Catholic contributions to science

Ever since a Protestant Reformer thought up the Conflict Theory, people have accused the Catholic Church of “holding back scientific progress”. Worse, some people today are adjusting Conflict Theory to apply to all Christians.

This is simply not true.

During the Dark Ages, the monks of the Catholic Church were the only ones in Europe recording anything at all after the libraries of Ancient Rome were destroyed by tribal pyromaniacs from beyond the Rhine; the church did not cause the Dark Ages and in fact saved the knowledge of antiquity.

Even apart from that fact, many scientists were Catholic. Galileo (proposed that moons revolved around Jupiter), Copernicus (proposed the earth went around the sun), Gregor Mendel (father of modern Genetics), and Georges Lemaitre (played a big role in coming up with the Big Bang theory) are just four examples. They were all important scientists, and were also all devout Catholics.

Does anyone have anything to add to this? Whether you wish to add something or simply criticize my stance, please A. be respectful and B. present evidence.

You understate your case. Georges Lemaitre was the first to propose the Big Bang Theory, and he was a priest (with a doctorarte in physics). He came up with an approximation of the Hubble Constant two years before Hubble did.

Gregor Mendel (the father of modern genetics) was an Augustinian Friar and priest candidate (he failed the oral exam to become a priest).

Wikipedia has a list of hundreds of Catholic cleric-scientists and Catholic scientists.

Of course, any Christian scientist before the Sixteenth Century would have been Catholic, because there simply were no non-Catholic Christians before then.

FWIW, the Vatican operates an advanced astronomical telescope located in Arizona, the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope. It is a cooperative project between the University of Arizona and the Vatican Observatory, one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world (dating back to 1774 - before the United States was ever established). According to the Wikipedia article for this telescope,

The unusual optical design and novel mirror fabrication techniques mean that both the primary and secondary mirrors are among the most exact surfaces ever made for a ground-based telescope… Given its excellent optical qualities, the telescope has been used primarily for imaging and photometric work, in which it regularly outperforms much larger telescopes located elsewhere.

I think of a few…The Gregorian calendar, The discovery of North America by Christopher Columbus and the first modern world map

A Catholic invented the printing press. God Bless. Memaw

Believe there are 13 craters of the the moon named after Jesuit scientists signifying their contributions to astronomy.

Just wanted to say Gregor Mendel was an inspiration to me. I wanted to be a “Monk and a scientist” by the time I was 8. I did not know that women could not be Monks. Still, it has always inspired me to know that one could be a scientist and still believe in God and serve God.

Fr. Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest, was the first scientist to propose what we now call the Big Bang Theory. At first, Albert Einstein told him,

“Your calculations are correct, but your grasp of physics is abominable.”

Later, after Fr. Georges Lemaitre gave a seminar on his new theory Einstein stood up applauded, and said,

“This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened.”

Read More: ‘A Day Without Yesterday’

There is a great book on this topic by Dave Armstrong called Science and Christianity: Close Partners or Mortal Enemies?

Just reading the table of contents made me want to read it:

  1. Christianity’s Central Role in the Conception and Development of Modern Science (p. 7) [read online]

  2. Fertile Soil and Roots of Modern Science: 33 Prominent Christians Prior to 1000 A. D. With Empiricist, Proto-Scientific Views (p. 19) [read online]

  3. 59 Catholic Medieval and/or Scholastic Proto-Scientists From 1000 to 1500 A. D (p. 37)

  4. 70 Catholic, Protestant and Otherwise Religious Prominent Scientists: 1500-1700 (From Copernicus to Steno, Boyle, and Ray) (p. 73)

  5. 36 Catholic, Protestant and Otherwise Religious Prominent Scientists: 1700-1800 (From Newton to Linnaeus, Boscovich, and Lavoisier) (p. 107)

  6. 41 Catholic, Protestant and Otherwise Religious Prominent Scientists: 1800-1850 (From Dalton to Humboldt, Cuvier, and Faraday) (p. 127)

  7. 56 Catholic, Protestant and Otherwise Religious Prominent Scientists: 1850-1900 (From Maxwell to Mendel, Pasteur, and Kelvin) (p. 153)

  8. 31 Catholic, Protestant and Otherwise Religious Prominent Scientists: 1900-1950 (From Einstein to Planck, Eddington, and Lemaître) (p. 191)

  9. 115 Scientific Fields of Study Founded or Extraordinarily Advanced by Christian or Theistic Scientists / 34 Prominent Catholic Priest-Scientists and Mathematicians: 1500-1950 (p. 221) [read online]

  1. The Execution of Antoine Lavoisier: the Great Catholic Scientist and “Father of Chemistry” by “Enlightened” French Revolutionaries (p. 275) [read online]

  2. Christian Influence on Science: Master List of Scores of Bibliographical and Internet Resources (p. 285) [read online]

If you click the link at the top of this post, you can use that page to access online versions of any chapter that has a “read online” bracket. But I bought the ebook. Especially considering how cheap it is: $1.99 for the full book as a searchable PDF file.

Thank you for posting this. The Church has a Pontifical Academy of Sciences and an observatory.

The following book shows how influential the Church was in building the University system and advancing science:


The three legs of Ohm’s law:

Current (measured in Amperes) = Potential (measured in Volts) / Resistance (measured in Ohms).

**André-Marie Ampère **was a French physicist and mathematician, and was Catholic.
**Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta **was an Italian physicist, and was Catholic.
Georg Simon Ohm was a German physicist and mathematician. He was born into a Protestant family. The work which was later known as Ohm’s Law, however, was performed while he was at a Jesuit school in Cologne. However he seems to have not been appreciated by the Jesuits and moved on thereafter.

Note that the principle of Ohm’s law (current = potential / resistance) was actually discovered earlier by Henry Cavendish, a British scientist, and it would seem an agnostic, which was unusual for that era. He did not publish this work during his lifetime, and thus we have Ohm’s law and not Cavendish’s Law.

A popular story teller, in this case Washington Irvin (1783-1859), created his own “truth” to make his story more interesting. In this case, his fictionalized history later became accepted as a “Fact.”

    Partly due to his influence as well as others,          it is now often presupposed that the Medieval Times were the  “Dark          Ages”  and that the Catholic Church suppressed intellectual thought          and the sciences. For example, Washington Irving portrayed Christopher          Columbus as a simple mariner who had to confront the oppressive hooded          Spanish inquisitors of his time.

     According to Irving, Columbus had to convince Queen          Isabella to go against her religious advisors who, supposedly, thought          he would fall of the edge as he sailed into the West because the earth          is flat.  

     This          perception that most all of Europe believed that          the Earth was flat is totally erroneous.  Almost everyone in the Middle Ages          believed that the Earth was spherical in shape.  

Sailors used the flat-est thing on earth to prove that the world was spherical in shape. Water. That is why the went up on the crow’s nest to over the curvature.

Illustration of the spherical earth in a medieval manuscript. The figure shows two men walking around the spherical earth, one going to the East and the other to the West, and meeting on the opposite side.[1] 14th century copy of a
12th century original

I am curious, does anyone have any information about Catholic funding for research on pro-life issues or traditional marriage? For example, it certainly seems to be the Guttenmacher Institute that is doing the majority of the scholarly work on abortion statistics rather than Catholic pro-life organizations. Is that actually the case, though?

I don’t doubt that there are many notable Catholic scientists. It seems to me, though, that that religious organizations in general and Catholic ones in particular are almost over-eager when making predictions about what will happen to people or society if they sin, but are much more reluctant to try and find out if their predictions are correct. Moreover, they are not just skeptical of results that disagree with their predictions but can become hostile, going so far as to accuse the authors of being dishonest. One prominent example of this would be the frequent claims that abortion causes breast cancer or mental illness. Neither claim is supported by the evidence, but pro-life groups have decided that abortion must be harmful, and so they reject any findings to the contrary as “biased” or “fraudulent.”

Therefore, I suspect that religion in general and Catholicism in particular are not somehow fundamentally anti-science. However, the cultures that form within Catholic/religious groups at the very least tend to de-emphasize the role of science (and can easily become hostile to science.)

Here are some books worth reading.

Colish, Marcia L. Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition: 400-1400. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997. --in the Yale Intellectual History of the West series.

Grant, Edward. Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Lindberg, David C. The Beginnings of Western Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Ronald L. Numbers, ed., Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Also, people may remember how irritating Sagan’s unctuous, propagandistic comment in Cosmos (p. 335) showing a timeline of astronomy from Greek antiquity to the present. Between the 5th and the late 15th centuries AD is a thousand-year blank labeled as a “poignant lost opportunity for the human species.”

David C. Lindberg and Michael H. Shank comment in their introduction:
“The timeline reflected not the state of knowledge in 1980 but Sagan’s own ‘poignant lost opportunity’ to consult the library of Cornell University, where he taught. In it, Sagan would have discovered large volumes devoted to the medieval history of his own field, some of them two hundred years old. He would also have learned that the alleged medieval vacuum spawned the two institutions in which he spent his life: the observatory as a research institution (Islamic civilization) and the university (Latin Europe).”
[David C. Lindberg and Michael H. Shank, eds., *Medieval Science, vol. 2 of The Cambridge History of Science. 8 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, p. 10]

It never ceases to amaze and amuse me how these topics will run their course.
Did anyone living in the time that any of these mentioned have a choice to be anything other than Catholic? Did that make them so?

I’m a little confused about what you mean here. I think a majority of the Catholic scientists that are typically cited in this context were in religious orders, which indicates they were passionately Catholic. Others were martyrs, like Antoine Levosier. And they always had a choice not to be Catholic. Could you give an example that might clarify your meaning?

What the books reveal is that, those who pursued the Catholic Faith with great love and zeal pursued scientific learning in the same way.

So even if it were the only game in town prior to the Reformation, their faith according to these historical experts did not stand in the way of intellectual and scientific advancement and in many ways stimulated it.

You can read excerpts in the links I provided to acquire more facts upon which to base your opinion.

What can you say about the faith of a person who is either being funded to study, or imprisoned if they dissent from the Church even if given great quarters in prison?


The Galileo case is a complicated one and an aberration to the norm in the relationship between science and religion.

How Galileo Brought His Troubles With The Church On Himself This Rock Magazine

Galileo by Anne W Carroll.


Oh, you mean like Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, the natural philosophers/scientists at Oxford, Paris, and Padua, Nicholas of Oresme, Jordanus de Nemore, and hundreds of others.

“Funded to study”? Think about it. So are millions of students today and most of the top research.

You really need to read what some of the actual historians of science I listed say to rid yourself of these ignorant myths about the Middle Ages regarding science. Try the Cambridge History of Science: Medieval Science for example.

This is a good point. I’m sure that some of the Catholic contributions listed here are really rather contributions by people who happen to be Catholic.

If we accept that the contribution of an individual who happens to be Catholic is a Catholic contribution, then we must also accept that an evil committed by someone who happens to be Catholic is a Catholic evil. I’m sure there were Catholics on the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima but that doesn’t make it a Catholic act. I’m sure there were Catholics at Bell Labs when they invented the transistor but that doesn’t make the transistor something contributed to science by Catholicism.

It is important that we not claim the act of a private individual who happens to be Catholic as a public act of the Church. I’m Catholic. I could invent a time machine but that doesn’t make the time machine Catholic nor would the Church have any claim to it in name or materially.


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