On this day in 4977 B.C., the universe is created, according to German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, considered a founder of modern science. Kepler is best known for his theories explaining the motion of planets.
Kepler was born on December 27, 1571, in Weil der Stadt, Germany. As a university student, he studied the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ theories of planetary ordering. Copernicus (1473-1543) believed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system, a theory that contradicted the prevailing view of the era that the sun revolved around the earth.
In 1600, Kepler went to Prague to work for Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, the imperial mathematician to Rudolf II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Kepler’s main project was to investigate the orbit of Mars. When Brahe died the following year, Kepler took over his job and inherited Brahe’s extensive collection of astronomy data, which had been painstakingly observed by the naked eye. Over the next decade, Kepler learned about the work of Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who had invented a telescope with which he discovered lunar mountains and craters, the largest four satellites of Jupiter and the phases of Venus, among other things. Kepler corresponded with Galileo and eventually obtained a telescope of his own and improved upon the design. In 1609, Kepler published the first two of his three laws of planetary motion, which held that planets move around the sun in ellipses, not circles (as had been widely believed up to that time), and that planets speed up as they approach the sun and slow down as they move away. In 1619, he produced his third law, which used mathematic principles to relate the time a planet takes to orbit the sun to the average distance of the planet from the sun.
Kepler’s research was slow to gain widespread traction during his lifetime, but it later served as a key influence on the English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and his law of gravitational force. Additionally, Kepler did important work in the fields of optics, including demonstrating how the human eye works, and math. He died on November 15, 1630, in Regensberg, Germany.There is one more thing you should know about Kepler. He was a Lutheran!
Though science does not pay all that much attention to Kepler’s calculation about the universe’s birthday in our modern age. Cause we are smarter. For we have determined a hundred years or so ago that Kepler got it wrong. Our scientists invented the Big Bang theory, which says that Kepler was close, in fact, according to modern day wisdom, his calculations were only off by about 13.7 billion years.
I have studied science, mechanics in particular, for almost 60 years. While I never heard of Kepler's estimate of the age of the earth, I have heard countless times of his three laws of planetary motion. He is still very much recognized for those three laws, and they continue to be taught regularly. Our "advanced knowledge" has not invalidated them, just as it has not invalidated Newton's work.
But in all that, I never heard that Kepler was a Lutheran. Was he LCMS (just kidding)?
"There is one more thing you should know about Kepler. He was a Lutheran!"
There's a little more to the story.
In 1596 Johannes Kepler published his work, Mysterium cosmographicum (The Cosmographic Mystery), under the supervision of his former University of Tübingen professor and Lutheran astronomer Michael Maestlin (a second edition was published in 1621), but Kepler’s orthodox Lutheran mentor, Matthias Hafenreffer at the University of Tübingen, urged Kepler to remove an entire chapter, in which Kepler sought to demonstrate that the reality of heliocentrism was compatible with Scripture.
Hafenreffer’s argument was that Kepler’s writings in this chapter violated the position of the Church and would cause serious strife: “I advise and admonish you as a brother that you not attempt to propound or fight for that stated harmonization publicly, for thus many good men would be offended, and not unjustly, and the whole business could either be impeded, or tainted with the grave stain of dissension.”
Kepler wrote to Michael Maestlin, about his quandary, "The whole of astronomy is not worth one of Christ’s little ones being offended." Kepler finally bowed to his mentor’s urging, perhaps naively believing that, having read his book, Hafenreffer would certainly have been persuaded of the heliocentric reality, rather than just being a convenient mathematical tool. Hafenreffer did allow Kepler to include in Chapter 1 the statement:
"It is an act of piety at the very beginning of this discourse about Nature to see whether it says anything contrary to Holy Writ. Nevertheless, I believe that it is premature to raise this question here before I am assailed. In general I promise to say nothing harmful to Holy Writ, and if Copernicus is convicted of anything with me, I shall consider him finished. And this was always my intention from the time when I began to examine the books of Copernicus' Revolutions."
Ironically, it was Hafenreffer and Daniel Hitzler, a pastor in Linz, where Kepler had moved from Prague, who eventually had Kepler excommunicated from the Lutheran Church on July 31, 1619, for Kepler's refusal to unconditionally accept the Formula of Concord (specifically the doctrine of the Real Presence).
More information is in:
Change and Continuity in Early Modern Cosmology (Patrick Bonner, Springer Science & Business Media, 2011)
Copernicus and his Successors (Edwards Rosen
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010)
"Matthias Hafenreffer" by Andrew Hussman.
Enjoyed reading about Kepler, I had studied him in my college astronomy and physics classes but not in great detail. Delighted to hear that he was a Lutheran, AND that he was excommunicated. Someone who has studied astronomy in depth is not going to take the biblical story of creation literally either. I had not known what the Real Presense was, despite 3 years of catechism classes.
In addition to Johannes Kepler (until he was excommunicated) and Michael Maestlin (mentioned previously), science and mathematics have been greatly enriched because of such Lutherans as Georg Joachim Rheticus, Tycho Brahe, Georg Samuel Doerffel, Ole Christensen Roemer, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, Anders Celsius, Gottfried Wilhelm Liebnitz, Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, Bernard Riemann (a PK!), Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, Georg Cantor, Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, Ejnar Hertzsprung, Kurt Godel, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Lise Meitner (born Jewish), and Wernher von Braun.
Some of these remained Lutheran their entire lives; others did not.
Werner Heisenburg and the Uncertainty Principal - made famous in "Breaking Bad" was a Lutheran? So cool.
He was also a Schwab.
Heisenberg was baptized and remained a Lutheran even after he received the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics for his Uncertainty Principle (1927). He and his wife raised their children in the church and he also gave talks about science and religion. In 1922 he was an assistant to Max Born, another quantum physicist & Nobel laureate. As an adult, Born (a Jew) was also baptized and married in the Lutheran church, but he remained only a nominal member. Because the Nazis considered him a Jew, Born eventually went to England, returning to Germany to live when he retired in 1952.
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