The Hevelius Forum for Dialogue between Science and Religion in Gdansk

About Forum | About Gdansk | About Hevelius

The Hevelius Forum for Dialogue between Science and Religion in Gdansk is an informal association of professional scientists, theologians, teachers and others which share the conviction that a dialogue between science and religion is not only possible, but even more so, stimulating for the development of both of these fields of human activity. The goal of the this forum is to broaden the knowledge from where these two fields meet and through this, opposing naturalistic and materialistic convictions and superstitions. This forum wants to oppose the idea that statements of science and religion contradict each other.
In the opinion of the forum members, science and religion should share above all an honest endeavor to knowing truth. However, people of science focus their interests in the material realm, while theologians in the spiritual realm. Because of this, their method of study can differ, although not necessarily. There are achievements in such fields as biblical archeology which prove that it is possible for science and religion to work together.
Moreover, it is not true that the realm of science and religion oppose one another or are necessarily hostile to one another. The history of science offers proof of this that there were many great scientists of nature who were at the same time theologians, clergymen as well as active religious laymen. It is worth to recall that Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Ampere and Kepler were all deeply religious persons and also scholars. They had a tremendous influence on modern science and culture. Another scientist worth mentioning is John Hevelius, from which this forum derives its name. He was a great astronomer as well as an active member of the church council at the Saint Kathryn Church in Gdansk. All of them had a similar admiration for regularity and order in the universe as Kant. They dedicated their lives to the research of these regularities as well as searching for its Creator.
Many think today that science deriving from the Age of Enlightenment sets us free from religious superstitions and in particular those found in Christianity. It is generally thought that the church while fighting with obstinacy and passion for acceptance of its views became a safe haven for backwardness and ignorance. Could these views be supported if the history of the development of western science is interpreted correctly? The newest historical research of the development of science sheds light on the role that religion played both in slowing and stimulating the development of modern science. It is clear today that the idea of traces of the Creator in nature was an extremely fruitful stimulator of the development of science and technology then and still is today. The proof of that is in the immense development of research connected with the theory of intelligent design, anthropic principle, the theory of irreducible complexity as well as contradictions between the theory of evolution and the theory of information.
The Hevelius Forum in conviction of this that truth prevails and sets free is in favor of enabling the presentation of one’s reasons for different options as well as making possible an honest discussion in the spirit of tolerance and understanding for religious and ideological differences, which are so well seated in the history of multicultural Gdansk.

About Gdansk

  Gdansk - view of the Old Town

Gdansk (also known as Danzig) was first mentioned in 997 in connection with a visit to Pomerania by Saint Wojciech who was a bishop and missionary from Prague. In the following centuries, Slavic Pomeranian dukes resided there. In 1308 the Teutonic Knights captured, through deception, Gdansk and established their rule there. They did not hamper the development of the city. Gdansk joined the Hanseatic Union in 1356, five years after the union was established. The middle-class population from Germany begun to settle here. For a long time the city tried, without effect, to free itself from the rigorous rule of the Teutonic Order.

  Medieval port crane

After the wars between Kingdom of Poland and the State of Teutonic Knights, there was a peace treaty in Torun in 1466. As a result of this Pomerania and Gdansk became incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland. Thanks to the support Gdansk gave to the kingdom in the wars, the city receives numerous privileges and much autonomy. In the following centuries, the dynamic development of Gdansk occurs. This is due to the advantage of Gdansk being located at the mouth of the largest Polish river, the Vistula. Therefore, it derived a great profit from sea trade.Grain was the primary good for trade, and it was sold primarily to the Dutch. At some point in time Gdansk mediated up to 80% of Polish foreign trade. The Gdansk citizens reserved for themselves the exclusive right to trade between the sellers (mainly noblemen from Poland) and the buyers. In the 16th century disputes occurred between the Gdansk citizens and the kings who wanted to derive more benefits from trade. However, the situation did not change.

  A painting in the Gdansk City Hall shows in a symbolical way God's protection over the city

Because of King Sigmund August’s edict in 1557 of religious tolerance, rich residents from Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland and other western European countries came to settle in Gdansk. After the spreading of the idea of the Reformation, a majority of residents in Gdansk converted to Lutheranism. In 1632 the “Gdansk Bible” was published in the Polish language. This was the primary translation used by Protestants in Poland for the next 300 years. In the period of Gdansk’s greatness, it became extremely rich and densely populated. At the beginning of the 17th century there were about 75,000 residents. In the same century Gdansk suffered heavily from the war with Sweden. In the next century, there was a period of decline of Poland’s greatness. During this time Gdansk also bore great loses because of support given to King Stanislaw Leszczynski as well as there was a blockade of the city by Prussia.

  Renaissance-style houses and the City Hall at the Long Market

At the end of the 18th century, during the 2nd partition of Poland, Gdansk became incorporated into Prussia and remained within these borders to the end of World War I. During this time, achievements of civilization slowly reached Gdansk: a railway system, water supply system, sewer system, electricity, trams and gas works. At the beginning of the 20th century, the technical college of Gdansk was established. In 1918 Gdansk’s Pomeranian region became incorporated into Poland, and two years later Gdansk gained independent city status. At that time a spirit of nationalism grew among the German population. It was in Gdansk where the first shot of World War II was fired, at Westerplatte, when a Polish army unit was attacked. Although Gdansk survived most of the war without great losses it became almost totally destroyed by the Red Army.

  Gdansk after the war and after rebuilding

After the war, Poles settled in Gdansk replacing the once dominating German population. Old Town was rebuilt, and Gdansk became an important industrial center. It was here at the Gdansk ship building yard where in 1980 the Solidarity Movement was born. It contributed to the positive democratic changes in this part of Europe.

  Gdansk Shipyard

Gdansk as a powerful trade center was a place where different cultures and world views met. Poles, Kashubians, Germans, Dutch, Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Mennonites, tradesmen, noblemen, townspeople and monks lived next to each other. It was in the best interest of the city to aim at peace and freedom for all. From Gdansk came outstanding scientists like Farenheit, Hevelius and Schoppenhauer and politicians like Lech Walesa.

About Hevelius

  Statue of Johannes Hevelius in Gdansk

John Hevelius was born January 28, 1611 in Gdansk in a Patrician Lutheran family which for generations dealt with the production of beer. In 1618 he began studies in a Gdansk middle school where he took private lessons with Peter Kruger, a mathematics professor in this school, who popularized, in Gdansk, Nepper’s logarithms. John showed abilities in mathematics, painting and manual skills. Professor Kruger introduced Hevelius to astronomy and the construction of scientific instruments.

In 1630 Hevelius began studies in law and economics at the University in Leiden. The study of law did not interest him, but astronomy in Leiden was not of a high quality. In 1631 he went to London and in the following years from 1631-1634 he traveled around France. After returning to Gdansk in 1634, Hevelius became occupied with running a brewery as well as studying municipal law. A year later he married Kathryn Rebeschke. Her dowry included two townhouses with a brewery next door to the Hevelius’ home and brewery. Beginning with his municipal career, John became the representative in the parish of Saint Kathryn. In 1641 he was a member of the city council in his district, the old city of Gdansk. However, in 1651 when he was already a well-known astronomer he became a life-long member of the city council; he was one of five representatives of Old Town.

After the death of his father in 1649, he merged the breweries . On the roofs of the three townhouses he built an observatory. The Hevelius brewery produced a strong, so called Jopenbier. Supposedly it was sold even in England. The first observatory was installed in the attic of Hevelius’ townhouse. There were telescopes which Hevelius cut by his own hand and also quadrants, sextants and octants which are types of instruments used for measuring angular distances between heavenly bodies. Hevelius invented the periscope as well as he built the largest telescope in his time. It was 50 meters in length. John had a passion for observing the moon. The results of his study he published in his book, “Selenographia Sive Lunae Descripto” (Selenographia, that is, a description of the moon) which brought him popularity. In this book he described 550 different holes in the moon giving them names. He calculated also with great exactness and with great accuracy the height of the Moon Mountains. The pope at that time Innocent X recognized Hevelius’ book as a work of heresy.

Hevelius studied sun spots and Mercury as it passed by the shield of the sun, Saturn as well as comets. He created a catalog of stationary stars which included 1888 entries. He distinguished and named new constellations including Lizard, Fox, Hunting Dogs, Lynx and Sextons and Sobieski’s shield which have remained until today. In 1662 Hevelius’ wife died. After a year of mourning, the astronomer married Elizabeth Coopman, she was from a rich merchant’s family. She was a life companion until the end of his life, and she also helped in conducting observations.

  Plaque at the monument Hevelius in Gdansk

Hevelius died on the date of his birth, January 28, 1687, at the age of 76. In 1690 his catalog of stars became published posthumously by his widow.