Saturday, August 11, 2007

Theological Dictionary word of the day: William Herschel
Sir Frederick William Herschel Sir Frederick William Herschel, FRS KH (15 November 1738-25 August 1822) was a German-born British astronomer and composer who became famous for discovering the planet Uranus. He also discovered infrared radiation and made many other discoveries in astronomy.

He was born Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel in Hanover, Germany, as one of ten children (of whom four died very young), of Isaac Herschel (1707-1767) a member of the Hanover Military Band. Although Isaac was of Jewish birth, his wife was Christian and the children were raised as Christians. In 1755 the Hanoverian Guards regiment, in whose band William and his brother Jacob were engaged, was ordered to England. At the time, the crowns of England and Hanover were united under George II. He learned English quickly and, at age nineteen, he changed his name to Frederick William Herschel.

"Herschel's pioneering work in astronomy was motivated by his belief in God as the Creator and the author of all natural laws." -Jeffrey Donley, Ph.D.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Theological Dictionary word of the day: Antony van Leeuwenhoek
Antony van Leeuwenhoek Antony (October 24, 1632 - August 30, 1723), full name Thonius Philips van Leeuwenhoek (pronounced 'vahn Laywenhook') was a Dutch tradesman and scientist from Delft, Netherlands. He is commonly known as "the Father of Microbiology". Born the son of a basket maker, at age 16 he secured an apprenticeship with a Scottish cloth merchant in Amsterdam. He is best known for his work on the improvement of the microscope and for his contributions towards the establishment of microbiology. Using his handcrafted microscopes he was the first to observe and describe single celled organisms, which he originally referred to as animalcules, and which we now refer to as microorganisms. He was also the first to record microscopic observations of muscle fibers, bacteria, spermatozoa and blood flow in capillaries (small blood vessels).

His faith in God and love for His creation undergirded his science. Along with others, he exposed the fallacy of spontaneous generation (abiogenesis), the superstitious belief that life sprung from material objects, such as raw meat "birthing" maggots.

During his lifetime van Leeuwenhoek ground over 500 optical lenses. He also created over 400 different types of microscopes, only nine of which still exist today. His microscopes were made of silver or copper metal frames holding hand-ground lenses. Those that have survived the years are able to magnify up to 275 times. It is suspected, though, that van Leeuwenhoek possessed some microscopes that could magnify up to 500 times. Although he has been widely regarded as a dilettante or amateur, his scientific research was of remarkably high quality.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Theological Dictionary word of the day: Blaise Pascal
Blaise PascalBlaise Pascal (June 19, 1623–August 19, 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father. Pascal's earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences where he made important contributions to the construction of mechanical calculators, the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalizing the work of Evangelista Torricelli. Pascal also wrote powerfully in defense of the scientific method.

He was a mathematician of the first order. Pascal helped create two major new areas of research. He wrote a significant treatise on the subject of projective geometry at the age of sixteen and corresponded with Pierre de Fermat from 1654 and later on probability theory, strongly influencing the development of modern economics and social science.

Following a mystical experience in late 1654, he abandoned his scientific work and devoted himself to philosophy and theology. His two most famous works date from this period: the Lettres provinciales and the Pensées. However, he had suffered from ill-health throughout his life and his new interests were ended by his early death two months after his 39th birthday.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Theological Dictionary word of the day: Isaac Newton
Newton in 1702. Portrait by Godfrey KnellerSir Isaac Newton, (4 January 1643 – 31 March 1727) [ OS: 25 December 1642 – 20 March 1727] was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, and alchemist, regarded by many as the greatest figure in the history of science. His treatise Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, laying the groundwork for classical mechanics. By deriving Kepler's laws of planetary motion from this system, he was the first to show that the motion of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws. The unifying and predictive power of his laws was central to the scientific revolution, the advancement of heliocentrism, and the broader acceptance of the notion that rational investigation can reveal the inner workings of nature.

In mechanics, Newton also markedly enunciated the principles of conservation of momentum and angular momentum. In optics, he invented the reflecting telescope and developed a theory of colour based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into a visible spectrum. Newton notably argued that light is composed of particles. He also formulated an empirical law of cooling, studied the speed of sound, and proposed a theory of the origin of stars. In mathematics, Newton shares the credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of calculus. He also demonstrated the generalized binomial theorem, developed the so-called "Newton's method" for approximating the zeroes of a function, and contributed to the study of power series.

French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange often said that Newton was the greatest genius who ever lived, and once added that he was also "the most fortunate, for we cannot find more than once a system of the world to establish." English poet Alexander Pope was moved by Newton's accomplishments to write the famous epitaph:

“ Nature and nature's laws lay hid in night; God said "Let Newton be" and
all was light. ”


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Theological Dictionary word of the day: Johannes Kepler
Portrait of Johannes KeplerJohannes Kepler (December 27, 1571 – November 15, 1630) was a German Lutheran mathematician, astronomer and astrologer, and a key figure in the 17th century astronomical revolution. He is best known for his laws of planetary motion, based on his works Astronomia nova and Harmonice Mundi; Kepler's laws provided one of the foundations of Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation. Before Kepler's laws, planets' orbits were believed to be circular. Kepler's laws of planetary motion proved that the planets' orbits were actually elliptical.

Through his career Kepler was a mathematics teacher at a Graz seminary school (later the University of Graz, Austria), an assistant to Tycho Brahe, court mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II, mathematics teacher in Linz, Austria, and adviser to General Wallenstein.

He also did fundamental work in the field of optics and helped to legitimize the telescopic discoveries of his contemporary Galileo Galilei.

Kepler lived in an era when there was no clear distinction between astronomy and astrology, while there was a strong division between astronomy (a branch of mathematics within the liberal arts) and physics (a branch of the more prestigious discipline of philosophy); he also incorporated religious arguments and reasoning into his work, such that the basis for many of his most important contributions was essentially theological.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Theological Dictionary word of the day: Nicolaus Copernicus
The astronomer Copernicus: Conversation with God. Painting by Jan MatejkoNicolaus Copernicus (February 19, 1473 – May 24, 1543) was the astronomer who formulated the first modern heliocentric theory of the solar system. His epochal text, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), is often conceived as the starting point of modern astronomy, as well as a central and defining epiphany in the history of all science.

Among the great polymaths of the Scientific Revolution, Copernicus was a mathematician, astronomer, jurist, physician, classical scholar, Catholic cleric, governor, administrator, diplomat, economist. Amid these extensive responsibilities, astronomy served as no more than an avocation. Nonetheless, his conception that the sun (rather than the Earth) at the center of the solar system is considered among the most important landmarks in the history of science.