7 of History’s Most Brilliant Scientists People Forget Were Catholic

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The next time someone accuses the Church of discouraging intellectual exploration that could benefit humanity, one would do well to bring the following thinkers to bear upon the discussion:

1) Louis Pasteur – Inventor of Pasteurization

Louis Pasteur, inventor of the process pasteurization (one of the biggest breakthroughs ever for preventing disease), was once praying the Rosary on a train when a young man criticized his devotion as a manifestation of scientific ignorance. Pasteur simply had to introduce himself to dispel this spurious charge of superstition.

Apocryphal or not, the anecdote is confirmed by Pasteur’s many quotes in favor of the life of faith:

“A little science takes you away from God but a lot of science takes you back to Him… Question your priorities often, make sure God always comes first… Posterity will one day laugh at the sublime foolishness of the modern materialistic philosophy. The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator.

“I pray while I am engaged at my work in the laboratory… Blessed is he who carries within himself a God, an ideal, and who obeys it: ideal of art, ideal of science, ideal of the gospel virtues, therein lie the springs of great thoughts and great actions; they all reflect light from the Infinite… Do not let yourself be tainted with a barren skepticism… Could I but know all, I would have the faith of a Breton peasant woman.”

2) Gregor Mendel – Father of Genetics

Augustinian monk and pioneer of genetics, Gregor Mendel, calculated the odds of inheritance in his monastery garden. In a German sermon, he preached the following homily, seamlessly intertwining scriptural interpretation with his scientific investigations:

“Jesus appeared to the disciples after the Resurrection in various forms. He appeared to Mary Magdalene so that they might take him for a gardener. Very ingeniously these manifestation of Jesus is to our minds difficult to penetrate. He appears as a gardener. The gardener plants seedlings in prepared soil. The soil must exert a physical and chemical influence so that the seed of the plant can grow. Yet this is not sufficient. The warmth and light of the sun must be added, together with rain, in order that growth may result.

“The seed of supernatural life, of sanctifying grace, cleanses from sin, so preparing the soul of man, and man must seek to preserve this life by his good works. He still needs the supernatural food, the body of the Lord, which received continually, develops and brings to completion of the life. So natural and supernatural must unite to the realization of the holiness to the people. Man must contribute his minimum work of toil, and God gives the growth.

“Truly, the seed, the talent, the grace of God is there, and man has simply to work, take the seeds to bring them to the bankers. So that we ‘may have life, and abundantly.’”

3) St. Giuseppe Moscati – Pioneer in Treating Diabetes with Insulin

Doctor Moscati was one of the first physicians to use insulin in the treatment of diabetes, but his deep intellectual gifts were always at the service of an even deeper belief in the healing power of the Divine, as this quote goes to show:

“Only one science is unshakeable and unshaken, the one revealed by God, the science of the hereafter! In all your works, look to Heaven, to the eternity of life and of the soul, and orient yourself then much differently from the way that merely human considerations might suggest, and your activity will be inspired for the good.”

4) Louis de Broglie – Nobel Prize winner in Quantum Mechanics

Devout Catholic Henri de Broglie earned the Nobel Prize for his landmark achievement in the realm of quantum mechanics with the wave-particle equation that bears his name. Given his piety, he attributed the voyage of discovery to a desire to know and serve:

“Science itself, no matter whether it is the search for truth or merely the need to gain control over the external world, to alleviate suffering, or to prolong life, is ultimately a matter of feeling, or rather, of desire – the desire to know, or the desire to realize.”

5) Fr. Georges Lemaître – Father of the Big Bang Theory

Fr. Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest and professor of physics at Leuven, generated what has come to be called the Big Bang Theory. As to the perennial feud between reason and religion, he states:

“Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes…

“The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to Saint Paul or to Moses.”

6) Jerome Lejeune – Discovered Cause of Down Syndrome

Doctor Jerome Lejeune discovered trisomy 21, the genetic defect that causes Down syndrome. While he labored with the intent to find a cure, he decried the pervasive usage of his discovery in prenatal testing for abortion. His pro-life stance may have cost him a Nobel Prize, but St. John Paul II appointed him as the first president of the Pontifical Academy of Life instead.

With his cause for canonization open in Rome, Lejeune’s eloquence in defense of life deserves as much consideration today as ever before:

“Human genetics can be summarized in this basic creed: In the beginning is the message, and the message is in life, and the message is life. And if the message is a human message, then the life is a human life…

“The enemies of life know that to destroy Christian civilization, they must first destroy the family at its weakest point—the child. And among the weakest, they must choose the least protected of all—the child who has never been seen; the child who is not yet known or loved in the usual meaning of the word; who has not yet seen the light of day, who cannot even cry out in distress.”

7) Galileo Galilei – Father of Modern Astronomy

Yes, the Renaissance polymath Galileo Galilei was put under house arrest for stating his solar theories as indisputable fact. But St. Robert Bellarmine was amenable to the genius’ innovative discoveries.

And, nevertheless, Galileo remained a practicing Catholic until the day he died. His own daughter became a nun. His personal testimony would not conflict with this assessment:

“The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go… I give infinite thanks to God, who has been pleased to make me the first observer of marvelous things… I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

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Ergo, from basic genetics to interplanetary physics, the Church collectively has made more contributions to knowledge about our universe than any one entity in history. The litany of faithful scholars goes on and on!

[See also: A Night of Fire: The Mystical Vision that Converted Scientist Blaise Pascal]

[See also: This Agnostic Scientist Converted After Witnessing a Miracle at Lourdes]

Michael Walker
Michael Walker graduated from the University of Dallas in 2013. He is currently studying for a Master's at the Dominican School in Berkeley, California. You can follow him on Twitter at: @PapistPoet.