The Rich, Historic Roll Call of Great Christian Thinkers and Scientists

272If you listen carefully to our increasingly secular culture, you might think science and reason are completely incompatible with Christian belief. Several notable scientists and thinkers in the past two hundred years have been atheists, and their ranks seem to have grown in direct proportion with our increase in scientific knowledge. Is a scientific understanding of the world incompatible with Christian Theism? Must rational thinkers and scientific investigators abandon their belief in God to discover scientific truth or contribute to the larger scientific enterprise? No. In fact, the historic roll call of scientists has included many great Christian believers. I thought it might be helpful to remind ourselves of the contribution offered by Christian theists throughout the history of scientific discovery (a much larger list provided the foundation for my summary):

John Philoponus (c.490 to c.570)
He theorized about the nature of light and stars and criticized Aristotelian physics

Bede, the Venerable (c.672 to 735)
He wrote two volumes on “Time and its Reckoning” that revealed a new understanding of the “progress wave-like” nature of tides

Pope Silvester II (c.950 to 1003)
He influenced and shaped the teaching of math and astronomy in Christian schools

Hermannus Contractus (1013 to 1054)
He wrote on geometry, mathematics, and the astrolabe (a historical astronomical instrument used by classical astronomers and navigators)

Robert Grosseteste (c.1175 to 1253)
He is considered the founder of scientific thought in Oxford. He wrote books on the mathematical sciences of optics, astronomy and geometry. He believed that experiments should be used in order to verify a theory

Pope John XXI (1215 to 1277)
He wrote the “Thesaurus Pauperum” (a widely used medical text)

Albertus Magnus (c.1193 to 1280)
He was a scientist who may have been the first to isolate arsenic. He wrote “Natural science does not consist in ratifying what others have said, but in seeking the causes of phenomena”

Roger Bacon (c.1214 to 1294)
He contributed in areas of optics, mechanics and geography; he promoted empiricism and was one of the earliest advocates of the modern scientific method. He was also responsible for promoting the concept of the “laws of nature”

Theodoric of Freiberg (c.1250 to c.1310)
He gave the first correct explanation for the rainbow in “De Iride et Radialibus Impressionibus” (or “On the Rainbow”)

Thomas Bradwardine (c.1290 to 1349)
He was called “the Profound Doctor”and his studies lead to important developments in mechanics

Jean Buridan (1300 to 1358)
He developed a theory known as ‘impetus’; an important step toward the modern concept of ‘inertia’

Nicole Oresme (c.1323 to 1382)
He was one of the early founders and promoters of ‘modern sciences’. He made many scientific discoveries, including the discovery of curvature of light through atmospheric refraction

Nicholas of Cusa (1401 to 1464)
He made contributions to the field of mathematics and developed the concepts of the ‘infinitesimal’ and of ‘relative motion’

Otto Brunfels (1488 to 1534)
He was a botanist and his “Herbarum Vivae Icones” was a formative work in the field of botany

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 to 1543)
He introduced the ‘heliocentric’ world view, discovering the earth and the solar system planets revolved around the sun

William Turner (c.1508 to 1568)
He is the “father of English botany” and was also an ornithologist

Ignazio Danti (1536 to 1586)
He was a mathematician who wrote about Euclid (an astronomer, and a designer of mechanical devices)

Giordano Bruno (1548 to 1600)
He was an Italian cosmologist who argued that the Earth revolved around the Sun and that other worlds also revolved around other suns

Bartholomaeus Pitiscus (1561 to 1613)
He was a mathematician who may have coined the word trigonometry in the English and French Languages

John Napier (1550 to 1617)
He was a Scottish mathematician renowned for inventing logarithms and his promotion of the use of decimals

Johannes Kepler (1571 to 1630)
He invented “Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion” based on data he got from Tycho Brahe’s astronomical observations

Laurentius Gothus (1565 to 1646)
He was a professor of astronomy who wrote many books on the topic

Galileo Galilei (1564 to 1642)
He was a renowned scientist defended ‘heliocentrism’ (to his own peril

Marin Mersenne (1588 to 1648)
He was a mathematician who communicated with other mathematicians related to concepts concerning what are now known as “Mersenne primes”

René Descartes (1596 to 1650)
He was one of the key thinkers of the “Scientific Revolution” and the Cartesian coordinate system (used in plane geometry and algebra) was named after him. He did formative work on invariants and geometry.

Blaise Pascal (1623 to 1662)
He was a great thinker, known now for “Pascal’s Law” (physics), “Pascal’s Theorem” (math), and “Pascal’s Wager” (theology).

Nicolas Steno (1638 to 1686)
He was considered a pioneer in both anatomy and geology

Seth Ward (1617 to 1689)
He was the Savilian Chair of Astronomy and wrote the foundational volumes, “Ismaelis Bullialdi Astro-Nomiae Philolaicae Fundamenta Inquisitio Brevis” and “Astronomia Geometrica”

Robert Boyle (1627 to 1691)
He was a scientist and theologian who proposed that the study of science was not in conflict with the study of God but could actually glorify God

John Wallis (1616 to 1703)
He was a mathematician who wrote “Arithmetica Infinitorumis” and introduced the term “Continued Fraction” He also worked in areas of cryptography and helped develop calculus

Gottfried Leibniz (1646 to 1716)
He was a “polymath” who did work on determinants and the development of a calculating machine

Isaac Newton (1643 to 1727)
He is still considered to be one of the greatest scientists and mathematicians in history. He founded the principles and theories of “Newtonian Physics”

Carolus Linnaeus (1707 to 1778)
He is known as the “Father of Modern Taxonomy”, but he also made contributions to ecology

Leonhard Euler (1707 to 1783)
He was an important and substantial mathematician and physicist

Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718 to 1799)
She was a mathematician who was eventually appointed to a position within the Vatican by Pope Benedict XIV

Isaac Milner (1750 to 1820)
He was a “Lucasian Professor of Mathematics” and he developed a process to fabricate Nitrous Acid

Olinthus Gregory (1774 to 1841)
He wrote “Lessons Astronomical and Philosophical” and as a mathematician he became the mathematical master at the Royal Military Academy

William Buckland (1784 to 1856)
He was a geologist who wrote “Vindiciae Geologiae” (The Connection of Geology with Religion Explained)

Lars Levi Læstadius (1800 to 1861)
He was a botanist who wrote proficiently and discovered four species

Edward Hitchcock (1793 to 1864)
He was a geologist and paleontologist who wrote on the topics of “Natural Theology” and fossilized tracks

William Whewell (1794 to 1866)
He was a professor of mineralogy who wrote “An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics” and “Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology”

Charles Babbage (1791 to 1871)
He was a mathematician, philosopher and mechanical engineer who wrote “The Difference Engine” and the “Ninth Bridgewater Treatise”

Adam Sedgwick (1785 to 1873)
He was a geologist who won both Copley Medal and the Wollaston Medal.

John Bachman (1790 to 1874)
He was an American naturalist who wrote many scientific articles and named several species of animals

Robert Main (1808 to 1878)
He was an astronomer who won the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society

James Clerk Maxwell (1831 to 1879)
He was a mathematician and theoretical physicist who developed the classical electromagnetic theory (he was able to synthesize all prior unrelated observations, experiments and equations of electricity, magnetism and optics into a consistent theory)

Gregor Mendel (1822 to 1884)
He is considered the “Father of Modern Genetics” for his studies related to the inheritance of traits in pea plants

Philip Henry Gosse (1810 to 1888)
He was a marine biologist who wrote “Aquarium” and “A Manual of Marine Zoology”

Asa Gray (1810 to 1888)
He was a botanist and wrote what is now known as “Gray’s Manual” (which is still an important botanical book). He also wrote “Darwiniana” in which he wrote about the relationship between Evolution and Theology

Francesco Faà di Bruno (1825 to 1888)
He was an Italian mathematician who is famous for “Faà di Bruno’s Formula”

Julian Tenison Woods (1832 to 1889)
He was a geologist who wrote “Geological Observations in South Australia” and “History of the Discovery and Exploration of Australia”

Armand David (1826 to 1900)
He was a botanist and a zoologist who described several species new to the West

George Stokes (1819 to 1903)
He was a mathematician and physicist who was a President of the Royal Society and made contributions to “Fluid Dynamics”, optics and mathematical physics

George Salmon (1819 to 1904)
He was a mathematician who won the Copley Medal for his work in mathematics

Henry Baker Tristram (1822 to 1906)
He was an ornithologist and a founding member of the British Ornithologists’ Union. He wrote “The Fauna and Flora of Palestine”

Lord Kelvin (1824 to 1907)
He was a mathematical physicist and engineer who won the Copley Medal, the Royal Medal, and made important contributions in the field of Thermodynamics.

Pierre Duhem (1861 to 1916)
He was a physicist, a mathematician and a philosopher of science who contributed to the field of “Thermodynamic Potentials”

Dmitri Egorov (1869 to 1931)
He was a Russian mathematician who made important contributions in the area of “differential geometry”

Max Planck (1858 to 1947)
He was a physicist who is considered to be the founder of Quantum Mechanics. He won the 1918 Nobel Prize in Physics

Robert Millikan (1868 to 1953)
He was a physicist who won the 1923 Nobel Prize in Physics. He wrote about the important relationship between faith and reason in “Evolution in Science and Religion”

E. T. Whittaker (1873 to 1956)
He was a mathematician who contributed to the fields of applied mathematics, mathematical physics and the theory of “Special Functions” He was a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and he wrote “Theories of the Universe and the Arguments for the Existence of God”. He also received the Copley Medal

Arthur Compton (1892 to 1962)
He was a physicist who won a Nobel Prize in Physics

Georges Lemaître (1894 to 1966)
He was a professor of physics and an astronomer who first proposed what later became known as the “Big Bang theory”

David Lack (1910 to 1973)
He was an ornithologist and the Director of the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology. He wrote “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief” and was known for his study of the genus Euplectes

Charles Coulson (1910 to 1974)
He was a prominent researcher in the field of theoretical chemistry who won the Davy Medal.

Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900 to 1975)
He was a geneticist who was critical of young Earth creationism. He argued that science and faith did not conflict

Michael Polanyi (1891 to 1976)
He was a ‘polymath’ who was active in physical chemistry, economics, and philosophy. He wrote “Science, Faith, and Society”

Aldert van der Ziel (1910 to 1991)
He was a physicist who researched “Flicker Noise”. He wrote more than 15 books and 500 scientific papers. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers named an award after him

Carlos Chagas Filho (1910 to 2000)
He was a neuroscientist who led the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and wrote “The Origin of the Universe”, “The Origin of Life”, and “The Origin of Man”

Sir Robert Boyd (1922 to 2004)
He was a pioneer in British space science and was Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Arthur Peacocke (1924 to 2006)
He was a biochemist who worked in areas related to the theory of Evolution. He won the Templeton Prize.

C. F. von Weizsäcker (1912 to 2007)
He was a nuclear physicist who co-discovered the “Bethe-Weizsäcker Formula” He wrote “The Relevance of Science: Creation and Cosmogony” and led the Max Planck Society

Charles Hard Townes
He is a physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics and wrote “The Convergence of Science and Religion”

Ian Barbour
He is a physicist who wrote “Christianity and the Scientists” and “When Science Meets Religion”

Stanley Jaki
He is a professor of physics at Seton Hall University who won a Templeton Prize and promotes the idea that modern science could only have arisen in a Christian society

Allan Sandage
He is an astronomer who made several discoveries concerning the “Cigar Galaxy” and wrote the article “A Scientist Reflects on Religious Belief”

John Polkinghorne
He is a particle physicist who wrote “Science and the Trinity” and won the Templeton Prize.

John Lennox
He is a mathematician and philosopher of science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford. He has published over 70 peer-reviewed articles on mathematics and co-authored two Oxford Mathematical Monographs. He’s also written “The Theory of Infinite Soluble Groups.” And “Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science”.

Owen Gingerich
He is an astronomer who teaches the History of Science at Harvard and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the International Academy of the History of Science

R. J. Berry
He is geneticist and a former president of the Linnean Society of London who wrote “God and the Biologist: Personal Exploration of Science and Faith”

Michał Heller
He is a mathematical physicist who writes on “Relativistic Physics” and “Non-Commutative Geometry”. He also wrote “Creative Tension: Essays on Science and Religion” and won the Templeton Prize

Ghillean Prance
He is a botanist involved in the “Eden Project” and current President of “Christians in Science”

Donald Knuth
He is a renowned computer scientist and is known as the “Father of the Analysis of Algorithms”. He wrote “The Art of Computer Programming”

Eric Priest
He is a mathematician and an authority on Solar Magnetohydrodynamics who won the George Ellery Hale Prize

Robert T. Bakker
He is a paleontologist who was an important player in the “Dinosaur Renaissance” and an advocate for the theory that some dinosaurs were warm-blooded

Joan Roughgarden
She is a biologist and Stanford professor who wrote “Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist”

Kenneth R. Miller
He is a biology professor at Brown University who wrote “Finding Darwin’s God”

Francis Collins
He is the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute who wrote “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”

Simon C. Morris
He is a British paleontologist who studied the Burgess Shale fossils and was the co-winner of a Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal and also won a Lyell Medal

John T. Houghton
He is a professor of atmospheric physics and is co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He won a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society

Christopher Isham
He is a theoretical physicist who developed “HPO Formalism” and wrote “Physics, Philosophy and Theology”

Stephen C. Meyer
He is a geologist with a PhD in history and philosophy of science from Cambridge who co-founded the Discovery Center and wrote “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt”

Michael J. Behe
He is a biochemist and a professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania who coined the term “irreducible complexity” in his study of cellular structures. He wrote (or co-wrote) “Darwin’s Black Box”, “Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe” and the “The Edge of Evolution”

William Albert Dembski
He is a mathematician and statistician who taught at Baylor University and wrote “The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities” and “No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence”

Charles B. Thaxton
He is a physical chemist who holds a doctorate degree in the history of science from Harvard University. He wrote “The Mystery of Life’s Origin” and “The Soul of Science”.

Guillermo Gonzalez
He is an astrophysicist who studies the late stages of stellar evolution using spectroscopy, and he is also doing research on extrasolar planets. He wrote “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery”

Paul Kwan Chien
He is a biologist known for his research on the physiology and ecology of intertidal organisms. He is a professor at the University of San Francisco where his research is centered on the transport of amino acids and metal ions across cell membranes as well as the detoxification mechanisms of metal ions. He wrote “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang” in “Darwinism, Design and Public Education”

Cornelius G. Hunter
He is a professor of biophysics at Biola University whose research is centered on nonlinear systems and molecular biophysics. He wrote “Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil”, “Darwin’s Proof: The Triumph of Religion Over Science”, and “Science’s Blindspot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism”

Scott Minnich
He is a microbiologist who is studying the temperature regulation of Yestis enterocolitca gene expression and coordinate reciprocal expression of flagellar and virulence genes. He co-wrote and presented a paper to the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, entitled “Genetic Analysis of Coordinate Flagellar and Type III Regulatory Circuits”

Henry F. Schaefer, III
He is a computational and theoretical chemist who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. He is a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science and is the Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at UC Berkeley

Geoffrey Simmons
He is a medical doctor and wrote “What Darwin Didn’t Know: A Doctor Dissects the Theory of Evolution” and “Billions of Missing Links: A Rational Look at the Mysteries Evolution Can’t Explain”

Wolfgang Smith
He is a mathematician, physicist, and a philosopher of science who has written extensively in the field of “Differential Geometry”. He has either written or contributed to “Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief” and “The Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology: Contemporary Science in Light of Tradition”

Marcus R. Ross
He is a vertebrate paleontologist who contributed “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang” in “Darwinism, Design and Public Education”

While this list may seem long, it’s only a small representation of theists who retained a robust belief in God while deeply exploring the truths they learned through reason and scientific observation. In fact, there’s a good chance I’ve accidentally omitted your favorite scientist. This only illustrates the point further; the history of scientific thought is replete with devout Christian believers. You do not have to abandon your belief in God to engage in a scientific exploration of the world around you. Instead, a belief in God can actually establish the foundation from which scientific discovery can occur. These great historic thinkers knew the universe was the creation of an orderly and rational God and, as such, followed laws reflecting the orderly and rational nature of its Creator. For this reason, they expected the universe to submit to certain Divine universal constants they could observe and test. For many of these great scientists, their exploration of science was an exploration into the mind and nature of God. Perhaps this is why so many great scientific thinkers have been devout Christians. These Christian theists came to understand the relationship between faith and reason as they worshipped God with all their hearts, souls and minds.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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