How the Reformers’ Beliefs Affected Early Modern Science

The Two Solas of Reformation Science

by Cory Von Eiff on May 14, 2024

Curiosity is a fundamental part of God’s design for humanity. That curiosity is strongest when we are children since we have so much to learn about life and the world. As we get older, we tend to lose much of that curiosity as we settle into daily routines and busy schedules. However, some people stay curious, continuing to ask questions. A lot of these perpetually curious individuals turn to the realm of science, which constantly seeks to understand how the world operates.

Though forms of science have existed since the creation of the world, modern science as we think of it today began in the 1500s, most notably with Nicolaus Copernicus’ 1543 De Revolutionibus, which argued for a heliocentric view of the universe rather than a geocentric one. While Copernicus’ book spurred the rise of modern science as other men began questioning traditionally held, but not tested, scientific thought, his views were eventually declared heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, many modern scholars point to this incident as proof that science is fundamentally opposed to religion (especially Christianity) and is even superior to it. However, these claims fail to understand the context surrounding the publication of De Revolutionibus, which occurred in the midst of the Protestant Reformation. The birth of modern science does not demonstrate the failure of Christianity or the inaccuracy of Scripture. Instead, the revival of true Christianity by means of the Protestant Reformation was a major influence on both the founding and proliferation of modern science.

The Reformers held to these five solas and with them reshaped Western Civilization, including Europe’s understanding of science.

The Protestant Reformation began a couple decades before Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s Castle Church in 1517. The Reformation sparked by Luther stretched beyond religious practices, also influencing many aspects of European culture, including science. This influence was wrapped up in what is known as the “Five Solas of the Reformation.”

The Latin word solus means “alone,” which is where we get English words such as solo and sole. The five solas refer to the Reformers’ core Christian beliefs: Sola Christus, Christ alone is head of the church; Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone is authoritative; Sola Gratia, salvation is by grace alone; Sola Fide, justification is by faith alone; and Soli Deo Gloria, everything is done for God’s glory alone. These solas are generally considered to be the foundational beliefs proclaimed during the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers held to these five solas and with them reshaped Western Civilization, including Europe’s understanding of science. Two of these solas in particular, Sola Scriptura and Soli Deo Gloria, strongly influenced both the rise of modern science and the budding scientists of this scientific revolution.

Sola Scriptura: An Attack on Science?

When discussing the Reformation and the rise of modern science, many contemporary historians argue that the Reformers used Sola Scriptura not only to reject scientific advancement but also to attack it. In particular, these historians point out that the Reformers stood against Copernicus’ assertion that the earth was not the center of the universe. Since Copernicus’ 1543 De Revolutionibus traditionally marks the beginning of modern science, these contemporary historians claim that the Reformers held back science rather than encouraging its growth. However, these claims are largely erroneous and not based on thorough research. Let’s take a look at two prominent Reformers who are often accused of opposing modern science: Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon.

Luther and Science

There is only one quotation from Luther that seems to oppose Copernicus’ heliocentric views. This comment was made in 1539, four years before De Revolutionibus was published. When a friend mentioned Copernicus’ ideas, Luther responded, “Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth.”1

From this one comment, history of science professor I. Bernhard Cohen infers in The Birth of a New Physics that Sola Scriptura caused the Reformers to oppose science because “even before the publication of De Revolutionibus, Martin Luther heard about Copernicus’ ideas and condemned them violently for contradicting the Bible.”2 However, Cohen does not accurately represent Luther’s comment. Rather than arguing against the progress of science, Luther merely agreed with the science of his day and refused to permit an unproven and untested idea to supersede the Bible. There are numerous accounts of Luther opposing astrology and understanding the importance of medical advancement, and there are no other known quotations of Luther rejecting either Copernicus or other scientific ideas. Thus, it is certainly a stretch to say that Martin Luther opposed scientific advancement.

Melanchthon and Science

Besides Luther, historians often accuse the Reformer Philip Melanchthon of opposing advances in science. For example, history and science philosopher Thomas Kuhn asserts in The Copernican Revolution that Melanchthon wrote against Copernicus’ theory in his 1549 Initia Doctrinae Physicae, including in this writing “a number of anti-Copernican Biblical passages” and even a suggestion “that severe measures be taken to restrain the Copernicans.”3 Kuhn thus indicates that Melanchthon’s devotion to Sola Scriptura hindered modern science. However, though Melanchthon did disagree with the specific theories of Copernicus, he was not opposed to science; instead, Melanchthon’s belief in Sola Scriptura actually strengthened his pursuit of science. Much of this can be seen in Melanchthon’s works included in Corpus Reformatorum, a large collection of writings by Reformers. Unfortunately, no English translation of this compendium currently exists; however, historians who have perused it have noted that Melanchthon did not oppose science.

According to science historian Bruce Moran in “The Universe of Philip Melanchthon,” while the Catholic Church stressed a threefold nature of knowledge, Melanchthon declared that Christians had “a fourth precept of certainty, namely, divine revelation,” which was a part of the natural light of knowledge. Therefore, since divine revelation was a part of knowledge, Melanchthon believed that philosophy and science were “legitimate instruments in the pursuit of divine knowledge.”4

Not only did Sola Scriptura encourage Melanchthon’s support of science, but it also strengthened his support of science’s growth. Because Melanchthon believed that Sola Scriptura emphasized verifying truth rather than merely assuming it to be true, he held a deep interest in astronomy and other sciences. Melanchthon’s attachment to science was so great that he was even willing to support ideas opposed to his own. For example, he actively supported the Wittenberg professors Erasmus Reinhold and Georg Joachim Rheticus, who both agreed with Copernican views of the universe. Melanchthon helped Reinhold publish his Copernican-based Tabulae Prutenicae in 1551, while Rheticus included the Copernican system in his 1540 Narration Prima, which finally persuaded Copernicus to publish De Revolutionibus the next year. Since De Revolutionibus is traditionally accepted as the spark of the scientific revolution, Melanchthon, by supporting Rheticus, indirectly helped usher in this great revolution. Clearly, Melanchthon’s belief in Sola Scriptura encouraged him to support science and aid in its growth.

Soli Deo Gloria: Science for the Glory of God

While Sola Scriptura emphasized trust in the Bible, Soli Deo Gloria emphasized that everything can and should be done for God’s glory.

While Sola Scriptura emphasized trust in the Bible, Soli Deo Gloria emphasized that everything can and should be done for God’s glory. Up until that point, the Roman Catholic Church emphasized that science should only be studied to know more about God. While this approach to science has honorable intentions, science can also reveal many things about ourselves and the world around us. By limiting scientific study to only learning about God, the Catholic Church unintentionally hindered scientific advancement.

With the dawn of the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers began to see science in a new light. As they studied the Scriptures, the Reformers read Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” From this verse came Soli Deo Gloria, that everything should be done for God’s glory. This statement did not mean that everything a man did was solely to discover more of God’s glory; instead, it meant that everything a man did should bring glory to God. Not only did Soli Deo Gloria change how men lived their lives, but it also changed how they viewed science. From this new perspective, science did not have to be studied solely to learn about God; instead, someone could study pure experimental science and glorify God with his work.

This shift in scientific philosophy completely changed the study of science, for men did not just study it for theological reasons. Instead, true scientists began performing pure scientific experiments. One of the Reformers who emphasized that science should be studied to praise God was Philip Melanchthon. According to science historian Robert Westman, Melanchthon “links the study of nature with praise of the Creator” in one of his astronomy speeches. In this speech, Melanchthon states, “To recognize God the Creator from the order of the heavenly motions and of His entire work, that is true and useful divination, for which reason God wanted us also to behold His works. Let us therefore cherish the subject which demonstrates the order of the motions . . . and let us not be deterred by harmful opinions, since there are some who . . . always hate the pursuit of knowledge.”5 This enthusiasm Melanchthon had for praising God through scientific study eventually spread to more scientists over the next century. Crucially, Melanchthon trained the theologian Jacob Heerbrand, who eventually taught one of the most influential scientists of the seventeenth century.

Kepler and Sola Deo Gloria

The influential scientist trained by Jacob Heerbrand was Johannes Kepler. Kepler, one of the most respected and influential early scientists, had originally planned to become a Lutheran minister and studied under Heerbrand. However, God had other plans for Kepler, and he instead devoted his life to science. For Kepler, his scientific studies were as noble as theology because God could be glorified in both. Kepler clearly believed that since everything should be done for God’s glory, pursuing pure science could bring honor to God. This is clearly seen in Kepler’s Harmonies of the World. Near the book’s conclusion, Kepler prays, “I give thanks to Thee, O Lord Creator. . . . To the men who are going to read those demonstrations, I have made manifest the glory of Thy works. . . . If I have loved my own glory . . . while I am advancing in the work destined for Thy glory, be gentle and merciful and pardon me; and finally deign graciously to effect that these demonstrations give way to Thy glory and the salvation of souls and nowhere be an obstacle to that.”6

Kepler, greatly affected by the Reformation’s Soli Deo Gloria, sought to understand the universe for God’s glory and tremendously influenced the modern scientific era. Not only di Soli Deo Gloria influence Kepler to study science for God’s glory, but as the Reformation spread across Europe, other scientists studied the universe in his name. As these scientists and many others glorified God in their work, they found that by seeking pure science, they could see more of God’s work in the world. While their goal was not to pursue science merely to interpret Scripture, when they studied science, they unsurprisingly found the touch of God in everything. Without a doubt, the Reformation’s Soli Deo Gloria inspired many of the early scientists to study the universe in order to glorify God through science.

Boyle and Sola Deo Gloria

Soli Deo Gloria also helped increase experimental science by teaching that God himself controlled nature for his glory. According to historian Eugene Klaaren in Religious Origins of Modern Science, Aristotelian philosophy emphasized that physical matter was eternal, God did not directly control it, and that matter morphed and changed over time. Since this philosophy taught that matter did not have definite properties, it discouraged experimental science from exploring how materials could relate to one another. The seventeenth-century Christian scientist Robert Boyle broke science away from this philosophy.

Boyle, strongly influenced by the Reformation and Soli Deo Gloria, argued for “the continual dependence of creation upon God.” From this presupposition that nature depended on God, Boyle explained that matter was not “an eternal given, a kind of ever-receding intractable stuff from which things are made and . . . [from which things] receive a relative explanation [of their properties].”7 Instead, Boyle expressed that God created matter with specific qualities for his glory. Consequently, his studies showed that “created matter, now a full-fledged building block in the world, could be used for precise explanations. The conditions were met for characterizing matter universally with such mechanical affections as size, shape, and local motion.”8 Rather than merely guessing what properties materials had, scientists could now discover both their precise elemental properties and how they interacted with other materials. This change in scientific understanding quickly revolutionized the study of chemistry. Therefore, Boyle’s assertions, founded in Soli Deo Gloria, reshaped the field of experimental science.

The Solas Today

Although subtle, both Sola Scriptura and Soli Deo Gloria still strongly influence modern science. Since many early scientists believed in the truths of Scripture and that God can and should be honored in all things, they chose to study science in order to learn more about the world rather than merely using it to interpret Scripture. When these scientists began studying the world around them, they discovered the intricacy of God’s handiwork and glorified him through their work. This early experimental science quickly spread, and the modern scientific revolution continued to grow thanks to the work of Kepler, Boyle, and many other scientists who saw the importance of Sola Scriptura and Soli Deo Gloria and chose to pursue truth and honor God in their studies of pure experimental science.

Without a doubt, the Reformation has had an extensive influence on the modern world. Almost every aspect of modern life has been shaped in some way by this revival of Christian principles, including science.

Without a doubt, the Reformation has had an extensive influence on the modern world. Almost every aspect of modern life has been shaped in some way by this revival of Christian principles, including science. The precedents set by these solas, and especially Sola Scriptura and Soli Deo Gloria, not only gave rise to the modern scientific movement but also shaped the lives of a multitude of its scientists. Although many contemporary historians attempt to show that the Reformers and their solas resisted the growth of science, it is beyond question that the Reformers did indeed help science grow. Rather than blaming the Reformers, these historians should instead be thanking them for their vital contribution to the scientific age. Without the influence of these Reformers, the scientific world would be very different and may not be as advanced as it currently is. Sadly, modern science has drifted far from the early scientists’ desire to glorify God through their work. Still, the legacy of both the Reformers and the early scientists lives on. Regardless of whether modern scientists acknowledge the origin of their field of study, modern science will always be founded upon the precedents set by both Sola Scriptura and Soli Deo Gloria.


  1. Anthony Lauterbach quoting Martin Luther in “Nicolaus Copernicus Explained,” Everything Explained Today, accessed May 8, 2024,
  2. I. Bernhard Cohen, The Birth of a New Physics (New York: W. W. Norton, 1985).
  3. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought (New York: Vintage Books, 1959).
  4. Bruce Moran, “The Universe of Philip Melanchthon: Criticism and Use of the Copernican Theory,” Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 4, no. 1 (1973): 3–4,, eScholarship.
  5. Robert S. Westman, “The Melanchthon Circle, Rheticus, and the Wittenberg Interpretation of the Copernican Theory,” Isis 66, no. 2 (June 1975): 170,
  6. Johannes Kepler, Harmonies of the World, trans. Charles Glenn Wallis (London: Global Grey, 2014).
  7. Eugene M. Klaaren, Religious Origins of Modern Science: Belief in Creation in Seventeenth Century Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977).
  8. Klaaren, Religious Origins of Modern Science.


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