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Robert Boyle

1627-1691. Natural philosopher. Fourteenth child of the great earl of Cork, he was educated at Eton till eleven, then traveled with a tutor. A violent storm in Geneva in 1641 led to his conversion; thereafter his life, talents, possessions were dedicated to Christ. As an Anglican he favored a national church to include Nonconformists* (toward whom he was singularly tolerant). Though ordination was often pressed upon him, with tempting preferment, Boyle refused, believing that the taking of vows led men to suppress their doubts. For the same reason he refused the presidency of the Royal Society, of which he was co-founder. In his day Boyle's reputation was comparable with that of his contemporary and friend Isaac Newton.* He wrote voluminously and exerted a profound influence on subsequent thought in science (“The Father of Chemistry”; originator of chemical analysis; “Boyle's Law”), philosophy (through Locke), and theology. His views on science and theology are surprisingly modern; he identified the “nitre” of the Bible with native sodium carbonate, financed much Christian work and Bible translation, and endowed the Boyle Lectures. He loved science passionately as God's “second book,” revealing His power and wisdom. To fight science, he supposed, was to fight God. His mission in life was to convince men that God's two “books” were in harmony. His Seraphic Love (1660), a gem of Christian literature, went through many editions.

See Collected Works and Life (ed. T. Birch, 6 vols., 1772); and biographies by M.S. Fisher (1945) and R.E.W. Maddison (1969).