Science’s Founding Fathers: Part IV

In this series on the founding fathers of science I’ve highlighted a list of some of the greatest scientists of all time, many of whom ushered in modern science and the scientific method, and all of whom were creationists, allowing their Christian beliefs and Biblical worldview to influence their work, and unashamedly gave God all credit for his wonderful creation. These scientists, including Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Galileo Galilei,  Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday, Johann Kepler, Carolus Linneaus and Blaise Pascal have all demonstrated how there is (and always was) harmony between faith and science. Part 4 of this series will focus on James Clerk Maxwell, Nicolas Steno and Gregor Mendel.

1: James Clerk Maxwell (1831- 1879), born in Scotland, was a mathematician and physicist. He was the first to describe electricity, magnetism and light as different manifestations of the same phenomenon, which is known as the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation. He realized that Saturn’s rings must be composed of separate, small, solid particles. His four mathematical equations are considered one of the most fundamental contributions to physics, alongside Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, and he’s regarded as the 19th-century scientist with the greatest influence on 20th-century physics.

Other contributions include advances in optics and color vision, color photography. the introduction of probability into physics, and the founding of the field of electrical engineering. His ideas in electromagnetic theory paved the way for quantum theory and statistical thermodynamics.

Maxwell believed there was unity between science and the Bible, and he was opposed to the idea of evolution. In 1873 he wrote, “No theory of evolution can be formed to account for the similarity of molecules, for evolution necessarily implies continuous change … The exact equality of each molecule to all others of the same kind gives it … the essential character of a manufactured article, and precludes the idea of its being eternal and self-existent.”

Maxwell also refuted Laplace’s nebular hypothesis for the origin of our solar system with his mathematical equations. He believed his work was part of studying God’s creation, writing, “teach us to study the works of Thy hands, that we may subdue the earth to our use, and strengthen the reason for Thy service.”

2: Nicolas Steno (1638- 1686), born as Niels Stensen, was a Danish physician and geologist. Among his anatomical accomplishments, he discovered the parotid salivary duct, demonstrated that the human pineal gland wasn’t linked to our spiritual nature, traced the human lymphatic system, was the first to explain how the heart is made of two pumps, and became the physician of the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Known as the founder of modern geology and stratigraphy, Steno published some of his work in a book called Prodromus (1669), where he discussed fossils, rock strata and crystals. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, his work has been called “one of the most fundamental contributions to geology because of Steno’s qualities of observation, analysis, and inductive reasoning at a time when scientific research was nothing but metaphysical speculation.”

Steno is credited with four principles of geology and Steno’s Law, which describes the characteristic angles of crystals.

In 1667 Steno published his findings from dissecting a shark’s head and showed how the teeth were similar to fossilized teeth found inland, which were called, “tongue stones”. The Roman author Pliny the Elder believed these fossils had fallen from the sky or moon, while others believed they grew in rocks. Although there were others who thought such fossils were shark teeth, Steno explained how the teeth became mineralized, reasoning, logically, that there was once a sea there. He wrote, “we learn from Holy Scripture that all things, both when Creation began and at the time of the Flood, have been covered with waters.” Steno had a strong biblical understanding and used that worldview to advance science.

3: Gregor Mendel (1822- 1844), an Austrian biologist, mathematician and meteorologist, known as the “Father of Genetics”, demonstrated the effects of inheritance based on experimentation using the scientific method. Mendel discovered the principles of inheritance and recombination, which allows certain traits to ‘vanish’ in a population for a time, and then reappear later, and for the appearance of new traits based on the reshuffling of existing genes. His use of statistics greatly enhanced his work, demonstrating predictable ratios. Mendel also coined the terms “dominant” and “recessive” traits, which remain in use today, as well as the use of capitalization and lowercase letters (AA, BB, aa, bb, etc.).

Mendel was a Catholic monk and priest. He wasn’t outspoken as a creationist, but his writings discredited evolution, while supporting a biblical creation model. In 1866 he published his paper, Experiments in Plant Hybridization, which contradicts the theory of evolution as proposed by Darwin in his 1859 book, Origin of Species. While Darwin suggested there were no limits to the characteristics appearing in subsequent generations, Mendel showed that genes were stable, meaning there are limitations to what characteristics can be passed along to offspring, based on the genetic information contained in the parent population.

Today creationists still believe there are limits to how far organisms can change. Observational science bears this out. The change that occurs from one generation to the next is predominantly based on the inheritance of genes, and that limits the amount of change that can occur.

There are plenty of other scientists worth noting, and I hope to have at least one more post in this series to highlight some of them.

James Clerk Maxwell

Nicolas Steno

Gregor Mendel


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