John Wesley’s Role in Renaissance Science
John Wesley (1703-1791) lived in possibly the most exciting times in the Renaissance of scientific development. The first working telescope is reported to have been built in 1608. Convex objective lenses as used by Galileo were available in 1611. Kepler made convex objective lenses for the eyepiece and the first practical compound telescope by 1655. Huygens made powerful but unwieldy telescopes. Following this. Sir Isaac Newton developed the reflector telescope in 1668 which, because of its lightweight design, made for easier use.
Wesley’s primary contribution to science was in the field of electricity and magnetism and he played a significant role in advancing magnetics in the 18th century. While he had a well grounded scientific education in Newtonianism from Oxford, it isn’t clear when he first encountered magnetics. It was a field that was just emerging from the Renaissance.
Wesley’s was motivated to assist people who were suffering, and electricity and magnetism were the emerging tools which were available to him in this quest. The status of magnetics in theology is described by Benz, and Wesley’s two books, one on Primitive Physics and the other Desideratum. He had documented interactions with Johannes Fricker in Europe as well as other notables. While in America, he never visited with Benjamin Franklin although he acknowledged Franklin’s work in his publications. Reportedly, George Whitfield carried correspondence between the two. Despite some documened successes, Benz notes that there was considerable opposition by the medical and pharmacitical professions in Europe in the 18 century to magnetics for treating people for illnesses . Wesley, Whitfield, Van der Vliet and Fricker are reported to have met in London in 1759. Specific events are listed chronologically in file below. Wesley’s activities and contributions to this field are described in depth by Malony 1995.
According to Benz, Wesley designed and constructed his first magnetic field generator, which he used for therapeutic purposes. He appears to have been an early practitioner of biomedical engineering with a deep faith in the creator and the creation as well as in Jesus teachings. As such he concentrated his efforts on being knowledgable and applying the latest technology of his day with the goal of helping mankind.
Sir Isaac Newton, on the other hand, was primarily a scientist, in today’s definition, and had little interest in the devices and applications of his discoveries. His development of the Newtonian telescopes is a signifiant contribution to practical astronomy, since it used a primary mirror rather than the more difficult to grind glass lens, which need to be ground with precision. Also, the Newtonian scopes were lighter in weight because of the lighter mirror rather than the glass lenses.
In several of his sermons Wesley mentions using telescopes to view the heavens, i.e. the stars and planets.
What is Man?
John Wesley asks the question “What is Man?” in two sermons, 103 and 109. In 103 he cites the likelihood that there are thousands if not millions of other planets and worlds, hence man is insignificant in comparison. In 109 he cites the spiritual as well as man’s relationship with the laws of science. Note that he studied Newtonianism at Oxford and corresponded with Sir Isaac Newton at Cambridge. More detail on John Wesley in Faith and Science. Then, in sermon 64, he addresses the universe in a New Creation, commenting on the possibility of multiple universes.
Imagine standing under a full field of stars, on a clear night without light pollution, as Moses and other early writers experienced, how can we respond to Wesley’s question?