Royal Society of London
The Invisible College
In 1645, a group of twelve English intellectuals began to meet regularly at Oxford to discuss how they might further the ideas of Sir Francis Bacon about improving the world through science. They began calling themselves the Invisible College.
In 1662, the Invisible College received a charter from King Charles II of England, and was renamed the Royal Society (officially the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge). This fellowship of inquiring minds featured Robert Boyle, who defined the chemical elements and studied the behavior of gases; Robert Hooke, who publicized the hidden world revealed by the microscope; Edmund Halley, who investigated the movement of heavenly bodies; Christopher Wren, the awesome architect; and Isaac Newton, first admitted for his groundbreaking work on optics.
Membership in the Royal Society was limited to 35 men, who were physicians; professors of physics or mathematics; or barons. This became the model for the innumerable professional associations we have today. Soon there followed a French Academy of Science, and later the American Philosophical Society founded by Benjamin Franklin. Associations are useful for testing new ideas and publishing reports for peer review. Nearly every trade now has such an association.
Sir Francis Bacon
Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a judge and the Lord Chancellor of England, until he was found to have accepted bribes. He is known today as the man who promoted the usefulness of science. Francis Bacon was the guiding spirit behind the Invisible College and the Royal Society.
Bacon was the hero of early scientists, whom they called "the master of those who know." He is also known as "The Father of the Scientific Method." Thomas Jefferson wrote that "Bacon, Locke, and Newton were the three greatest men who ever lived."
Francis Bacon was the son of a courier in King Henry VIII's court. He entered Cambridge at age 12; it was there that he first met and impressed the future Queen Elizabeth. When Bacon was 45, he married a 14 year old girl.
He had strong Puritan leanings. His three goals in life were to uncover truth; serve his country; and serve his church.
He would become a lawyer (1579); Member of Parliament (1589); Queen's Counsel (1596); a Knight (1603); Attorney General (1613); and Lord Chancellor (1618). He played a leading role in establishing the English colonies in Newfoundland, Virginia, and the Carolinas.
Bacon was always heavily in debt. He was arrested for debt in 1598; and then met his disgrace when he was convicted of corruption in 1621.
He wrote a series of books and essays about the scientific method to encourage answers to be sought by experimentation. His last book The New Atlantis, published in 1627, described a world in which scientists were dedicated to improving the lives of the entire community.
Bacon died after he contracted pneumonia while conducting experiments to prove meat can be preserved by freezing it.
"They that deny a God destroy man's nobility; for certainly man is of kin to the beasts in his body; and, if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature." ~ Sir Francis Bacon
William Harvey (1578-1657) discovered blood circulation. His father was the mayor of Folkestone, England. William went to college at Cambridge. He earned two "Doctor of Medicine" degrees; first at the University of Padua and then back at Cambridge.
Harvey went to Padua to study human anatomy under Fabricius ab Aquapendente (1533-1619). Fabricius had constructed an anatomical teaching theatre in 1595—the first of its kind in the world. The theatre provided a clear view for up to 300 students. Harvey was among them in 1599.
Fabricius had already discovered that the veins in human limbs contain tiny valves which only allow blood to flow in one direction. William Harvey built his concepts on this foundation and in 1628 published the small booklet On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals. In it, he proclaims that the movement of blood through the body is circular, and that the heart propels the blood through the body many times each day.
William Harvey discovered that arteries expand when the heart contracts and pumps blood into them. He explains: "Hence, the pulse which we feel in the arteries is nothing but the inthrust of blood into them from the heart."
The heart had previously been thought to function like a furnace; now it was seen as a pump. (It was believed the purpose of the lungs was to cool the heart.)
Harvey described his discovery of circulation this way: "The blood somehow flowed back again from the arteries into the veins and returned to the right ventricle of the heart. In consequence, I began to privately consider if it had a movement, as it were, in a circle."
He did not have a microscope, and thus was unable to see the capillaries that complete that circle.
Harvey revealed that blood flows through the body to provide nourishment to the organs. This is the foundation of modern physiology.
He practiced medicine and ran a large hospital most of his adult life. He was also appointed the Royal Physician by two Kings of England.
He had distinct ideas about hospitals. He did not believe them to be a place for dying—for the terminally ill. Dying should be done at home. Hospitals should only be for healing and curing people. Harvey also warned against allowing hospitals to get bogged down with people who were not seriously ill.
Harvey believed doctors—not the government—should take it upon themselves to treat patients too poor to pay:
"In God's most holy name, endeavor yourself to do the best of your knowledge in the profession of physic to the poor. You shall not, for favor, lucre or gain, appoint or write anything for the poor but such good and wholesome things as you shall think with your best advice will do the poor good, without any affection or respect to be had to the apothecary. And you shall take no gift or reward for your counsel. This you will promise to do as you shall answer before God."
William Harvey is described as a very humorous man who loved literature, an avid birdwatcher, and a heavy coffee drinker. He suffered from insomnia and gout most of his adult life. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Henry Oldenburg (1617-1677) was a German theologian who became the first Secretary of the Royal Society. He first came to London in 1653 as a diplomat. Oldenburg built a reputation as an intelligencer. In fact, he was long suspected of being a spy.
Henry Oldenburg was the first scientific journalist. He hatched the brilliant idea to carry on correspondence with all the leading scientists of Europe. Rather than wait for entire books to be published, letters are much better suited to quickly communicate facts or new discoveries.
This signaled a new incremental approach to the study of science, to advance knowledge step by step. From these letters the printed scientific "paper" or "article" was born. Oldenburg originated the scientific journal, and the practice of peer review.
Henry Oldenburg wrote to anyone in Europe he thought might have or be able to find scientific information. All people were invited to write to him, even laymen who were not involved with science but had discovered some bit of knowledge. And no longer did this knowledge have to be conveyed in Latin. Oldenburg invited letters in any vernacular language. This exchange of ideas became widespread in Christendom, and led to a system of universal measurements.
In 1665, Henry Oldenburg wrote:
"It is therefore thought fit to employ the printing press, as the most proper way to gratify those who delight in the advancement of Learning and profitable Discoveries, clearly and truly communicated, desires after solid and useful knowledge may be further entertained, ingenious Endeavors and Undertakings cherished, and invited and encouraged to search, try, and find out new things, impart their knowledge to one another, and contribute what they can to the Grand Design of improving Natural Knowledge. All for the Glory of God and the Universal Good of Mankind."
Robert Boyle (1627-1691) is the "Father of Modern Chemistry." He was born in Ireland, the 14th child of the Earl of Cork. At the tender young age of 8, he was sent to Eton College, already fluent in four languages. Boyle became an alchemist.
Boyle promoted the idea that the natural world was a world of order, which became the basis for the empirical method of scientific inquiry. It was Boyle who named the Invisible College.
He was the first man to demonstrate that substances are made of atoms. He also pioneered the use of the vacuum to study gases.
He Boyle published his masterpiece in 1661: The Sceptical Chymist. In it, he concluded that if air could be compressed it had to consist of tiny particles. Therefore, he reasoned further, everything must be made up of tiny particles that collected and became large "corpuscles."
Boyle was devoted to God, as much as to science. He loved the Holy Bible, and saw no conflict between science and theology. On the contrary, Boyle believed that God allowed man a window into his perfection through science. The ultimate goal of science was to know and worship God.
Robert Boyle devoted his later years—and his wealth—to printing and distributing Bibles in various languages. He paid for the very first Bibles translated into Irish, Welsh, Indian, Turkish, and Malaysian. Boyle became director of the East India Company, and worked tirelessly to promote the spread of the Gospel in the East.
John Ray (1627-1705) invented the definition of "species" in 1682: "A name for a set of individuals who give rise through reproduction to new individuals similar to themselves."
He believed that each species was fixed and could not mutate into any other species but its own. As he said: "Forms which are different in species always retain their specific natures, and one species does not grow from the seed of another species."
Ray's mother was a renowned medical herbalist who encouraged John's interest in botany. His father was a blacksmith. Ray entered Cambridge at the age of 16, and would later lecture there for ten years on botany. He also tutored; and preached the Gospel.
The master work of John Ray is General Account of Plants, which details his system of classification organized according to fruits, flowers, and leaves. Ray said: "The wisdom of God is manifested in His creation."
Robert Hooke (1635-1703) published Micrographia in 1675. This book featured 57 amazing illustrations drawn by Hooke that revealed for the first time the eye of a fly, the shape of a bee's stinger, the anatomies of fleas and lice, the structure of feathers, the plantlike form of molds, and the honeycomb structure of cork.
The illustrations of Robert Hooke were used in textbooks for 200 years, though at the time he published them, most people thought them merely products of his imagination.
Robert Hooke was born on the Isle of Wight. His father and two brothers were ministers. While a student at Oxford, he was employed to assist Robert Boyle. In 1662, Hooke became the Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society, a position he held for forty years.
Robert Hooke, a diminutive man with a crooked spine, was very good friends with Christopher Wren. Besides those talents for which he is famous, Hooke was also an architect; a professor of geometry; and a pioneer in surveying and cartography. He has been called "England's Leonardo."
Robert Hooke coined the term "cell" to describe the basic unit of life. He derived the term from the cells in which monks lived. Hooke wrote that his life's ambition was to "Inquire into God's work" because he felt "destined by God to explore and study His creation."
Christopher Wren (1632-1723) is the greatest architect in the history of England. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, he was put in charge of rebuilding 51 churches, including his masterpiece: St Paul's Cathedral.
It took 36 years to build St Paul's Cathedral of London, a building which inspired the design of the United States Capital. The architectural work of Christopher Wren reflects a wonderful balance between reason and experience on the one hand; intuition and imagination on the other.
Christopher Wren was an Oxford man and a Freemason. He was knighted in 1673; and became a Member of Parliament in 1680.
Christopher Wren was not only an architect. Wren had a wide range of interests in which he displayed talents of the first rank including astronomy, meteorology, mathematics, agriculture, ballistics, optics, and all things mechanical.
Anton Van Leeuwenhoek
Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) is called the "Father of Microbiology." He had no formal education, was not a scientist, and was often called an amateur during his time on earth.
He was a successful draper (one who sells cloth) who was in the habit of using a magnifying glass to inspect the quality of cloth. He was a close friend of another citizen of Delft, the Netherlands, the eminent artist Jan Vermeer.
Leeuwenhoek invented a microscope that magnified by 500 times, so he could better inspect the quality of cloth. How he created this microscope remained a secret until 1957.
In 1674, Leeuwenhoek turned his instrument on a drop of water and wrote: "I now saw very plainly little eels, or worms, lying all huddled up together and wriggling, many thousands of living creatures, seen all alive in a little drop of water, moving among one another."
The first people he allowed to look through his microscope to see these single-celled organisms accused him of being a magician.
When he wrote about these living creatures too small for the eye to see, men of science said he must be hallucinating. To persuade the Royal Society it was true, he produced affidavits from pastors, notaries public, and other respectable citizens that they too had seen these vast populations of tiny creatures through his microscope. Leeuwenhoek had discovered bacteria.
Leeuwenhoek was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1680. When he died in 1723, his daughter Maria sent a cabinet to the Royal Society that contained 26 microscopes her father had crafted from silver. In 1981, the original specimens of Leeuwenhoek were found in the collection of the Royal Society—still in excellent condition.
Anton van Leeuwenhoek was a devout Calvinist Christian. When he was five years old, his basket-maker father died, leaving behind a widow and five children. Leeuwenhoek said that his discoveries "were proof of the wonder of God's creation."