Is Christianity At War With Science? (9/20

The following is a continuing list of Christians down through the centuries who, far from being constantly at war with science (commonly called ‘natural philosophy’ in previous times), took an active interest in seeking to understand how the universe worked. The first page in this list is here.

1546-1595:  Thomas Digges:  An astronomer and ward of John Dee (mentioned below), Thomas Digges invented the theodlite (a surveying instrument for measuring vertical and horizontal angels which is still used today).  Arguably more important even than this invention was his popularization of the Copernican theory of astronomy, which he published in English as an appendix of a new edition of his father’s almanac, under the title ‘A Perfit Description of the Caelestiall Orbes according to the most aunciente doctrine of the Pythagoreans, latelye revived by Copernicus and by Geometricall Demonstrations approved’.

Consisting of chapters translated from Copernicus’ groundbreaking work ‘De revolutionibus orbium coelestium’ (on which Digges commented extensively), this appendix was the first time that Copernican theory had been published in English, and made the model immediately accessible to a far wider audience than ever before.  The result was that the Copernican theory (previously not well known), became popularized and better known to the English scientific establishment.

Another important contribution made by Digges was in his accompanying illustration of Copernicus’ work, in which he depicted an infinite series of stars rather than the fixed number usually found in standard astronomical works.

1548-1600:  Giordano Bruno:  Ordained a Dominican priest (though he later left the order), Bruno demonstrated a remarkable capacity for understanding and training human memory.  Bruno’s personal system of mnemonics enabled him to perform prodigious feats of memorization and recall, which were so remarkable that they were attributed by some to magical powers.

Bruno was also important for promoting the theories of Copernicus, which were still unpopular.  He believed that the planets moved under their own impetus (a power imparted to them at the time of their creation), that the entire universe was made of the same basic elements (a return to the conclusions of John Philoponus almost 1,000 years earlier), meaning that the planets and stars were not made of two distinct kinds of material (and thus that the stars must obey the same physical laws as the planets and everything on earth), and that space and time were unlimited.  He believed that the sun was simply one star among countless stars, and that the earth consisted of a part of one solar system out of many such solar systems scattered throughout the universe.

1527-1608:  John Dee:  Known popularly for his years of study in alchemy, astrology and mysticism, Dee was nevertheless a devoted Christian, whose contribution to science and learning only began to be appreciated in the 20th century.  He promoted the study of mathematics as central to the subjects of science and the arts, resulting in the popularising of mathematics among people without a formal education, which had a significant and lasting effect on the use of mathematics in the trades and non-academic professions.  A significant figure in cartography and navigation (studying with the famous Gerardus Mercator, father of modern maps), he trained ship pilots, and invented new navigation techniques and instruments.

1561-1613:  Bartholomaeus Pitiscus:  A mathematician who is credited with inventing the decimal point (later adopted by John Napier), Pitiscus wrote important works on trigonometry, a word which found its way into the English language from his own writings.  He made some corrections to the trigonometric studies which had been made by Rheticus.

1550-1617:  John Napier:  A mathematician, Napier devised the system of logarithms (described in detail in his work ‘Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio’, 1614), a major advance which contributed significantly not only to mathematics, but also to astronomy and physics.  His logarithmic system was used by Kepler, and was crucial to the success of Kepler’s studies (studies from which Sir Isaac Newton’s borrowed during his work on gravitation).

Napier also adapted the use of the decimal point which had been invented by Pitiscus, popularizing its use in mathematics, and invented a portable calculating device nicknamed ‘Napier’s Bones’ (described in his work ‘Rabdologia’, 1617).  This device enabled the user to carry out the four basic functions (multiplication, division, addition and subtraction), as well as square roots, even with numbers in the millions.  Napier’s calculating device continued to be used up to the 19th century.  Napier also wrote an exposition of Revelation which became famous.


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