Pierre Maurice Duhem (9 June 1861 – 14 September 1916) was a physicist, epistemologist, and historian of science. He maintained that the history of science and ideas is important for a correct scientific epistemology. He contributed to a reexamination of the role Christian theology played in the formation of the Western scientific spirit, chiefly through his monumental work “Le système du monde. Histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic” (10 volumes), whose publication was completed after his death. Duhem criticized the claims of the mechanist and materialist philosophies, stating that they operated on illegitimate extrapolations from results obtained in physics. He considered metaphysics the field of first principles and of the notions upon which physics is based, while leaving physics the full freedom to formulate its own models and delineations. His principal reflections on the relationships between physics and metaphysics are found in his work “La théorie physique, son objet et sa structure” (1906).
On 07 June 1834, Francesco Denza (1834-1894) was born in Naples. He was a Barnabite priest, astronomer, and meteorologist who immersed himself in solar spectroscopy and founded what later became the Italian Meteorological Society. He renovated the observation deck of the Vatican Observatory, founded in 1888. Vatican staff members realized that participation in the program ‘to map the sky’ would immediately give their young observatory international recognition. Pope Leo XIII commissioned Father Francesco Denza and Father Giuseppe Lais to attend the Astrographic Congress and enroll the Vatican as one of the participating institutions in the international Carte du Ciel project which made a photographic map of the stars.
Charles de Koninck (July 29, 1906 – February 13, 1965) was a philosopher and professor at the University of Laval, Canada. Schooled in Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy, he labored to show the compability and complementarity of philosophical knowledge and scientific inquiry.
He taught epistemology (the philosophy of knowing) and natural philosophy, and was named head of the faculty in 1939. He was the director of the department of the faculty until 1956, then again in the year 1964-65. He has published more than 160 academic works.
“It is easy to see that traces of the past are most inadequate. We must distinguish the knowable traces from the known ones. Our science of history can only be based on known facts, just as cosmic reality only becomes formal object of physical science when it is measured. Now all this is unquestionably obvious. But let us not forget that it has taken scientists thousands of years to find out that measure-numbers are their object, and that physics must define properties by describing the process of measurement of which they represent the result. Historical research moves between the known and the unknown traces. This research might be called scientific when it is guided by a hypothesis, although in itself it is prescientific.
…. The cooling off of the earth has not only made life possible, it has preserved traces of life in its pleats. It is [at] a certain stage of evolution that nature begin[s] to make documents of life, and preserve it for the mind, that higher form of life. Man and the fossils are not just a coincidence. Life tends to reach itself.“
Charles De Koninck, On Philosophy of History
Picture: “Ammonite Replaced by Marcasite”, Cephalopod-Ammonite Photos, R.Weller/Cochise Collegue. Charles de Koninck, The CDK project
Note: We share this text, originally shared on our fb page in 2016. The text is no longer available on the internet.
On 25 May 2000, on the occasion of the Jubilee of Scientists, Pope John Paul II gave a talk to scientists gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican: “Men and women of learning, be motivated by the desire to bear witness to your fidelity to Christ! At the dawn of the third millennium, the rich panorama of contemporary culture is opening unprecedented and promising prospects in the dialogue between science and faith, as between philosophy and theology. Devote all your energies to developing a culture and a scientific approach which will always let God’s providential presence and intervention be disclosed.”
On 24 May 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) passed away in Frombork, Poland. He was a Polish mathematician and physicist.
A quote attributed to Copernicus (in multiple sources):
“To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power, to appreciate in degree the wonderful working of His laws, surely all of this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.”
In 1533, Copernicus’ heliocentric system was explained to Pope Clement VII (1478–1534) and two cardinals by Johann Widmanstetter (1506–1557). According to historians, the Pope was so pleased with the work that he gave Widmanstetter a valuable gift as a sign of his gratitude.
Near his death, he turned his work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in for publication, in which he maintained the simplicity and mathematical coherence of the heliocentric system. The introduction to his work, written after his death by Osiander, emphasized (probably against Copernicus’ wishes) that the work was merely a mathematical exercise on the part of the author.
On 23 May 1857, the French mathematician Augustin Louis Cauchy
(1789-1857) passed away in Sceaux, France. His research provided the foundation
for the modern period of rigor in analysis. He was one of the first to state
and prove theorems of calculus rigorously, rejecting the heuristic principle of
the generality of algebra of earlier authors. He almost singlehandedly founded
complex analysis and the study of permutation groups in abstract algebra. A
profound mathematician, Cauchy had a great influence over his contemporaries
and successors. His writings range widely in mathematics and mathematical
The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908)
notes: “Cauchy was an admirable type of the true Catholic savant. A great and
indefatigable mathematician, he was at the same time a loyal and devoted son of
the Church. He made public profession of his faith and found his greatest
pleasure and recreation in works of zeal and charity.”
In his book
“Considérations sur les ordres religieux, adressées aux amis des sciences” (1844),
“I am a Christian, that is, I believe in the divinity of Christ, as did Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, Fermat, Leibniz, Pascal, Grimaldi, Euler, Guldin; Boscovich, Gerdil, as did all the great astronomers, physicist and geometricians of past ages.”
On 22 May 1868, John Henry Newman wrote a letter to the canon J. Walker, an acquaintance, in which he mentioned that the theory of biological evolution was not opposed to Christian faith in a Creator. He wrote: “I do not fear the theory… It does not seem to me to follow that creation is denied because the Creator, millions of years ago, gave laws to matter. He first created matter and then he created laws for it — laws which should construct it into its present wonderful beauty, and accurate adjustment and harmony of parts gradually. We do not deny or circumscribe the Creator, because we hold he has created the self acting originating human mind, which has almost a creative gift; much less then do we deny or circumscribe His power, if we hold that He gave matter such laws as by their blind instrumentality molded and constructed through innumerable ages the world as we see it.”