Discoverer of Oxygen
“For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.”
Joseph Priestley was, by all accounts, not a pleasant man. He was brought up in a dissenting chapel in Heckmondwicke, Yorkshire, having been born in Birstall, near Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1733. That chapel believed the Bible to be completely true, but Priestley began to develop ideas that rejected the divinity of Christ and the Virgin Birth. In adulthood, he was, therefore, a Unitarian. Indeed, he was one of the founders of the Unitarian Church in England and eventually became a minister of a Unitarian chapel.
In 1765, he met the American statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin, and this inspired Priestley’s love of science. Not very interested in theory, he was fascinated by experimental technique and developed many of the chemical apparatus, especially for measurement, that have been used until comparatively recently.
It was just such an experiment that led to the discovery of oxygen. Prior to Priestley, most people had thought that fire actually caused materials to emit a substance called phlogiston. Having experimented on burning solids in known quantities of air, Priestley noted that the resulting “dephlogisticated” air had less volume than normal air. Comparing his own results with those of the French scientist Lavoisier, it was realized that actually air contained a gas which supported combustion rather than combustion itself being a material. We now know this gas as oxygen.
While Priestley’s religious views were unbiblical, it should be noted that he ascribed all the order that he noticed in his experiments to God’s design and purpose, believing that nothing he noted could have come about by random chance.
Prayer: We know, Lord, that even people who do not fully acknowledge Your Lordship can understand Your creative power. Thank You for all those who have pushed back the frontiers of knowledge before us. Amen.
Ref: Encyclopaedia Britannica, < https://www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-Priestley >, accessed 10/30/2017. Image: Public Domain, due to age.
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