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‘God is groot en wij begrijpen Hem niet’: Kaisers populaire sterrenkunde en het einde van de fysiko-theologie

Author(s): Frans van Lunteren

Journal: Studium : Tijdschrift voor Wetenschaps- en Universiteits-Geschiedenis
ISSN 1876-9055

Volume: 4;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 85;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Frederik Kaiser, popular astronomy, and the decline of natural theologyThroughout his remarkable career the Leiden astronomer Frederik Kaiser (1808-1872) struggled to revive Dutch astronomy, which at the time was rather moribund. His efforts comprised mobilizing public support through popularization. In spite of a lack of illustrations, his popular Starry Sky (1844) proved immensely successful with the general public. This work differed in many respects from earlier Dutch popular writings, and helped to establish the new genre of popular science. Kaiser enunciated his idiosyncratic views on popularization in a lecture which he later published as a brochure. Whereas his research reflects the shift from the dilettante to the professional scientist in being focussed on precision measurement, his popular work likewise testified to the transition from natural philosophy to modern science. Charged with the task of composing a natural theological work on astronomy, the deeply religious Kaiser, wriggled his way through the text. Feeling unable to advance the usual arguments, he finally found refuge in the book of Job: 'Behold, God is great and we know him not'. Arguably, the rise of popular science and the decline of natural theology were intimately connected.
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