Robert Boyle (1627-1691). Bible-believing Christian chemist.
Robert Boyle biography
Brilliant chemist who beat the superstitions of alchemy
Robert Boyle was born on January 25, 1627, at Lismore Castle in Ireland. He was the fourteenth child of Sir Richard Boyle, the wealthy Earl of Cork, and Lady Boyle. His parents ensured that he received the best education available in seventeenth century England. He attended Eton — the college founded by King Henry VI almost 200 years earlier — and also had private tutors. Sir Richard encouraged his son to continue his education in Europe. So they sent Robert off to school in Geneva.
Robert did well in Europe. He had access to writings not available to students in England, and his knowledge increased markedly. He loved learning languages, and soon mastered six. But his interests also leaned towards science.
The 16 year-old saw the world around him as a wonderful creation of God. His brilliant mind constantly strove to learn more about the Creator and the principles of His world. In Italy, Boyle had the privilege of meeting the astronomer Galileo — whose work led to a better understanding of the universe — shortly before Galileo died. Galileo was under house arrest at the time for having taught Copernican doctrine. Boyle cherished this meeting, and it sparked in him an even stronger desire to discover more about God's world.
As his interest in science increased, Boyle faced heavy disappointments. He had enormous difficulty overcoming people's trust in alchemists. Alchemists were the medieval forerunners of today's chemists. But they spent most of their time trying to turn base metals such as lead into gold, or in trying to produce an “elixir of life” that would keep them endlessly youthful. Most alchemists wanted only to perform scientific “magic” to increase their wealth and prestige. They gave little time to anyone who tried to devalue the great importance of their selfish objectives.
Boyle realized that if science was going to progress, he would have to start raising its status himself. While only 18, he helped to found the Philosophical College in London (later to become the Royal Society of London). He specialized in chemistry, and believed in the need for objective observation in research.
He returned home to Ireland at the age of 25 and took up studying anatomy. Two years later he moved to Oxford, set up a laboratory, and headed a small scientific society there.
Solved scientific puzzles
In the following years his active mind pondered a vast number of scientific puzzles, such as the problems of elasticity and pressure, and problems associated with gas pressure and volume. He worked with the brilliant physicist Robert Hooke, and together they invented the forerunner of the modern air-pump. While experimenting with air, Boyle started campaigning for his atomic theory, which is the foundation for our modern understanding of matter.
Few scientists at the time understood Boyle's ideas about atoms. Although many accepted without question some of the strange ideas the alchemists promoted, some people ridiculed Boyle's atomic theory.
But his sensible explanations finally won over the skeptics. He explained that because air can be compressed there must be space between the atoms in the air. As liquids and solids don't compress much, their atoms must be closer together than the atoms of air. When others thought seriously about Boyle's idea, they saw its logic, and eventually accepted it.
It was about this time that Boyle proposed an idea that has become one of his most notable contributions to science. He formulated a law which describes the behavior of gases under pressure. We now know this as Boyle's Law. Stated simply, Boyle's Law is that the volume of a given quantity of gas varies inversely with the pressure when the temperature is constant.
Boyle's services to science were outstanding for his time, and he stands out as one of the principal originators of the experimental method.
But more was to come from this great mind.
In 1661, at the age of 34, Boyle published The Skeptical Chymist. In this book he overturned Aristotle's conception of the four elements (the belief that everything was composed of earth, air, fire and water) and replaced it with the modern idea of an element — namely that an element is a substance that cannot be separated into simpler components by chemical methods. The Skeptical Chymist was the foundation-stone of modern chemistry.
Boyle's strong Christianity
Boyle was a devout Christian and an enthusiastic student of the Bible. In fact, he felt a great need to study the Scriptures in their original languages to gain greater understanding of them. He even paid for and supervised the Bible's translation and publication in Gaelic.
In the year before his death in 1691, Boyle published an important work he called The Christian Virtuoso. In this book he explained that the study and dominion of nature is a duty that God has given to humankind. His basis for this was the command given in Genesis 1:28. This is where God the Creator blessed the first man and woman and told them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and over every creature that moves on earth.
In his lectures and many writings, Robert Boyle showed that science and faith in God can exist side by side. He praised his Creator for all the scientific discoveries he had made, and urged others to do so as well. He recognized that the universe works by the laws of nature that God set up for its order and control. As a powerful Christian apologist, he provided in his will for the Boyle Lectures for the defense of Christianity. He strongly supported missionary work, and gave great support to societies that promoted the Gospel.
Modern chemistry owes enormous gratitude to the work and writings of Robert Boyle — a creationist scientist whose love of God's truth led him to overcome the chief errors of alchemical theory that hindered scientific chemistry's development.