Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)

Sir David Brewster, permission from the Free Church, © Hollie McIntosh

David Brewster was born in Jedburgh, Scotland, and at the age of 12 went to Edinburgh University. In 1813 he submitted a paper to the Royal Society on scientific instruments and on the evidence of 200 substances that can refract or disperse light. The result was that he was made a fellow of this Society in 1815 and he won many awards for his scientific work. He is particularly remembered for what we call Brewster’s Law, which led to the invention of laser technology later. ‘Brewster’s Law showed that a beam of light can be split into reflected and refracted portions at right angles to each other, both beams retaining full polarization.’ (Dan Graves, Scientists of Faith, p.94, Kregel Resources, ©1996)

Brewster was a tireless supporter of science in education and of setting up financial provision for scientists and was a key person in establishing the British Association for the Advancement of Science with his friend, Rev William Vernon Harcourt. Amongst his other scientific work was the invention of the kaleidoscope and the improvement of the stereoscope. He also helped to develop the science of producing photographic images on paper. Brewster’s scientific endeavours led to a knighthood.

He grew up as a dedicated Christian, firstly in the Church of Scotland, and then in the Free Church in 1843, and was a licensed preacher. He would often rise early to pray and he was convinced of the truth of the Bible and disagreed with Darwinism. Concerning his certainty of Christ he said, ‘It can’t be presumption to be SURE [of our forgiveness] because it is Christ’s work, not ours; on the contrary, it is presumption to doubt His word and work.’Before he died he said, ‘I shall see Jesus, and that will be grand. I shall see Him who made the worlds.’ (ibid, p.95).