Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Roger Bacon - a scientist ahead of his time

Continuing from the past 2 blogs ....

This summer, I had read the Dan Brown's novel Angels & Demons and was fascinated by the renewed Science vs. Religion debate. Science and the Bible are some of my favorite topics.

During research of life in the Middle Ages, I discovered that the Church did not see Science and Religion as poles apart as we may view them today. In the Medieval Church, pursuing Science was encouraged as a means to better understand God. One of the most remarkable Churchmen and Philosophers of those times was Roger Bacon.

Roger Bacon (c. 1214–1294) was a Franciscan Friar who wrote his Opus Magnus for Pope Clement IV. In the area of science, he was hundreds of years ahead of his time.

The Earth is Round:
Two centuries before Christopher Columbus sailed for America, Roger Bacon wrote that the curvature of the earth explained why we can see farther from higher elevations.

Splitting White Light into a Rainbow:
Four hundred years before Sir Isaac Newton's experiment (in the 1660s) that split white light with a prism into the spectrum of the rainbow, Roger Bacon in the 13th century passed light through a glass bead to produce the rainbow.

Father of Modern Science:
"Isaac Newton's discoveries were so numerous and varied that many consider him to be the father of modern science." Yet, a few scholars credit Roger Bacon as a pioneer in the advancement of natural science, who emphasised the importance of mathematics and "experimental science." In his works, Bacon mentions gunpowder and lenses and proposals for horseless carriages and flying machines.

The telescope:
In the "The Starry Messenger," Galileo had improved the telescope (invented by Flemish spectacle-maker Hans Lipperhey in 1608) and turned it to the heavens to observe such things as the craters on the Moon and the four satellites about Jupiter. In the Cipher of Roger Bacon, the manuscript suggests Roger Bacon was in possession of a reflecting telescope, which he observed and drew a spiral nebula.

To sum up the Medieval philosophy of the Church concerning Science: If the Bible contained the truth, how could the Church be threatened by understanding the truth better? Only later, during the time of Galileo, the Church became frightened of Science. (That could be the subject of another blog. )

A great find on the Science vs. Religion debate was the Terry Jones' (of Monty Python fame) series - Medieval Lives. Medieval Philosophers were the scientists of the "Dark Ages" which were not as dark as they seemed.

For a humorous history lesson of Medieval Science, check out youtube video on episodes of Medieval Philosophers:
Medieval Lives: The Philosopher

Related link:
Roger Bacon photo from Wikipedia:


  1. Nice post, Susan. I'll have to look this guy up!
    Thanks for the informative piece.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Loretta.
    We have many myths about the Middle Ages.
    The Terry Jones' series shows much of that.

  3. Susan, Thank you for the information.
    God is not afraid of science so we shouldn't be either.
    How wonderful that God gave so much revelation to Roger Bacon, a man of the cloth.

  4. Thanks Jan & Diane -
    Even Christopher Columbu consulted the works of Roger Bacon before his voyage.