Ferdinand Verbiest and the First Automobile Vehicle


On 9 October 1623, Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–1688) was born in Pittem, Belgium. He was a Jesuit priest, explorer, translator and inventor.

349152997_2-astronoom-v-d-keizer-ferdinand-verbiest-en-zijn-sterrekuIn 1658, Verbiest left Europe to go on a mission to China, where the Roman Catholic Church was attempting to compensate for the loss of believers to the emerging Protestantism in Europe. In the Chinese Empire he became known under the name Nan Huairen (南懷仁) and gained himself merits as mathematician and astronomer. Verbiest also worked as a diplomat, cartographer and translator as he spoke Latin, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian. Throughout his life he wrote more than thirty books and became close friends with the Kangxi Emperor, who frequently requested his teaching, in geometry, philosophy and music.

Amongst Verbiest’s many interests were also experiments with steam. Around 1672 he designed – for the Chinese Emperor’s entertainment – a steam-propelled trolley which most probably was the first working steam-powered vehicle, realizing ‘auto-mobility’. It is described in Verbiest’s work Astronomia Europea. It was only 65 cm long and not designed to carry human passengers, nor a driver. Steam was generated in a ball-shaped boiler, emerging through a pipe at the top, from where it was directed at a simple, open steam turbine (like a water wheel) that drove the rear wheels. It is not known if Verbiest’s model was ever built at the time. Another of his inventions is a steam engine to propel ships. [1]



Verbiest died in Beijing on 28 January 1688. His remains were buried near those of two other famous Jesuits – Matteo Ricci and Johann Adam Schall von Bell – on 11 March 1688. Verbiest was the only Westerner in Chinese history to ever receive the honour of a posthumous name by the Emperor.

[1] Ferdinand Verbiest: Early Visionary of Auto-motionThe First Automobile Vehicle


Give Credit where credit is due!


or: Hubble Law renamed to Hubble-Lemaitre Law

In the XXX General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) that took place in August 2018 in Vienna, astronomers approved a resolution on changing the name of the Hubble Law to the Hubble-Lemaitre Law, in order to get historical facts right.

In 1927, Georges Lemaitre published his findings.  He rediscovered Friedman’s dynamic solution to Einstein’s general relativity equations that described an expanding universe. He also derived that the expansion of the universe implies the spectra of distant galaxies are redshifted by an amount proportional to their distance. Finally, he used published data on the velocities and photometric distances of galaxies to derive the rate of expansion of the universe. Written in French in a not-well known journal, his paper remained rather unknown although it took precedence over Hubble’s paper.

In 1929, Edwin Hubble provided evidence that the further away a galaxy from earth, the faster it is moving away, a property now known as “Hubble’s law”.

In 1931, on invitation by the Journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Lemaitre translated in English his original 1927 paper, the expansion rate, however, is missing. There has been some controversy whether the equations in question were censored in the English translation, but it is now established that Lemaitre himself deliberately left them out. Lemaitre’s attitude is acknowledged in the resolution: the General Assembly desires “to honour the intellectual integrity of Georges Lemaitre that made him value more the progress of science rather than his own visibility.”

It will take more time to implement the renaming, since the IAU decided that in addition to the acceptance by the General Assembly, all members will be asked to electronically vote in the last quarter of 2018 to ensure an even broader consensus.


Press release of the International Astronomical Union, 31 August 2018
IAU 2018, Resolution B4: the renaming of the Hubble law.
Image: Edwin Hubble and Georges Lemaître (Artist’s Illustration) on HubbleSite

More on George Lemaitre on our blog:
Georges Lemaitre – the Big Bang Cosmology and its metaphysical implications (I) and (II)

Wolfhart Pannenberg: Trinitarian Evolutionist


wolfhart-pannenbergWolfgang Pannenberg died on 5 September 2014. He has been one of the greatest Protestant theologians in the second half of the 20th century. Pannenberg’s staunch defense of the historicity of the resurrection made him a champion among American evangelicals. His extensive involvement in the ecumenical movement and his unsurpassed knowledge of the history of theology were crucial to the most important ecumenical breakthroughs in the World Council of Churches. Taken together, Pannenberg’s extensive writings, including his three-volume systematic theology, offer a theological program unrivaled its comprehensiveness, depth, and rigor.

Here is a quote from “Confessions of a Trinitarian Evolutionist”:

“God as a Creator is working in His creation through His creatures. This doesn’t distract from the immediacy of the relationship between the Creator and His creatures. God always used creatures to bring about other things. Think of the function of the earth in the first part of Genesis. The earth is addressed by God to assist in His act of creation. First, the earth is addressed to bring about vegetation. So we may wonder, ‘How can the earth, an inorganic reality, bring about an organic reality, vegetation, and then bring about the self organization of organisms from inorganic materials?’ Yet, this is the Christian creation story. The second address of the earth is even bolder than that! God addresses the earth to bring about animals. And the text means higher animals. Such boldness does not really characterize even Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin wouldn’t have dreamed to have higher animals spring immediately from the earth, from inorganic matter. Darwin is much more moderate than that. In criticizing the doctrine of evolution, our creationist friends among Christian theologians should read their Bibles more closely.“

pannenberg creation

Confessions of a Trinitarian Evolutionist, Interview with W. Pannenberg by J.T.Oord, 2001 on metanexus

a longer post on Pannenberg can be found on my personal blog: WOLFHART PANNENBERG (1928-2014)

Marin Mersenne: Communication is Key


Père Marin Mersenne

On 1 September 1648, Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) died in Paris. A French philosopher, physicist, and ordained priest, he acted as a liason between a number of the scientists and thinkers of his time, such as Fermat, Gassendi, and Pascal. He defended Descartes and Galileo against criticism from theologians and fought against pseudo-sciences such as astrology and alchemy. Mersenne is also remembered today thanks to his association with the Mersenne primes. The Mersenne twister, named for him, is frequently used in computer engineering, and in related fields such as cryptography. However, Mersenne was not primarily a mathematician; he wrote about music theory and other subjects. He edited works of Euclid, Apollonius, Archimedes, and other Greek mathematicians. But perhaps his most important contribution to the advance of learning was his extensive correspondence (in Latin) with mathematicians and other scientists in many countries. He also performed extensive experiments to determine the acceleration of falling objects by comparing them with the swing of pendulums, reported in his Cogitata Physico-Mathematica in 1644. He was the first to measure the length of the seconds pendulum, that is a pendulum whose swing takes one second, and the first to observe that a pendulum’s swings are not isochronous as Galileo thought, but that large swings take longer than small swings.

John Muir: God laid out a plan – evolution is the process of harmony, not its origin


John Muir on Evolution

John Muir (1838–1914) is a significant figure of the 19th century as he stood opposed to the exploitation of natural resources at a time when many believed the resources of the earth were infinite. Muir’s writings were influential, and as co-founder of the Sierra Club (together with Joseph LeConte) and its first president , he was an icon and inspiration to the conservation movement. He is also remembered as “the father of the National Parks.”

Muir understood that to discover truth, he must turn to what he believed were the most accurate sources. In his book, The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), he writes that during his childhood, his father made him read the Bible every day. Muir eventually memorized three quarters of the Old Testament and all of the New Testament. But as Muir became attached to the American natural landscapes he explored, he began to see another “primary source for understanding God: the Book of Nature.”

He writes on the topic of evolution:

“Little men, with only a book knowledge of science, have seized upon evolution as an escape from the idea of a God. ‘Evolution!’ a wonderful, mouth-filling word, isn’t it? It covers a world of ignorance. Just say ‘evolution’ and you have explained every phenomenon of Nature and explained away God. It sounds big and wise. Evolution, they say, brought the earth through its glacial periods, caused the snow blanket to recede, and the flower carpet to follow it, raised the forests of the world, developed animal life from the jelly-fish to the thinking man….

“But what caused evolution? There they stick. To my mind, it is inconceivable that a plan that has worked out, through unthinkable millions of years, without one hitch or one mistake, the development of beauty that has made every microscopic particle of matter perform its function in harmony with every other in the universe, that such a plan is the blind product of an unthinking abstraction. No; somewhere, before evolution was, was an Intelligence that laid out the plan, and evolution is the process, not the origin, of the harmony. You may call that Intelligence what you please: I cannot see why so many people object to call it God.” [1]

[1] John Muir: “Three Days with John Muir,” World’s Work (1909) pp 11355-56, Doubleday

Good website: http://johnmuirquotes.com

John Paul II: Faith has no fear of Reason


john paul ii

“Thomas [Aquinas] recognized that nature, philosophy’s proper concern, could contribute to the understanding of divine Revelation. Faith therefore has no fear of reason, but seeks it out and has trust in it. Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfillment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason. Illumined by faith, reason is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God. Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an ‘exercise of thought’; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice.”

St. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 43.

>> Fides et Ratio

Nicholas of Cusa: a forerunner of the heliocentric system


nicholas of cusa

On 11 August 1464, Nicholas of Cusa (1401 – 1464) passed away in Umbria, Italy.

A passage from James Hannam’s book “God’s Philosophers” (2009):

–’The most original thinker of the fifteenth century was Nicholas of Cusa (1400–64) from Germany. His interests included mathematics, philosophy and theology. For his education he travelled to the university of Padua, where he received a doctorate in law, before leading an eventful life mixed up in ecclesiastical politics. In 1448 he was made a cardinal. Despite his busy professional career, he still found time to write important books on theology and philosophy. While returning from Constantinople on church business he conceived “On Learned Ignorance”, the book that made him famous. The title suggests that that book was not meant to be taken seriously, but learned ignorance is actually a method of discovering truths about God based on accepting what we cannot know. Nicholas’s views are not always easy to comprehend but to us, they can seem quite inspired. He argued that in order to reflect God’s majesty, the universe he created would have to be limitless, if not quite infinite. He continues: ‘Therefore, the earth cannot be in the centre … and just as the earth is not at the centre of the universe, so the sphere of the fixed stars is not its outer border.’ He continues that the earth must also be moving although, and this comes straight from John Buridan, we do not notice because we are riding along with it. Most radically, he reduces the earth to just another star (albeit the most important one) and suggests that alien life forms could exist elsewhere in the universe. At the time, no one would have objected to this kind of speculation as long as it stayed hypothetical. As Nicholas could not prove anything, he simply postulated ideas to see what they looked like. He probably never dreamed that within two centuries of his death, his speculations would be found to have been uncannily accurate.’

Source: Hannam, James. “God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.” (London, UK: Icon Books Ltd, 2009)