Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691) is generally considered to be one of the founders of modern chemistry. He took the study of how matter changes out of the mystical realm of alchemy and turned it into a scientific endeavor. He is known by nearly every freshman chemistry student as the author of Boyle’s Law, which tells us how a gas behaves when its pressure changes. In addition to being a brilliant scientist, he was also a devout Christian, and he saw the pursuit of science as a way of learning more about the majesty of God. Here is how he put it:1
“…when, in a word, by the help of anatomical knives, and the light of chymical furnaces, I study the book of nature and consult the glosses of Aristotle, Epicurus, Paracelus, Harvey, Helmont, and other learned expositors of that instructive volume, I find myself oftentimes reduced to exclaim with the Psalmist, How manifold are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all!”
Even though he was a firm believer in Christ, he was an advocate of doubt. In fact, his most famous work is a book entitled The Sceptical Chymist. In addition to his published works, he kept of series of “work diaries” in which he wrote down his daily thoughts. One of the entries reads as follows:2
He whose Faith never Doubted, may justly doubt of his Faith.
We don’t know whether this is something Boyle came up with on his own or whether he read it and thought it was worth noting in his diary. Regardless, we know it was important enough to him that he wanted to record it. This seems to indicate that Boyle thought doubt was not only a necessary part of science, but it was also a necessary part of the Christian faith.
Why am I writing about Robert Boyle and doubt? Because it relates to the results of a recent survey of college students in the United States.