Christian Mathematicians – Nightingale

By Steve Bishop

(Disclaimer: The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Guest articles are sought after for the purpose of bringing more diverse viewpoints to the topics of mathematics and theology. The point is to foster discussion. To this end respectful and constructive comments are highly encouraged.)

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence to a family of high standing. Her family were there as part of a grand tour of Europe. She shocked them by wanting to become a nurse. She felt called into that service by God.  She is perhaps best remembered as the “lady of the lamp.”

In 1854 she went to serve as a nurse in Sutari during Crimea War. As a result of her work the death rate in war hospitals fell from 42% to 2%. She did this by collecting data; she was a good statistician. She pioneered the idea that social phenomenon could be quantified. She declared:

“To understand God’s thoughts, we must study statistics for these are the measure of His purpose.”

For her there was no conflict between faith and statistics. She was elected to membership of the Statistical Society of England in 1858. Karl Pearson is alleged to have called her a ‘prophetess’ of statistics. In 1874 she was made an honorary member of the American Statistical Association.

Her data collection and statistical analysis changed the nursing profession. She provides a great example of how mathematics can be a useful tool in stewarding the creation.

She was the originator of coxcombs, a polar area diagram – the forerunner of the pie chart. She used it to show the causes of mortality during the Crimea war.


 Further information on Nightingale is available here:

Steve Bishop is the compiler of A Bibliography for a Christian Approach to Mathematics and the author of several articles on the relationship between faith and math. Look for future posts from him in this series on Christian Mathematicians.

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