John Ray (November 29, 1627 – January 17, 1705) was an English naturalist, sometimes referred to as the father of English natural history. Until 1670, he wrote his name as John Wray. From then on, he used 'Ray', 'having ascertained that such had been the practice of his family before him.'
He published important works on plants, animals, and natural theology. His classification of plants in his Historia Plantarum, was an important step towards modern taxonomy. Ray rejected the system of dichotomous division by which species were classified according to a pre-conceived, either/or type system, and instead classified plants according to similarities and differences that emerged from observation. Thus he advanced scientific empiricism against the deductive rationalism of the scholastics. He coined the term species.
John Ray was born in the village of Black Notley, near Braintree, in the county of Essex, in the south east of England. He is said to have been born in the smithy, his father having been the village blacksmith. From Braintree school he was sent at the age of sixteen to Cambridge University: at first admitted to Trinity College, he migrated to Catharine Hall after a month, and returned to Trinity College after about one year and three-quarters. His tutor at Trinity was James Duport, Regius Professor of Greek, and his intimate friend and fellow-pupil the celebrated Isaac Barrow. Ray was chosen minor fellow of Trinity in 1649, and in due course became a major fellow on proceeding to the master's degree. He held many college offices, becoming successively lecturer in Greek (1651), mathematics (1653),and humanity (1655), praelector (1657), junior dean (1657), and college steward (1659 and 1660); and according to the habit of the time, he was accustomed to preach in his college chapel and also at Great St Mary's before the university, long before he took holy orders. Among his sermons preached before his ordination, which was not till the 23 December 1660, were the famous discourses on The Wisdom of God in the Creation, and on Deluge and Dissolution of the World. Ray's reputation was high also as a tutor; and he communicated his own passion for natural history to several pupils, of whom Francis Willughby is by far the most famous.