Paul of Tarsus
Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a. Paul the Apostle, Paul of Tarsus [?-65 c.e.] was a Hellenistic Jew and student of Gamaliel the Elder who served as enforcer for the Pharisaic Sanhedrin against the apostate Christian sect following the crucifixion of Jesus. Around 33 c.e. he experienced a dramatic conversion experience while on the road to Damascus, a revelation of the Christ. He quickly became a tireless Christian evangelist to the gentiles of the first century Roman world, putting his considerable theological training and logical skills to work developing a faith that could move well beyond its regional host to become the primary religion in the western world for the better part of two millennia.
Paul’s letters to the churches he visited or established survive in the New Testament canon, in places contradicting certain events recorded by the physician Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. Thirteen of the epistles are traditionally attributed to Paul, but only seven are considered unquestionably authored by him by Biblical scholars. These letters were widely circulated in the early Christian communities and considered divinely inspired scripture from the beginning. His letters are accepted by most critical scholars as the earliest written books of the New Testament. Paul never met the man Jesus of Nazareth, and little about Jesus’ life can be learned from his writings. His focus was on the redeeming power of the Christ and the justification of believers through grace.
Constantine the Great
Caesar Flavius Valerius Aurellus Constantinus Augustus [272-337] became the emperor of Rome in 306 during a time of political intrigues, religious persecution and widespread warfare, and remained in that position until his death. Best known for his reversal of the Christian persecution policies of his predecessor, the institution of religious tolerance throughout the empire via the Edict of Milan in 313, and his conversion to Christianity in middle age.
Constantine’s mother Helena was a Christian, and this no doubt influenced his tolerant policies and financial support. He built numerous basilicas including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Old Saint Peter’s Basilica, granted exemption from certain taxes to clergy and promoted Christians to high offices. He summoned the Council of Nicaea, which established the orthodox doctrines and canon of scripture so that worship throughout the empire could be standardized. The Eastern Orthodox church names both Helena and Constantine as saints, and in the Byzantine Church is was considered an equal of the Apostles.
Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Justinianus [483-565] succeeded his uncle in the Justinian Dynasty and was the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 527 until his death. He is a Saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church. His portion of the empire had suffered a territorial decline in the wake of bubonic plague in the 540s. He was noted as an energetic emperor who surrounded himself with brilliant and talented generals, legal advisors and finance ministers. His reign was not universally popular, but he managed to survive riots, many wars and campaigns of conquest, and plots against his life.
Justinian I was a strong defender of orthodoxy as established at the Council of Chalcedon, but not very effective in enforcing it across his portion of the empire. His campaigns conquered all of North Africa and the Middle East through the fertile crescent, whereupon he began systematic persecutions of non-Christians, apostates and heretics in the conquered territories. His military successes required excessive taxation and are considered by historians to have contributed to the subsequent decline and fall.
Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg [1398-1468] was a German goldsmith and printer who invented the first moveable type mechanical printing press. He had previous knowledge of copper engraving for prints, but his process for making individual die-cast letters that could be combined and recombined into wooden frames to create printing plates was a marked improvement over all previous methods that required individual plate-making with wood or metal.
His father worked for the ecclesiastic mint, which got young Johannes into the goldsmithing trade. With a loan from his brother-in-law, Gutenberg had his first press up and running, printing many copies of a German poem that got him a larger loan from another lender to begin printing Bibles in 1452. At the same time he was also printing more lucrative and pedestrian texts, but he reserved his finest press for Bibles only. In a financial falling-out with his lender, he lost control of the Bible press and workshop and moved his operations to Mainz. Financially unsuccessful in his lifetime, his printing technology spread quickly and fed the burgeoning Rennaisance by facilitating scientific publishing, a major catalyst for the scientific revolution.
Christopher Columbus [1451-1506] Was a Genoese navigator, colonizer and explorer whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean to the Western Hemisphere opened the New World to European colonization and exploitation. While not the first European to reach the hemisphere – Leif Ericsson beat him by 500 years – Columbus ‘discovered’ the Caribbean region that was already well populated by indigenous peoples. He was initially seeking a passage to the west to the Indian subcontinent and China, which were the sources of valuable silks, spices and opium. He had little luck obtaining necessary funding from various English and European monarchs, but managed to convince Queen Isabella of Spain that his wild idea was possible and she put him on royal retainer for two years until he’d finally convinced the Spanish court to provide about half the funding for his voyage. He had previously lined up funding from private Italian merchants.
Columbus wrote that the indigenous people he encountered might make good slaves, and would be easily conquered. Much has been made of the wholesale slaughter of natives that occurred after Columbus as well as decimation of whole populations by foreign diseases carried by the sailors. But there is modern evidence that his crew on the first voyage brought syphilis back to Europe and caused as many as 5 million deaths. Columbus was a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church in 1866, but never achieved that honor.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci [1452-1519] was an Italian scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, artist, architect, botanist, musician and writer. In fact, da Vinci serve as the archetype of what we at this end of history call a “Renaissance Man.” He began life in humble circumstances, but his artistic talents were evident early and he was educated in the studio of Florentine painter Verrocchio. Da Vinci’s two most famous paintings, Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are among the most reproduced of all time, along with Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam.
Leonardo’s storied life and accomplishments are too extensive to list. In 1502 he entered the service of Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, as a military architect and engineer. He worked with contemporary Michelangelo on the mural The Battle of Anghiari, and was part of a committee formed to relocate the statue of David against Michelangelo’s will. He lived from 1513 to 1519 in the Vatican, then spent his final years in France after Francis I recaptured Milan.
Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli [1469-1527] was an Italian philosopher, politician and writer who is considered a founder of modern political science. During his life he worked as a diplomat, political philosopher, poet, playwright and musician, a true ‘Renaissance Man’. His most famous political treatise The Prince was not published until after his death. Considered a political realist and idealist, his approach to power was both attractive and repellant for its redefinition of what had been considered universal and absolute morality.
The Catholic Church banned Machiavelli’s The Prince for its description of political morality as political expediency that may make use of evil actions in the service of good results – ends justifying means. He advocated the methodical exercise of brute force by the status quo to preserve the status quo. While this philosophy had some influence on political thought in the 17th and 18th centuries, interest in machiavellian tactics became broadly popular in the 19th and 20th centuries for its supposedly rational, scientific approach to governance.
Nicholas Copernicus [1473-1543] was the first astronomer to formulate a heliocentric – sun-centered – model of the solar system in which we live. He demonstrated in the book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, published just before his death, that the motions of the planets could be explained without presuming the Earth was the center of the system.
A brilliant Renaissance man in every sense of the title, Copernicus was a mathematician, astronomer, physician, artist, translator, scholar, jurist, governor, military leader, diplomat, economist and a Catholic cleric. His uncle was the Bishop of Warmia, to whom Copernicus served as secretary and in whose castle he lived and began work on his heliocentric model. Copernicus himself avoided facing charges of heresy for his work by publishing just before his death. Later astronomers who championed his model were not so lucky, including Galileo and Giordano Bruno.
Martin Luther [1483-1546] was a German monk, theologian, priest and university professor who changed the course of Western civilization when he posted his 95 Theses in 1517 to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, a formal protest against the sale of indulgences as corruption. Thus began the Protestant Reformation.
Luther refused to retract his objections and he was excommunicated in 1521 but remained a force in the development of reform theology. He oversaw the translation of the Bible into the German vernacular, wrote hymns to encourage congregational singing, and established the practice of allowing Protestant priests to marry by his own marriage to Katharina von Bora. Once freed of the orthodox strictures of the Roman church, itinerant Protestant preachers arose quickly among the peasantry and disputes often turned violent. Luther was also a notorious anti-semite whose polemics went so far as to justify murder. The ensuing religious persecutions and wars between Catholics and Protestants and among various Protestant sects lasted more than a century in Europe and played itself out as well in the Americas in the early colonial era.
Sir Francis Drake [1540-1596] was an English sea captain and privateer (pirate), a slaver, navigator and politician during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He was vice admiral of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588, and his seafaring exploits and adventures were legendary among both his fans and his enemies.
The queen sent Drake out against the Spanish along the American Pacific coast, an expedition undertaken with a fleet of five ships in addition to his flagship, the Pelican (later renamed Golden Hinde), scuttling two crossing the Atlantic due to crew losses and one while rounding the Straits of Magellan south of Tierra del Fuego. He picked up more ships during a series of raids on Spanish ports on the west coast of South America, capturing at least two laden with Peruvian gold, Spanish money, jewels and tons of silver. He is believed to have reached central California, Oregon or British Columbia before heading west across the Pacific to complete the circumnavigation. A politically pious Anglican, Drake hated Catholics and participated in atrocities again the Spanish and the Irish. He also had his co-commander Thomas Doughty beheaded for witchcraft.
Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra [1547-1616] was a Spanish writer of novels, plays and poetry. His most popular and famous book, Don Quixote, is considered to be the first ‘modern’ novel and is regarded as among the best novels ever written. His mastery of the Spanish language earned him the title “Prince of Wits,” and his works are classics in the world of literature.
While serving in the Spanish Navy Cervantes was captured when the ship carrying him to Barcelona from Naples was attacked by Algerian corsairs. He was imprisoned for five years at an Algerian slave camp, and this experience supplied subject matter for Don Quixote and two plays set in Algiers, El Trato de Argel and Los Baños de Argel. He died on April 23, 1616, the same day that William Shakespeare died. UNESCO established that date in 2006 as International Day of the Book.
Sir Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St. Alban [1561-1626] was an English philosopher, statesman, lawyer, jurist, scientist and author. His works established the basic inductive methodology used for scientific inquiry that we now call simply the “scientific method.” Francis and his brother Anthony spent three years under the personal tutorship of future Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift.
Despite debt troubles that plagued him most of his life, Bacon ingratiated himself with Queen Elizabeth I, becoming Queen’s Counsel and earning a knighthood from her successor James I. Eventually he worked his way up through various offices to become attorney general and in 1618, Lord Chancellor. He served as inspiration for the spirit of the Royal Society established in 1660 under Charles II, and played a leading role in creating the British colonies in America, especially Virginia, the Carolinas and Newfoundland, inspired by his vision of a Utopian society as described in his novel The New Atlantis.
Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei [1564-1642] has been described as the “father of modern physics,” the “father of modern science” and the “father of modern observational astronomy.” A pious Catholic, Galileo traveled to the Jesuit College in Rome in 1611 to argue his support of a Copernican sun-centered universe (galaxies and stars as other suns were unknown in Galileo’s time). The Church favored the Ptolemaic and Aristotelian earth-centered theories. He took his telescope with him to rome so that the philosophers and mathematicians could view Jupiter’s moons for themselves, which he considered strong support for heliocentrism. The next year the clergy denounced his views and he was forbidden to advocate or teach Copernican astronomy.
In 1630 Galileo returned to Rome seeking approval to publish his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which was published in Florence in 1632. He was ordered to appear before the Holy Office for papal trial. For his heresy he was confined to house arrest for the rest of his life. It was not until 1992 that Pope John Paul II apologized for the Galileo affair, conceding that the Earth is not stationary or the center of the universe – or even the solar system.
William Shakespeare [1564-1616] was an English poet and playwright, perhaps the most revered dramatist writing in English of all time. He is often referred to as the “Bard of Avon” and was considered even in his own time as England’s national poet. Historical speculation has it that Shakespeare was born into a Catholic family during a time when being Catholic in England was a crime. He began writing as a member of an acting troupe calling itself the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” whose members built their own theatre – the Globe – in 1608 on the bank of the Thames in London. At the same time the company also acquired the Blackfriars indoor theatre, and Shakespeare became an investment agent for the parish tithes in Stratford.
Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets are so voluminous and so well known they hardly need listing. Comedies, dramas, war stories, mythological vignettes, sociological examinations and love stories predominate. Most school children are familiar with Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and the historical dramas Richard III and Henry VI. Comedies like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing are staged regularly in high schools and colleges all over the US and Britain.
Rene Descartes [1596-1650] Was a French scientist, mathematician, philosopher and writer known today as the “Father of Modern Philosophy” whose works are required reading for students to this day. He developed the Cartesian coordinate system that allows geometric shapes to be expressed as algebraic equations and is considered the father of analytical geometry. He was a Roman Catholic by faith, whose student Queen Christina of Sweden converted after his death and was forced by law to abdicate the throne.
While many aspects of his philosophy echo the ideas of Aristotle and of Stoicism, he differs from the major schools on two issues – the analysis of corporeal substance as matter and form, and his rejection of appeals to ends in explaining natural phenomena. In developing a cogent philosophy of science as science was beginning to rise in prominence Descartes rejected perception as a reliable indicator of reality and admitted only deduction as acceptable methodology. In his theological works he offers an ontological proof of a benevolent God and asserts that reason alone is the only reliable method of attaining knowledge. His philosophy is known as dualism, where the mind and body represent different natures though each affects the other.
Oliver Cromwell [1599-1658] was a military leader and politician, best known for his role in creating the English Commonwealth as a republican government, and thereafter taking on the role of Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. He was a strident anti-royalist in England’s civil war, and roundly hated in Ireland for his persecution of Catholics. At the same time, Cromwell recognized the contributions of Jews to the wealth of England’s leading economic rival Holland, encouraging them to return to England more than 350 years after Edward I banished Jews from the country.
A passionate evangelical Puritan, Cromwell was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey after his death of natural causes in 1658. The position of Lord Protector went to Cromwell’s son Richard, who was forced to resign less than a year later. This allowed the royalists to regain power and in 1660 Charles II was invited back from exile to assume the reconstituted throne. In 1661 3 years after his death Cromwell’s body was exhumed from Westminster and subjected to a posthumous execution. His body was hanged, beheaded (with head displayed on a pike outside the Abbey), and thrown into a pit. His daughter’s body remains interred in Westminster.
Blaise Pascal [1623-1662] was a French physicist, mathematician and religious philosopher. He was a child prodigy and as a mathematician he wrote on projective geometry at 17, invented a convenient tabular presentation for binomial coefficients, and influenced Fermat’s development of probability theory. Pascal exerted strong influence on the development of modern economics and social science. He constructed a mechanical calculator for his father, the king’s commissioner of taxes, at the age of 18.
Pascal’s conversion to Jansenism began his theological writings. He backed away after his sister joined a Jansenist convent that he likened to a cult, then experienced an intense religious vision late in 1654 that revitalized his faith. Over the next year he penned the Provincial Letters, an attack on Jesuit causistry that became immensely popular among French intellectuals. During publication of the last Letter in Paris, his niece was reportedly miraculously cured of a painful fistula. This led him to write his most influential theological tome, the Pensées, in which his famous wager is developed.
Robert Boyle [1627-1691] was another brilliant man of note from the 17th century best known for his writings in theology, philosophy, chemistry, physics, and for his formulation of what became known as Boyle’s Law. When the Invisible College became the Royal Society in 1663, Boyle was named a member of council by Charles II, and later declined the position of President due to a personal rejection of oaths.
As a director of the East India Company Boyle spent large sums of money promoting the spread of Christianity in the far East through missionary societies and funding various vernacular translations of the Bible. As a practicing alchemist, Boyle contributed much to the developing science of chemistry and the concept of the particulate nature of physical elements but is also known for his contributions to the physics of sound propagation, hydrodynamics, pneumatics and optics.
John Locke [1632-1704] was an English physician, philosopher and bureaucrat who is considered to have been the first and among the most prominent of English empiricists. As a philosopher, his “social contract theory” had enormous impact on the development of modern epistemology and political philosophy in seminal works of the Enlightenment period. He studied medicine at Oxford and worked with noted scientists and thinkers of his day. He served as Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary to the Lords and Proprietors of the Carolinas, giving him useful experience in international trade and economics.
Locke’s influence extended to modern liberalism and played a role in the works of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others of the American founding fathers. Several passages from his Second Treatise are quoted verbatim in the Declaration of Independence. A proponent of the idea that human reason and empirical experience can lead a person toward truth, The Reasonableness of Christianity examined the ways by which reason can lead to revelation and how ‘enthusiasm’ tends to lead towards extremism. He was born into a Puritan tradition, though he described himself as Anglican.
Sir Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton [1643-1727] was an English naturalist, physicist, mathematician, theologian and alchemist who became one of the most influential men in all of history. He described his theory of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion in his seminal 1687 work, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. He contributed significantly to understanding of mechanics with his principles of conservation of momentum and angular momentum, built the first reflecting telescope, and developed a theory of color based on his observations of the visible spectrum of light refracted through a prism.
In mathematics Newton shared credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of calculus and the generalized binomial theorem. A religious if somewhat unorthodox man, Newton produced more work on Biblical hermeneutics than natural science, though it is his scientific work for which he is most remembered today. He was made President of the Royal Society in 1703, and is as notable for making powerful enemies as he is for his contributions to science.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz [1646-1716] was a German mathematician and philosopher who occupies equally high positions in the history of both disciplines. He invented infinitesimal calculus independently of Sir Isaac Newton, and it is Leibniz’s notation that is still used to this day. He also invented the binary system basis for computer architectures still in use. He made major contributions to physics and technology and his body of work includes writings on law, politics, ethics, theology, history and philology.
Like many notable scientists at the beginnings of the modern age, Leibniz worked as an alchemist in Neuremberg, though he knew nothing of the subject from his education. He quickly moved on to an assistant writer in law for the Elector of Mainz. He then moved on to diplomacy. In philosophy Leibniz had a firm university grounding that resulted in writings on the subject that were highly formalized in the seven fundamental philosophical Principles. His methods and concerns anticipated developments in analytic and linguistic philosophy in the 20th century.
Adam Smith [1723-1790] was a Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy, one of the preeminent figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. He had originally intended to study theology and enter the clergy, but was influenced by the writings of David Hume toward philosophy and economics. Smith studied moral philosophy at Glasgow and Oxford, developing a passion for liberty, free speech and reason despite what he described as the intellectually stifling environment at Oxford.
Smith’s moral philosophy rejected both the innate “moral sense” of Hudson and Shaftesbury and the utility of Hume, appealing instead to sympathy. It was Smith who first emphasized that a nation’s wealth resided in its labor rather than the amassed quantity of precious metals. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society of London and became a founding member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Smith formalized the laws of supply and demand, which he maintained would ensure that individual interests aligned with those of the larger society. Alan Greenspan has written that Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was one of the greatest achievements in intellectual history, and P.J. O’Rourke described him as the “founder of free market economics.”
George Washington [1732-1799] was a Virginia agrarian and plantation owner, surveyor, military general, politician and the first President of the United States, popularly known as “the father of his country.” He was a district adjutant general in Britain’s Virginia militia at the age of 20, in charge of training. At 21 he became a Master Mason in the Freemason fraternal organization, though he was a professing Episcopalian. He fought for the British against the French during the Seven Years War, resigned from the service and married Martha Dandridge Custis and they moved to the estate at Mount Vernon.
He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758. He was opposed to the 1765 Stamp Act, but did not take a leading role in growing colonial resistance until after 1767 when protests against the Townsend Acts became widespread. After the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774 he chaired the meeting which called for convening of a Continental Congress and was a delegate from Virginia to that Congress. At the second Congress in 1775, he showed up in uniform, indicating his willingness to go to war. When the Continental Army was created, Washington was appointed Major General and designated Commander-in-Chief. After the war the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington President in 1789 and again in 1792, still the only president in U.S. history to receive 100% of the electoral votes.
Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier [1743-1794] was a French nobleman and scientist known as “the father of modern chemistry.” He was the first to formalize the law of conservation of mass, identify and name oxygen and hydrogen, wrote the first extensive table of elements, criticized the theory of phlogiston, and helped to construct the metric system of weights and measures. He reflected the ideals of the Enlightenment and studied chemistry, mathematics, astronomy and botany.
Lavoisier earned a degree in law and was admitted to the French bar, but was not a practicing attorney. He did get involved in politics, and became a tax collector at the age of 26. He introduced reforms to the French monetary and taxation system designed to help the overtaxed peasants, though those same peasants did not seem to appreciate his largesse, as he was branded a traitor during the Reign of Terror and guillotined at the age of 50.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe [1749-1832] was a German writer described by George Eliot as “…the last true polymath to walk the earth.” His works include literature, theology, philosophy, science, humanism, poetry and drama, but he is best known for his two-part drama Faust, a highlight of world literature in all ages. Goethe was a key figure in the movement of Weimar Classicism, which arose concurrently with the Enlightenment and Romanticism.
Early in life Goethe considered becoming a painter, but his choice to go into writing instead gave Western culture one of its most important thinkers. He was raised in the Lutheran religion, but his later spiritual leanings included hints of pantheism, humanism and elements of Western esotercism as reflected in part 2 of Faust. His research into folk traditions helped to create many of the Pagan trappings of the Christian holy day of Christmas. His conception of human culture as organic and evolutionary rather than geometrical and artificial led him to conclude that the fundamental nature of the world is aesthetic and appreciable primarily through perspective.
Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart [1756-1791] was an Austrian (then Salzburg) classical era composer. He was a notable child prodigy who composed for keyboard and violin beginning at the age of five, and performed regularly as prodigy before European royalty. At 17 he left his position as Salzburg court musician and relocated to Vienna seeking something better. His compositions express the full range of human emotions and his influence has been profound in Western music. Contemporary composer Joseph Haydn wrote that posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.”
Mozart’s compositions covered the range of genres. Symphony, opera and colo concerto, chamber music for strings, piano sonatas, light ‘popular’ musical pieces and a large body of religious music and masses, including his last, unfinished work, Requiem Mass in D minor. Mozart spoke quite angrily against the foibles and excesses of the priesthood, apparently making a philosophical delineation between the church and its servants. In later life he became a Freemason.
John Dalton [1766-1844] was an English physicist, chemist and meteorologist best known for his contributions to the development of atomic theory as well as his research on color blindness, which had not been formally described or officially acknowledged until Dalton. Who was himself color blind. He was Quaker by faith, which in those days was listed among the religious groups known as “Dissenters,” basically all non-Anglicans. Dissenters were barred from attending or teaching at English universities. In the spring of 1793 he became an informal student of John Gough, a blind philosopher and polymath. Dalton became a teacher of mathematics and natural philosophy at the “New College” in Manchester for Dissenters and later a private tutor in those subjects.
Dalton wrote papers on the behavior of gases at various temperatures and pressures, coming very close to enunciating the gas laws of Gay-Lussac, who published in 1802. He published a table of relative atomic weights for six elements – hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, sulfur and phosphorus – using the hydrogen atom as scale [atomic weight = 1]. He was a member of the French Academie des Sciences, and elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1822.
Thomas Robert Malthus [1766-1834] was a british scholar and Anglican cleric who contributed to the social sciences of political economy and demography. His primary eminence came from drawing attention to the potential dangers of unchecked population growth. The consequences of population growth outstripping available resources is known to this day as a “Malthusian catastrophe.”
Malthus held that God created the tendency for a population to increase for a moral purpose, with the threat of poverty and starvation designed to teach the virtue of hard work and good behavior. His theodicy (answer to the problem of evil) is that the struggle of life energizes humanity toward improving itself and its lot. Malthus described population increase in the face of resource scarcity as a situation of adversity and evil stimulating beneficial general outcomes. His ideas have generated much derision through the years, though his principles of evolutionary social theory influenced both Darwin and Wallace in the area of biological evolution and contributed to the canon of modern socioeconomic theory.
Napoleon Bonaparte [1769-1821], a.k.a. Emperor Napoleon I, was a French military leader and politician who did much to shape European politics in the 19th century. He was an artillery officer who led successful campaigns against the First and Second Coalitions against the First French Republic. Then he staged his own coup d’etat against that republic and had himself named First Consul. Five years later he crowned himself Emperor of France and turned his armies against every major European power of the day.
It wasn’t until Napoleon’s ambition led him to invade Russia in 1812 that his armies encountered enemies they couldn’t dominate. Within 2 years his forces were defeated, France was invaded, and Napoleon was forced to abdicate and was sent into exile on the island of Elba. He escaped and made his way back to power in France, but was again defeated in the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to the island of Saint Helena under British supervision, where he died.
Michael Faraday [1791-1867] was an English natural philosopher, chemist and physicist whose most notable contributions were to the developing fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. He was the discoverer of the laws of electrolysis, diamagnetism and electromagnetic induction. He demonstrated that a magnetic field could affect light, suggesting an underlying relationship between the phenomena that we now know to be fundamental. He invented various electromagnetic rotary devices and in the field of chemistry discovered benzene, invented the system of oxidation numbers, and popularized terms such as anode, cathode, electrode and ion.
Faraday was appointed for life as the first Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain and director of the laboratory of the Royal Society. He developed the Faraday constant (charge of a mole of electrons) and Faraday’s law of induction. A devout member of the Sandemanian Church, a sectarian offshoot of the Church of Scotland, Faraday’s strong sense of the unity of God and nature pervaded the whole of his life and work.
Charles Robert Darwin [1809-1882] was an English naturalist in the life sciences who formulated a theory of the evolution of species by means of natural selection – a.k.a. descent with modification from common ancestry – after many years of study and observation (and a famous 5-year excursion on the HMS Beagle, published in 1859 as his seminal work, On the Origin of Species.
Born and raised in the Anglican (Church of England) tradition, the clergy had mixed responses to Darwin’s theory when it was published. More orthodox clergy dismissed the ideas while liberals interpreted natural selection as consistent with ideas of God’s design. This is generally how Christian theologians break on the issue today as well, though the modern Creationist movement that holds the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 to be literal descriptions of the actual creation of the universe, world and life was practically unknown in Darwin’s day. Following Darwin’s death his colleagues at the Royal Society lobbied successfully for a full state funeral and had him interred in Westminster Abbey close to the tombs of John Herschel and Isaac Newton, one of only five non-royals to be granted that honor during the 19th century.
Sir George Stokes
Sir George Gabriel Stokes, 1st Baronet [1819-1903] was a British mathematician and physicist born in Ireland to an evangelical Protestant reverend. Stokes was Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, a position once held by Isaac Newton and recently by Stephen Hawking, and president of the Royal Society. Stokes most famous student, Lord Kelvin, noted in his presidential address to the British Association in 1871 that no one had ever formally suggested directly or indirectly the application of the prismatic analysis of light to solar and stellar chemistry, yet Stokes taught it along with the theoretical and practical conclusions before 1852. These are the physical basis of spectroscopy. Stokes was more humble, stating that he had not taken the essential step that Kirchoff made (and for which he duly received credit).
His contributions to fluid dynamics, optics and mathematical physics were fundamental, establishing solutions still held to be final in the fields. Stokes was conservative in his religious beliefs, and became president of the Victoria Institute in 1886. The institute was founded in response to the evolutionary movement in the 1860s following the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
Gregor Johann Mendel [1822-1884] was an Augustinian priest and natural scientist whose contributions to the study of particulate inheritance earned his the title of “Father of Modern Genetics.” He took the name Gregor when he entered the monastic life at the Augustinian Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno, returning to the abbey after a course of study at the University of Vienna to teach physics.
Harkening back to his childhood years as gardener and beekeeper, Mendel was encouraged by his professors and fellow monks to study variation in plants in the monastery’s garden. He bred some 29,000 pea plants and demonstrated that one in four had recessive purebred alleles, two of four were hybrid, and one of four had dominant purebred alleles. From these experiments Mendel developed what became known as Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance. His work was at first rejected by other scientists who were convinced of blended inheritance and Darwin’s theory of pangenes. Rediscovered in the early 20th century many years after his death, Mendel’s work was incorporated with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection to form the basis of the Modern or Neo-Darwinian Synthesis.
Louis Pasteur [1822-1895] was a French chemist and microbiologist best known for his contributions to the prevention of diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. He developed the first vaccine for rabies, and is perhaps best known for his method of killing bacteria in milk and wine with heat, known to this day as “pasteurization.” He was the first to demonstrate the ‘handedness’ of chiral molecules by working with crystals of sodium ammonium tartrate and did his doctoral thesis on crystallography.
Pasteur was a professor of physics at Dijon Lycee before becoming professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg. He demonstrated that fermentation is caused by the growth of microorganisms and disproved the popular notion of spontaneous generation by demonstrating that the growth of microorganisms in nutrient solutions was the result of biogenesis from ubiquitous microorganism spores on dust particles in the air. This strengthened the theory that microorganisms caused disease (known as the “Germ Theory”), and in his work he also discovered the process of anaerobiosis by which some microorganisms can develop without the presence of oxygen. He was nominally a Catholic, but expressed some sympathy with more apocryphal and unorthodox beliefs.
William Thomson, Lord Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin [1824-1907] was a British mathematical physicist and engineer born in Ireland. He excelled at Cambridge in sports as well as mathematics, physics and the study of electricity, and devised a hypothesis of electrical images which became a powerful tool in solving electrostatics problems. Upon Thomson’s ample encouragement Michael Faraday worked on his discovery of the relationship between light and magnetism.
Thomson’s work on the development of thermodynamics included experiments on the pressure-dependent melting temperature of ice convinced him of the correctness of his views against the physical possibility of perpetual motion mechanics, and he proposed an absolute temperature scale in 1848 that still bears his title. He came close to articulating the second law during his examinations of the different theories of Carnot and Joule, and his Christian theological beliefs led him to speculate about the heat death of the universe. His collaboration with Peter Tait on the textbook Treatise on Natural Philosophy helped to define the modern science of physics. He had some wrong ideas about an aether and though X-rays were a hoax, but is rightly recognized as one of the most brilliant men of his generation.
Thomas Alva Edison [1847-1931] was an American inventor and businessman who developed such ‘modern’ wonders of the 20th century as the phonograph, the carbon microphone used in telephones, electrical transmission and distribution systems, and the first commercially viable electric light bulb. Known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park” he was one of the first inventors to use mass production principles by delegating particular tasks to assistants in the process of inventing whole technologies. Edison held numerous patents and founded 14 companies in his lifetime, including one of the largest publicly traded companies in the world, General Electric.
Edison’s business practices were standard American capitalism, and he notably shorted his more productive assistants in both compensation and patent recognition. His long feud with Nikola Tesla led Tesla to remark upon Edison’s death that “…he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.” As death approached in his old age, Edison said that the biggest mistake he’d made was not respecting Tesla and his work.
Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell [1847-1922] was a Scottish scientist, engineer and inventor who is best known for his invention of the first practical telephone. His mother began to lose her hearing when Alexander was 12, which led him to study acoustics and work extensively with the deaf. His most famous student in that role was Helen Keller. Unfortunately, he also worked to legalize castration to prevent the deaf from reproducing, believing the condition to be hereditary. By 1872 that theory was being disproven as deaf people kept having hearing children and the hearing were still having deaf children. He continued to support Eugenics, and was on the board of scientific advisors to the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor and strongly advocated for compulsory sterilization of anyone he considered a “defective variety of the human race.”
Bell applied for a patent on his invention to electrically transmit speech – “acoustic telegraphy” – the same day that patent for a similar device was applied for by Elisha Gray in 1876. Bell received the patent, though there is still controversy over the matter. He demonstrated his telephone at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and it made headlines worldwide. The Bell Telephone Company was created the next year, and the rest is history. Bell was a Unitarian/Universalist.
Nikola Tesla [1856-1943] was a mechanical and electrical engineer as well as a gifted inventor, an ethnic Serb born in Croatia who emigrated to America and became a U.S. citizen. Tesla’s father was a Serbian Orthodox priest, his mother the daughter of another priest. Legend has it that he was born during an electrical storm. An eccentric sort of genius, Tesla reportedly had a photographic memory and was quite possibly a synesthete. Described as “the man who invented the twentieth century,” he is considered the patron saint of modern electricity.
Upon reaching America in 1884, Tesla was hired by Thomas Edison as an electrical engineer and soon moved up to solving some of the Edison Machine Works’ most important design challenges. Edison reneged on his agreement to pay Tesla for his work, but was not shy of using Tesla’s work to make himself a great deal of money. Their subsequent rivalry over AC or DC current for electrification is legendary. His contributions to radio transmission predated Marconi’s and was famous for his theatrical exhibitions of electrical daring-do. He died penniless in a hotel room in New York City, after which the government took control of his papers and property in hopes of obtaining the plans for a particle beam weapon Tesla was reported to have developed.
Karl Ernst Ludwig Marx Planck, a.k.a. Max [1858-1947] was a German physicist considered to be the founder of quantum theory. From a family of theologians and jurists, Max was a gifted mathematician and musician who composted songs and operas, had a beautiful singing voice, and played piano, organ and cello. The home he made with his first wife and four children became a popular haunt for many prominent German scientists including Albert Einstein and Otto Hahn, where evenings consisted of joint musical performances before turning to the subject of physical science.
Planck turned to the problem of black-body radiation when he was commissioned to create lightbulbs that would emit maximum light with minimum energy. After a false start with the Wien-Planck law, he revised his approach and derived the first Planck black-body radiation law. It was his final development of this law that postulated electromagnetic energy was emitted in quantum form, as multiples of the elementary unit E- hv, h being Planck’s constant. The radical implications of Planck’s work was advanced by Einstein in 1905, leading to Planck receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918. He lost all four of his children from his first marriage after they reached adulthood, and when his younger son was executed by the Nazis in 1945, he lost his will to live and died two years later.
Henry Ford [1863-1947] was an American businessman and founder of the Ford Motor Company. He is noted as the father of modern assembly lines used for mass production. He gained a reputation as a watch repairman in his teens and became an apprentice machinist in Detroit. Three years later he returned to the family farm in Dearborn and became adept at operating the Westinghouse portable steam engine. He was later hired by Westinghouse to service those engines.
In 1896 he test-drove his self-propelled vehicle, which he called the Ford Quadricycle. With encouragement for his ideas from Thomas Edison, he then went on to a series of failed auto companies before he and partner Alexander Malcomson incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1916. By 1918 half the cars in America were Model T’s. Ford, an Episcopalian, was a pioneer of “welfare capitalism,” which aimed to hire the best workers and keep them to reduce turnover. He began the 40-hour work week and a decent minimum wage, for which he was roundly criticized by Wall Street and other industrialists. He was a notable anti-semite, and published in his newspaper The Dearborn Independent a series of anti-Jewish screeds including the forgery “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” becoming a spokesman for right-wing extremism and religious prejudice. He received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle on his 75th birthday in 1938, the highest medal Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner.
Wilbur [1867-1912] and Wilbur [1871-1948] Wright were American brothers born in Ohio, their father was a Protestant bishop. The brothers are credited with inventing and building the first successful airplane, making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk on the North Carolina Outer Banks. Their invention of “three-axis control” enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft and maintain equilibrium, and this control system became standard on all models of fixed wing aircraft.
The Wright brothers learned the necessary mechanical skills through their printing, bicycle and motorworks businesses in Dayton, and earned their dreams of powered flight from a toy ‘helicopter’ their father gave them, based on an invention of French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Penaud. When the toy inevitably broke from overuse, the boys simply built another of their own. Their experience with gliders and bicycles particularly influenced their confidence that an unstable flying machine could be controlled with enough balance and practice. Charlie Taylor, an employee in their Dayton, Ohio bicycle shop, built their first aircraft engine.
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill [1874-1965] was a British statesman who served as Prime Minister from 1940-1945 during World War 2. A gifted orator, one time Army officer and artist, Churchill received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his numerous published works. He was a descendent of the 1st Earl of Marlborough and a noble by birth, his long career in politics and war covered much of the first half of the twentieth century. Churchill bitterly opposed independence for India, and some historians have drawn parallels between his attitude towards India and his low opinion of the Nazis.
Churchill’s speeches were a great inspiration to British citizens during the horrors of the second world war. He suffered a speech impediment (stuttering) as a child, which he conquered by consistent practice. Speech therapists use videotapes of Churchill’s mannerisms during speeches as one of the role models of how to overcome the problem. When he was defeated in the election of 1945 he became leader of the anti-Soviet opposition, then was elected to a second term as PM in 1951. He resigned in 1955 as independence from colonial rule across the empire quickened its pace.
Marchese Guglielmo Marconi [1874-1937] was an Italian inventor best known for his development of a radiotelegraph system, for which he shared the Nobel Prize Physics with Karl Ferdinand Braun in 1909. He was baptized Catholic, but became a member of the Anglican Church by marrying an Anglican.
Marconi displayed an early interest in science and electricity. He built much of his experimental equipment himself in his attic with the intent of creating a system for wireless telegraphy, the transmission of telegraph messages not dependent on strung wire. The idea wasn’t new, as many researchers had been exploring the possibility for half a century, but none had proven commercially viable. Thus he didn’t discover any new principles but assembling and improving on what was already known. His system included an oscillator, a capacitor, a coherer receiver, a telegraph key and a register activated by the receiver to record the Morse code onto a roll of paper tape. Marconi was embroiled for years in suits by the U.S. Army and Nikola Tesla for patent infringement as major corporations vied for advantages in the new industry.
Niels Henrik David Bohr [1885-1962] was a Danish physicist whose contributions to developing quantum physics and atomic structure earned him a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Born to a devout Lutheran father and Jewish mother, he was a brilliant student and became a professor at the University of Copenhagen before starting and directing the Institute of Theoretical Physics in 1921.
He was enlisted to work on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos for development of nuclear weapons during World War 2, but worried about what he predicted would become a nuclear arms race that would ensue. Oddly by that measure, Bohr was encouraged by Robert Oppenheimer to visit President Franklin D. Roosevelt to convince him to share the knowledge and technology with the Russians in hopes of speeding up development. The idea led to barely veiled charges of criminal behavior from Winston Churchill, and after the war Bohr returned to Copenhagen as a strong advocate for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein [1889-1951] was an Austrian-born British philosopher of logic, mathematics, language and mind. contemporary Bertrand Russell described him as the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense and dominating.” Wittgenstein was an important inspiration for two of the 20th century’s most influential philosophical movements, the Vienna Circle and Oxford’s ordinary language philosophy.
From a strongly musical and intellectual family, Ludwig had perfect pitch and made ample use of musical metaphors in his philosophical writings. His brother Paul became a world famous concert pianist who continued to play before appreciative audiences even after losing an arm in World War 1. Ludwig played clarinet. There was a family history of depression, three other brothers committed suicide. He was described by the Radio Times as the most enigmatic Christian of the twentieth century.
Michael Polanyi [1891-1976] was a Hungarian-born British polymath who made significant contributions to the fields of physical chemistry, economics, philosophy, theology and epistemology. Beginning in the 1930s Polanyi expressed opposition to the positivist thrust of science, arguing that positivism ignores the roles of personal commitment and subjective experience play in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. He saw the false claim of complete objectivity as a delusion.
By recognizing the contributions of tacit awareness and the underlying, unprovable assumptions it relies upon – often colored by cultural tradition – meaning cannot be reduced to mere sets of sensory data or objective facts. His anti-reductionist stance was best expressed in essays written in the 1960s and 70s dealing with origin of life issues, and in the scientific paper Life’s irreducible structure. In these Polanyi argued that the information encoded by DNA molecules is a non-material, qualitative phenomenon that is irreducible to physics and chemistry, and that if life sciences were freed from the delusions of positivist science, true knowledge of the nature of life could be greatly advanced.
Clive Staples Lewis [1898-1963], a.k.a. C.S. Lewis, was an Irish academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, and novelist who went on to become the most famous and influential lay-theologians and Christian apologists of the 20th century. Lewis became an atheist at the age of 15, at a time when he also became interested in the occult and Norse mythology.
Lewis’ Oxford friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien was a strong influence toward Christianity, and the works of George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton helped to lead Lewis back to the faith of his childhood, though he described the process as coming into Christianity “kicking and screaming.” It was a laborious process, started in 1929 when he became a theist upon admitting that God exists, and accepting Christ in 1931 after a long discussion and nighttime walk with his friends Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. He married American writer Joy Gresham in 1956 while she was hospitalized with terminal bone cancer. She experienced a brief remission, but died in 1960. Lewis’ own passing in 1963 went practically unnoticed because the big news that day – November 22 – was the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Enrico Fermi [1901-1954] was an Italian physicist most notable for his significant contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics and statistical mechanics. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1938 for his work on induced radioactivity and is considered to be among the leading scientists of the 20th century. His first important theoretical publication was entitled “On the phenomena that happen close to the line of time,” introducing his Fermi’s coordinates and demonstrating that when close to the time line, space behaves in an euclidian manner. It was Fermi who first pointed out that hidden in Einstein’s famous relativity equation was an enormous amount of power to be exploited.
After winning the Nobel Fermi emigrated with his family to the United States, primarily to protect his Jewish wife from the fascist regime of Mussolini. Fermi himself was Catholic. He took a position at Columbia University and later at the University of Chicago where he pioneered the development of nuclear power with the Chicago Pile-1 reactor. He worked at Los Alamos on development of nuclear weapons during the second world war, and died of stomach cancer at the age of 53. Two of his grad students working on the pile reactor also died of cancer, a risk they knowingly took.
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy [1917-1963] was the 35th President of the United States from 1961 until his assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas in November of 1963. The second son of a prominent Bostonian political family, he was the first American President of the Catholic faith. During his years at Harvard before World War 2, Kennedy toured Europe, Russia and the Balkans while his father served at the American Embassy in London as Ambassador to the Court of St. James. In 1940 he was awarded a degree in international affairs from Harvard in 1940, graduating cum laude with his thesis on British participation in the Munich Agreement.
Kennedy served as a PT boat commander in the Pacific during the war, earning the Navy and Marine Corps medals for heroism after his boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy’s presidency was punctuated by large, controversial issues including civil rights, the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, launch of the Peace Corps, involvement in the Vietnam war, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the American quest to put a man on the moon. He was either greatly loved or seriously hated by partisans in the political arena, but his less than three years in office have been immortalized in popular history as the American Camelot.
Allan Rex Sandage [b. 1926] is an American astronomer, a student of famed cosmologist Edwin Hubble and regarded during his active career as the pre-eminent observational cosmologist in the world. He published the first reliable estimate of the Hubble parameter in 1958, then advocated an even lower value that corresponds to a Hubble age of about 20 billion years. He is credited with the discovery of quasars in 1964. His spectral studies of globular clusters led him to estimate their age as at least 25 billion years, suggesting that the universe didn’t merely expand, but expands and contracts with a period of 80 billion years – a still controversial speculation, as current estimates of the age of the universe hover around 14 billion years. Sandage also discovered jets erupting from the core of the M-82 galaxy and theorized that these jets are caused by massive explosions in the core that have been ongoing for at least 1.5 million years.
Sandage became a Christian when he was 50 years old, stating that he found the universe too complex and interconnected to be attributable to chance alone.