and sought to reconcile it with Scripture. He revolutionized scientific

Nicolaus Copernicus
Copernicus was a Polish astronomer, best known for his theory that the Sun and not the
Earth is at the centre of the universe.
Nicolaus Copernicus was born on 19 February 1473 in Thorn (modern day Torun) in
Poland. His father was a merchant and local official. When Copernicus was 10 his father
died, and his uncle, a priest, ensured that Copernicus received a good education. In 1491,
he went to Krakow Academy, now the Jagiellonian University, and in 1496 travelled to
Italy to study law. While a student at the University of Bologna he stayed with a
mathematics professor, Domenico Maria de Novara, who encouraged Copernicus'
interests in geography and astronomy.
During his time in Italy, Copernicus visited Rome and studied at the universities of Padua
and Ferrara, before returning to Poland in 1503. For the next seven years he worked as a
private secretary to his uncle, now the bishop of Ermland.
The bishop died in 1512 and Copernicus moved to Frauenberg, where he had long held a
position as a canon, an administrative appointment in the church. This gave him more
time to devote to astronomy. Although he did not seek fame, it is clear that he was by
now well known as an astronomer. In 1514, when the Catholic church was seeking to
improve the calendar, one of the experts to whom the pope appealed was Copernicus.
Copernicus' major work 'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium' ('On the Revolutions of
the Celestial Spheres') was finished by 1530. Its central theory was that the Earth rotates
daily on its axis and revolves yearly around the sun. He also argued that the planets
circled the Sun. This challenged the long held view that the Earth was stationary at the
centre of the universe with all the planets, the Moon and the Sun rotating around it.
'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium' was published in early 1543 and Copernicus died
on 24 May in the same year.
Johannes Kepler
Johannes Kepler developed a love for astronomy at an early age. He observed the Great
Comet of 1577 when he was six and the 1580 Lunar Eclipse, events that no doubt fueled
his curiosity and enthusiasm for science. Although he originally wanted to be a minister
and studied theology at the University of Tübingen, Kepler accepted a position in 1594 as
a mathematics and astronomy teacher at a Protestant school in Graz, Austria. He later
became an assistant to Tycho Brahe, the court mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II. Upon
Tycho's death, Kepler inherited his position, as well as his extensive archive of planetary
Kepler is best known for discovering the three mathematical laws of planetary motion
("Kepler's Laws") that established the discipline of celestial mechanics. He also
discovered the elliptical patterns in which the planets travel around the sun. At a time
when the sun and other celestial bodies were still widely believed to circle the earth
(geocentrism), Kepler defended Nicolaus Copernicus' theory that planets orbit the sun
(heliocentrism) and sought to reconcile it with Scripture. He revolutionized scientific
thought by applying physics (then considered a branch of natural philosophy) to
astronomy (seen as a branch of mathematics).
An "unorthodox" Lutheran, Kepler had a deep love for Christ and the inspiration and
authority of Scripture. He is frequently quoted as saying, "O God, I am thinking Thy
thoughts after Thee." Strong theological convictions prompted him to find a connection
between the physical and the spiritual, and his scientific discoveries led him to believe he
had uncovered God's geometrical plan for the universe. In Kepler's view, the universe
itself was an image of God, with the sun corresponding to the Father, the stellar sphere to
the Son, and the intervening space to the Holy Spirit.
Life, however, held many trials for Kepler. His Protestant beliefs won him little favor
with the Catholic church, and the Lutheran church shunned him for his sympathies with
Calvinist beliefs. He was forced to relocate more than once to avoid persecution, as well
as to escape political dangers from ongoing wars. He suffered the deaths of his first wife
and several young children. In addition, fellow scientists did not immediately accept his
scientific discoveries. Galileo Galilei and the French mathematician and scientist René
Descartes ignored his 1609 work Astronomia nova (A New Astronomy). Even his mentor
Michael Maestlin objected to his introduction of physics into astronomy.
Yet Kepler stayed true to his faith, as evident in his written works, and his scientific
discoveries would eventually win him acclaim, legitimize the discoveries of his
contemporary Galileo, and serve as a major influence on the scientists who came after
him. His famous work Harmonies of the World (in Latin, Harmonices Mundi) begins:
I commence a sacred discourse, a most true hymn to God the Founder, and I judge it to be
piety, not to sacrifice many hecatombs of bulls to Him and to burn incense of
innumerable perfumes and cassia, but first to learn myself, and afterwards to teach others
too, how great He is in wisdom, how great in power, and of what sort in goodness.
At the end, Kepler concludes:
Purposely I break off the dream and the very vast speculation, merely crying out with the
royal Psalmist: Great is our Lord and great His virtue and of His wisdom there is no
number: praise Him, ye heavens, praise Him, ye sun, moon, and planets, use every sense
for perceiving, every tongue for declaring your Creator…to Him be praise, honour, and
glory, world without end. Amen.
Galileo Galilei
Galileo's Early Life, Education and Experiments
Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa in 1564, the first of six children of Vincenzo Galilei, a
musician and scholar. In 1581 he entered the University of Pisa to study medicine, but
was soon sidetracked by mathematics. In 1583 he made his first important discovery,
describing the rules that govern the motion of pendulums.
From 1589 to 1610, Galileo was chair of mathematics at the universities of Pisa and then
Padua. During those years he performed the experiments with falling bodies that made
his most significant contribution to physics.
Galileo, Telescopes and the Medici Court
In 1609 Galileo built his first telescope, improving upon a Dutch design. In January of
1610 he discovered four new "stars" orbiting Jupiter—the planet's four largest moons. He
quickly published a short treatise outlining his discoveries, “Siderius Nuncius” ("The
Starry Messenger"), which also contained observations of the moon's surface and
descriptions of a multitude of new stars in the Milky Way. In an attempt to gain favor
with the powerful grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II de Medici, he suggested Jupiter's
moons be called the "Medician Stars."
"The Starry Messenger" made Galileo a celebrity in Italy. Cosimo II appointed him
mathematician and philosopher to the Medicis, offering him a platform for proclaiming
his theories and ridiculing his opponents.
Galileo's observations contradicted the Aristotelian view of the universe, then widely
accepted by both scientists and theologians. The moon's rugged surface went against the
idea of heavenly perfection, and the orbits of the Medician stars violated the geocentric
notion that the heavens revolved around Earth.
Galileo on Trial
In 1616 the Catholic Church placed Nicholas Copernicus' "De Revolutionibus," the first
modern scientific argument for a heliocentric (sun-centered) universe, on its index of
banned books. Pope Paul V summoned Galileo to Rome and told him he could no longer
support Copernicus publicly.
In 1632 Galileo published his "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems,"
which supposedly presented arguments for both sides of the heliocentrism debate. His
attempt at balance fooled no one, and it especially didn't help that his advocate for
geocentrism was named "Simplicius.”
Galileo was summoned before the Roman Inquisition in 1633. At first he denied that he
had advocated heliocentrism, but later he said he had only done so unintentionally.
Galileo was convicted of “vehement suspicion of heresy” and under threat of torture
forced to express sorrow and curse his errors.
Nearly 70 at the time of his trial, Galileo lived his last nine years under comfortable
house arrest, writing a summary of his early motion experiments that became his final
great scientific work.
Galileo's Legacy
Galileo’s motion experiments paved the way for the codification of classical mechanics
by Isaac Newton. His heliocentrism (with modifications by Kepler) soon became
accepted scientific fact. His inventions, from compasses and balances to improved
telescopes and microscopes, revolutionized astronomy and biology. And his penchant for
thoughtful and inventive experimentation pushed the scientific method toward its modern
In his conflict with the Church, Galileo was also largely vindicated. Enlightenment
thinkers like Voltaire used tales of his trial (often in simplified and exaggerated form) to
portray Galileo as a martyr for objectivity. Recent scholarship suggests Galileo's actual
trial and punishment were as much a matter of courtly intrigue and philosophical
minutiae as of inherent tension between religion and science.
In 1744 Galileo's "Dialogue" was removed from the Church's list of banned books, and in
the 20th century Popes Pius XII and John Paul II made official statements of regret for
how the Church had treated Galileo.
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton, perhaps the most influential scientist of all time, came from very
humble beginnings. The Julian calendar places his birthday on Christmas 1642, before
which his father, John Newton, died at the age of 36. He was born premature and
possibly had Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, which could explain his later ability
to intensely focus on specific subject matters.
In 1661 at the age of 18, he entered Trinity College at the University of Cambridge.
Newton took an interest in mathematics, overlooking the prominent study of the Greek
philosopher Euclid and instead focusing on the relatively modern works of minds such as
René Descartes, Galileo Galilei, John Wallis, and Johannes Kepler.
In 1665, the young scientist invented the generalized binomial theorem and began
developing the mathematical theory that would later become calculus. He received his
Bachelor of Arts degree later that year, shortly after which the university was closed as a
precaution against the Great Plague. Newton returned to his home in Woolsthorpe to
continue his work in calculus, optics, and the law of gravitation, as well as dabbling in
some alchemy in the spirit of Robert Boyle's The Sceptical Chymist.
He returned to Cambridge in 1668 and earned Master of Arts recognition and the
Lucasian Professor of Mathematics position a year later. The Royal Society took interest
in his optics works, particularly his investigations into the refraction of light, as well as
the reflecting telescope he invented (today known as a Newtonian telescope). Though his
work received initial opposition, it paved the way for Newton's membership into the
Royal Society in 1671, sparking the rapid rise of his reputation.
Newton hesitated to publicize his mathematical studies for fear of more opposition. But
in 1687, he published the first edition of his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia
Mathematica (later translated in 1825 as The Mathematical Principles of Natural
Philosophy), considered today to be the single greatest work in the history of science. In
it, he described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, derived from Kepler's
Though he was and still is renowned for his scientific pursuits, Newton was a serious
student of the Bible and published several theological works. Even in his famed
Principia, Newton exhibited his dedication to God.
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the
counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being....This Being governs all
things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion
he is wont to be called Lord God"pantokrator," or Universal Ruler....
Scientific inquiry, which then existed as Natural Philosophy, could not exist apart from
"the Maker," according to Newton. In fact, science was the perfect realm in which to
discuss God.
In Principia, Newton defined the three laws of motion that govern the planetary bodies,
as well as objects on Earth. Crucial to his whole argument was the universal law of
gravitation. This law explains why the planetary bodies continue their elliptical orbits
about the sun. The law states, in mathematical terms, that every object in the universe is
attracted to every other object by a force called gravity. This one universal law,
mathematically proved, could explain all motion in the universe.
Newton died in March 1727 and was interred at Westminster Abbey in London. Although
in the popular imagination he is most closely associated with an apple and the law of
gravity, Newton himself is quoted as saying, "Gravity explains the motions of the planets,
but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all
that is or can be done."
Margaret Cavendish
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1623 – 15 December 1673) was
an English aristocrat and a prolific writer. Born Margaret Lucas, she was the youngest
sister of prominent royalists Sir John Lucas and Sir Charles Lucas. She became an
attendant of Queen Henrietta Maria and travelled with her into exile in France, living for
a time at the court of the young King Louis XIV. She became the second wife of William
Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1645, when she was a marquess.
Cavendish was a poet, philosopher, writer of prose romances, essayist, playwright and,
some say, a tireless self-publicist, publishing under her own name at a time when most
women writers published anonymously. Her writing addressed a number of topics,
including gender, power, manners, scientific method, and animal protection. Her
romance, The Blazing World, is one of the earliest examples of science fiction. She also
was famous for disagreeing with the idea that, because of science, humans were the
masters of nature.
Cavendish has been championed and criticized as a unique and groundbreaking woman
writer. Samuel Pepys called her "mad, conceited and ridiculous." She rejected the
Aristotelianism and mechanical philosophy of the seventeenth century. She criticized and
engaged with the members of the Royal Society of London and the philosophers Thomas
Hobbes, René Descartes, and Robert Boyle. She has been claimed as an advocate for
animals and as an early opponent of animal testing. Cavendish was the only seventeenth
century woman to publish numerous books on natural philosophy.
Maria Winkelmann
Maria Winkelmann was born on the 25th of February in 1670 in Leipzig; she died in
Berlin on December 29, 1720 at the age 50. Maria was taught by her father and uncle.
She was schooled at home until her father died. When she was young she showed an
interest in astronomy and believed that she should have the opportunity to have the same
educational opportunities as males.
Maria was known for the discovery of the comet of 1702. It really made her famous
because she was the first woman to discover a comet. The comet was not named after her
because she was a woman, and so her husband, Gottfreid Kirch, took credit for the
discovery. But, she continued to work. She is also known for her notes and observations
on the Aurora Borealis. Winkelmann applied for a position as an assistant astronomer at
the Berlin Academy, however she was denied the position because it was unknown how
people would react to the hiring of a woman.
Maria had an impact on many female astronomers of the enlightenment era. She was the
first known female to have discovered a comet, and this gave people a reason to consider
women as able to practice astronomy. This opened the way for women to take higher
posts in scientific fields, and was a great inspiration to many female astronomers of the
René Descartes
René Descartes was born in a village near Tours in France in 1596. At the age of eight
years he entered the Jesuit college La Flèche in Anjou, where he would study classics,
logic, and Aristotelian philosophy, as well as mathematics from the books of Clavius. On
account of his fragile health he was allowed the privilege of sleeping until 11 o'clock
every morning, a habit he kept for his entire life. Descartes studied at the college until
1612, and despite his Jesuit education, would maintain the importance of separating
reason and faith.
Descartes went on to obtain a degree in law from Poiter, then enlisted in the Dutch
military. Descartes dates his first new philosophical ideas and his analytical geometry
from three dreams that he had while campaigning on the Danube. He saw November 19,
1619, the date of these dreams, as a landmark moment in his life. It was around 1619 that
he may have started Rules for the Direction of Mind, his first major philosophical treatise,
which would remain unfinished. This work discusses the proper method for engaging
with science and rational theology.
During his first four year in seclusion he wrote Le Monde, a thesis on physics defending a
heliocentric view of the universe. 1633 was the year that Galileo's Dialogue was
condemned by the Catholic Church, and although Descartes’ book was ready, he put off
its publication out of concern that his views might too be censured. The incomplete
manuscript of Le Monde was finally published in 1664. In 1637 Descartes
published Optics, Meteorology, and Geometry, a collection of essays. The preface to the
collection is titled Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Feason and
Seeking Truth in the Sciences, and was written for the most part before 1633. A
conclusion to the preface, added later, explained that he would publish despite of the risks
because he needed readers to help confirm his scientific theories. In Discourse Descartes
insists on the use of deductive reasoning, countering Francis Bacon's induction as
introduced in Novum Organum from 1620. The work from these years forms the basis of
some of Descartes most important contributions to mathematics and physics, including
the introduction of what is now known as analytic geometry.
In 1644 Principia Philosophiae was published in Amsterdam. Its four sections, titled The
Principles of Human Knowledge, The Principles of Material Things, Of the Visible
World and The Earth, are a study of mechanics, developing a mathematical foundation of
the universe. The book concentrates on physical science, specifically the laws of motion
and theory of vortices. In 1647 the French court granted Descartes a pension to honor his
Perhaps Descartes' most well known philosophical ideas are his method of hyperbolic
doubt, and the idea that though one may doubt, one may not doubt that one exists, and he
is most famous for his argument: “I think… Therefore I am.”
Descartes always refused the Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions that had been the
dominant shape of philosophy throughout the Medieval times, and he rejected religious
influence in his scientific and philosophical studies. Throughout his life and afterwards
his work was condemned by the Catholic Church, and was officially prohibited in 1663.
Nonetheless, Descartes was a devout Catholic, and influenced by the Reformation's
challenge of Church authority, and he often uses a vocabulary influenced by scholastic
thought. As long as he felt an idea was in line with his thoughts on clear reasoning he was
glad to borrow it. He saw reason as the foundation and guide in the pursuit of truth, and
he was relentless in his search for absolute certainty.
Descartes is considered a revolutionary figure, especially for his attempts to change the
relationship between philosophy and theology, and integrate philosophy with the new
forms of science. He is respected for his attempts to create a form of philosophical
argument akin to science or mathematics, his emphasis on perspective of consciousness
in epistemology, and his work on methodology. Descartes has been influential to
philosophers throughout the 17th and 17th centuries, including Spinoza, Malbrache,
Locke and Leibniz.
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon was born on 22 January 1561 in London. He was the son of Sir Nicholas
Bacon, keeper of the great seal for Elizabeth I. Bacon studied at Cambridge University
and at Gray's Inn and became a member of parliament in 1584. However, he was
unpopular with Elizabeth, and it was only on the accession of James I in 1603 that
Bacon's career began to prosper. Knighted that year, he was appointed to a succession of
posts culminating, like his father, with keeper of the great seal.
However, Bacon's real interests lay in science. Much of the science of the period was
based on the work of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. While many Aristotelian
ideas, such as the position of the earth at the centre of the universe, had been overturned,
his methodology was still being used. This held that scientific truth could be reached by
way of authoritative argument: if sufficiently clever men discussed a subject long
enough, the truth would eventually be discovered. Bacon challenged this, arguing that
truth required evidence from the real world. He published his ideas, initially in 'Novum
Organum' (1620), an account of the correct method of acquiring natural knowledge.
Bacon is most well known for the creation of the scientific method, a procedure for
collecting and analyzing evidence. The scientific method was essential to the evolution of
science. He believed that scientists should not rely on the ideas of ancient authorities, and
that instead they should use inductive reasoning to learn about nature.
Bacon's political ascent also continued. In 1618 he was appointed lord chancellor, the
most powerful position in England, and in 1621 he was created viscount St Albans.
Shortly afterwards, he was charged by parliament with accepting bribes, which he
admitted. He was fined and imprisoned and then banished from court. Although the king
later pardoned him, this was the end of Bacon's public life. He retired to his home at
Gorhambury in Hertfordshire, where he continued to write. He died in London on 9 April
Andreas Vesalius
Born in Brussels, Belgium in a family of physicians and pharmacists, Andreas Vesalius’s
father was court apothecary to Charles V of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor. Vesalius
learned medicine from the University of Louvain and the University of Paris. He later
obtained his medical degree from the University of Padua in 1537. After his graduation,
Vesalius became very interested in anatomy.
Contributions and Achievements:
During that time, scholars thought that the work of the ancient Greek physician Galen
was an authority when it came to human anatomy. As Greek and Roman laws had
disallowed the dissection of human beings, Galen had evidently reasoned out analogies
related to human anatomy after studying pigs and apes. Vesalius knew that it was
absolutely essential to analyze real corpses to study the human body.
Vesalius resurrected the use of human dissection, regardless of the strict ban by the
Catholic Church. He soon began to realize that Galen’s work was an evalution of the
dissection of animals, not human beings. Vesalius once demonstrated that men and
women have the same number of ribs, contrary to the biblical story of Adam and Eve
which tells that Eve was brought into existence from one of Adam’s ribs, and that men
had one less rib as compared to women. Vesalius proved that belief wrong.
Vesalius published his influential book aboout human anatomy “De Humani Commis
Fabrica” (The Structure of The Human Body) in 1543. It contained over 200 anatomical
illustrations. The work was the earliest known precise presentation of human anatomy. It
disgraced several of Galen’s doctrines, for instance the Greek belief that blood has the
ability to flow between the ventricles of the heart, and that the mandible, or jaw bone,
was made up of more than one bones. Particularly, his visual representation of the
muscles was found to be very accurate. The seven volumes of the book laid down a solid
understanding of human anatomy as the groundwork for all medical practice and curing.
Later Life and Death:
Andreas Vesalius was appointed as a court physician to Charles V of Spain and his
family. Vesalius’s bravery and intelligence, however, made many conservative
physicians and Catholic clergy his worst enemies. They charged him of being involved in
body snatching.
He was accused of murder in 1564 for the dissection of a Spanish noble who, his
disputants said, was still alive. Vesalius was also accused of atheism. King Philip II,
however, reduced his sentence to a pilgrimage of penitence to the Holy Land. Regrettably
on his way back, his vessel was badly harmed by a storm. Vesalius was rescued from the
sea, but he died shortly thereafter.
Antonie von Leeuwenhoek
Early Life and Education:
Born on October 24, 1632 in Delft, The Netherlands, van Leeuwenhoek was entirely selftaught and did not receive a formal degree. His primitive approach, dismissing any type
of scientific dogma, made him think freely, and directed him only towards his own
passion and interests.
Contributions and Achievements:
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was a salesman by profession who traded household linen. He
often took magnifying glasses to judge the quality of cloth. Leeuwenhoek employed his
own lenses of diamond shavings, which he got from Delft-diamond cutters. He
constructed his own microscopes which were basically simple instruments consisting of a
single lens. The product, containing two metal plates set to each other with a fixed lens in
between, was however with high precision, and able to perform magnifications of around
The object intended to be magnified was put on top of a movable metal holder, and
focusing took place by way of a screw provided at the back. The whole thing was less
than 10 cm in size.
Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscopes were actually very strong magnifying glasses, having
considerable similarities with the composite microscopes of the time. It was
Leeuwenhoek’s passion, skill and the quality to illuminating the objects properly that
made him discover the microscopic objects. He analyzed things like tooth plaque,
stagnant water, baker’s yeast, sperm and blood.
Reinier de Graaf, a Delft physician, brought van Leeuwenhoek to the Royal Society,
where he published his uniquely detailed findings in Dutch, consisting of only 200 letters.
Later Life and Death:
Leeuwenhoek gained worldwide fame with these observations, however he wrote in 1716
that he “did not strive for fame, but [was] driven by an inner craving for knowledge”.
This great scientist died on August 16, 1723 at the age of 90.