A brief glance at to some Catholic Priest and their contribution to Science
Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175-1253)
Historians of science claim that Robert was the founder of the scientific movement at Oxford University and so sparked a pursuit of excellence that has continued to today. Among a few of his achievements was a commentary on the Physics of Aristotle, a critique of the Julian calendar that anticipated the reform of the calendar under Pope Gregory XIII 300 years later, and treatises on optics, music, and mathematics. Such was his reputation for genius and knowledge of the natural world that he was also reputed in some unlearned circles to be a wizard and sorcerer.
Ignazio Danti (1536-1586)
He was especially renowned for his skills as an astronomer. In 1574, he made a set of important observations that found the equinox to be 11 days earlier than the calendar. He consequently played a role in the reform of the Julian Calendar under Gregory XIII. But Danti left his real mark as a cartographer. Cosimo de’Medici commissioned him to prepare maps and a large terrestrial globe for his own collection.
Marin Mersenne (1588-1648)
In La vérité des sciences (Truth of the Sciences) , he argued for the value of human reason. He corresponded with the foremost figures of his age, including Pierre Gassendi, René Descartes, Pierre de Fermat, Thomas Hobbes, and Blaise Pascal. He organized colloquia of scientists from around Europe to read their papers and exchange ideas. The gatherings became known as the Académie Parisiensis but were also nicknamed the Académie Mersenne, and the number of scientists whose careers were given direction by the colloquia is impossible to underestimate. In keeping with his commitment to science, he left instructions that his body be used for research.
Jean-Felix Picard (1620-1682)
Picard was the first person in the Enlightenment to provide an accurate measure of the size of the Earth through a survey conducted 1669-1670. His calculation of a terrestrial radius of 6328.9 km is off by only 0.44 percent, and his continued progress in instruments proved essential in the drafting of Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation. Picard also worked and corresponded with a vast number of scientists of the time, including Isaac Newton, Christian Huygens, and a great rival, Giovanni Cassini.
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884)
Mendel earned his place in science by working with simple pea pod plants. He loved to take walks around the monastery and noticed that some plants were radically different in their traits and growth patterns. As any high school student today can attest, Mendel spent years examining seven characteristics of the pea pod plants and determined the basic laws that govern the passage of traits within a species. Especially crucial was the discovery of dominant or recessive genes, a key to modern genetics and the study of dominant and recessive traits, genotype and phenotype, and the concept of heterozygous and homozygous.
Armand David (1826-1900)
Sent to the missions in Beijing, he served with distinction in the community. He found China a remarkable opportunity for exploring the natural sciences. Such were his finds in the areas of zoology, botany, geology, and paleontology that the French government asked him to send specimens of his finds back to Paris for further study. These samples, seen for the first time in the West, aroused such a great interest that Fr. David was commissioned by French scientists to explore China in the search for other new discoveries. Upon his return to France in 1888, he gave a celebrated address in Paris at the International Scientific Congress of Catholics in which he documented his study of more than 60 species of animals and more than 60 species of birds, all of which had been previously unknown.
Julius Nieuwland (1878-1936)
In 1904 at he served as a professor in botany and then chemistry, a post he held until his retirement in 1936. In the quiet halls of scientific study, he successfully polymerized acetylene into divinylacetylene. Elmer Bolton, the director of research at Du Pont, used this basic research to achieve the development of neoprene. In effect, this humble priest was the inventor of the first synthetic rubber. Embraced by the Du Pont Company, the invention had a major impact on many industries and our daily lives. For example, neoprene is used for electrical cable insulation, telephone wiring, rug backings, and roofing.
Georges Lemaître (1894-1966)
Where Einstein saw that the universe was actually moving-either shrinking or expanding-and devised the cosmological constant that maintained the stability of universe, Lemaître concluded that the universe was expanding. Not only that, Lemaître proposed that from this it could be concluded that all matter and energy were concentrated at one point. Hence: The universe had a beginning. This theory, at first met with great skepticism, was termed rather sarcastically the “Big Bang.” For his part, Lemaître elegantly described this beginning as “a day without yesterday.” Today, astrophysicists readily accept the Big Bang and the continuing expansion of the universe.
Stanley Jaki (b. 1924)
In a modern scientific world so steeped in Enlightenment philosophy and so opposed to a relationship with religion, Fr. Jaki’s assertion that science and religion are consistent and that scientific analysis can shed light on both scientific and theological propositions is a bold one.
As Jaki contends, discoveries of nuclear physics and astronomy have given confirmation of an essential order within the universe. While it is true that our understanding of both fields is incomplete, the Christian perspective demonstrates that the order of the cosmos is entirely consistent with the biblical view of Creation.
Michal Heller (b. 1936)
Fr. Heller is engaged in the highest regions of mathematics and astronomy. Currently, he is researching the singularity problem in general relativity and the use of non-commutative geometry in seeking the unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics. He also concerns himself with philosophy and the history of science and science and theology. In Heller’s view, all of these different facets of science point to something truly important about the “blueprint” of Creation-and the teachings of the Church help us to understand that blueprint.