Johannes Kepler and the Joy of Science

He didn’t know if his inquiries would generate useful answers, but he knew they would open a new window on God’s orderly creation.

Biographers are often surprised at Kepler’s optimism in spite of the troubles that marked his life, but his studies had done nothing but confirm the biblical teaching of a loving God who has a perfect and beautiful plan for his creation. To him, science was a delightful discovery of this exciting truth, to be pursued for the joy of it, and not necessarily for utilitarian reasons. Just as birds sing for pleasure, following their natural impulses, Kepler thought that human beings should follow their natural curiosity about nature.

 

Johannes Kepler and the Joy of Science

The German astronomer Johannes Kepler is counted among the greatest scientists in history. He is best known for his three laws of planetary motion, which shaped our modern understanding of the solar system.

His achievements expanded beyond astronomy to cover optics and mathematics. But his brilliance didn’t shelter him from a host of financial, personal, and religious challenges.

Youth and First Works

In 1571, when Kepler first opened his eyes to the world in the small town of Weil der Stadt, the Holy Roman Empire was still divided in matters of religion. While the 1555 Peace of Augsburg had created some stability by maintaining that each ruler could determine which religion was practiced in his state (cuius regio, eius religio), it had not provided a permanent settlement.

Württemberg, the region where Kepler was born, was Lutheran, and he was raised in that faith, mostly by her mother (his father was a mercenary soldier). Kepler hoped to become a pastor. At age 18, he entered the University of Tübingen with that goal in mind.

Kepler was near the end of his theological studies, when his astronomy teacher, Michael Mästlin, convinced him to pursue science instead. Kepler agreed for several reasons.

Besides his love for science, he had a feeling he was not cut out to be a pastor. For one thing, he thought he didn’t have the physical built and stamina that pastoral work required. He was, like his mother, thin and frail – a constitution which, in his eyes, was more fit for a scholar.

Besides, he was not comfortable with the Lutheran teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (consubstantiation). To him, the Reformed objection that Christ’s body could not be present in substance both in heaven and with the elements had strong merits. But he was not ready to leave the Lutheran church. Because of this, he continued to be seen as a fish out of water.

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