John who? This creation scientist has a story that needs to be heard. John Philoponus is almost unknown in the history of science. That needs to change.
Let’s hear some teasers about this very interesting sixth-century Alexandrian professor (who was a scholar, a fervent Christian and creationist), because his place in history is remarkable. One of the best short summaries of his life is an article by Dan Graves online at RAE.org, adapted from Graves’s excellent book Scientists of Faith.
According to Dan Graves, John Philoponus was a man ahead of his time – way ahead. For instance:
- He anticipated Galileo’s theory of inertia by a thousand years (and Galileo spoke highly of him).
- He tried to stop the burning of the Library of Alexandria (often blamed on Christians).
- He may have influenced early Muslim thinking about science (for which Islam got credit).
- He was an ardent critic of Aristotle on key points, long before Aristotelianism was rejected.
From a list of Christians in science on Revolution against Evolution, this statement can be found:
One of the giants on whose shoulders Newton stood was the theologian *John Philoponus* (fl. 6th cent AD). Philoponus suggested (on creationist grounds) that the stars are made of the same essential matter as the earth and emit light because they burn. The different colors of stars are owing to differences of composition, he said, drawing his analogy from the differences in colors we see when we burn various substances on earth. He attributed to impetus the movement of celestial bodies (Aristotle said angels moved the planets) and argued for void (vacuum) between the stars. He was the first to suggest dropping balls of unequal weight from a tower. Galileo read and praised Philoponus. If this sounds intriguing, help us find out if these claims have support in the literature. Apparently, scholars have only recently revived the writings this early learned Christian professor who lived in the liveliest intellectual center of his day, Alexandria. They are beginning to recognize his importance in the history of ideas.
Portions of his writings have been translated on the internet. They clearly dispute the notion that all post-Roman and medieval scholars were slavish devotees of Aristotle. More importantly, it appears that the key to John Philoponus’s insight was his Biblical doctrine of creation.
Read the following links and do some internet searching for more. Here are some sources to begin your search:
- Lengthy analysis of his life, times, and ideas at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website.
- Original text from a treatise on the astrolabe (also often credited to the Muslims).
- Original text from a treatise on Aristotle’s physics, criticizing the philosopher’s view of imparted motion.
- Book review of a biography of Philoponus by John E. McKenna.
- References to Philoponus by Muslims (who may have called him Yahyah al-Nahwi) on the National Library of Medicine site.
- Brief explanation of John Philoponus and his Christian influence on science on a New Zealand Christianity and Science site.
- Greatest Greeks has a short biography describing his writings and influence.
- A paper by Christopher Kaiser posted by the American Scientific Affiliation mentioning Philoponus.
- The article by Dan Graves includes a list of nine reference works.
CEH takes no responsibility for the accuracy of these links, and does not necessarily endorse the views expressed, but offers them as starters for someone to follow up on this interesting lead. Was science delayed for a thousand years by ignoring the work of this early Christian thinker? Could this man have prevented the long dominance of wrong Aristotelian views if more had listened to him? Did a creationist lay some of the important philosophical foundations for the emergence of a scientific view of the world? A deeper understanding of the life and ideas of John Philoponus could be instrumental in showcasing the scientific impetus of a creationary worldview that takes Genesis seriously.