landscape
forever; overhead cables, strung between glass insulators on tall poles. The work resumed in earnest.
By May 24, 1844, the line was completed and ready for its historic test. Morse gave Annie Ellsworth
the choice of the first message to be sent over the lines. She chose a phrase from Numbers 23:23, What
hath God wrought. Morse was pleased. It would be sent with the worlds first binary
code, invented by Morse years earlier, a concept that would someday lead to ASCII and other binary codes
that power the Information Age of the 21st century. (Interestingly, after the binary system of the telegraph was
overtaken by the analog telephone, our modern computerized world has returned to binary digital representation so completely that
analog messages may soon be a thing of the past. A new generation of IP phones that transmit digitized voice over the Internet
will probably soon have us making our phone calls through our computers.)
Morse tapped out the message from the Supreme Court building in Washington:
. Within seconds, Alfred Vail, 41 miles away in Baltimore, who had not
been told the contents of the message, received it and echoed it back. It typed out in dots and dashes on a strip of paper before the hushed onlookers. Morse
translated the code, and read it aloud. The crowd erupted with an ovation of congratulations, as the excitement of
possibilities this invention would bring dawned like the light of a new day. After twelve years of hardship, Morses
hare-brained idea was
finally vindicated. A new chapter in history began overnight. Within two years, telegraph
lines stretched to Maine and Milwaukee. Soon they would overtake the Pony Express to the west coast.
Within decades, Lord Kelvin (another of the worlds greatest creation scientists), would lay the first successful telegraph cable
across the Atlantic. No more would travelers have to wait weeks for word of a dying relative, or soldiers hear too
late of declarations of peace. Instantaneous communication across continents was now a reality.
(Note: The message was sent in the original American Morse Code, which was modified into the later
International Morse Code. IMC is identical to AMC in the message What God hath wrought
except for the letter R, which in IMC is . Samuel Morse originally planned to represent whole words as
codes, but Vail helped Morse decide to use the dots and dashes for individual letters instead.)
The telegraph is considered one of the ten greatest inventions in history. Morse became one of the most famous
men in America, and the world. In his old age, thousands of telegraph operators came to thank him for creating
a whole new industry and giving them well paying, satisfying jobs. Morse gave all the credit to God, claiming the
message Annie had chosen, What hath God wrought, seemed divinely inspired. It is His work,
he reminded them; and He alone carried me thus far through all my trials and enabled me to triumph over the
obstacles, physical and moral, which opposed me. Not unto us, not unto us, by to Thy name, O Lord, be all
Many who learned in school to equate Morse with the telegraph are surprised to hear that he also was one of the greatest
American painters. He painted three hundred major canvasses, portraits and landscapes, which hang in galleries
across America and Europe. One of his paintings sold recently for three million dollars, the highest paid to that
date for an American painting. Morse was also the father
of photography in America. He had seen Daguerres studio in France before it burned to the ground, and
brought the technology to the United States, where he improved it greatly. His improvements allowed people to sit
for seconds instead of minutes under a hot lamp for their portrait.
Morse supported education and Sunday School,
making the prophetic comment, Education without religion is in danger of substituting wild theories for the simple commonsense
rules of Christianity. He saw a perfect harmony between the Word of God, the beauty of the landscapes he painted, and the scientific endeavors he undertook. After a long and successful career, Morse said, The nearer I approach the end of my
pilgrimage, the clearer is the evidence of the divine origin of the Bible, the grandeur and sublimity of Gods remedy
for fallen man are more appreciated, and the future is illumined with hope and joy.
Learn More About|
Samuel F. B. Morse
For an easy yet engaging account, good for young and old, read John Hudson Tiners book Artist With a Message: Samuel F. B. Morse, one of Mott Medias Sowers Series of excellent short biographies of famous Christians.
See Morses entry in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Everything you ever wanted to know about Morse Code, multiplied by a hundred!
Try also FreeDictionary.com.
Practice Morse Code with this software tool and improve
Research some of Morses original manuscripts in the Library
of Congress archives, including a picture of the paper tape output of the first message, What hath God wrought?,
and a letter in his own handwriting to his brother Sidney, expressing his humble jubilation after the success.