Saturday, 5 January 2013

Thinking God's thoughts after Him

I once heard the phrase "thinking God's thoughts after Him" attributed to Sir Isaac Newton (1642/3-1727) (who, of course, just turned 370 - or was it 369 - on Christmas Day). However, the phrase apparently really belongs to Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) - although I cannot verify this. (At least, that is the general consensus of opinion so far as I can ascertain. Not that conscensus counts for much.)

Stated more fully and in context, the quotation is:

"I was merely thinking God's thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of Nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God." (See, for example, Johannes Kepler at the New World Encyclopedia.)

Kepler is clearly summarising his life's work and what motivated him. This approaches scientific research in a way quite different to the one frequently adopted today. I recently had somebody openly admit to me that the main reason for having done his research was to amass the number of publications, successful grant applications, PhD students etc. necessary for progression up the academic career ladder. His was a purely self-centred desire for more academic kudos and more money (although, one must note, not vast amounts more (as he also bemoaned) - there is much more to be had in industry and commerce).

There is something both humble and grandiose about Kepler's stated approach but little apart from selfishness when it comes to the other.