Featured Creation Scientist for September
In our roll call of great scientists of Christian faith, it would be hard to find a better role model than James Clerk Maxwell.
Just take a look at his report card! His scientific work alone puts him in a triumvirate with
Newton and Einstein, but no matter what other way you examine his life intellect, personality, creativity, wit, work ethic,
Christian character, integrity, breadth and depth of knowledge and accomplishments Maxwell comes out on
top. He pursued science with exuberance, and with grace and charm and unselfishness, giving glory to God.
In his too-brief life of 48 years, Maxwell changed the world.
Do you use a cell phone? A pager? A remote control for
your TV? A radio? Television? You owe these inventions in large part to Maxwell. Radar,
satellite, spacecraft and aircraft communications any and every means of transferring information through thin air
or the vacuum of space, comes out of his work. The inventors of all these devices all built on Maxwells
exceptional discoveries in electromagnetism, discoveries that required the best in experimental method with the
best in mathematics and theory. Maxwell discovered many things, as we shall see, but his crowning achievement
was the summation of all electromagnetic phenomena in four differential equations, appropriately named
Maxwells Equations in his honor.
These equations made an astounding and important prediction: that light itself
was an electromagnetic wave, and through manipulation of electromagnetic waves, it might be possible to transmit
information through empty space. Thus, our modern world. The importance of these equations can
hardly be overstated. Dr. Richard Feynman, Nobel laureate and influential 20th-century modern physicist,
paid his respects this way: From a long view of the history of mankindseen from, say, ten thousand years from now
there can be little doubt that the most significant event of the 19th century will be judged as Maxwells discovery of
the laws of electrodynamics.
And that was only one of Maxwells claims to fame. One biographer described him, a man of immense
intellectual capacity and seemingly inexhaustible energy, he achieved success in many fields, ranging from colour vision
and nature of Saturns rings to thermodynamics and kinetic theory. In a short life he published
a hundred scientific papers and four books. His was perhaps the last generation of scientists to whom so wide a
field of interest was possible: with the rapid increase in knowledge in the latter part of the 19th century specialization became
unavoidable . . . . on any assessment Maxwell stands out conspicuously among a race of giants. How much more
might he not have acheived had his life run a normal span.
Maxwells personality is as captivating as his
equations. He was the kind of fellow you would want to chat with over dinner every chance you could. No matter what the subject, he
would keep you entertained and fascinated for hours.
Most important, Maxwells Christian faith was the core of his being. It guided
his lifes work and personal habits, and motivated him to search out the laws of the great Lawgiver with diligence, as a mission from
God. Thoroughly versed in classic literature and philosophies ancient and modern, Maxwell was uniquely qualified
to speak to science, theology, and philosophyand he did. He was a true Christian in heart as well as mind; he loved the Lord Jesus Christ
with all his heart, mind and soul. And, he knew his
Bible inside and out. Clerk Maxwell opposed any philosophy (like the new Darwinian evolution) that exalted itself against the
God of creation, yet he did it with wit and grace (sometimes even in clever poetry) that earned the attention and respect of all.
Maxwells letters sparkle with a joie de vivre that is infectious, but he also knew hardship and tragedy. At age
eight, he faced a devastating blow for a boy: he watched his mother suffer and die of stomach cancer.
Fortunately, his father, John Clerk Maxwell, filled the emptiness better than most
single parents could. He became his sons dearest mentor and supporter, well into James college years. His fatherly letters reveal his
proud interest in everything his son was doing. Johns expansive Scottish estate at Glenlair (which you can visit on
the Web), provided young James with woods, streams, horses and books enough to fill his sponge-like mind, a repository that could not absorb
enough fast enough.
Playful and jocular, young James would one moment be swinging from trees, tubbing in the
creek, creating his own spinning tops, reading books, or surprising his friends with a frog leaping out of his mouth. All his life
James never tired of a good joke, though his humor became much more sophisticated at Cambridge
To his university colleagues he would sign his postcards dp/dt, which being
translated in the language of mathematical physics, became JCMhis initials. Sometimes he would write
backwards, or pose puzzles or riddles for his friends. His writing is peppered with Latin, Greek, French, and German quotes. His best wit can be found in his poems. Early on in grammar school, Maxwell
also became quite the poet. He was often known to slip his latest verse to a friend, his wife, or to a philosophical
rival. Many of these make excellent reading and allow us to peer into his soul.
The Scottish schools of Maxwells youth were old-fashioned. Instead of building self-esteem,
they forced students to learn Latin, Greek, and classic literature. Good thing, because
Maxwells grasp of history, philosophy, and rhetoric served him well as a writer,
professor, scholar, and defender of Christianity. As a young student at Cambridge, Maxwell once wrote Lewis Campbell that he intended to plow up all the secret
hiding places of philosophy and world religions, the sacred plots their owners want you to tiptoe around. Not Maxwell; he was going to charge in and
investigate whether their claims could stand up to scrutiny. And he was unafraid to apply the same rule to the Bible. He
said, Christianitythat is, the religion of the Bibleis the only scheme or form of belief which disavows any possessions
on such a tenure. Here alone all is free. You may fly to the ends of the world and find no God but the Author of Salvation.
You may search the Scriptures and not find a text to stop you in your explorations. Christianity, to Maxwell, was not stifling to the
scientist or truth seeker; it was liberating.
At age 22, Maxwell graduated at the top of his class at Trinity College, the
Second Wrangler (tied for the highest grade), and Smiths prizeman.
In those arduous days of preparing for the Cambridge final exams, the toughest in the world,
he composed a ten-verse poem, A Students Evening Hymn.
He must have taken a moment away from the intense pressure of studies to go outside a watch a sunset.
As the stars came out and reminded him of Gods great power in creation, he pondered the big picture
of his life and priorities, and put his thoughts into verse.
This gem of poetic worship and supplication, long forgotten after 148 years, we have
reproduced here and set it to a new original melody.
These eloquent lines can be seen as an encapsulation of Maxwells purpose in life.
He never deviated from these sentiments, even through his final, greatest trial.
Graduation opened the door to a 26-year career in science characterized by a series of exceptional
discoveries, culminating in his famous equations. Maxwell became a Cambridge scholar par
excellence, always humble and devout, and loved and admired by his colleagues. He was close
friends with Peter Guthrie Tait, the father of vector calculus, Michael Faraday, and Lord Kelvin. He
served as professor at Kings College and Trinity, but always kept close ties to Glenlair, his home for life.
At age 27, he married Katherine Mary Dewar. Though described by some as a difficult woman and
frequently ill, Katherine was this model husbands target of loyalty and love, though they bore no children. Some of
his love letters and poems have survived, including Bible studies they shared, in which Maxwells deep
understanding of and reverence for the Scriptures is manifest. Through their married life, they
attended church faithfully where the Word of God was preached, supported their church, and walked their
talk. Clerk Maxwell even took time out of his busy schedule to teach poor working men science, to give
them a chance at a better life than the dismal factories that enslaved them.
Always the lover of wisdom,
his many letters, essays, lectures and articles are both deep and cheerful, and, however they traverse the
theories of the day, always lead back to the wisdom of God. Maxwell stood firmly against the creeping
atheistic Darwinism that got its foothold in the scientific establishment, but was perhaps too much the
gentleman. We have good statements by him on the matter of evolution, but with hindsight of the
atrocities committed in the name of Darwinism in the next century,
we could only wish that Maxwell, Kelvin and Faraday had spoken out even more firmly than they did.
Perhaps it would not have made a difference, but this is perhaps the only criticism that can be made against
these great Christian heroes of science.
Maxwells scientific work was varied and colorful.
When a contest for the Adams Prize was announced, Maxwell took up the challenge and set to
explain the nature of Saturns rings. His 60-page analysis, filled with recondite mathematical logic,
proved that the rings must be made of separately orbiting particles following their own Keplerian orbits.
Along with the paper he provided a
mechanical model of how the ring particles orbit the planet. He easily won the prize, but the real
honor came 150 years later when the Voyager 1 spacecraft visited Saturn and verified his theoretical proof with
direct observations. Maxwell also explained color vision and demonstrated a technique for color photography,
taking the first color photograph by combining monochomatic images taken through filters with the three primary
In addition to being the father of electrodynamics, Maxwell was the father of statistical
thermodynamics and kinetic theory, which deals with the aggregate motion of large numbers of particles.
He thus gave thermodynamics a firm foundation in mechanics. A puzzle he left for future theoreticians came
to be known as Maxwells demon. He surmised that it might be possible to violate the
Second Law of thermodynamics and separate hot from cold molecules in a gas if you had a little man at a trap door
able to sort them out as they flew by. Later physicists proved that the entropy of the little man would more
than compensate for the ordering of the molecules, thus the Second Law would not be violated.
Maxwell and Faraday gave us our modern world of motors, radio, and telecommunications; they complemented
each other perfectly. Where Faraday was weak in mathematics and theory, Maxwell excelled. Maxwell
took the results of Faradays years of experimentation with magnets and wires and organized them into his
famous four equations. This was a monumental step, requiring years of analysis, thought, experimentation,
insight, and genius, culminating in the publication of his 1873 Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.
Here is a case of one little item starting a revolution: in the fourth equation, Maxwell (through theory and experiment)
added a term to Amperes Law (a law which relates the magnetic effect of a changing electric field or of a
current) he called the displacement current i. Such a little
thing, the letter i; what does it mean? It means, as he wrote, light consists in the transverse undulations of the same
medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena.
Thus, he unified light with electricity
and magnetism, and formed the theoretical basis for radio, TV, radar, and all the spinoffs of these technologies such
as remote controls, spacecraft telemetry and cell phones which poured like gold from Maxwells Equations in
the years after his death. Concerning these equations, Ludwig Boltzmann (quoting from Goethe) remarked,
Was it a god who wrote these lines . . . J. R. Pierce, in a chapter titled Maxwells
Wonderful Equations, wrote, To anyone who is motivated by anything beyond the most narrowly
practical, it is worth while to understand Maxwells Equations simply for the good of his soul. A
college physics textbook states, The scope of these equations is remarkable, including as it does the fundamental
operating principles of all large-scale electromagnetic devices such as motors, synchrotrons, television, and
microwave radar. Interestingly, Maxwells Equations needed no revision when Einstein published
his theories of relativity 40 years later, but Newtons laws did. Maxwells Equations already had
relativity built in they are invariant in all frames of reference. Truly remarkable. Engineers
frequently use these wonderful equations in the most advanced work today.
In his forties, Maxwell devoted himself to building the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge, named for the pioneering
physicist who in 1798 first measured the gravitational constant G. This laboratory was destined to become
the hub of many major discoveries in atomic and nuclear physics in the coming century. But by 1879, Maxwell became
ill. Hiding his discomfort so as not to worry his wife and his colleagues, he continued working until it was too late;
he was diagnosed with the same stomach cancer that had taken his mothers life forty years earlier.
Throughout his ordeal, Maxwells thoughts were only for others, especially for his wife Katherine. As grieving friends and pastors
visited him in his sick bed, Maxwell would quote Scripture and Christian poems from memory.
His faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ was his great consolation that eternity lay before him as a joyous entrance to heaven.
Tributes poured in after James Clerk Maxwells death; not diminishing his scientific achievements, however, Dr. Butler at the funeral
focused on his spiritual side: . . . we may well give thanks to God that our friend was what he was, a firm Christian believer, and that his
powerful mind, aftger ranging at will through the illimitable spaces of Creation, and almost handling what he called the foundation
stones of the material universe, found its true rest and happiness in the love and the mercy of Him whom the humblest Christian calls
his Father. Of such a man it may be truly said that he had his citizenship in heaven, and that he looked for, as a Savior, the Lord
Jesus Christ, through whom the unnumbered worlds were made, and in the likeness of whose image our new and spiritual body will be
To get a true glimpse at the spirit of Maxwell, you need to read his own writings. We will provide samples of his best wit and
wisdom here soon, but could only whet your appetite. In the meantime, see if you can find a copy of Lewis
Campbells 1883 biography The Life of James Clerk Maxwell. May the
testimony of James Clerk Maxwell, and other great Christians in science like him, inspire a new generation to fulfill their calling
with similar zeal, humility, joy, and dedication. Maxwell expressed his work ethic in these profound words:
Happy is the man who can recognise in the work of To-day a connected portion of the work of life, and an
embodiment of the work of Eternity. The foundations of his confidence are unchangeable, for he has been made a partaker
of Infinity. He strenuously works out his daily enterprises, because the present is given him for a possession.
Thus ought Man to be an impersonation of the divine process of nature, and to show forth the union of the infinite
with the finite, not slighting his temporal existence, remembering that in it only is individual action possible, nor yet shutting out from
his view that which is eternal, knowing that Time is a mystery which man cannot endure to contemplate until eternal Truth enlighten it.
For more information on James Clerk Maxwell and other great Christians in science,
see our online book:
The Worlds Greatest
Creation Scientists from 1000 to 2000 A.D.
Copies are also
available from our online store.