Part of the “popular belief” alluded to in my introduction is that great scientists are atheists or at least uninterested in religion. Let’s see what some of main figures in the development of astronomy had to say for themselves. If you’re unfamiliar with astronomy, these particular astronomers were all major figures in the development of astronomy.
Nicholas Copernicus – the person responsible in modern times for the idea that the earth orbits the sun; Copernicus was a prominent churchman:
“[The world] has been built for us by the Best and Most Orderly Workman of all”
He pursued his research (he said) “loving duty to seek the truth in all things, in so far as God has granted that to human reason.” [See Hummel 1986, “The Galileo Connection”]
Johannes Kepler – the man who discovered the laws of planetary motion. A devout Lutheran and diligent student of the Bible. He was the person who discovered that Jesus was not born in 1 AD.
“I believe Divine Providence intervened so that by chance I found what I could never obtain by my own efforts. I believe this all the more because I have constantly prayed to God that I might succeed if what Copernicus said was true.”
On his deathbed he said: “[my salvation lies] only and alone on the services of Jesus Christ.” [See Hummel 1986].
Galileo Galilei – the first person to publish astronomical results obtained with a telescope. Opened up a whole new realm of astronomy. Many discoveries. He acquired many scientific enemies who eventually got even by bringing him before the inquisition since they couldn’t win on scientific grounds. It is important to understand that Galileo’s appearance before the inquisition was not a simple case of “the church against progress in science”. The Roman Catholic Church was in fact quite divided over the issues in the Galileo case. Galileo never blamed the Roman Catholic Church for what happened but blamed his fellow university professors instead. Here are some of his views on science and Christianity:
“The Holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the Divine Word…God is known…by Nature in His works and by doctrine in His revealed word.”
“The Bible teaches how one goes to Heaven, now how the heavens go.” [See Hummel 1986].
Sir Isaac Newton – Derived the theory of (“Newtonian”) gravity. Made the first reflecting telescope. Co-inventor of calculus. Many other contributions to science. Newton was a complex and unappealing character and he was unorthodox in his beliefs, but he wrote more on Biblical subjects than on everything else he did all put together. He published valuable contributions to religious knowledge (esp. on interpreting Biblical prophecy).
“There are more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history.”
[Biblical prophecy was not intended by God to] “gratify men’s curiosities by enabling them to foretell things” but rather that: “after they are fulfilled, they might be interpreted by events…The events of things predicted many ages before, will then be a convincing argument that the world is governed by Providence.”
One of Newton’s views of his own greatest published work he expressed as follows:
“When I wrote my treatise about our Systeme, I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the beliefe of a deity & nothing can rejoyce me more than to find it usefull for that purpose.” [See Hummel 1986].
Sir William Herschel – discoverer of the planet Uranus, but more famous among modern astrophysicists as the father of stellar and galactic astronomy.
“All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truths in the sacred scriptures.” [Quoted by H.H. Halley 1965, “Halley’s Bible Handbook” 24th ed., p.19].
Albert Einstein – developer of the theory of relativity. It should be emphasized that he was not a man of orthodox beliefs, but he believed that science and religion needed each other and that “science without religion is lame”. He also said:
“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe–a spirit vastly superior to that of men…” [“Albert Einstein: The Human Side”, Princeton University Press]
“The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition.” [Address to Princeton Theological Seminary, May 19, 1939. Published in “Out of My Later Years” Philosophical Library, 1950]
“What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.” [“The World as I See It”, Philosophical Library, 1949]
“Being a lover of freedom, when the [anti-Nazi] revolution came to Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but, no, the universities immediately were silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks. Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom. I am forced thus to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.” [Interview in Time magazine, Dec. 23, 1940, p. 38].
Henry Margenau – former president of the American Association for the Philosophy of Science, a physics professor at Yale University and former editor of Reviews of Modern Physics (Margenau got his start in physics at the University of Nebraska):
“It is often said, and widely believed, that scientists on the whole are anti-religious or, at least, are not interested in religion. I believed that for a long time too. But no longer. …as I perceive it, the fact is, the scientists, the physicists at least, who have been most active, most successful in developing the quantum theory and further innovations in physics, are very interested in religion. If you consider scientists of the type of high school teachers or grade school teachers or Carl Sagan, you find that, yes, there is a lack of interest. Quite a few of them are anti-religious. But, if you take the outstanding physicists, the ones who have done the most to advance modern physics, especially Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Dirac, you will find them all interested in religion. All these men were intensely interested in religion.” [In “The Intellectuals Speak out about God”, Chpt. 3, ed. R. A. Varghese, 1984, p. 45].