Christians in Science: Carolus Linnaeus
- Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Linnaeus: The Man
Carolus Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linne or Carl Linnaeus, was born on May 23, 1707 in the southern Swedish province of Smaland. His father, Nils Linnaeus, was a Lutheran pastor with an interest in gardening. It was probably in his father's garden that Carolus' love and enthusiasm for plants began. Nils would often decorate Carolus' bed with flowering plants and give him a flower to play with when he seemed unhappy as a baby!
At the age of four he attended a picnic with his father and some friends. To entertain everyone, his father told about different plants, their names, and interesting facts about each one. Carolus was hooked on botany. He wanted to learn more and begged his father to teach him.
He spent several years studying abroad in Europe before returning to Stockholm, Sweden where he served as a physician for three years. While in Stockholm, he was offered a professorship at Uppsala University where he would spend the rest of his life. Reported to be a very entertaining teacher, he attracted students from all different backgrounds. He believed in supplementing class lectures with countryside excursions he called "Herbationes." During these field trips he had the students up at dawn and took them on 12 to 15 mile hikes to study and examine plants. He even told them to wear loose fitting clothes, wide rimmed hats and light shoes so they would not get tired and sweaty!
In old age, Carolus began to suffer from what may have been a stroke. He was still interested in plants, but could no longer remember their names. He often forgot his own name and could not remember that he had written books about plants. It is said that once he saw the books he had written laid out in front of him, and stated that he would have been a happy man to have written such books. He did not remember that it was he who wrote the books.
Linnaeus: The Scientist
As a scientist, Linnaeus tried to apply what he had learned to help the economy of Sweden and reduce famine. He tried to grow cacao, coffee, tea, bananas and rice in Sweden, but the cold climate would not allow it. He also tried to grow mulberries, but that failed as well. The interesting thing about growing mulberries is that, had he been successful, Sweden could have used the mulberry plants as food for silkworms, which in turn could be used to make silk. By raising mulberry plants a silk industry could have been established!
Carolus had a sense of humor. When botanist Johann Siegesbeck criticized Linnaeus's method of classifying plants, Linnaeus responded by naming a small and useless European weed, Siegesbeckia, in his honor.
Linnaeus: The Christian
Carolus was raised in a religious home and had deep beliefs concerning God and nature. It was his belief that since God created the world, it was possible to understand God's wisdom by studying His creation.
"The Earth's creation is the glory of God, as seen from the works of Nature by Man alone. The study of nature would reveal the Divine Order of God's creation, and it was the naturalist's task to construct a 'natural classification' that would reveal this Order in the universe."
Linnaeus believed that new species of plants could be developed by methods such as "hybridization." Evolutionists often point to this as evidence that he was an evolutionist himself. But some clarification is in order. Linnaeus believed that the process of generating new species was not open-ended and unlimited, but that the original plants in the Garden of Eden provided what was needed for new species to develop and that such development was part of God's plan. There is no evidence that open-ended evolution was ever considered by Linnaeus, and, in fact, such talk would probably have shocked him.
Although Linnaeus started a formal method for classifying plants, over the years scientists have added to his work. In fact, today there are several methods for naming plants and it can get pretty complicated. Fortunately, as you will see, there is a simplified way for those of us who are not professional botanists. In general though, here is the basic procedure for naming plants:
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