Christian Mathematicians – Milner

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.)

Very Reverend Dr. Isaac Milner (1750-1820)

Very Reverend Dr. Isaac Milner (1750-1820) was born to a working class family in Mabgate, Leeds. His father was a coal miner. He later became the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge, a post held by Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage, George Stokes, P.A. M. Dirac, Stephen Hawking and today, by the eighteenth holder, Micahel B. Green.

In 1774 he graduated from Cambridge as senior wrangler – best of year in mathematics. He was ordained in 1775. He was elected to be a member of the Royal Society in 1776 and then in 1788 he became President of Queens’ College, Cambridge (1788-1820), despite being an evangelical. Evangelicals at the time were regarded with great suspicion. From 1798-1820 he was the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge.

Milner had a lifelong friendship with the Christian abolitionist and Member of Parliament William Wilberforce. In 1784 Wilberforce asked Milner to accompany him on a tour of Europe. It was this tour that shaped Wilberforce’s’ mind. Milner also acted as an advisor to the influential evangelical Christian Clapham Sect (a sect in name but not nature) to which Wilberforce belonged. The group was formed by Henry Venn, the great grandfather father of John Venn (of the diagram fame).

In 1792 in poor health he took up the role of the Dean of Carlisle University until his death. Milner was the first evangelical to be appointed to the staff of a cathedral.

He co-authored with his brother Joseph the important work The History of the Church of Christ.

Milner requested that his many personal papers and journal entries were burned after his death. Fortunately, his great niece Mary managed to utilise many of these resources before they were destroyed in his biography.


Melaas-Swanson, Barbara J. (1993) “The Life and Thought of the Very Reverend Dr Isaac Milner and His Contribution to the Evangelical Revival in England” PhD Thesis University of Durham.

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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