Catholic civilisation has made a remarkable contribution to the scientific investigation and mapping of the earth, producing great explorers such as Marco Polo (d 1324), Prince Henry the Navigator (d 1460), Bartolomeu Dias (d 1500), Christopher Columbus (d 1506) and Ferdinand Magellan (d 1521). Far from believing that the world was flat (a legend invented in the 19th century), the Catholic world produced the first modern scientific map: Diogo Ribeiro’s Padrón Real (1527). Fr Nicolas Steno (d 1686) was the founder of stratigraphy, the interpretation of rock strata which is one of the principles of geology.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (d 1829), a French Catholic, developed the first theory of evolution, including the notion of the transmutation of species and a genealogical tree. The Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel (d 1884, pictured) founded the science of genetics based on the meticulous study of the inherited characteristics of some 29,000 pea plants.