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Can a Scientist Be a Christian?
The Testimony of Johannes Kepler

by Bob Wilkin

Johannes Kepler was a famous German astronomer and mathematician who lived from 1571 to 1630. Recently while reading a book about Galileo which touched on Kepler, I was deeply moved by his story. The following is taken from the book, The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts Between Science and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986) by Charles E. Hummel. Kepler's belief in the freeness of the gospel and his commitment to hold fast to those beliefs even though they cost him jobs, money, land and homes, persecution, and scorn stirred me. I thought that you, too, might be challenged by his story.

"Kepler's work was all the more amazing in light of the great odds against which he fought all his life. Born into a poor family, he was constantly short of money. From infancy his health was delicate; throughout his life he suffered from fever attacks, stomach disorders, skin eruptions and poor eyesight. A Protestant amid the growing Catholic Counter-Reformation, Kepler was persecuted for his faith, banished from two cities and forced to give up his property. Frequent moves took their toll on his home life. His first wife died early of disease: fewer than half of his children lived beyond ten years.

Employment was always uncertain for Kepler. The noblemen whom he served often paid his salary late: the emperor defaulted on commitments to him. Amid those personal misfortunes came the Thirty Years' War, one of the cruelest in European history. During his last twelve years, Kepler had to conduct his research in the middle of that conflict, at times with his house occupied by soldiers and in sight of the carnage. Yet under those incredibly difficult circumstances, Kepler continued his arduous work and became one of the greatest astronomers. Through all his suffering he remained a warm-hearted human being with deep Christian commitment."1

"On November 2, [1630], Kepler rode his horse across the cold Danube River into Regensburg where he stayed with a friend. Soon he came down with a fever that grew steadily worse with occasional delirium. Although several clergymen visited him, they did not offer the Communion he had been denied so many years.2 Yet Kepler was not bitter. When someone asked him in a lucid moment where he thought his salvation lay, he answered confidently, "Only and alone on the services of Jesus Christ." In Christ the astronomer found his refuge and solace."3

1The Galileo Connection, p.58.

2Kepler studied theology along with mathematics and science. His theological studies led him to reject various Lutheran doctrines, including the view of Christ's bodily presence in communion. He was accused of Calvinist leanings and, because he would not express agreement to the Formula of Concord, was denied the privilege of taking communion and excluded from the Lutheran church. See The Galileo Connection, pp.61-62, 73-74,76-79.

3The Galileo Connection, pp.78-79.

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