Monday, January 11, 2010

Blessed Niels Steensen (1638-1686)

We often hear about the Catholic fathers of astronomy, but yet the Danish Catholic father of geology, Blessed Niels Steensen (or Nicholas Steno), is rarely mentioned outside of the academic arena. Described by Fr. Jaki as "the trailblazing geologist, a convert (former Lutheran), and eventually a Bishop", he was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 23, 1988. However, today January 11, is his birthday! A celebration is in order and perhaps the best present of all would be to learn more about Blessed Niels and remember him in our prayers.

Some sources to start with are his Wikipedia page and the popular science book about him by Alan Cutler, "'The Seashell and the Mountaintop" available from Amazon. Fr. Jaki has also written on Blessed Niels and Dr. Thursday provides some long excerpts about him here.

Here are Fr. Jaki's concluding comments:

[Steno's] caution stood him in good stead. It earned him three centuries later the praise of another great Danish man of science, Niels Bohr, who commended his forebear's openmindedness in recognizing the great inadequacies in man's knowledge of his brain. Happily for science, Steno's openmindedness is still alive in many leaders of science and causes them to reach conclusions hardly different from his.
[S.L. Jaki, Brain, Mind and Computers, pp. 120-121]

~Jakian Thomist

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