Robert Boyle: Religious Knowledge also Entirely Suitable for Scientists

Atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins have stated and suggested, that real scientists should somehow not have an active religious faith or deep religious knowledge. Boyle in his Christian Virtuoso also challenged this attitude. He believed that just as people were rightly concerned to obtain a little scientific knowledge of subjects that did not have any use, like astronomy, so the scientist of Christian faith should also rightly be interested in the immaterial world of the divine. He wrote

‘I do not think the corporeal world, nor the present state of things, the only or the principal subjects, that an inquisitive man’s pen may be worthily employed about; and that there are some things, that are grounded neither upon mecfhanical nor upon chemical notices or experiments, that are yet far from deserving to be neglected, and much less to be despised, or so much as to be left uncultivated, especially by such writers, as being more concerned to act as Christians, than as virtuosi, must also think, that sometimes they may usefully busy themelves about the study of divine things, as well as at other times employ their thoughts about the inspection of natural ones. There are some subjects, whose nobleness is such, that though we derive no advantage from them, but the contentment of knowing them, and that but very imperfectly too; yet our virtuosi themselves justly think much pains and time, and perhaps cost too, well spent in in endeavouring to acquire some conjectural knowledge of them: as may be instanced in the assiduous and industrious researches they have made about the remote celestial parts of the world, especially the stars and comets, that our age has exposed to their curiosity. For most of these, though they require chargeable telescopes, and tedious, as well as unhealthy nocturnal observations, are objects, of which we can know very little with any certainty; and which, for ought appears, we can make no useful experiments with. Since therefore we so much prize a little knwledge of things, that are not only corporeal, but inanimate; methinks we should not undervalue the studies of those men, that aspire to the knowledge of incorporeal and rational beings, which are incomparably more noble than all the stars in the world, which are, as far as we know, but masses of seseless and stupid matter. Sinice also the virtuosi deservedly applaud and cherish the laborious industry of anatomists, in their inquiries into the structure of dead, ghastly, and oftentimes unhealthfully as well as offensively fetid bodies; can it be an imployment improper for a Christian virtuoso, or unworthy of him, to endeavour the discovery of the nature and faculties of the rational mind, which is that, that ennobles its mansion, and gives man the advantage he has of the beasts that perish?’

Thus Boyle also urged the study of the soul and God, as well as the subjects of earthly, scientific study. Astronomy has advanced considerably since Boyle’s time, and we now know far more about the nature of the stars, planets and cosmos. Nevertheless, his central point remains the same: religion, and religious knowledge, is still an eminently suitable subject for a scientist.

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