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The Religious Affiliation of
Robert Boyle
the father of modern chemistry

From: Rich Deem, "Famous Scientists Who Believed in God", last modified 19 May 2005, on "Evidence for God from Science" website (; viewed 5 October 2005):
One of the founders and key early members of the Royal Society, Boyle gave his name to "Boyle's Law" for gasses, and also wrote an important work on chemistry. The Encyclopedia Britannica says of him: "By his will he endowed a series of Boyle lectures, or sermons, which still continue, "for proving the Christian religion against notorious infidels."... As a devout Protestant, Boyle took a special interest in promoting the Christian religion abroad, giving money to translate and publish the New Testament into Irish and Turkish. In 1690 he developed his theological views in The Christian Virtuoso, which he wrote to show that the study of nature was a central religious duty." Boyle wrote against atheists in his day (the notion that atheism is a modern invention is a myth), and was clearly much more devoutly Christian than the average in his era.

[Sources:] Michael Hunter, Robert Boyle Reconsidered (1994), Jan Wojcik, Robert Boyle and the Limits of Reason (1991)

From: Ronald Blatchley and Julie Shepelavy, "Robert Boyle: Mighty Chemist", on Woodrow Wilson Leadership Program in Chemistry website (; viewed 26 September 2005):
Boyle never married and from the age of 41 lived with his sister Katherine, Lady Ranelagh. He was a shy man with deep religious convictions. He had been a pious youth spending some years in the care of the village parson, Mr. W. Douch. Then at the age of 13, during a violent thunderstorm, he experienced a religious conversion not unlike that of St. Paul. Although an ardent defender of the Anglican Church, he was tolerant of the religious views of others and in later years became particularly sympathetic to the Dissenters. He was offered a position in the clergy but felt a stronger commitment to science. He saw no conflict between the two. He wrote widely on religious themes and gave financial support to his his friend Edward Pococke to translate the New Testament into Malayan. He left a large portion of his considerable estate to charitable organizations.

Robert Boyle died in London on December 30, 1691. He was buried in the Church of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields next to his sister. Later the church was demolished and no record was made as to where his remains were moved.

Typically, Robert Boyle is remembered solely for Boyle's Law. It is clear that he contributed much more to the development of modern chemical thought.

From: Raymond J. Seeger, "Boyle, Christian Gentleman" in The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 37 (September 1985): 183-184 (; viewed 26 September 2005): Robert Boyle (1627-1691) and Christopher Wren (1632-1723) in their early thirties were regarded by their British contemporaries as "the wonders of the age." Boyle was cited in the poetry of James Thomson and William Cowper. Although called the father of chemistry he was truly an amateur and owed his reputation largely to his social position and personal character...

Boyle's life was a model of piety and humility. To his insatiable curiosity and indomitable persistence, he added integrity of mind. To his shrewd business ability and scrupulous honesty, he joined a broad generosity. He refused various honors and appointments, e.g., in the church, a peerage, Provost of Eton, President of the Royal Society (1680). He gave one-third of his Irish income for the propagation of the gospel among the North American Indians (e.g., support of the missionary John Eliot) and the other two-thirds for the poor and ministers in Ireland. In his will he bequeathed the income from his unentailed property for Irish poor, preachers and their wives, and, in general, for good, pious purposes...

Boyle was not just a teacher and propagandist; above all, he was a lay preacher and, through his writings, a prolific author of religious topics. Only one, however, was devoted to dogmatic theology, viz., "Protestant and Papist;" he was opposed to the papacy with its claims of catholicity and infallibility. He was, moreover, unsympathetic with all sectarianism; he preferred the via media of Anglicanism. He hated bitterly all religious strife over creeds and ceremonies. Although a regular church attendant, to him Christianity meant essentially the practice of holy living; its fruits, peace and charity.

Throughout his life he had a conviction of personal Divine Guidance. A turning point occurred when he was thirteen during a night thunderstorm in Geneva; he made a vow of piety; four years later his faith was established. A second crisis occurred when he perceived in science "a means of discovering the nature and purpose of God;" he realized, of course, that revelations about the Creator in the book of nature are not as significant as those about the Saviour in the Scriptures. All his work and thought became saturated with religion, composed in an atmosphere of humility. He definitely eschewed Holy Orders so that he might pursue theology freely-and hence more effectively. In 1661, at the request of Lord Broghill, a brother, he published "Some Considerations Touching the Style of the Scriptures," noting the usual problems of translation associated with when, by whom, to whom, for what purpose. He himself believed in miracles, e.g., Jesus walking on the sea.

He believed the study of nature and the attributes of God were the noblest aim of life. In "The Excellency of Theology, Compared with Natural Philosophy" (1674, written 1665), he noted, "The vastness, beauty, orderliness of heavenly bodies; the excellent structure of animals and plants; and other phenomena of nature justly induce an intelligent, unprejudiced observer to conclude a supreme, powerful, just, and good author."

Boyle had a lifelong passion to educate and Christianize the native populations of Ireland, America, and the Orient. Accordingly, he subsidized various translations of the New Testament, e.g., Arabic, Turkish, et al. In his will, moreover, he left funds for eight annual lectures in a London parish "for proving the Christian religion against notorious infidels." The first Boyle Lecture (1662) on "A Confutation of Atheism," was given by Richard Bentley, then Chaplain to Bishop Stillingfleet (later Master, Trinity College, Cambridge), at St. Martin-in-the- Fields (the remaining at St. Mary-le-Bow's). The author submitted drafts to Newton, who replied in four celebrated letters, generally approving, but adding some additional arguments in support. The last lecture argued in favor of a Divine Providence from the constitution of the universe as demonstrated in the Principia.


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Webpage created 26 September 2005. Last modified 5 October 2005.
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