John Ray

John Ray
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Early Life and Education:

Born November 29, 1627 - Died January 17, 1705

John Ray was born on November 29, 1627 to a blacksmith father and an herbalist mother in the town of Black Notley, Essex, England. Growing up, John was said to have spent a lot of time at his mother's side as she collected plants and used them to heal the sick. Spending so much time in nature at an early age sent John on his path to become known as the "Father of English Naturalists".

John was a very good student at Braintree school and soon enrolled at Cambridge University at the age of 16 in 1644. Since he was from a poor family and could not afford the tuition for the prestigious college, he worked as a servant to the Trinity College staff to pay off his fees. In five short years, he was employed by the college as a fellow and then became a full-fledged lecturer in 1651.

Personal Life:

Most of John Ray's young life was spent studying nature, lecturing, and working toward becoming a clergyman in the Anglican Church. In 1660, John became an ordained priest in the Church. This led him to reconsider his work at Cambridge University and he ended up leaving the college because of conflicting beliefs between his Church and the University.

When he made the decision to leave the University, he was supporting himself and his now widowed mother. John had trouble making ends meet until a former student of his asked Ray to join him in various research projects that the student funded. John ended up making many trips through Europe gathering specimens to study. He conducted some research on anatomy and physiology of humans, as well as studied plants, animals, and even rocks. This work afforded him the opportunity to join the prestigious Royal Society of London in 1667.

John Ray finally married at the age of 44, just before the death of his research partner. However, Ray was able to continue the research he started thanks to a provision in his partner's will that would continue to fund the research they had started together. He and his wife had four daughters together.


Even though John Ray was a staunch believer in the hand of God in the changing of a species, his great contributions to the field of Biology were very influential in Charles Darwin's initial Theory of Evolution through Natural Selection. John Ray was the first person to publish a widely accepted definition of the word species. His definition made it clear that any seed from the same plant was the same species, even if it had different traits. He was also a fierce opponent of spontaneous generation and often wrote on the subject about how it was an atheist's made up nonsense.

Some of his most famous books cataloged all of the plants he had been studying over the years. Many believe his works to be the beginnings of the taxonomic system later created by Carolus Linnaeus.

John Ray did not believe that his faith and his science contradicted each other in any way. He wrote many works reconciling the two. He supported the idea that God created all living things and then changed them over time. There were no accidental changes in his view and all were guided by God. This is similar to the current idea of Intelligent Design.

Ray continued his research until he died on January 17, 1705.


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Scoville, Heather. "John Ray." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Scoville, Heather. (2023, April 5). John Ray. Retrieved from Scoville, Heather. "John Ray." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).