< Return to Religion of History's 100 Most Influential People
< Return to Famous Catholics
The Religious Affiliation of Pioneering Geneticist
From: Rich Deem, "Famous Scientists Who Believed in God", last modified 19 May 2005, on "Evidence for God from Science" website (http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/sciencefaith.html; viewed 5 October 2005):
Mendel was the first to lay the mathematical foundations of genetics, in what came to be called "Mendelianism". He began his research in 1856 (three years before Darwin published his Origin of Species) in the garden of the Monastery in which he was a monk. Mendel was elected Abbot of his Monastery in 1868. His work remained comparatively unknown until the turn of the century, when a new generation of botanists began finding similar results and "rediscovered" him (though their ideas were not identical to his). An interesting point is that the 1860's was the formation of the X-Club, dedicated to lessening religious influences and propagating an image of "conflict" between science and religion. One sympathizer was Darwin's cousin Francis Galton, whose scientific interest was in genetics (a proponent of eugenics - selective breeding among humans to "improve" the stock). He was writing how the "priestly mind" was not conducive to science whilst, at around the same time, an Austrian monk was making the breakthrough in genetics. The rediscovery of the work of Mendel came too late to affect Galton's contribution.
Gregor Mendel: From: Dan Graves, Scientists of Faith, Kregel Resources: Grand Rapids, MI (1996), pages 140-143:
[Source:] S. Finn, Gregor Mendel: The First Geneticist (1996)
Gregor Mendel's early life is a tale of struggle and sacrifice, culminating in his acceptance as an Augustinian monk and his subsequent discovery of the three laws of genetics known as Mendalian laws... After completing high school, Mendel again became ill, possibly in sheer frustration over his inability to find a job. A local priest with whom the young man sought counsel recommended he enter the Augustinian monastery of St. Thomas at Altbrunn.
From: Raymond J. Seeger, "Mendel, Monk" in The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 37 (December 1985): 233-234 (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1985/JASA12-85Seeger3.html; viewed 26 September 2005):
This appealed to Mendel. The monastery had a well-earned reputation for cultural and scientific achievement... Its monk-scholars were in many cass authorities in their fields. Among them was Cyril Franz Napp, the prelate of St. Thomas and a noted Old Testament scholar...
At his induction, Mendel adopted the name Gregor. Before being allowed to teach, he was required to complete four more years of study in Greek, Hebrew, pedagogical methods, and theology. At the end of the second year he took his vows as a monk. His instructors lavished praise on his high-quality work...
[page 143] Although he read Darwin, he [Mendel] did not accept many of his [Darwin's] theories, believing that God had created the world and blind chance could not be responsible for the outcome...
Mendel's last battle was with the government. IN 1875 a tax law that singled out religious establishments was passed. Mendel stubbornly resisted this encroachment on religious freedom. Those who joined in the fight soon lost heart, and they fell away when the Moravian government confiscated monastic lands. The government offered compromises, but Mendel remained firm.
Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884) was born of German peasant stock in Heinzendorf, Silesia. His teacher in the village school recognized his exceptional talent and recommended a higher school at Leipnik, thirteen miles away. At twelve he entered the High School at Troppau, twenty miles distant, where the headmaster was an Augustinian from the monastery in Altbrunn (Brunn was the capital of Moravia). Owing to the poverty of his family, he faced financial problems resulting in illness, but did manage to complete the six-year course. He then attended the Philosophical Institute affiliated with Olmatz University... His weakest subject was philosophy; he did not take history or natural science. His physics teacher, however, recommended this poor, Catholic youth to the Altbriunn monastery, where he became a novice at twenty-one. The following year he began a four-year course at the Brunn Theological College. Through his diligence, within a month a year later, he was made subdeacon, deacon, and finally priest. At twenty-six he received a certificate for the completion of his theological training.
The year following he was given an additional duty (twenty hours per week) as Deputy High School teacher at Znaim, but was later released from parish responsibilities owing to illness...
At forty-eight he was elected to the National Committee of Agriculture. Unfortunately, in 1874 he became concerned about a national tax being imposed on all monastic property for support of religious (Catholic) activities; he believed it was unconstitutional. For ten years he waged a wearisome and futile fight-won by the state after his death at sixty-one. He was laid to rest in the monastery burial ground.
Mendel was certainly not a recluse, religious or scientific. He was apparently an exceptionally good teacher, a friend rather than a master. He had keen interest in his work, tenacity and great patience. Modest and reserved, he had a tranquil demeanor and a noble spirit; he was considerate and kind. He was fond of animals and birds. Good-natured, he had a sense of humor. Not sentimental or romantic, he had a practical mind; he was shrewd but just...
There was little odor of sanctity in the scientific writings or personal letters of Mendel. He kept his faith and his science separate in watertight compartments-probably owing to his own lack of philosophical interest per se.
Webpage created 12 July 2005. Last modified 5 September 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: email@example.com.