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IAP: Series explores faith of scientists

Astronomer Johannes Kepler was a man for whom science and faith were not mutually exclusive, an expert on the 17th century German told a standing-room-only audience gathered in Room 24-107 on Jan. 12.

"(His faith) was, within him, so fundamental, it was unquestioned," said Harvard University Professor Emeritus Owen Gingerich, the first lecturer in a series of four IAP lectures exploring "The Faith of Great Scientists."

The series, sponsored by the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, runs Thursdays at noon through Feb. 2.

The series was born out of a desire to debunk myths, said Professor Ian Hutchinson, head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, who is giving the Feb. 2 lecture on Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell. "Science and faith are often put in enmity with one another," he said. But for many of the great scientists throughout history, faith was an integral part of their work, he said.

"Kepler is certainly a person who believed in design in the universe," said Gingerich during his hour-long lecture, "Johannes Kepler: Cosmology as a Christian Calling."

Kepler, famous for his laws of planetary motion, was born in 1571 and was a practicing Lutheran throughout his life.

Prior to dedicating his life to astronomy, Kepler was interested in becoming a Lutheran clergyman. He never saw a conflict between his faith and his work, said Gingerich.

"The idea of the unity of the cosmos was a religious idea," Gingerich said. "He had to put his eyes above to the heavens and work on his calculations."

Kepler saw much of his work as searching for a physics of the heavens, said Gingerich, who called Kepler, "my favorite astronomer."

In addition to Kepler and Maxwell, the series will explore the work and faith of Nobel laureate in medicine Sir John Carew Eccles and chemist Robert Boyle.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 25, 2006 (download PDF).

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