One of the originators of modern chemistry, Robert Boyle was an outstanding seventeenth century Christian. Though he is remembered as a founder of the Royal Society and for his scientific studies, especially his discovery of the law relating gas pressures to temperature and volume, Boyle considered his scientific studies simply one aspect of his Christian life. His law of gases was first put forward as part of a response to a philosophical attack which had religious overtones.
Born into a family of great wealth, even as a boy Boyle had a serious desire to live righteously. He became known for telling the truth even when it meant he might get into trouble. In an account he wrote of his boyhood, he gave himself the Greek name Philaretus, meaning "fond of virtue."
On this day, December 29, 1640, while he was studying in Switzerland, thirteen-year-old Robert had a conversion experience which he himself considered the turning point of his life. That night he was suddenly waked in a fright by loud claps of thunder that were out of season. Writing of himself in the third person he said, "and every clap was both preceded and attended with flashes of lightning so frequent and so dazzling, that Philaretus began to imagine them the sallies of that fire that must consume the world. He long continuance of that dismal tempest, when the winds were so loud, as almost drowned the noise of the very thunder, and the showers so hideous, as almost quenched the lightning, ere it could reach his eyes, confirmed Philaretus in his apprehensions of the day of judgment's being at hand. Whereupon the consideration of his unpreparedness to welcome it, and the hideousness of being surprised by it in an unfit condition, made him resolve and vow, that if his fears were that night disappointed, all his future additions to his life should be more religiously and watchfully employed.
"The morning came, and a serene cloudless sky returned, [when] he ratified his determination so solemnly, that from that day he dated his conversion."
Robert's scientific inquiries can be dated from about that time, too. The "science" of the day disagreed with the Bible. Was the Bible true, or the science? Robert would have committed suicide over this troubling issue if he had not believed God forbade it. Instead, he determined to press hard after truth. He became one of the Protestant thinkers who exposed the nonsensical and inaccurate ideas of the time and replaced them with ideas based on experiments.
To help others over the difficulties that had almost extinguished his faith, Robert wrote books for Christian readers, popularizing the latest scientific findings. At the same time, he developed a passionate desire to see the Gospel spread among the native populations of Ireland, America and the Orient and actively supported Christian missions and Bible translation. He accomplished an enormous amount of work despite frequent suffering from paralysis and kidney stones.
- Adapted from an earlier Christian History Institute story.
- "Boyle, Robert." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
- Evelyn, John. Diary and Correspondence of John Evelyn. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1859. Source of the image.
- Feldman, Anthony. Scientists & Inventors. New York: Facts on File, 1979; p. 40.
- Graves, Dan. Scientists of Faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 1996 .
- Hunter, Michael, editor. Robert Boyle by Himself and His Friends. London: William Pickering, 1994.
- Russell, Bertrand. Wisdom of the West. New York: Fawcett, 1964.
Last updated July, 2007