Athanasius Kircher: Jesuit in Perpetual Motion



On 27 November 1680, the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) died in Rome.

He is remembered for his writings on Egyptology, geology, biology, magnetics and combinatorial mathematics. An archaeologist and phenomenal linguist, he was an avid collector of scientific experiments and geographical exploration.

He probed the secrets of the subterranean world, deciphered archaic languages, experimented with alchemy and music therapy, optics and magnetism. Some commentators regard him as the founder of Egyptology. He is known to have read the work of Ibn Wahshiyya, who had proposed the link between ancient and Coptic Egyptian centuries earlier. Kircher was also fascinated with Sinology and wrote an encyclopedia of China, in which he noted the early presence there of Nestorian Christians.

A recent reference to Fr. Kircher at the 2010 Geological Society of America meeting noted his efforts toward an early theory of evolution:

“Kircher’s evidence for an evolving Earth were drawn from observation, collection, experimentation, and received testimony of others… Kircher argued that the Earth in ancient times was of a wholly different character from today… He states that nothing is perpetual, but all things are fleeting and subject to the fates of fortune. He substantiates his claim of an evolving Earth by citing (1) global sea level changes, (2) rising and falling of mountains, and (3) occurrence of fossils… Kircher maintained that the ultimate natural forces behind these changes are a perpetual heat engine within the Earth and the external opposing forces of the Sun and Moon.

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