Scientists Motivated by God

by Vern S. Poythress, Ph.D. , Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Westminster Theological Seminary

"Since the beginning of history," Langdon explained, "a deep rift has existed between science and religion. Outspoken scientists like Copernicus—"
"Were murdered," Kohler interjected. "Murdered by the church for revealing scientific truths. Religion has always persecuted science."
-- Dan Brown, Angels and Demons, 27.

Dan Brown's book repeats the wide-spread idea that science has constantly been at war with religion. But the surprising truth is that many of the contributors to the development of science in previous centuries found inspiration from their faith in God. In particular, the view of the world given in the Bible encourages the development of science, in contrast to the worldviews of polytheism or spiritism.

Let's look at some of the representative scientists:

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)

Nicolaus Copernicus is famous for having developed the theory that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the planetary system. By contrast, the standard astronomical approach of his time, called the Ptolemaic system, said that the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars all revolved around the earth.

Copernicus praised God for his discoveries, as the following quotes show:

The universe was "built for us by the Best and Most Orderly Workman of all."
"How exceedingly fine is the godlike work of the Best and Greatest Artist."1

Both quotes comes from his major work, The Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres, which was published at the time of his death. (He died peacefully, contrary to what Dan Brown's book suggests.)


Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

Kepler is best known for having discovered that the planets travel in ellipses rather than in circles with epicycles and more epicycles. Here is a sample of Kepler's praise to God:

It now remains that at last, with my eyes and hands removed from the tablet of demonstrations [the details of astronomy] and lifted up towards the heavens, I should pray, devout and supplicating, to the Father of lights: O Thou Who dost by the light of nature promote in us the desire for the light of grace, that by its means Thou mayest transport us into the light of glory, I give thanks to Thee, O Lord Creator, Who hast delighted me with Thy makings and in the works of Thy hands have I exulted....2


Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

Galileo discovered that objects fall with uniform acceleration under the force of gravity. He made enemies and got into trouble because of his sharp and witty advocacy of the Copernican view. Galileo believed in God and in the Bible, but disputed the interpretation given by traditionalists:

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect intended us to forgo their use.3


Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

Pascal made contributions to mathematics (Pascal's theorem; Pascal's triangle), probability, and hydrodynamics. He said:

So I hold out my arms to my Redeemer, who, having been foretold for four thousand years, has come to suffer and to die for me on earth, at the time and under all the circumstances foretold. By His grace, I await death in peace, in the hope of being eternally united to Him. Yet I live with joy, whether in the prosperity which it pleases Him to bestow upon me, or in the adversity which He sends for my good, and which He has taught me to bear by His example.4


Isaac Newton (1643-1727)

Isaac Newton formulated the three basic laws of motion that now bear his name, and the law of gravitation. He also made advances in optics. To achieve his goals in understanding gravitation he invented calculus (at about the same time as Leibniz). In his famous work, Principia Mathematica, he says:

He [God] is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done.
... And thus much concerning God; to discourse of whom from the appearances of things does certainly belong to Natural Philosophy. [Natural Philosophy is an earlier expression for what came to be known as science.]5

Further Reading

Reijer Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972.

Charles Hummel, The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts Between Science and the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986.

Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994.

1. Nicolaus Copernicus, The Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres (Amherst: Prometheus Books, [1543, 1939] 1995), pp. 6, 27. The original title in Latin was De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Quoted from James Nickel, Mathematics: Is God Silent? (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 2001), p. 112.

2. Johannes Kepler, Epitome of Copernican Astronomy & Harmonies of the World, (Amherst: Prometheus Books, [1618-1621, 1939] 1995), p. 240. The Latin title was Epitome astronomia Copernicanae. Quoted from James Nickel, Mathematics, pp. 114-115.

3. Quoted in Des MacHale, Wisdom (London, 2002). Quoted in <>, accessed 2009 Mar. 17.

4. Blaise Pascal, Pascal's Pensées, trans. W.F. Trotter (London & Toronto: Dent & Sons; New York: Dutton, 1931), 222-223.

5. Isaac Newton, Principia Mathematica, pp. 440-442, quoted from James Nickel, Mathematics, 127.

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