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From Y1K to Y2K

by David F. Coppedge
c. 2000 David F. Coppedge, Master Plan Productions

Natural Philosophy Reaches Its Zenith

Mathematicians: NapierEulerRiemann

Science as a practical outworking of theology continued well into the 19th century.  During this period, especially in the British empire, some of the most eminent scientists in history gained fundamental understanding of the workings of nature.  Their scientific triumphs had incalculable effects on technology, industry and human health.  Several of these men were not even scientists by training (Joule, Faraday) but stood head and shoulders above their contemporaries.  Midway through the 19th century, Darwinism began its ascendency.  The scientists we will highlight here, and a number of others not known to be Christians, resisted the new movement with its naturalistic ramifications.

While the names of these great natural philosophers will be familiar to the educated, not many in schools ever learn about the theological motivations behind their discoveries.  These are great stories that should be shared!  They are wonderful role models for the young.  They are stories of adventure, adversity, perseverance, and triumph.  Read on – be encouraged – enjoy!

  Michael Faraday     1791 - 1867 

Aldous Huxley was once asked what historical person’s life he would most like to relive.  His answer was Michael Faraday.  Everybody loves Faraday.  It’s hard to find any negative comment about him.  His was a Cinderella story, the embodiment of a Horatio Alger novel, with plenty of human interest that makes for a satisfying plot.  But it’s not just a good story; it was a life that changed the world.  Faraday was a “nobody” who trusted God, applied himself, and succeeded – to his own amazement – beyond his dreams.  He became the world’s greatest experimental physicist.  To this day he is often admired as such, notwithstanding the ultra-tech toys modern chemists and physicists have at their disposal.  The president of the Institution for Electrical Engineers (IEE), for instance, at the unveiling of a Michael Faraday statue in 1989, said, “His discoveries have had an incalculable effect on subsequent scientific and technical development.  He was a true pioneer of scientific discovery.”

Faraday enraptured audiences with his public demonstrations.  He discovered some of the most important laws of physics and chemistry, discoveries which revolutionized the world economy.  But none of this mattered to him as much as one thing: his Christian faith.  He would rather be praying and studying the Bible with his fellow church members than be at an awards ceremony or have audience with royalty.  Steadfast and humble, Faraday remained absolutely committed to Biblical truth from early childhood throughout his long life.  He would have been considered a “fundamentalist” Christian, had the term existed in his day.  Nothing, not even the rising tide of skepticism in Britain leading up to the Darwinian revolution, shook his confidence in the word of God.  And Faraday was not one to ever hear a snicker from skeptics; he was too highly esteemed for that.  His contemporaries would have concurred with the praise Lord Rutherford expressed in 1931, 64 years after his death: “The more we study the work of Faraday with the perspective of time, the more we are impressed by his unrivalled genius as an experimenter and natural philosopher.  When we consider the magnitude and extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and industry, there is no honor too great to pay to the memory of Michael Faraday—one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time.”

Start listing the things that run on electric motors – automobiles, fans, clocks, airplanes, pumps, vacuum cleaners, and so much more – and you begin to get a hint of what Faraday’s work brought forth.  Add to the list generators, transformers, electrolysis devices, electromagnets, and many other products of his lab, and Faraday’s importance to the history of science and technology starts to come into focus.  It has been said that the wealth generated by the inventions based on Faraday’s discoveries exceed the value of the British stock exchange.  This is probably an understatement.  Yet Faraday remained a modest, unpretentious soul who never sought financial profit from his work.  He accepted a cottage from the government in his senior years, but rebuffed honors.  When the queen wanted to knight him, he declined, wishing to remain plain old Mr.†Faraday to the end.  The glory of Jesus Christ was the only reward he sought.

This series on scientist Christians (too bad we cannot reverse the order of the terms, no thanks to Mary Baker Eddy) has a recurring theme: circumstances are not the sole determiner of success.  There have been some who came from well-to-do families (Boyle, Joule) but others (Newton, Kepler, Carver) seemed to have everything against them.  Teachers should take note that a child from a poverty-stricken family and a bad neighborhood might turn out to be the next Michael Faraday.  “Man looks on the outward appearance,” Samuel reminded Jesse, the father of a ruddy shepherd boy destined to become King David, “but God looks on the heart.”  The most precious gift a poor mother and father can give their children is an example of faith, diligence, and godliness.  The Faraday household had little of this world’s goods, but they had the intangible treasures of God’s Word.  The centrality of worship in their life made them resolutely confident in the sovereignty and grace of God.  Michael gained from his faith a sense of purpose and drive and fortitude to withstand the rigors of life.  He developed values that subjugated worldly passions and promoted honorable work.  And for the benefit of science, his faith provided curiosity about God’s creation and a deep belief in the unity of nature.  As we will see, this belief steered him right toward his most fundamental discoveries.

In this regard, young Michael Faraday was a rich child, even though outwardly his clothes were shabby, his shoes were worn out with holes, and he knew hunger.  His father, a blacksmith, became an invalid and went for extended periods without work.  More than once Michael was given a loaf of bread by his mother and told it needed to last him a week.  The boy had to learn how to work hard and bear responsibility at an early age.  Properly understood and applied, these challenges can build character: Jeremiah said, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth” (Lam. 3:27).  Faraday was living proof of that.  Rather than turn him into a thief or vagabond, hardships and deprivation instilled in Michael an appreciation for the few good things he had, a desire to succeed, and a deep hunger for knowledge.  That hunger began to be satisfied when he took a job as an apprentice bookbinder at the age of 13.

Prior to his apprenticeship, he had attained only the rudiments of education through Sunday school: reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Though math would never be his strong point, he learned good penmanship, mastered writing and note-taking, and was a voracious reader.  In the print shop, he often read the books that were to be bound.  At first, his boss found him wasting his time on fiction, and urged him instead to read things of real value.  To his credit, Faraday accepted the advice and began reading articles on science.  A book on chemistry attracted his attention so much, he began imitating the experiments.  When he read in Encyclopedia Britannica about the new discoveries being made about electricity, including Volta’s new invention that could supply a constant current, he was so fascinated, he cobbled parts from around the shop, including bottles, rags and clamps, and made his own Voltaic pile, a recently-invented battery; with this and jars he purchased with meager savings, he made his own capacitor and electrostatic generator.

Around this time, Faraday was also strongly influenced by a book written by the English hymnwriter Isaac Watts, author of such famous hymns as O God, Our Help In Ages Past, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, Jesus Shall Reign and Joy to the World.  The book was entitled The Improvement of the Mind.  Michael resolved to discipline himself by reading profitable books, taking good notes at important occasions, and observing the habits of influential people.  These helped to fill in deficiencies from his substandard schooling.  Whenever he could, he asked friends and acquaintances to help him with grammar, spelling and punctuation.  He also began attending scientific lectures and formed friendships with other like-minded young men eager to improve their circumstances.

Michael dreamt of becoming a scientist, but felt confined by his poverty and lack of education to a shopkeeper’s vocation.  His mother and family members depended on his income, even more so when his father passed away when he was 19.  By now he was a journeyman bookbinder working for Mr. Riebau, a French businessman.  One day, he was given a stub of paper that was to become the ticket to his dreams: free passes to four scientific lectures at the Royal Institution by one of Britain’s most eminent scientists, Sir Humphry Davy.

The Royal Institution was a showcase of science built in 1799 by Benjamin Thompson (1753-1814), an eccentric but intelligent philanthropist born in Massachusetts, who became Count Rumford in Bavaria before moving to London (later to marry Lavoisier’s widow in France).  He designed the Royal Institution, a combination research laboratory, library and lecture hall, as a showcase of applied science.  It contained one of the largest Voltaic piles of the era.  Well stocked with chemicals, wire and magnets, it was the place to learn physical science in London.  Humphry Davy, famous for inventing the miner’s safety lamp, was an early experimenter with electrolysis and used it to discover six elements: potassium, sodium, calcium, strontium, barium, and magnesium.  Davy was another Christian man of science.  Henry Morris summarized his testimony: “he was a Bible-believing Christian, highly altruistic and generous, though not as spiritually minded and patient as was Faraday.  He was also a poet and, for a while, something of a Christian mystic.  In his declining years, however, he returned to Biblical Christianity and found peace therein.” (Men of Science, Men of God, p. 38).

Sir Davy’s public lectures at the Royal Institution were very popular and brought in revenue from wealthy patrons (since it relied on subscribers).  One can imagine how Faraday, now a young man and well read in chemistry and electricity, would have longed to hear Davy.  He had already been attending Wednesday night meetings of the City Philosophical Society, a group of working men interested in science.  He kept voluminous notes of these meetings, which his boss often showed off to customers.  One customer was so impressed, he gave Michael free tickets to four lectures by Sir Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution.  The year was 1812; Faraday was now 21.  He came early with ample note-taking materials and sat on the front row.

Spellbound by all Davy presented on stage, Faraday wrote down everything, recopied it neatly at home, and bound it into a book 386 pages long.  Months went by as Faraday continued to dream of becoming a scientist like Davy.  His apprenticeship over, he took a job as a bookbinder across town, but found the business tedious and unsatisfying.  He took a bold step.  He wrote to Davy and asked for a job.  With his request, he enclosed a bound volume of notes he had taken at the lectures.  Davy’s reply was polite, but disappointing; there were no positions available.  In October of that year, Davy was temporarily blinded by an explosion in the laboratory.  Faraday managed to become his secretary for a few days, but when Davy recovered, there were still no positions available.

A carriage pulled in front of Michael’s home one evening with a letter from Davy.  Excitedly, Michael tore it open.  It was a summons to appear at the Royal Institution the next day!  Davy’s assistant had just been dismissed for involvement in a brawl, so now a position was available, and Davy had not forgotten the eager young man.  Davy had discovered many things, but as he later admitted, his greatest discovery was Faraday.

It would require a substantial pay cut to take the job, but Michael enthusiastically accepted.  His position at first was little more than janitor: washing bottles, setting up for lectures, keeping records, repairing things, and assisting the master as needed.  But to have the opportunity to learn at the feet of one of the greatest scientists in England was a science education par excellence for the disadvantaged young man.  Faraday applied himself diligently.  He learned everything he could, keeping detailed notes, studying books in the evening, and working long hours willingly.  In short order, Michael became the equal of any chemist in the world.  What’s more, in 1813, Davy invited him on come along as his personal secretary on a tour of Europe, including Italy, Switzerland, Holland and Germany, for a year and a half.  Faraday had the opportunity to meet some of the most important scientists on the continent, including Volta and Ampere.  It was not always easy; the talkative and snobbish Mrs. Davy had the habit of treating Michael like a servant, but overall, the experience was an invaluable supplement to Faraday’s ongoing education.

Faraday was like a kid in a toy shop at the Royal Institution.  His experiments are legendary.  Encyclopedia Britannica summarizes some of his important discoveries:

Faraday, who became one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century, began his career as a chemist.  He wrote a manual of practical chemistry that reveals the mastery of the technical aspects of his art, discovered a number of new organic compounds, among them benzene, and was the first to liquefy a “permanent” gas (i.e., one that was believed to be incapable of liquefaction).  His major contribution, however, was in the field of electricity and magnetism.  He was the first to produce an electric current from a magnetic field, invented the first electric motor and dynamo, demonstrated the relation between electricity and chemical bonding, discovered the effect of magnetism on light, and discovered and named diamagnetism, the peculiar behaviour of certain substances in strong magnetic fields.  He provided the experimental, and a good deal of the theoretical, foundation upon which James Clerk Maxwell erected classical electromagnetic field theory.
This summary conceals decades of hard work, and many lonely yet adventurous days and nights in the laboratory.  Sometimes Faraday used his tongue as a voltmeter or chemical taster, and explosions were not uncommon.  But he was a stickler for accuracy, kept good records, and published faithfully.  “Work, finish, publish” was his motto, as he constantly strove to explore the frontiers of physical science.

Michael also developed skill in the art of lecturing.  Understanding his responsibility to his audience, he made it a personal project to determine the most effective techniques for holding an audience’s interest and giving them a satisfying and edifying hour in the lecture hall.  Within a decade of his employment by Davy, Faraday had exceeded his master in eminence.  He was now a skilled lecturer, well-known experimentalist, and published scientist, with many major papers to his credit.  He was also a married man, having wed Sarah Barnard, a member of his church, in June, 1821.  By 1824, this self-educated bookbinder was elected to the Royal Society, and the following year succeeded Sir Humphry Davy as Director of the Royal Institution.

The Faradays lived upstairs at the Royal Institution for forty years.  Michael would usually work long hours at his lab in the basement, where Sarah would often bring him dinner.  She never pretended to understand his research (which was fine for Michael, because she could be the “pillow for his mind” after long hours focused on experiments), but the two of them loved each other deeply and faithfully all their lives.  It was their deepest misfortune not to have children of their own, since both were fond of children.  The disappointment was partially assuaged by the presence of two nieces who came to live with them.  Though not opposed to socializing, Michael was most content to be working at experiments in his laboratory; experiments were “beautiful things,” he felt, and they provided the confidence he needed in his investigations of the laws of nature.  So confident was he in nature’s laws, he once performed a risky experiment with himself as the subject.  He built a twelve-foot-square metallic cage and charged it so high with static electricity that lightning-like sparks leaped off the sides.  To prove that the electric field on a conducting surface resides only on the exterior, he went inside the cage to verify the absence of any detectable field in the interior.

Michael made some of his most important discoveries in the early years of their marriage.  These included the physical foundations of the electric motor, generator and transformer.  Many consider his crowning achievement the discovery of electromagnetic induction, the production of a steady electric current from the mechanical action of a magnet.  (This principle was apparently discovered simultaneously and independently by Joseph Henry in America, another committed Christian, but Faraday published it first.)  This became the foundation of the electric dynamo or generator, a new source of cheap energy that was to outpace the steam engine in the coming years and revolutionize the world energy economy.

Though known primarily as the great experimentalist, Faraday also possessed outstanding theoretical insight.  His concept of an electromagnetic field, the idea that space was permeated with energy that followed lines of force (as demonstrated by the common children’s experiment with iron filings aligned by a magnet on a sheet of paper), was revolutionary in its day.  It provided the fruitful insight that Maxwell later rigorously developed into his four laws of electrodynamics.

Since Faraday lived on a meager salary and the Royal Institution was often strapped for funds, most of his epochal discoveries were made with clever contraptions he devised himself out of inexpensive materials.  Hermann von Helmholtz remarked, “A few wires and some old bits of wood and iron seem to serve him for the greatest discoveries.”  The breadth of fundamental discoveries this math-challenged, poorly-paid, self-taught scientist made continues to astonish historians today.  (For a good review of his work, with illustrations, see John Meurig Thomas, Michael Faraday and the Royal Institution, ch. 4).  His work in chemistry alone would have made him famous; add to that electromagnetism, electrolysis, diamagnetism, paramagnetism, field theory, acoustics, light, and more, and his lifetime record stands unexcelled.  He is the only physicist with two international units named after him: the faraday (a unit of electrical quantity) and the farad (a unit of capacitance).  He is also remembered for the Faraday effect (the influence of magnetism on polarized light) and Faraday’s laws of electrolysis.  Each of these had immense practical application that were soon exploited by entrepreneurs.

Added to his experimental fame, Michael Faraday’s public lectures and stage demonstrations set a high standard that influenced many who followed, and continues at the Royal Institution to this day.  As a popularizer of science, Faraday is emulated but rarely surpassed.  How he managed to design and execute so many Friday Night Lectures at the Royal Institution, each thoroughly planned and rehearsed, illustrated with experiments usually of his own making, is remarkable, considering how busy he was and how little he earned.  One of his most poignant legacies was the annual Christmas Lectures for children.  Adults had to stand in the back as the children got all the front seats for these delightful events.  Faraday could keep the young audience in rapt attention as he made the ordinary seem extraordinary.  His most popular Christmas Lecture series was called The Chemical History of a Candle, which, transcribed into book form, remains a classic today (there have been 70 Japanese editions alone).  Faraday could take a simple household object, a candle, and draw out of it all the diverse wonders of nature.  That’s a prime illustration of Muir’s Law: “Any time we try to isolate something by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

What turns a poor young man into the world’s greatest experimental scientist?  What separated Michael Faraday from the other poor boys of his neighborhood?  Undoubtedly, his Christian faith was the biggest factor.  His parents grounded him in the Biblical world view.  Historians find it intriguing that Faraday, a scientist, remained so loyal to his church all his life.  The Faradays were “Nonconformists,” in that they rejected the official state church, with its high church liturgy (and social acceptance), preferring instead to meet in small groups to study the Bible and obey the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Puritanism and Methodism are other examples of Nonconformist groups; John Dalton, Joseph Priestly and Joseph Henry were also scientists of nonconformist faith.  The Faraday family belonged to a denomination known as the Sandemanians, a breakaway sect from the Scottish Presbyterian church, founded a century earlier by John Glas.  The name Sandemanian comes from his son-in-law, Robert Sandeman, who became the leader.  The Sandemanian church was basically a “back-to-the-Bible” movement.  Critical of the traditions the high church had added to the Scripture, and the corruption that often ensued, they sought to return to the primitive, apostolic Christianity of the New Testament.  Some distinctives of their worship included a plurality of elders, closed communion, foot washing, reading of Scripture and long prayers.  Members were treated as equals, with no division between clergy and laity.  They frowned on wealth accumulation and other forms of worldliness, and extolled humility, simplicity, and charity.  Their services and fellowship meals took up a good part of each Sunday.  Faithful attendance on the Lord’s Day and at Wednesday night prayer meetings was expected, especially for elders (Faraday lost his eldership for missing church to visit with the queen; only after a period of contrition over his lack of priorities was his position restored.)

How could such worship habits, seemingly so devoid of scientific interest, influence the lab work of a young scientist?  This topic is explored by Jack Meadows in a sidebar of his chapter on Faraday in The Great Scientists, entitled “Nonconformist Religion and Science” (p. 135).  “The growth of modern science overlapped the dramatic religious changes of the Reformation,” he begins.  Though he admits the connection between these developments is sometimes obscure, he points out some features of Nonconformism that contributed to scientific endeavor and produced some of the greatest scientists from the ranks of Nonconformists.  For one thing, Nonconformists were social outcasts to one degree or another; though often tolerated, they had been been through severe waves of persecution at times (one only has to remember the Pilgrims leaving all to sail to the New World primarily for religious freedom; later, Robert Sandeman also immigrated to America because of religious pressure in England).  This kind of treatment harked back to the Reformation itself, a nonconformist tradition of the first order; yet when some Protestant churches became the new establishment, new reformers often felt compelled to break away.  In so doing, they suffered some of the same reproaches endured by the early Reformers (Here is where you can use that longest word in the English language, antidisestablishmentarianism).  This much is attributable to human social weakness (the “us vs. them” mentality), but often the outcast group, now on the defensive, becomes the more eager to delineate their positions, and the more motivated for change – attitudes that sometimes can reap positive results in other areas. 

Secondly, as outcasts, they were rugged individualists.  Nonconformists were often subject to legal restrictions.  They were prevented from attending the state schools and universities, intertwined as those institutions were with the state church.  One result of this was a fresh infusion of new attitudes and nontraditional methods in education.  Nonconformists developed “dissenting academies,” whose “curriculum was much wider than in traditional schools and universities,” Meadows explains; “in particular, it contained a significant science component.... The dissenting academies became an important seedbed of science.”

But why would religious people concerned about imitating the early church care about science?  This is where Meadows draws the most pertinent connection: “Many of the Nonconformist sects continued to hold a favorable view of science and technology, and the industrial revolution in England in the 18th century owed a great deal to them.”  He doesn’t mention it explicitly, but this favorable view of science could only have been derived from a commitment to the Biblical doctrine of creation.  A conviction that God created a world of order, beauty and purpose, operating under His natural law, gives impetus to scientific endeavor; for that reason, “It is not surprising that a person of Faraday’s Nonconformist background should develop an interest in science.”  Add to that belief the promotion of excellence (whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God—I Corinthians 10:31), the well-known “Protestant work ethic” (if any would not work, neither should he eat—I Thessalonians 3:10), and the commitment to Truth (Thou shalt not bear false witness—Exodus 20:16) and you have the qualifications for a good scientist.

Many have noted that Faraday’s conviction that the forces of nature were unified, a belief that stemmed from his Biblical belief that they all derived from one Creator, strongly influenced his lab work.  It directly motivated his experiments on electromagnetic induction and other attempts to relate electricity, magnetism, chemical energy, motion and even gravity (though he failed in the latter; some are still seeking that unification today).  Although the unity of the forces of nature is not a uniquely Christian doctrine (it was also shared by some ancient Greeks and by modern cosmologists), in Faraday’s case it provided a clear instance where belief in creation led directly to outstanding scientific accomplishment.  His confidence in the Biblical worldview is also seen in his writings about the conservation of force: “To admit, indeed, that force may be destructible or can altogether disappear, would be to admit that matter could be uncreated....” (Thomas, pp. 101-102).

Moreover, because Faraday loved God, he loved God’s creation.  John Meurig Thomas writes, “the beauty of nature, especially the hills of Devonshire, the vales of South Wales, all the Alpine landscapes and the seascapes of Brighton or the Isle of Wight, could move him to lyrical ecstasy.  And in contemplating waterfalls, the rainbow or lightning, his responses were often Wordsworthian, though never expressed in verse” (Thomas, p. 118).  No wonder he viewed the pursuit of scientific discovery as a holy calling, the understanding of nature as a gift of God.  Christian faith was Faraday’s energy source.  His friend and successor John Tyndall, though a skeptic, could not help but notice: “I think that a good deal of Faraday’s week-day strength and persistency might be referred to his Sunday Exercises.  He drinks from a fount on Sunday which refreshes his soul for the week.”

That persistency nearly drove him to exhaustion at one point.  Faraday was strong and athletic, but the long hours and stress caught up with him, producing a period of “mental muddiness,” as he called it.  His friends insisted he take an extended rest.  Would that we all had the energy of the “resting” Michael Faraday.  Mulfinger writes, “His body was still strong, and when he took a rest in Switzerland when he was fifty, he took daily walks of thirty miles.  His wife worried about him only on the day he walked forty-five miles.”

Faraday lived through the Darwinian revolution, but it never troubled him.  Thomas writes, “Serene in the security of his religious conviction, he was untroubled by the apparent conflict between science and religious beliefs” (apparent being the key word).  Faraday was no easy believer; gullibility was definitely not part of his character, as judged by his zeal for accuracy in all his measurements and his reluctance to state a conclusion before proved by experiment.  He angrily scorned the naivete of the spiritualists, for instance.  Speaking of the table-turning craze in his time (a fad that even captivated the co-“discoverer” of natural selection, Alfred Russell Wallace) Faraday scolded with rare impatience, “What a weak, credulous, incredulous, unbelieving, superstitious, bold, frightened, what a ridiculous world ours is, as far as concerns the mind of man.  How full of inconsistencies, contradictions, and absurdities it is” (Thomas, p. 127).  Yet his confidence in the Word of God was unshakeable.  When asked if he had any speculations about the afterlife, a reporter must have been startled by his abrupt and firm response: “Speculations?  I have none.  I am resting on certainties.”  Quoting I Timothy 1:12 with the apostolic conviction of St. Paul, he continued, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”

That persuasion carried him into his old age.  Michael suffered from memory loss that began in his twenties and gradually became severe in his later adulthood.  It was not incoherence or mental incompetence, but simple forgetfulness, perhaps brought on by exposure to mercury or other lab chemicals.  One benefit for historians is that his condition forced him to write everything down; Faraday left a monumental legacy of letters and documents that provide glimpses into his character, written with an elegance and expressiveness that has a “hypnotic quality” according to Thomas, and “continues to reward the historian of science, kindle the hearts of the young and to strike sparks in the mind of aspiring and mature scientists alike” (Thomas, p. 95; see Faraday’s Writings, ch. 5).  Thomas brags on not only the style, but the content, the “elegant simplicity of his arguments” written in a magical way that “elicits admiration and conveys information in equal measure.”  This is all the more remarkable considering the meagerness of his early education.  Thomas provides some extended quotes to show off this legacy of literature, which includes 450 original papers and 2000 letters.  Faraday’s humility and faith shine in his words: “There is no hunger after popular applause, no jealousy of the work of others .... His versatility, originality, intellectual energy and sheer stamina leave us in awe.  There is also the wonder with which, as a natural philosopher, he is imbued as he contemplates the world and the forces and mechanisms that hold it together” (Thomas, pp. 96-97).  His tactful, self-effacing, thoughtful wordsmithing could calm a disputatious opponent, gently express righteous indignation, graciously decline a favor or humbly accept an honor.  In a book review in Nature (29 May 1997, pp. 469-470) celebrating a new publication of The Correspondence of Michael Faraday, Thomas said, “The letters of Faraday are remarkable not only for their vivacity and freshness but for their elevated tone and excellent composition – they are true specimens of the lost art of letter-writing.”  In his biography, Thomas was especially struck by Faraday’s gift at introducing a subject; due to space, one example must suffice:

The science of electricity is that state in which every part of it requires experimental investigations; not merely for the discovery of new effects, but what is just now of far more importance, the development of the means by which the old effects are produced, and the consequence more accurate determination of the first principles of action of the most extraordinary and universal power in nature:— and to those philosophers who pursue the inquiry zealously yet cautiously, combining experiment with analogy, suspicious of their preconceived notions, paying more respect to a fact than a theory, not too hasty to generalize, and above all things, willing at every step to cross-examine their own opinions, both by reasoning and experiment, no branch of knowledge can afford so fine and ready a field for discovery as this.  Such is most abundantly shown to be the case by the progress which electricity has made in the last thirty years: Chemistry and Magnetism have successively acknowledged its over-ruling influence; and it is probable that every effect depending upon the power of inorganic matter, and perhaps most of those related to vegetable and animal life, will ultimately be found subordinate to it.
In this prediction and many others, his insight proved correct.  As he aged, his body remained strong, but his memory continued to fail.  Faraday continued lecturing till age 70, but only with difficulty.  He accepted his lot with equanimity and grace.  He wrote to a friend, “I am, I hope, very thankful that in the withdrawal of the power and things of this life,—the good hope is left with me, which makes the contemplation of death a comfort—not a fear.  Such peace is alone in the gift of God, and as it is He who gives it, why shall we be afraid?  His unspeakable gift in His beloved Son is the ground of no doubtful hope; and there is the rest for those who like you and me are drawing near the latter end of our terms here below” (quoted in Mulfinger, p. 94).  Upon his retirement from the Royal Institution, the queen awarded him and his wife a house in Hampton Court near the palace, in appreciation for his many contributions to science.  He shrugged off knighthood and requested only his name be written on his tombstone.  One thing he never forgot as the mental fog crept in was his love for the Lord and confidence of His good promises.  He spent the remaining nine years of his life at Hampton Court, quietly fading away, looking forward to heaven, which he entered on August 26, 1867.  The world below basks in the light of discoveries made by plain old Michael Faraday.

Jack Meadows mentions a remarkable footnote that points out Faraday’s acumen in scientific deduction.  Faraday had secretly deposited a sealed envelope at the Royal Society, unknown to his contemporaries or anyone for over a century.  In 1937 it was opened.  “It was then found to contain a proposal that electromagnetic waves exist which are analogous to waves on the surface of water,” Meadows says.  “This described qualitatively what Maxwell predicted quantitatively.”

Afterword: Lessons Learned
Undoubtedly you have been encouraged by Faraday’s story.  Not an ounce of guile or inconsistency mars his memory.  We can, however, with the benefit of hindsight, speculate on some things that might have been.  One area of particular interest to the historian of science is the fact that Faraday’s life spanned the Darwinian revolution, the rapid rise of evolutionism and materialism that in twelve short years (1859-1871) turned the science of the natural philosophers, mostly Christians, into the science of the skeptics like Huxley and Haeckel.  Even John Tyndall, Faraday’s admirer and successor, was part and parcel of the revolution.  Faraday personally knew almost all the great scientists of his day; why did the Darwinian revolution occur on his watch?  Why did his Christian testimony have so little influence on those who were sowing the seeds of skepticism, atheism, methodological naturalism, and higher criticism all around him?

For one thing, Faraday was 69 when Darwin published On the Origin of Species; by then, his memory was severely impaired.  Nevertheless, movements have roots, and throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, seeds of doubt that were to undermine Biblical faith were already growing.  Lyell’s geological theories had cast doubt on Biblical chronology.  Pre-Darwinian evolutionary tracts and books, like Robert Chambers’ Vestiges, were gaining a widespread hearing.  Though Faraday was undoubtedly aware of such skeptical movements, it is difficult to find any account of Faraday speaking out against them, even though his outburst over spiritualism shows that he was capable of having strong opinions.  It’s troubling to read in an appendix of Thomas’ biography of Faraday, that as Director of the Royal Institution, he personally invited a mixed bag of scientists to give lectures: Christians, like Maxwell, Kelvin, Stokes and Whewell, but also skeptics, like Tyndall, Lyell and even Darwin’s bulldog, Thomas Huxley.  Huxley spoke four times at the Institution from 1852 to 1861, two years after The Origin was published, a year when England was ablaze with controversy over evolution.  Huxley’s 1861 topic was “On the nature of the earliest stages of the development animals.”  It’s not hard to imagine what Huxley, the most avid popularizer of Darwin in Britain, had to say about that.  In 1855, Faraday wrote a letter to Tyndall that is a model of conciliation and peacemaking; but within 20 years, this same Tyndall would announce before the British Association the triumph of scientific naturalism.  Just a few years after Faraday’s retirement, his Royal Institution became another mouthpiece of the Darwinians.  In all fairness, the Royal Institution was a non-religious body, and Faraday had a responsibility to allow leading scientists to speak; inviting a speaker does not imply endorsement.  Yet the silence is puzzling.  Why didn’t Faraday speak up, write essays, lecture on science and the Bible, or do more to prevent the war over science and the nature of reality that he should have seen coming?

Without having Faraday here to defend himself, it would be unfair to judge his apparent inaction as real; he may have done and said more than history recorded.  All we can do is argue from the silence, make inferences from rare quotations, and analyze cultural and political trends of the day.  We have the benefit of hindsight to see the evil fruit these skeptical trends produced – eugenics, Marxism, Nazism, social Darwinism and higher criticism.  To Faraday, they were philosophical issues bantied about in a culture that still survived by inertia on Christian presuppositions.  Michael Faraday strived to live peaceably, a good and noble personal goal, but there is a time and place to oppose evil.  Faraday had the gifts and the credibility to help define the issues and influence the direction of science.  He certainly advanced the secular part of it, and his personal character was impeccable, but the dichotomy between his church life and scientific life seems almost schizophrenic.  It is regrettable, knowing what followed, that he did not speak and write more on the Christian philosophy of science and the relation of Biblical faith to scientific endeavor, or to respond to the increasing arguments favoring naturalistic evolutionism when it was most needed.  He underlined I Timothy 6:20-21 and Romans 1:20 in the privacy of his study, but did he spread the message?

Another factor was the growing acceptance of methodological naturalism that can be traced to Sir Francis Bacon: the assumption that it is possible, even desirable, to approach science secularly, to discover truth through the pure accumulation of empirical facts and making inductive conclusions from the facts.  Presumably, this does not imply metaphysical naturalism, that nature is all there is.  Ultimately, however, the naturalistic method of science led to scientism, logical positivism and to the complete takeover of all branches of knowledge, even history and the arts, by secularists and materialists.  The Christian natural philosophers did not predict this outcome; they thought God was glorified in our discovering the laws of nature that He had set up.  This is a half truth— of course the discovery of God’s natural laws honors His wisdom, but the emphasis on natural law, and the de-emphasis on His sovereignty and free will, gradually had the effect of removing the possibility of God intervening in any way in His world.  Nature became the clock that God wound up at the beginning and left to run down on its own.  Ultra-Newtonianism pictured a predictable, clockwork universe that could be described by equations, provided we knew all the variables.  That such a view of nature is naive and simplistic is acknowledged by most moderns, but if we transport ourselves to Faraday’s world, we can understand the obsession to uncover natural laws –a worthy, though incomplete, goal.  John Herschel, William Whewell and others who promoted methodological naturalism were Christians who believed in an all-wise Creator, but their assumption nature could be approached inductively without metaphysical presuppositions denies the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life.  Methodological naturalism works to a point, as when measuring charge, force, temperature and other observable, repeatable causes and effects, but what are the limits?  By not defining the limits of science, the natural philosophers opened the door for the secularists to consider all fields open to secular inquiry, even psychology and origins.  The intelligent design movement is the latest skirmish in the battle of worldviews.  The secularists think that the universe can be described fully in terms of particles acting under chance and necessity or a combination of the two.  The design scientists add another fundamental entity: information.  Information is the fingerprint of designing intelligence that cannot be reduced to natural law.  If information is detectable and conserved, trying to reduce the universe and life to equations about particles is doomed to failure.  William Dembski has diagrammed an “Explanatory Filter” that ensures that chance and necessity are given appropriate consideration as causes, and that information (from an intelligent designer) is the explanation of last resort.  This approach addresses the concerns of earlier philosophers over “God of the gaps” explanations, without reducing science to the art of just-so storytelling in vain attempts to force evidences of design into the molds of chance and necessity.

In part also – and here is a lesson for modern Christians – the Sandemanian church may carry some blame for allowing the Darwinian revolution to succeed without a fight.  They so emphasized separation from the world, it appears they failed to be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” Jesus admonished.  Their members tended to marry within the group.  Their beliefs forbade them to fellowship with other groups of Christians, and frowned on getting involved in political or social issues.  Their faith seemed to be a personal thing, shared fervently on Sunday and Wednesday nights, but producing little impact on their community the rest of the week.  Undoubtedly they expected believers to work honestly and diligently in their careers (as Michael Faraday exemplified), but evangelism did not seem to be a high priority.  Consequently, they never became a large or influential movement.  This may be an incomplete evaluation of a long-defunct denomination, but why are references to God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, creation, or any other Biblical theme so rare in Faraday’s scientific writings?  Is not the author of Scripture the author of nature?  Faraday would certainly have believed it, and his personal faith is vibrant in his letters, but it appears he said little about this to his colleagues.  His scientific letters and lecture notes, though imbued with Christian presuppositions, seem as secular as any.  To what extent was Faraday influenced by his closed-door, uninvolved church?  A famous evangelist warned, “It takes evangelistic unction to make orthodoxy function.”  The Sandemanian movement stressed orthodoxy, but lacked the unction to share their faith, and so petered out.  The movement would be almost totally forgotten were it not for their famous member, Michael Faraday.  Churches today need to get their salt out of the shaker.  Its savor must flavor every part of life, including science.  Salt stings, but bad things happen when it is the missing ingredient.

Bibliography George Mulfinger and Julia Mulfinger Orozco, Christian Men of Science: Eleven Men Who Changed the World (Ambassador Emerald International, 2001), ch. 4.

Jack Meadows, The Great Scientists: the story of Science told through the lives of twelve landmark figures (Oxford 1989), ch. 7.

Learn More About
Michael Faraday

One of the best Christian biographies of Faraday was written by George Mulfinger and completed by his daughter, Julia Mulfinger Orozco, as part of the book Christian Men of Science.

The book The Great Scientists by Jack Meadows has a whole chapter on Faraday.  This book is worthwhile not only for the detailed informtion, but for the many illustrations, rare photos and timelines.  Meadows seems fair with the Christian influence on science, and has a page on Nonconformist Protestant scientists.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has an article by Robert D. Friedel called “Lines and Waves” that tells about the life and discoveries of both Faraday and Maxwell.

Visit the Royal Institution of Great Britain where Michael Faraday made his discoveries, and where the Christmas Lectures continue the tradition begun by Faraday.
    The Ri Heritage Section has a Faraday Page with a biography, summary of Faraday correspondence, and gallery of photos of actual devices used by Faraday.
    The Royal Institution also hosts the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory named after its two most illustrious leaders, Sir Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday.

Read Faraday’s own words: Here are his 1859 Lectures on the Forces of Matter and his famous children’s Christmas lecture, The Chemical History of a Candle.

The Faraday Project has a list of links on Faraday.

Here is a brief history of the Sandemanian (Glasite) Church, its relationships, and how it went extinct.

  Charles Babbage     1791 - 1871 

There’s a humorous scene in the movie Back to the Future III, in which Doc operates a crazy contraption he had built in a barn.  He and Marty had been transported back from 1985 to the Old West.  He asks Marty to turn a valve, then he pulls a lever on the large wooden machine.  Marty watches quizzically as wheels turn, gears engage, steam hisses, and all kinds of racket ensues.  Finally, as Doc proudly smiles, an ice cube tumbles down a chute into his cup of tea.  Go back even further in time, and a contraption even more amazing, though never built, was conceived in the mind of our scientist of the month, a genius named Charles Babbage.  Like Doc, he appears like a man trapped in the wrong century, because he envisioned not the first ice cube maker, but the first general purpose computer– in 1832!.  This is one of history’s classic “if only” stories.  If only Babbage had finished it, if only the British government had approved the funding he needed, then Windows 98 might have been Windows 1898.  Despite this failure, Charles Babbage did succeed in many things, and was always strong in his Christian faith during a period of tremendous intellectual and social change in Britain.
    Born in 1791 as son of a wealthy banker, young Charles grew in love with mathematics, a subject he nearly taught himself: in fact, he could have taught his tutors.  He excelled to the point of occupying the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge for 11 years, the same position Newton had held.  In personality, Babbage was too smart for the common people.  Like cowboys trying to “figger” a scientific genius, they thought him stuffy, arrogant and eccentric.  His obsession with facts, figures and statistics contributed to his “geek” reputation; he might be found measuring the amount of food consumed by zoo animals, the proportion of sexes among poultry, or the causes of broken windows, which he wrote up in a “Table of the Relative Frequency of the Causes of Breaking of Plate Glass Windows” (conclusion: drunks and boys cause 3%).  Like a good Baconian, Babbage believed facts were worth collecting and preserving, because “the preservation of any fact might ultimately be useful” and he wanted to set an example others might emulate.  Unfortunately, he expected everyone to possess his basic civility and honesty; such naivete predisposed him to victimization.  Socially, Babbage had friends in high places and got along with his intellectual colleagues, but stupid and thoughtless people irritated him: street musicians, especially.  When he tried to get them outlawed, because they ruined his concentration, the townspeople retaliated by tormenting him mercilessly, purposely playing out-of-tune violins, tin whistles, and brass instruments outside his windows.  This went on for years.  The rabble who considered him a grouchy recluse or an “old villain” did not know they were harassing one of the intellectual geniuses of the 19th century, a man their descendants would honor (too late for Babbage’s own satisfaction) as a seminal figure in the development of the computer.
    Charles Babbage turned his mathematical genius to many things.  He believed in practical science.  A railroad aficionado when the technology was young, he invented the first cowcatcher in Britain, and applied his statistical knowledge to argue for standardized wide gauge track.  The industrial revolution was in full swing during his prime.  Babbage became the world’s first “efficiency expert.”  He is considered a pioneer of a field that, 100 years later during World War II, became extremely important for industry and the military: Operations Research, the mathematical study of how to get the most productivity in the shortest time at the lowest cost.  Babbage was hired to advise the government on postal rates.  His analysis, like modern “time and motion studies,” demonstrated that a flat rate stamp was the best fee for moving mail efficiently.  The idea seems contrary to common sense; why should someone sending a letter across town have to pay the same price as someone sending it across the country?  Nevertheless, he showed that it made economic and practical sense, and today we still enjoy the benefits of that research.  Babbage also invented an opthalmoscope (a device for examining the interior of the eye), a skeleton key, and a speedometer.
    The story of his computer is a tale often told.  It’s an interesting and complex mix of genius, politics, love and frustration.  In 1827, Babbage received government funding to build a machine for the construction of mathematical tables.  As construction began on the project, he found he had to design many of his own tools.  Disputes with contractors frustrated him.  Worse, before he completed a working model of his proposed Difference Engine, he conceived of an even better one, which he dubbed the Analytical Engine, and changed plans midstream.  By this point he calculated it would cost more to complete the old model than to begin the new one, but this was a hard sell in Parliament; politicians were understandably reluctant to release more funds when there was nothing to show for the money already spent.  Though Babbage never profited monetarily from the invention, one politician railed, “We have got nothing for our £17,000 than Mr. Babbage’s grumblings.”  (What Babbage possessed in intelligence, apparently, he lacked in diplomacy and the art of persuading politicians.)  “We should at least have had a clever toy for our money,” his political enemy continued.  Sir George Airy, an astronomer, dubbed the contraption “worthless” and it didn’t help that Britain was in the woes of a depression in the 1840s.
    Babbage did have one ardent supporter, however.  After his wife died at age 35 in 1827, Babbage developed a Platonic friendship with Lady Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord Byron.  Her enthusiasm for the project matched his, and she helped him keep the dream alive.  Some have called her the first computer programmer (a bit of a stretch), since she wrote some sample problems the engine might solve.  And what an engine it would have been: a complicated contraption of gears, levers, wheels, rods, cylinders and racks, all driven by steam.  Babbage was inspired by the Jacquard Loom, a French invention that wove complex patterns in cloth with the use of punched cards.  Babbage incorporated punched cards into his design.  He envisioned his engine as being programmable such that it could solve any problem, even calculus using Newton’s method of numerical approximation.  Lovelace envisioned it someday composing music or generating graphics.  Consider how far ahead of his time his design was: it would be fully programmable, have input, a central processor, memory, and a printer for output— all worked out in Babbage’s head long before these became everyday concepts.  Despite 50 years of work on this idea, Babbage was to die in obscurity in 1871, nearly forgotten by his countrymen.  His drawings and descriptions gathered dust despite a feeble posthumous attempt by his son to build the Analytical Engine.  (It is rumored that Bill Gates bid on this device when it was auctioned recently for $300,000.)  Babbage, though embittered in old age at short-sighted politicians, never lost confidence that his idea was a good one and that its eventual success and benefit for humanity was only a matter of time.
    Steps toward fulfillment of the general-purpose computer were slow at first.  Punched cards became important in the early 20th century after Herman Hollerith employed them for the U.S. Census in 1890, and later founded a company that in later years defined the cutting edge of computer technology: International Business Machines, or IBM.  John Hudson Tiner describes the delayed renaissance of Babbage’s vision:

In 1937, Howard H. Aiken, a student at Harvard University, came across Babbage’s description of the analytical engine.  He caught the enthusiasm Babbage had for creating a calculating machine.
    Technology had improved enough to do it.  Aiekn, working with IBM, constructed Mark I, the first general-purpose calculating machine.  An electronic computer replaced it a few years later.  Charles Babbage had been a hundred years ahead of his time.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
    As for his personal faith, Charles Babbage believed the Bible and was convinced that science and faith were not in conflict.  He was close friends with other Christian intellectuals of the day, including John Herschel and William Whewell.  Sadly, he was also undiscerningly cozy with liberal religious scientists like Charles Lyell, whose work he admired, unaware of the erosion of faith Lyell’s doctrine of uniformitarianism and long ages would cause for many believers, especially the young Charles Darwin.  Nevertheless, Babbage strongly supported the pre-Darwinian belief in Natural Theology, the proposition (as fully expounded by William Paley) that design in nature demands a Designer.  That Babbage identified that Designer as the God of the Bible is clear, because he fully accepted the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Tiner says that “While a student at Cambridge, Charles Babbage met with others who were Christians.  They resolved to dedicate their lives to God.”
    The Earl of Bridgewater had left a sum of money in his will to direct leading scientists to write treatises “for the purpose of advancing arguments in favour of Natural Religion.”  By the time Babbage was 46 and fully involved in developing his calculating machine, eight prominent British scientists had published their entries in what had become a well-known and popular set of books, the Bridgewater Treatises.  The suite included works by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers on “The Adaptation of External Nature to the Intellectual and Moral Constitution of Man,” William Buckland on geology, William Whewell on astronomy and physics, William Kirby on zoology, John Kidd on the same subject as Chalmers, Charles Bell on design in the human hand, and Peter Mark Roget on animal and vegetable physiology.  Perhaps Babbage felt the series need a ninth, like the Beethoven Symphonies, so in 1837 he added his own unofficial submission.  He said, “I have, however, thought, that in furthering the intentions of the testator, by publishing some reflections on that subject, I might be permitted to connect with them a title which has now become familiarly associated, in the public mind, with the evidences in favour of Natural Religion.”
    Employing his skill at mathematics and statistics, Babbage tackled the subject of the Biblical miracles: specifically, to counter the arguments of David Hume who had called miracles violations of natural law, and therefore impossible.  Though slightly off topic from the rest of the series, Babbage felt “I was led so irresistibly, by the very nature of the illustrations employed in the former argument [of the first eight treatises], to the view there proposed, that I trust to being excused for having ventured one step beyond the strict limits of that argument, by entering on the first connecting link between natural religion and revelation.”  In other words, he wanted to take the arguments of natural theology beyond the conclusion of an unspecified Designer, and link them to the historical accounts in Scripture.  Babbage set out to prove mathematically that the Biblical miracles were not necessarily violations of natural law.
    Babbage’s Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (hereafter, NBT) is available online and makes for interesting reading, especially for those who admire the recondite and embellished prose of the Victorian intelligentsia.  Some caveats must be noted, however; with the benefit of historical hindsight.  It is obvious that Babbage was (as we must confess ourselves to be) a product of his times.
    First, as mentioned before, Babbage uncritically accepted the old-earth arguments of Lyell, which were becoming popular at the time, as irrefutable scientific facts.  He speaks, for instance, of “the facts in which all capable of investigation agree—facts which it is needless to recite, they having been so fully and ably stated in the works of Mr. Lyell and Dr. Buckland” that indicate “distant and successive periods.”  Babbage conflated the “facts of nature” with the interpretations imposed on those facts.  To Babbage, the existence of fossils and geological strata provided a clear, unmistakeable record of vast ages of time that was so obvious, one would have to make leave of his senses to deny it.  If Babbage could have learned contrary evidence that large deposits of strata and fossils could have formed rapidly, indeed must have, including formations that some geologists long claimed must have required millions of years, such as the Redwall Limestone in Grand Canyon, it might have tempered his dogmatism.  Instead, jumping on the Lyellian bandwagon forced Babbage to conform the Bible to these “facts of nature” rather than trust the authority of Scripture and doubt the fallible interpretations of man – a fallacy made by some creationists today.  Predictably, therefore, we find Babbage in NBT making excuses for why the Genesis creation account might not mean what it clearly says.  In Chapter IV of his treatise, he argues that we cannot trust the transmission or translation of the ancient texts of Genesis to be accurate.  Arguments like this, unfortunately, hand skeptics the rope to hang all of Christianity: if we cannot trust what the Bible says about the history of the world, how can we trust its claims about eternal life?  Though his doubt apparently applies only to the early chapters of Genesis, since he appears to find the rest of the text reliable, he should have known that science has very limited interpretive validity when investigating the unobservable past, and is frequently wrong.  And why did he not tremble to contradict Jesus Christ, who treated the writings of Moses, including the creation account, as historically fact?
    This leads to a second caveat: the myth of scientific progress.  Babbage wrote like a positivist, assuming, as was common in Victorian Britain, that science was an upward, progressive path to nearly infallible truth.  It was easy to fall into this assumption, seeing the progress taking place rapidly all around during the Industrial Revolution.  Victorians were obsessed with progress, and since so much of the progress was due to scientific discovery, it was easy to grant science more powers than it can muster.  Babbage did not have our vantage point, with two world wars, the atomic bomb, the Darwinian Revolution, Social Darwinism, eugenics and many other fatal evidences that science is not the value-free, objective, progressive enterprise he assumed it to be.  Babbage knew nothing of Kuhn, Popper and the revolutions in scientific philosophy that have made moderns (and post-moderns) demote science from unwarranted exaltation.  Nor did he foresee how the Darwinian Revolution and the rise of Big Science institutions would trample the very Biblical faith he professed.  One must read the NBT, and any other writings of the time, with the maturity of hindsight.
    A third caveat regards Babbage’s position on natural law.  Nineteenth century scientists were obsessed with natural law; Newton, the British hero, had demonstrated that nature ran with clockwork regularity that could be described in mathematical terms.  Newton’s successors extrapolated the faith far beyond what Newton himself believed, to the point where Enlightenment scientists and thinkers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries subjugated all of reality to natural laws, inviolable, and presumably as simple and straightforward as Newton’s laws of motion.  The search for natural laws got out of control.  By the end of the 19th century, Freud was searching for natural laws of human behavior; others were seeking to describe biology and earth history with equations.  They could not have known that the 20th century would bring quantum mechanics, relativity, and chaos theory.  Ultra-Newtonianism, expressed in LaPlace’s claims that could one know the motions of all particles, one could predict the future, was dealt a death blow by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which revealed a fundamental unpredictability in the very fabric of physics.  Scientists today despair of finding laws of planet formation or animal behavior or human psychology that would allow them to predict such phenomena with any meaningful degree of accuracy.  The faith lives on among some cosmologists who believe that one day scientists will derive a Grand Unified Theory of Everything, a set of physical laws that will describe the universe.  Many philosophers today, however, believe this to be a chasing after wind.
    A bizarre example of Babbage’s faith in Newtonianism can be seen in chapter IX of NBT, in which Babbage claims that every word we utter is indelibly impressed on the earth, according to the law of action and reaction.  He believed anything anyone ever said could be retrieved if we had instruments sensitive enough.  Working just before Thomson, Maxwell, Carnot and other scientists who were developing the laws of thermodynamics and entropy, Babbage was unaware there could be limits on the reversibility of natural processes; therefore, as one biographer notes, “information cannot be shuttled between mill and store without leaking.”  The law of increasing entropy leads to irreversible processes, one consequence being that information uttered into the world can be irretrievably lost.
    When the reader understands where Babbage is coming from, he can find much of value in the Ninth Bridgewater Treatise.  Most interesting is his rebuttal to the arguments of David Hume (1711-1776), the skeptical philosopher who had created quite a stir with his seemingly persuasive argument against miracles.  Again, it was based on the Newtonian obsession with natural law.  Hume argued that it is more probable that those claiming to have seen a miracle were either lying or deceived than that the regularity of nature had been violated.  Babbage knew a lot more about the mathematics of probability than Hume.  In chapter X of NBT, Babbage applied numerical values to the question, chiding Hume for his subjectivity.  A quick calculation proves that if there were 99 reliable witnesses to the resurrection of a man from the dead (and I Corinthians 15:6 claims there were over 500), the probability is a trillion to one against the falsehood of their testimony, compared to the probability of one in 200 billion against anyone in the history of the world having been raised from the dead.  This simple calculation shows it takes more faith to deny the miracle than to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses.  Thus Babbage renders specious Hume’s assertion that the improbabiliy of a miracle could never be overcome by any number of witnesses.  Apply the math, and the results do not support that claim, Babbage says: “From this it results that, provided we assume that independent witnesses can be found of whose testimony it can be stated that it is more probable that it is true than that it is false, we can always assign a number of witnesses which will, according to Hume’s argument, prove the truth of a miracle.” (Italics in original.)  Babbage takes his conquest of Hume so far that by Chapter XIII, he argues that “It is more probable that any law, at the knowledge of which we have arrived by observation, shall be subject to one of those violations which, according to Hume’s definition, constitutes a miracle, than that it should not be so subjected.” 
    The heart of NBT is an argument that miracles do not violate natural law, using Babbage’s own concept of a calculating machine.  This forms an engaging thought experiment.  With his own Analytical Engine undoubtedly fresh on his mind, he asks the reader to imagine a calculating engine that might show very predictable regularity, even for billions of iterations, such as a machine that counts integers.  Then imagine it suddenly jumps to another natural law, which again repeats itself with predictable regularity.  If the designer of the engine had made it that way on purpose, it would show even more intelligent design than if it only continued counting integers forever.  Babbage extends his argument through several permutations, to the point where he convinces the reader that it takes more intelligence to design a general purpose calculating engine that can operate reliably according to multiple natural laws, each known to the designer, each predictable by the designer, than to design a simple machine that mindlessly clicks away according to a single law.  So here we see Babbage employing his own specialty – the general-purpose calculating machine – to argue his point.  He concluded, therefore, as he reiterated in his later autobiographical work Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), miracles are not “the breach of established laws, but... indicate the existence of far higher laws.”  (Note again the obsession with natural laws.)
    Since some might argue his view is just as deterministic as Newtonianism, Babbage devotes a chapter to explaining why his view does not lead to fatalism.  He also briefly touches on the question of free will (Chapters III, XV), though he declines to become embroiled in “that abstruse discussion.”   His calculating engine analogy is intriguing despite possible theological problems it might raise.  Today it might best be suited for convincing a modern Newtonian that miracles can be scientific; they are not necessarily violations of natural law.  Otherwise, NBT is very much a product of its time, with a weak view of Scripture, but valuable for its thought experiments and glimpses into the mind of Charles Babbage himself.  At the more mature age of 73, Babbage wrote, “Almost all thinking men who have studied the laws which govern the animate and inanimate world around us, agree that the belief in the existence of one Supreme Creator, possessed of infinite wisdom and power, is open to far less difficulties than the supposition of the absence of any cause, or of the existence of a plurality of causes.”
    Charles Babbage stood shoulder to shoulder with the leading scientists of Britain.  He was a principal founder of the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and promulgated the improvement of British science and mathematics.  John Hudson Tiner says of him, and his Cambridge fellow students who had resolved to dedicate their lives to God, that “They agreed to strive to leave the world a better place than they had found it.”  Babbage certainly did that.  He had his idiosyncrasies, as would be expected of a visionary and genius, and modern creationists might decry what his Victorian weak view of Scripture did to Christianity in later years.  But there can be little doubt Charles Babbage intended his words and his works to glorify God as Creator, and that he tried to live and work according to his sincerely held Christian principles.  His life also exemplifies the point of this series.  Look at the most eminent and influential scientists in history, and they overwhelmingly were Christians and creationists.  Let the computer you are using to read this story be an ever present reminder of that fact.
Learn More About
Charles Babbage

(to be continued)

  Joseph Henry     1797 - 1878 

Question: Which of the following institutions is led by a born-again, Bible-believing Christian who prays for guidance and accepts the Biblical creation account as true?

  1. Smithsonian Institution
  2. American Association for the Advancement of Science
  3. Princeton University science department
  4. National Academy of Sciences
If it’s the 19th century, it is “all of the above.”  These distinguished positions were held by one man: Joseph Henry.  Remarkably, these honors are less important than the scientific contributions made by one of America’s foremost early scientists.

1. Smithsonian.  Joseph Henry was the first Secretary and Director of the Smithsonian in 1846.  (James Smithson, a British scientist, had established in his will that his estate should go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”  By the time of the appointment, in his fifties, Henry was considered one of America’s leading scientists, and well deserving of the honor.  His work helped build the reputation of the Smithsonian as a world class institution of science, history and art (for background, see the Smithsonian website, particularly the part about Joseph Henry).
    During his tenure at the Smithsonian, Joseph Henry was an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln on the use of ironclad ships, served on numerous governmental advisory boards, began projects that led to the establishment of the U.S. Weather Bureau, and encouraged the building of Lick Observatory in California.  He built a telegraphic network for monitoring weather around the country.  He projected the sun’s disk onto a white screen and discovered that sunspots are cooler than their surroundings.  He did much to put the Smithsonian on a strong footing and to promote the rapid dissemination of scientific knowledge.  Today, the Smithsonian is the largest complex of museums in the world.

2. AAAS.  In 1848, Joseph Henry was a founding member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Though known today for its pro-Darwin advocacy and anti-creationism, several of the founding fathers, including Henry, Louis Agassiz, Benjamin Silliman and James Dwight Dana were Bible-believing Christians.

3. Princeton.  Joseph Henry was a distinguished professor at Princeton University from 1832 to 1846.

4. NAS.  Henry was an original member of the National Academy of Sciences and served as its second President from 1868 till his death in 1878.

Now that his credentials are beyond question, who was Joseph Henry, and what did he believe?  Henry has been called the “American Faraday,” because like Michael, he was raised in poverty yet became a great scientist.  Similarly scatterbrained as a boy, without a clue to the direction his life would take, Henry discovered the world of science by reading books.  Like Faraday, he had a mind that could tackle a problem methodically and reduce ideas to their basic simplicity.  Henry’s Smithsonian rivaled the prestige of Faraday’s Royal Institution.  Even more coincidental, his discoveries overlapped those of his British counterpart.  In fact, when Henry met Faraday in 1837, he taught him a thing or two about electricity.  He did a demonstration of self-induction to Faraday and Wheatstone that led Faraday to clap his hands in delight and exclaim, “Hurrah for the Yankee experiment!” (Wilson, p. 63).

Joseph Henry had a penchant for making important scientific discoveries for which others got the credit.  He actually discovered electromagnetic induction before Faraday, but because Faraday published it first, history rewards him for discovering this most important principle that, according to the IEEE, “practically created electrical engineering.”  Priority in discovery was a big thing to a scientist then, as it is now; finding out a European had beat him to the press was a deep disappointment to Henry, something he regretted the rest of his life.  But he was such a perfectionist, and had been so busy with his teaching responsibilities at Princeton he had not had time to publish the discovery till the following summer vacation—too late.  He almost gave up publishing his electromagnetic experiments at all.  If it hadn’t been for Benjamin Silliman’s encouragement, history might have lost the record of the American scientist’s discoveries.

Added to that, he anticipated Samuel F. B. Morse by at least five years by creating the electromagnetic relay and constructing a telegraph with it.  He even shared it with Morse and Wheatstone (inventor of the British telegraph), and they both used it, and got the credit for inventing the telegraph.  As if that were not enough, he essentially discovered the transmission of radio waves half a century before Hertz did, and had made a statement before Maxwell that the propagation of electricity through space was identical to that of light.  Because these discoveries were published late in obscure journals, he seemed doomed to be the overlooked winner watching others get the blue ribbons.  If for nothing else, he is credited with the discovery of self-induction (the magnetic effect of a current on itself), and the unit of induction – the henry (plural, henries) – was named after him.

In spite of his prestigious appointments later in life, recognition for Henry’s fundamental contributions to electromagnetism was a long time in coming.  Even today he is lesser known than his peers.  Mitchell Wilson wrote that much of the knowledge that bridged Benjamin Franklin’s experiments and James Clerk Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory was gathered by one man—Joseph Henry, in the 15 years between 1829 to 1844.  Why was he not recognized?  To the Europeans, he was ignored because he was an American; to his fellow Americans, “his friends mistook his scientific idealism for lack of the American spirit.”  Wilson continues, “Not until after he was dead and the contemporaries of his youth were gone did younger men realize that he had been a giant and that the considerable fame he had achieved during the latter half of his life had been for the least of his works.”  The Smithsonian is trying to correct these oversights through its Joseph Henry Papers Project, where some of his writings are being published; they even cataloged items named after him, such as the Henry Mountains in Utah, the SS Henry Liberty ship and Cape Henry at the North Pole.

Joseph Henry was born into a Scots Presbyterian family of little means, and held strong religious beliefs, according to a book review printed in Nature 30 April 1998.  As to his beliefs and character, some quotes found on the Smithsonian’s Joseph Henry Papers Project provide glimpses:

— If we act conscientiously and faithfully, endeavouring before God to do our duty, the result in the long run cannot be otherwise than good.

— ...he has not lived in vain who leaves behind him as his successor a child better educated morally, intellectually, and physically than himself.

— I am a sensitive man, perhaps nervously so, and though I have not been insensible to the value of true fame, and have striven to connect my name with the history of the science of this country, I have shrunk from notoriety and have neither coveted nor sought popular applause.

— God has created man in his own intellectual image, and graciously permitted him to study His modes of operation, and rewards his industry in this line by giving him powers and instruments which affect in the highest degree his material welfare.

— How short the space between the two cardinal points of an earthly career, the point of birth and that of death; and yet what a universe of wonders are presented to us in our rapid flight through this space.

— Let the fact be constantly before our minds not to lessen our interest in the affairs of this life but to render us less anxious as to the events of this world whether they turn out for our advantage or not or how long we may be permitted to remain on Earth.  Let us put our trust more fully than ever in Him who will order all things for the best who put full reliance on Him.

— Let us labor like servants who are certainly and shortly to give an account of their stewardship diligently seeking to know our duty and faithfully and fearlessly strive to do it; constantly mindful of the fact that nothing but purity of heart is acceptable to God and that we are constantly in his presence and known to him are all our thoughts and intentions however they may be hid from our fellow men.

— The great object of the Bible is the revelation of moral, not physical truth, and that of Physical Science the discovery of physical law, not moral precepts.

— Again when we pass from the phenomena of life to those of mental and moral emotions, we enter a region of still more absolute mystery, in which our light becomes darkness and we are obliged to bow in profound humiliation, acknowledging that the highest flights of science can only reach the threshold of the temple of faith.

— Knowledge to be converted into wisdom must be made our own.

More than a thousand words could, this anecdote found by Henry Morris (Men of Science, Men of God, p. 49) speaks volumes about Joseph Henry, the man:
“He was also a devout Christian, making it a regular practice to stop, to worship God, and then to pray for divine guidance at every important juncture of the experiment.”

Mitchell Wilson, “Joseph Henry,” Scientific Genius and Creativity, Readings from Scientific American (W. H. Freeman and Co., New York, 1952, 1987), ch. 8.

Henry Morris, Jr., Men of Science, Men of God (Master Books, 1988), p. 49.

Learn More About
Joseph Henry

An internet search will reveal a great deal about Joseph Henry.  Here are some samples.

Find out what’s happening at The Joseph Henry Papers Project.  See also this book, The Joseph Henry Papers. has a short biography with links to other articles.

About the Smithsonian and its first leader: Smithsonian Magazine has an article on “Joseph Henry’s Legacy” by L. Michael Heyman, Secretary.  The National Park Service can give you a tour of the “Castle” where Joseph Henry worked.  The Smithsonian website tells about the birth of the institution and its illustrious first Secretary (chief executive).

Herbert S. Bailey wrote a short biography at Princeton.

Find the Henry Mountains on a stunning aerial map of Utah made by William A. Bowen, retired geography professor at Cal State University, Northridge.  It might inspire you to go hiking in the Henry Mountains Wilderness Area and help keep it protected.  Learn about the range’s human history and natural history of this remote area.  The website tantalizes, “The Henry Mountains and the surrounding deserts are located in central Utah.  Here, almost 2 million acres of public land are administered by the Bureau of Land Management.  There is a wide variety of outstanding recreational opportunities including, hunting, hiking, camping, sightseeing, photography, and nature study available for those who are willing to seek them out.”  Maybe this Photo Gallery will entice you, especially this shot.

  James Prescott Joule     1818 - 1889 

If any principle in science deserves to be called a “law,” what would it be?  Undoubtedly, the law of conservation of matter and energy: neither of these fundamental entities can be created or destroyed.  Also known as the first law of thermodynamics, this law has no known exceptions anywhere in the universe.  Whoever discovered this law must have been a scientist of the highest rank, a PhD, director of a reputable university research department, respected the world over, and interred in Westminster Abbey, right?  Actually, he was none of the above.  For him, science was just a hobby.  He had trouble getting his ideas published.  Professional scientists looked down on him, and were it not for the help of a friend, his work might have been lost in obscurity.  Yet his experimental procedures and measurements were of the highest caliber, and the principles he deduced from them are of fundamental importance.  They helped shape our modern world, and every housekeeper is a beneficiary of the discoveries he made.  Units and laws of physics were named after this somewhat reserved, unassuming, serious-minded citizen scientist by the name of James Prescott Joule.

Second son of a wealthy brewer in England, James Joule was home-schooled till age 15.  He was not a spoiled rich kid, even though he could spend a workman’s annual income on a painting if he wanted it (and once did).  James loved playing outdoors with older brother Benjamin and younger brother John.  Together they engaged in the typical boyish amusements like playing guns, rowing on the lake, climbing hills and throwing snowballs.  Their play included observational skills like measuring the depth of a lake, estimating the distance to a lightning bolt by timing the thunder, and using electricity to see if a lame horse’s muscle would jump.  Once as a young man he stuffed a pistol with three times the normal charge trying to get a better echo across the water; J. G. Crowther describes the scene: “His brother was startled by a tremendous report and when he turned round he found that James’ pistol had jumped out of his hand into the lake.  At another time he shot off his own eyebrows.”  Boys will be boys, but at least theirs were not idle minds.  The brothers had a variety of interests; Benjamin was an enthusiastic musician, and James developed skill in painting and photography; he even collected art.  At 16, James had been sent to Cambridge and was tutored for a time by John Dalton, the elderly Quaker scientist considered to be the father of modern atomic theory.  Spurred by in an interest in science, and having the family wealth at his disposal, James took a keen interest in devising experiments to measure things: heat, energy, motion, electrical currents, magnetism and gas pressures.  Like Faraday, he expected to find simple laws that governed diverse natural phenomena, a motivation that derived from strong theological beliefs.

Throughout his twenties, working at his father’s brewery, young James Joule was actively demonstrating through a series of clever experiments that different forms of energy were related.  For instance, he measured the temperature of water being forced through narrow holes in a piston.  He measured electrical current and heat output from an electromagnet that spun as he turned a crank.  And he measured the temperature of water and sperm whale oil as paddles turned, powered by falling weights, proving that heat output was equivalent to the mechanical energy input.  The precision of his measurements was remarkable, sometimes measuring temperatures accurate to a 30th of a degree.  His numerous creative experiments convinced him that all forms of energy were equivalent, to the point where he said in 1843 at age 24, “I shall lose no time in repeating and extending these experiments, being satisfied that the grand agents of nature are by the Creator’s fiat, indestructible; and that wherever mechanical force is expended, an exact equivalent of heat is always obtained.”

Joule had discovered the mechanical equivalent of heat, but the scientific community was not ready to accept it.  Though the phlogiston theory of heat had been discredited by the late 1700s, heat was still considered a property of a body, not a form of energy released by work in converting one form of energy to another.  In 1843, he journeyed to Cork and read a paper describing his experiments to the Chemical Section of the British Association, but he says, “the paper did not excite much attention,” except for two who “were interested.”  Polite disdain, perhaps, but in retrospect, J. G. Crowther, author of British scientists of the 19th Century, thinks more highly of it:

Reynolds [biographer of Joule, Memoirs, 1892] considers the experiments described in this paper were technically the most difficult that had ever been accomplished by a physicist.  They are certainly unsurpassed in the history of science.
    The combination of superb experimental skill with clear thought and philosophical depth makes this paper the finest expression of Joule’s genius.  He was twenty-four years of age, and had been engaged in research for five years.  Though he was friendly with Dalton, Scoresby, Davies and others, he had worked in extraordinary intellectual independence.  His chief supports were his own genius and his father, who, to his memorable credit, liberally financed his extensive experiments.
Crowther finds it remarkable that young Joule was so meticulous in measuring things, because “young scientists are nearly always impatient of measurement.  Joule had the middle-aged passion of measurement from his earliest youth.”  His notes are equally meticulous, orderly and filled with profound insight into the implications of the measurements.  He wrote other papers during his twenties, one comparing the capabilities of electromagnets, steam and horses as sources of motive power.  At age 28, his genius matured with a lecture that contained a philosophical statement of the law of conservation of energy.

In a groundbreaking lecture, Joule stated that bodies carry with them a “living force” of inertia, and it cannot be destroyed “though that was the common opinion of philosophers.”  Friction does not destroy it, or the earth would have come to a standstill long ago, he said.  Rather than being destroyed, it was transformed into another thing when it disappears: that thing is heat.  He had proved experimentally that heat and work are equivalent and can be converted one to the other.  Joule demonstrated his grasp of this laboratory principle by extending it to the motion of the earth, the burning of meteors, the motion of the trade winds and the heat generated by motion of our limbs, as when a man ascends a mountain.  Joule showed how his dynamical theory of heat explains melting, latent heat, evaporation, and much more.  “We may conceive, then, that the communication of heat to a body consists, in fact, in the communication of impetus, or living force, to its particles.”

Crowther is unreserved about the import of this lecture: “He had discovered the law as the outcome of a long series of completely conclusive experiments.  He had conceived it clearly and powerfully, and applied it with much imagination.”  So where was this epochal lecture On Matter, Living Force, and Heat delivered?  At the Royal Society or the British Association?  No: at St. Anne’s Church in Manchester, and Joule had trouble getting it published.  The Manchester Guardian only wanted to print excerpts of their choosing.  James needed his brother’s persuasion to convince the Manchester Courier to print it, which they did in two parts in May, 1847.  Since it was published in a newspaper instead of the scientific journals, it went virtually unnoticed for 37 years.

The month following the publication of this lecture, Joule had an opportunity to address the British Association about his experiments on the mechanical equivalent of heat.  “As Joule’s previous papers had raised little interest, the chairman of his section requested him to confine himself to a short verbal description of his experiments,” writes Crowther.  A contemporary described James Joule as “under the medium height; that he was somewhat stout and rounded in figure; that his dress, though neat, was commonplace in the extreme, and that his attitude and movements were possessed of no natural grace, while his manner was somewhat nervous, and he possessed no great facility in speech.”  So the short and stout and nervous Joule endeavored to make it quick, and commented that “the communication would have passed without comment if a young man had not risen in the section, and by his intelligent observations created a lively interest in the new theory.”  That man was William Thomson – the future Lord Kelvin (our next story).

Though Thomson was seven years his junior, he had the connections to bring James Joule into scientific circles.  Their collaboration developed into a lifelong friendship.  About a week after this meeting, Joule married Amelia Grimes, daughter of a city official.  Thomson was surprised another week later to run into Joule near Mont Blanc, and find him with a lady, not knowing he was getting married, and here he and his bride were on their honeymoon.  He was probably more surprised to see him with a long thermometer in his hand.  Joule explained that he wanted to measure the temperature elevation in waterfalls, so Thomson offered to join the fun and help him a few days later with this project, another demonstration of the mechanical equivalent of heat.  Unfortunately, they found their chosen cascade too broken up into spray to get good data.  Was Amelia put off by this intrusion into their romantic vacation?  Not at all; Crowther writes, “His young wife, as long as she lived, took complete interest in his scientific work.”

Amelia died in 1854 after just seven years of marriage, having given birth to a son and a daughter.  James took the children with him to live with his father, but soon experienced other losses; his father died in 1858, and in the same year, James was a victim of a train derailment when a stray cow got onto the tracks.  The carriage in which he had been reading a mathematics book overturned, and he had to crawl out for his life – only to find the engine men nonchalantly eating their dinner, apparently unconcerned that three people had died in the accident.  This made him somewhat phobic about riding trains from then on.  In 1864, his younger brother died.  In spite of these traumas, his collaboration with Thomson grew productive and soon yielded more discoveries of fundamental importance.

Joule respected Thomson’s mathematical abilities, and tended to play second-fiddle to the Glasgow professor, acting as his chief laboratory assistant, even though he possessed enough of his own genius to be his peer.  Perhaps physical or psychological ill-health from recent trials affected his self confidence.  Nevertheless, they made a great team.  Do you like having a refrigerator in the kitchen?  Here’s the story; it comes right out of this historic collaboration, and it took Joule seven years of difficult - and dangerous - experiments.  The new theory of thermodynamics was driving physics at the time; Joule and Thomson were at the crest of the wave.  Joule measured air as it compressed and expanded, and found that it departed just slightly from Boyle’s Law for an ideal gas.  From this, they deduced that air should cool slightly if allowed to expand through a small hole without performing any work.  Thomson suggested Joule prove this with experiments.

Small-scale tests showed promise, but Joule decided he needed a bigger apparatus powered by a 3-horsepower steam engine to get more reliable measurements.  The Royal Society provided the funds, and the machine was built.  For the first year, he was able to operate it at the family brewery.  But in 1854 the brewery was sold, so he had to move the contraption to his house, with some of it sticking out in the open air because his lab was not large enough to contain it all.  His older brother described the scene: for several months James “could not find time to take his meals properly–just ran in and out again.  The experiments were so delicate that many were carried out in the night, because a cab or cart passing along the road disturbed them, though the laboratory was at the back of the stables” (Crowther, p. 193).

Joule had to transport the contraption again in 1861 when he moved to a new house, but then a neighbor complained about the commotion so much he got the authorities to put a stop to it.  “James was deeply upset by this action,” Crowther says.  Nevertheless, after seven years working on the thermal properties of gases with Thomson, they published their crowning achievement, an explanation of the cooling as being due to the absorption of heat in the performance of work separating molecules that have a slight mutual attraction.  This is the Joule-Thomson effect, the basis of liquid air production and the refrigeration industry.  The rest is history; the refrigerator today is one of the most-used electrical appliances in the home, allowing families to cool and freeze food, preserving it for long periods without the chore of calling the ice man every few days to deliver big blocks of ice that had been stashed during the winter.  But that’s not all; we haven’t yet mentioned Joule’s Law, an important equation known by every electrician.  It relates electrical power to resistance and current, and is the basis of the space heater and toaster and electric range; current forced through a strong resistor like nichrome wire generates power proportional to the resistance and to the square of the current.  All that power is output as heat.  When you watch that wire turn red, you are watching Joule’s Law at work.

At age 57 Joule’s money had run out, and he became poor while working on a more detailed verification of the mechanical equivalent of heat.  Fortunately, the Royal Society funded the work, and the queen provided him a pension to live on.  He published this, his last paper, in 1878, then lived out his final 11 years in relative privacy till succumbing to a long illness at age 71.  Clerk Maxwell said of him, “There are only a very few men who have stood in a similar position and who have been urged by the love of some truth, which they were confident was to be found though its form was as yet undefined, to devote themselves to minute observations and patient manual and mental toil in order to bring their thoughts into exact accordance with things as they are.”

The Royal Society, who had years earlier paid little attention to this non-professional hobbyist, venerated Joule in his old age.  He was described as “kindly, noble, and extremely chivalrous, but hated quackery, especially from persons of standing.” As one who had been disparaged himself, “he encouraged the efforts of workers as yet unknown and resented disparagement of their work, ‘as though his own early experience had left him with a fellow-feeling with those who were struggling’ to secure recognition of their results” (Crowther, p. 144).  J. G. Crowther thinks Joule’s life resembles that of Leonardo da Vinci, in that they both pursued perfection, and “continued the refinement of technique, subtle thoughts following the solitary contemplation of the results of their accessions of manual skill.”  Joule needs no stone monument in a cemetery; your home is filled with them, and from now on, you will no doubt remember this unique character with the magnificent full beard when you use your refrigerator, space heater, hair dryer, toaster, iron, or any of the other modern appliances that soon sprang from his discoveries in fundamental physics.  Most important, Joule’s proof of the law of conservation of energy is one of the supreme achievements of modern science.  Of this most basic and universal of all scientific laws, Henry Morris writes, “It is surely appropriate that the privilege of making such a vital discovery was given by God to a man of sincere Christian faith.” (Scientists of Faith, p. 53.)

To understand fully the motivation that makes a man like James Joule work so long and hard, often alone, we need only hear his own thoughts.  Here are excerpts found on loose sheets of paper after his death of what Crowther believes was to be an address to the British Association in 1873.  Joule had been elected President, but due to ill health had to resign, so the address was never delivered.  It’s about time for the world to hear the wisdom of these words, because rarely has such a clear statement been given on why science should be the enthusiastic pursuit of the devout Christian.  In the notes, Joule talks about many things; the value of science education for the youth, his opposition to science being applied to warfare or politics, the value of mathematical rigor, and the need for precision and planning in experimentation.  He describes the ideal moral character of the scientist: one must be humble, diligent, energetic, prudent and zealous, pursuing science due to “a love of wisdom which unfolds, a love of truth for its own sake independently with regard to the advantages of whatever kind are expected to derived from it.”  Science and knowledge elevate us above the beasts that perish, and enriches our lives with “varied and fresh enjoyments.”

Among these random but uplifting thoughts (click here for full text), we end with two quotes that so well express the theme of this book, that good science – the best science – is the fruit of devout love of God as Creator.  To Joule, the study of nature and her laws is “essentially a holy undertaking,” second only to worship as the rightful response to the Maker of all things.  Hear the words of James Prescott Joule:

After the knowledge of, and obedience to, the will of God, the next aim must be to know something of His attributes of wisdom, power and goodness as evidenced by His handiwork.

It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.

In science labs and hardware stores around the world today, the most fundamental property of the universe – energy – is measured in joules.

Learn More About
James Joule

A concise biography with links can be found on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.

Here’s another online biography with bibliography including reference to Crowther’s book.

Ann Lamont has a biography from a Christian perspective on Answers in Genesis.

This one claims to be the official James Joule website.

This page explains Joule’s Law (technical), and at the Spark Museum, you can see Joule state the law in his own words.  If you want to try it, check out this lab experiment.

A Joule pun:
Q: Watt’s a joule per second?
A: Correct.
(A watt is a unit of power, measured as one joule of energy per second.)

Read Joule’s own words.  Click here for the full set of excerpts from his planned address to the British Association, as reproduced by J. G. Crowther.

  William Thomson, Lord Kelvin     1824 - 1907 

William Thomson, Scottish physicist, mathematician and engineer, later awarded the barony Kelvin of Largs which gave him the more familiar title “Lord Kelvin,” was the most eminent scientist of his day in the British Isles.  He was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of Glasgow in Scotland for over 50 years.  Lord Kelvin was largely responsible for the rise of engineering, taking the meteoric discoveries being made by 19th century scientists to practical uses for man.  He supervised the first successful transatlantic cable that brought instantaneous communication across the ocean for the first time.  This succeeded only with his invention of signal amplifiers and sensitive receivers.  With James Joule, he discovered the Joule-Thomson effect that ushered in the invention of refrigerators.  His name is also commemorated in the Kelvin temperature scale, that begins at absolute zero (a concept he originated), which is widely used in physics and astronomy.  Perhaps Lord Kelvin’s most significant achievement was defining the concept of energy and formalizing the laws of thermodynamics.  Applying the Second Law to the universe as a whole, he predicted the heat death of the universe in the future, which also ruled out an infinitely-old universe.

As a Christian, Lord Kelvin was a gentle, wise and generous family man, faithful in his church, an ardent student of the Scripture and a promoter of Christian education.  He believed church members should study the maps in the back of the Bible and understand history.  He often expressed awe at the beauty, design and orderliness of creation and natural law.  But he also recognized the rise of Darwinism both for its bad science and evil influence.  Accordingly, he contested the arguments of Huxley and others that the earth was millions of years old.  In a well-known interchange with Huxley, he calculated mathematically that the earth and the sun could not be that old, based on his own knowledge of thermodynamics.  His argument for a maximum age for the earth was made before the discovery of thermonuclear reactions, and has been largely discounted unfairly on that basis.  (In actuality, the age of the earth and sun are difficulties for evolution even today, and his arguments are largely ignored.)  Nevertheless, Lord Kelvin was respected even by “Darwin’s bulldog” Thomas Huxley as a gentleman, a scholar, and a formidable opponent: he called him “the most perfect knight who ever broke a lance.”  Known for his self-confidence, Kelvin held the Darwinists’ feet to the fire of scientific rigor and didn’t let them get by with mere storytelling.  His students respected him for his skill at demonstrating underlying, unifying principles (rather than requiring memorization of facts), and motivating them to do their best.

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin published over 600 research papers and served as president of the Royal Society.  Showered with 21 honorary doctorates from around the world, he had right to more letters after his name than any of his contemporaries.  He received numerous awards and was knighted by the queen.  Not only did he advance science in fundamental ways himself, he mentored Joule, Maxwell, Tait and other eminent scientists.  He was buried in Westminster Abbey after a long and successful career.

Learn More About
Lord Kelvin

Here is a secular biography of Lord Kelvin.

Learn about Lord Kelvin’s arguments against an old earth in this ICR Impact Article.

  James Clerk Maxwell     1831 - 1879  

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 Maxwell’s 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 Maxwell’s Equations in his honor.  These equations, that express natural laws, not only brought together all the work of Faraday, Ohm, Volta, Ampere, and everyone else who had studied the curious properties of electricity and magnetism, but made an absolutely 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 mankind–seen 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 Maxwell’s discovery of the laws of electrodynamics.”  Electricity and magnetism, mere curiosities when explored by Faraday and explained by Maxwell, turned out to generate more economic wealth than the entire British stock exchange.  Our modern world is inconceivable without the experimental and theoretical foundation laid by these two great Christians and scientists who harnessed mysterious laws of nature for human benefit.

And that was only one of Maxwell’s 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 Saturn’s 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 achieved had his life run a normal span.”

We are fortunate to have a great deal of original source documents on Maxwell, thanks largely to his biographer and lifelong friend, the Rev. Lewis Campbell, who collected many personal letters, essays, anecdotes and tributes into his excellent 1882 biography, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell, co-authored by William Garnett, one of his Cambridge colleagues.  In addition, Cambridge University (where Maxwell was a distinguished scholar) has recently (1990, 1995) published two thick annotated volumes of Maxwell’s collected scientific papers and letters–including even his postcards–and a third volume was just completed in late 2002.  Yet in spite of these resources, few have even heard of James Clerk (pronounced Clark) Maxwell and his work, because these books are rare and costly.  The biography, long out of print, can only be found on dusty shelves of large libraries, and the new volumes of his collected papers cost $300 apiece.  But now, a Maxwell devotee software engineer has put the whole Lewis Campbell biography online, so Maxwell’s personal life story, the kind you never get in the textbooks, is accessible again (see sidebar, right).  We will include some choice examples here, but if there is one of the great scientists in this series you would pick to study in more detail, try this one.  You’re in for a treat, because Maxwell’s 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, Maxwell’s Christian faith was the core of his being.  It guided his life’s 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 philosophy–and 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.

Maxwell’s letters sparkle with a joie de vivre that is infectious, but he also knew hardship and tragedy.  He knew what it was like to be taunted and bullied as a young boy at school (like when he was inadvertently sent to a new school a bit “overdressed” for his peers’ taste).  He knew what it was like to have to learn to defend himself and earn respect without losing his composure.  At age eight, he faced a devastating tragedy 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 son’s dearest mentor and supporter, well into James’ college years.  His fatherly letters reveal his proud interest in everything his son was doing.  John’s 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 “JCM”–his 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.  It would take a scholar in Greek mythology and Sophocles’ plays, for instance, to comprehend this whimsical line from a postcard to his friend Peter G. Tait: “The Hamiltonsche Princip., the while, soars along in a region unvexed by statistical considerations while the German Icari flap their waxen wings in nephelococcygia.”  His best wit, though, can be found in his poems.  Early on in grammar school, Maxwell also became quite the poet.  (Part III of Campbell’s biography contains examples both witty and profound).  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 Maxwell’s youth were old-fashioned.  Instead of building self-esteem, they forced students to learn Latin, Greek, and classic literature.  Good thing, because Maxwell’s 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, “Christianity–that is, the religion of the Bible–is 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 Smith’s prizeman.  In those arduous days of preparing for the Cambridge final exams, the toughest in the world, he composed a ten-verse poem, A Student’s 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 God’s 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 Maxwell’s 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 husband’s 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 Maxwell’s 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 and Faraday both 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.

Maxwell’s scientific work was varied and colorful.  When a contest for the Adam’s Prize was announced, Maxwell took up the challenge and set to explain the nature of Saturn’s 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 in 1857, but the real honor came 124 years later in 1981, 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 monochromatic images taken through filters with the three primary colors.  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 “Maxwell’s 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 Faraday’s 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 Ampere’s 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 Maxwell’s 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 “Maxwell’s Wonderful Equations,” wrote, “To anyone who is motivated by anything beyond the most narrowly practical, it is worth while to understand Maxwell’s 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, Maxwell’s Equations needed no revision when Einstein published his theories of relativity 40 years later, but Newton’s laws did.  Maxwell’s 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.  Another phenomenal result of these equations is that it became possible to derive the speed of light from theoretical considerations alone. 

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 mother’s life forty years earlier.  Throughout his ordeal, Maxwell’s 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:

Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e’en dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.
Also frequently quoting from a hymn,
Lord, it belongs not to my care,
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And that Thy grace must give.
  His faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ was his great consolation that eternity lay before him as a joyous entrance to heaven.  Toward the end, after giving the glory to God for all his achievements, he said, “I have been thinking how very gently I have been always dealt with.  I have never had a violent shove in all my life.  The only desire which I can have is like David to serve my own generation by the will of God, and then fall asleep.”  That he did on November 5; his doctor observed, “His intellect also remained clear and apparently unimpaired to the last.  While his bodily strength was ebbing away to death, his mind never once wandered or wavered, but remained clear to the very end.  No man ever met death more consciously or more calmly.”

Tributes poured in after James Clerk Maxwell’s death.  Few grasped the significance of what he had discovered, and what it would bring to civilization, but all who knew him honored his intellect and reputation.  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, after 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 fashioned.
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 Campbell’s biography.  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:
He that would enjoy life and act with freedom must have the work of the day continually before his eyes.  Not yesterday’s work, lest he fall into despair, nor to-morrow’s, lest he become a visionary,–not that which ends with the day, which is a worldly work, nor yet that only which remains to eternity, for by it he cannot shape his actions.
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.
The largest, tallest mountain on Venus – over 10 miles higher than the average height – is named after Maxwell, the only feature named after a historical person.  A crater on the moon on the moon is also named in his honor.  On the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope is exploring the universe in the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

“His name stands magnificently over the portal of classical physics, and we can say this of him; by his birth James Clerk Maxwell belongs to Edinburgh, by his personality he belongs to Cambridge, by his work he belongs to the whole world.”  –Max Planck, physicist

Learn More About
James Clerk Maxwell

The year 2006 was declared “Maxwell Year” by the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation, for the purpose of “celebrating the man who changed everything,” upon the 175th anniversary of his birth.  Take a look at the pictures, documents, anecdotes and links for more information about him at Maxwell Year 2006.

Check out these Tributes to Maxwell by great scientists.

Read the Lewis Campbell biography The Life of James Clerk Maxwell online!  Get it in PDF Format or order it on CD-Rom.  If in a hurry, at least read the Preface and Summary.

Read Maxwell and the Christian Proposition by Ian Hutchinson, an illustrated biographical sketch emphasizing Maxwell’s Christian motivations for science.  This makes for a good summary of Lewis Campbell’s biography if time is limited.

Take a tour of the Maxwell House at Glenlair (but bring your own coffee).  Loaded with links and pictures.

Check out books by or about Maxwell at the CalTech Library or search for them on Amazon.Com.

Here is a secular Biography of Maxwell.

Visit the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation website.

Read the IEEE’s tribute to Faraday and Maxwell and description of the importance of their work on electromagnetism.  It also lists and briefly explains Maxwell’s Equations.

Let Professor Michael Fowler explain Maxwell’s Equations.

Study the Electromagnetic Spectrum.

Find Crater Maxwell on the Moon.

Find Maxwell Montes, the highest mountain on Venus (taller than Mt. Everest!), in this global view.  And here’s a stunning rendition of Maxwell Montes from an oblique angle (click here for the caption).

Take a Virtual Tour of the Maxwell Telescope.

Play Maxwell’s A Student’s Evening Hymn at the piano.


  John Napier     1550 - 1617  

Who was the first prominent scientist from the British Isles?  Who, in the early 17th century, stands in the line of pioneers of calculating machines?  Who doubled the productivity of early scientists?  Who according to David Hume was one of the greatest men Scotland ever produced, yet would have argued against Hume’s skepticism?  A man who studied the Bible seriously, and fervently defended Biblical Christianity against error.  A man whose most famous discovery would have profound impact on the sciences, yet considered his Christian faith primary and his mathematics secondary.  A man most students never heard of, John Napier.

John Napier (the most common, but probably inaccurate, spelling of his name) was born of a wealthy landowner in Scotland.  The year he entered St. Andrew’s University at age 13, his mother died.  At the university, and later in studies in Europe, he learned higher mathematics and classical literature, but he first became passionately interested in theology at St. Andrews.  After his marriage in 1572, he and his bride moved into a castle on the Merchiston estate when it was completed in 1574.  His cleverness as an inventor became apparent as he managed his estates.  He found ways to increase productivity of the soil using scientific approaches to fertilization.  His wife died in their seventh anniversary year; a few years later he remarried.  He had two sons, one from each marriage.

Napier was born the year when the Scottish Reformation commenced, 1550.  During Napier’s lifetime, disputes between Protestants and Catholics threatened to split the country in two.  The controversy was not merely intellectual, because the Catholic Church had made an alliance with the Spanish in 1593 to invade Britain with the goal of conquest.  Napier, fiercely committed to Scriptural authority, determined to defend Scotland from the errors of papistry.  On three occasions he accompanied deputations to make their case before the king.  On his own initiative, he also wrote a commentary on Revelation called A Plaine Discourse on the Whole Revelation of St. John in which he interpreted the harlot that sits on seven hills (Rev. 17:9) as Rome, the seat of the Catholic pope.  A sense of his zeal can be gained from his preface, where he explains his response to a sermon on the Apocalypse:

... I was so mooved in admiration, against the blindnes of Papists, that could not most evidently see their seven hilled citie Rome, painted out there so lively by Saint John, as the mother of all spiritual whoredome, that not onely bursted I out in continual reasoning against my said familiar, but also from thenceforth, I determined with my selfe (by the assistance of Gods spirit) to employ my studie and diligence to search out the remanent mysteries of that holy Book: as to this houre (praised be the Lorde) I have bin doing at al such times as conveniently I might have occasion.
He wrote humbly as one who did not feel adequate to convey such important truths, yet was compelled by the urgency to “prevent the rising againe of Antichristian darknes within this Iland, then to prolong the time in painting of language.”  His commentary, which took years of study, was widely published in the British Isles and on the continent, and has been called, for Scotland, “the first published original work relating to theological interpretation, and is quite without a predecessor in its own field.”

Napier is best known as the inventor of logarithms in 1614.  His discovery has been called second only to Newton’s Principia in importance to the foundational history of British science.  Logarithms (a term coined by Napier) provided a shortcut to calculation, replacing tedious multiplications and divisions with simpler additions and subtractions.  It was not an accidental discovery.  Napier set his mind to find a way to make the mathematician’s life easier, because the effort required for long calculations made the work tedious and error prone.  His work was original and detailed, without precedent or anticipation by previous writers.  The publication consisted of a 57 page treatise in Latin, with 90 additional pages of tables.  His first approach was not to any base, but this was later improved with the help of an admiring mathematician from London, Henry Briggs, who made the four-day journey with the express purpose of meeting the esteemed Scot.  Briggs understood the potential value of Napierís discovery.  Together, they improved upon the concept, setting logarithms to the familiar base 10, the “common logs” as still used today, although “natural logarithms” are often set to the base e in the sciences (see Euler).

Logarithms were to become extremely valuable for the advance of planetary science by Kepler and later astronomers.  Laplace said that “by shortening the labors, they doubled the life of the astronomer.”  Kepler’s biographer Max Caspar claims that another mathematician on the continent, Jost Burgi, a friend to Kepler, could have scooped the fame for this invention in Germany but published six years too late, so the rightful priority goes to Napier, who had independently developed the method out of his own gifted mind.  One encyclopedia remarks, “The more one considers the condition of science at the time, and the state of the country in which the discovery took place, the more wonderful does the invention of logarithms appear.” Napier lived in an era of tumult and superstition, but appears to have been a man of good sense and reason.  The same encyclopedia elaborates, “Considering the time in which he lived, Napier is singularly free from superstition: his [Plaine Discourse] relates to a method of interpretation to a later age ... and none of his writings contain allusions to astrology or magic.”  Although he probably accepted some aspects of astrology (as did practically everyone in his era) some biographies suggest Napier did practical jokes playing upon the superstitions of his neighbors, hinting of his disdain for pseudoscience.

Three years after the publication of his logarithms, Napier invented another aid to calculation that puts him in the timeline of calculating machines and computers.  He constructed rods of ivory with integers on them, constructed in such an ingenious way that, laid side by side, one could quickly adduce sums, quotients, products, and square and cube roots.  Later dubbed “Napier’s Bones” by others, these devices again revealed the creative mind that preferred theology as his first love and mathematics just a sidelight.  Other achievements in mathematics included decimal notation for fractions and the concept of negative numbers.  But this inventor also put his ingenuity to practical matters of warfare, for the defense of his homeland in light of the perilous times.  He conceived of a shielded chariot that would protect its drivers while allowing artillery to be fired in all directions, a mirror that could burn a ship from a distance, and a device that could sail underwater.  So it could be claimed that Napier was the visionary father of the tank, the death ray, and the submarine.

John Napier was the first major contributor to science from the British Isles.  The encyclopedia states, “There is no British author of the time except Napier whose name can be placed in the same rank as those of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, or Stevinus,” all from the continent.  The story of the inventor of logarithms reminds us again that Christian faith, and zealous commitment to the defense of the Word of God, is no impediment to scientific progress.  On the contrary, science was born, grew and flourished among Christian stalwarts like John Napier.

Learn More About
John Napier

Scotland is proud of its intellectual heroes, as in this eulogy of John Napier.

Here’s a British museum entry about Napier’s Bones, and at this next site you can even buy a set: check out the photos of these handcrafted kits.

The History of Computing Timeline (PDF format) puts Napier’s Bones on the path to computers.

What are you beating on that log,arithm?  Learn all about logarithms and why they are so useful at the SOS Math website.  Not ready for college math?  Try this simpler High School Math Forum where Dr. Math answers your questions about logarithms (he also explains why the discovery was so important for scienceMathPages tells how Napier’s logarithms were instrumental in helping Kepler formulate his Third Law of Planetary Motion.

The History of Mathematics website has a decent biography of Napier, with portraits.  The 1911 Edition Encyclopedia has a more detailed biography (but scroll down to the second John Napier).

  Leonhard Euler     1707 - 1783  

Here is the true story of a very interesting individual, one whose name will ring a bell for anyone who has studied higher mathematics, because his name is associated with dozens of theorems, proofs, algorithms, constants and laws.  Though not a scientist by training, he contributed immeasurably to science by advancing its language (mathematics) and its toolkit of operations.  According to math professor Howard Anton, he “made major contributions to virtually every branch of mathematics as well as to the theory of optics, planetary motion, electricity, magnetism, and general mechanics.”  His name was Leonhard Euler (pronounced oiler), a true genius who was also a committed Christian all his life.

Euler was so smart it’s almost scary.  In his thick textbook Calculus, Howard Anton includes brief biographies of famous mathematicians; his entry on Euler sounds like an episode from Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” –

Euler was probably the most prolific mathematician who ever lived.  It has been said that, “Euler wrote mathematics as effortlessly as most men breathe.” .... Euler’s energy and capacity for work were virtually boundless.  His collected works form about 60 to 80 quarto sized volumes and it is believed that much of his work has been lost.  What is particularly astonishing is that Euler was blind for the last 17 years of his life, and this was one of his most productive periods!  Euler’s flawless memory was phenomenal.  Early in his life he memorized the entire Aeneid by Virgil and at age 70 could not only recite the entire work, but could also state the first and last sentence on each page of the book from which he memorized the work.  His ability to solve problems in his head was beyond belief.  He worked out in his head major problems of lunar motion that baffled Isaac Newton and once did a complicated calculation in his head to settle an argument between two students whose computations differed in the fiftieth decimal place.
This gives us cause to ponder the possibilities inherent in the human brain.  It makes us wonder what initial abilities the Creator gave to man that have been degenerating since the creation, only to surface occasionally to above-average levels in rare geniuses like Euler.  It also makes us wonder how any theory of evolution could ever produce such a superabundance of potential, far more than needed for mere survival.  The ability to perform abstract, symbolic reasoning in the human mind, unknown in the animal kingdom, provides strong evidence for the special creation of man.  Nothing comes from nothing.  A mind as gifted as Euler’s could only come from a bigger Mind, one that is all-knowing and infinite in wisdom and knowledge.

Did Euler’s genius make him an aloof braggart or freakish savant?  Not at all.  He was a gracious and unselfish person, a loving father of a large family, a teacher, a diplomatic gentleman and a man of deep faith and conviction.  People loved and respected him.  He was a hard worker and a lover of the truth.  There are no indications he thought highly of himself, but that he pursued his area of expertise in the desire to advance knowledge and aid the sciences.  But when it came time to defend his faith, he was prepared, like Pascal, to take up the challenge.

Leonhard’s father was a pastor who also enjoyed mathematics.  After home- schooling the boy for his elementary years, Paul Euler sent his son to the University of Basel, Switzerland (their home town), hoping he would follow in his theological footsteps.  Though faithful to his Calvinistic upbringing all his life, Leonhard’s interest and proficiency in geometry convinced his father a change of career was warranted.  Tutored under Johann Bernoulli, Leonhard by age 16 had a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters in philosophy, and by 18 was doing mathematical research and producing original work that continued unabated for the next six decades.  His career took him beyond the University of Basel to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in Russia, and for 25 years to the Berlin Academy of Sciences, then back to Russia.  In this brief biography, we are more interested in the beliefs and personal life of this amazing individual, who singlehandedly was responsible for about a third of all mathematical output of the 18th century.

Christian living was a practical reality, not a Sunday formality, to Euler.  Dan Graves, in his excellent chapter on Euler in Scientists of Faith says, “Despite his turn to math, Euler retained his firm Calvinist beliefs throughout life, holding daily prayer and worship in his home and sometimes preaching.”  Unable to find work in Switzerland, Leonhard moved to St. Petersburg, Russia where, at age 26, he met and married another Swiss emigrant, Katharina Gsell, his bride for 40 years. Graves describes their family life: “Katharina bore him thirteen children, whom he loved dearly.  He often carried on his work with children sitting on his lap or clinging to his back.”  But Dan Graves also illustrates a theme we have seen often in these biographies, that the individuals we know primarily for their intellectual achievements were real human beings who often had to overcome severe trials and misfortunes.

Not only did Euler lose sight in one eye at age 28 while straining on a particularly difficult problem, he lost sight of his other eye at age 59 in great pain, as Graves describes: “An operation to restore the better of the two was successful, but infection invaded both eyes.  After horrible agony he permanently lost his sight.  He later said that only his faith in God enabled him to bear those days of torment.”  As stated earlier, however, some of his greatest work was yet to come, fully half his lifetime output, as Euler wrote out his complex derivations on “the black slate of his mind.”  Taking this disability in stride, he said, “Now I will have less distraction.”

Additional trials came from political and philosophical enemies.  In his thirties, Euler moved from an unstable political situation in Russia, when spies were everywhere and purges were the rule, and worked under the Prussian emperor Frederick the Great.  There he served 25 years and added immensely to the prestige of the Berlin Academy of Sciences.  But his patron Frederick, an Enlightenment skeptic, sneered at the Christian faith of his niece’s tutor.  In response, Euler wrote Letters to a German Princess, in which he gently combined piety with the sciences.  The book became a best-seller in seven languages, but Frederick was not impressed.  Voltaire, the French Enlightenment anti-Christian deist, joined in mocking Euler’s Biblical world view.  Euler corresponded with apologetic works defending Christian doctrine against Voltaire, Leibniz, Wolff and other Enlightenment skeptics, until the interference and opposition by Frederick became intolerable and he had to uproot again.  At age 59, he moved back to St. Petersburg to accept a position under Catherine II (the Great).  The Russians welcomed him as a returning hero.  But that was the year, 1766, when he became totally blind.  In 1771, his house burned down and he escaped with his life and his manuscripts.  Two years later, his wife died.

Undeterred by misfortune, upheaval and disability, Euler continued his work. With only his mind’s eye, he worked through detailed algorithms and dictated them to his sons.  Dan Graves said that his work actually became clearer and more concise.  An online biography at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute states that “He was apparently able to do extensive and complex calculations in his head, remembering every step so that he could recite them for his sons to record. ... he published more than 500 books and papers during his lifetime, with another 400 appearing posthumously”.  Another online biography claims that his death in 1783 left a vast backlog of articles that the St. Petersburg Academy continued to publish for nearly 50 more years.  Dan Graves tallies his publications at 886, which he claims have only recently been brought together, and constitute the size of a large set of encyclopedias.  The Encyclopedia Britannica says the compilations began in 1911 and are still continuing!  That’s an incredible volume of writing for anyone, let alone technical writing, especially for a blind man!

What is contained in all this prodigious output?  Just about anything and everything dealing with mathematics.  Euler’s work transformed the look of homework around the world: the convention of using the letter pi for the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle, the letter e for the base of the natural logarithm, the Greek letter sigma for the sum of a series of numbers, and the letter i for the unit of imaginary numbers.  The theory of infinities and continuity.  Important work on our present understanding of functions, including the highly-used f notation such as y = f(x).  Greater perfection in differential and integral calculus, including many new techniques for solving indefinite integrals and the introduction of the well-known integral sign.  More simplicity in analytical operations.  Advances in the theory of linear differential equations.  The properties of integers and the theory of numbers, leading to the foundations of pure mathematics.  Euler’s criterion.  Euler’s constant.  Euler numbers.  The list goes on.

In addition, Euler tackled numerous theoretical and practical physical problems, including work on the basic principles of mechanics, optics, acoustics and astronomy.  The Encyclopedia Britannica says,

Euler devoted considerable attention to developing a more perfect theory of lunar motion, which was particularly troublesome, since it involved the so- called three-body problem–the interactions of Sun, Moon and Earth.  (The problem is still unsolved.)  His partial solution, published in 1753, assisted the British Admiralty in calculating lunar tables, of importance then in attempting to determine longitude at sea.  One of the feats of his blind years was to perform all the elaborate calculations in his head for his second theory of lunar motion in 1772. ... Euler and Lagrange together are regarded as the greatest mathematicians of the 18th century; but Euler has never been excelled either in productivity or in the skillful and imaginative use of algorithmic devices (i.e., computational procedures) for solving problems.
Phenomenal as his intellectual achievements were, we should see beyond them the heart of a faithful Christian, strong enough to defend his faith against the most powerful skeptics of his day, yet humble enough to depend totally on the Lord for comfort in the midst of suffering.  We should see in his popular writings and textbooks for elementary schools a desire to help the young.  We should see in his Letters to a German Princess a belief in the unity of knowledge and virtue.  We should see a loving father taking time to play with his children, the fruit of such love being evidenced years later in his sons’ willingness to help transcribe his mental output during his 17 years of total blindness.  We should see an active senior working tirelessly till the day of his death at age 76.  We should be reminded that steadfast faith in the Word of God is not a hindrance, but rather a stimulus, to the advance of knowledge.  We should see that a mind in touch with its Creator, whether its physical windows are open or shut, can be a beautiful and powerful thing.

Learn More About
Leonhard Euler

Euler 2007 is a website devoted to compiling as much information on Euler as possible before his 300th birthday.  It is already loaded with material and has portions of a very detailed biography.  Check out the Berlin period which mentions some of the philosophical debates Euler had with Enlightenment skeptics.  It also contains transcripts of some of Euler’s letters.

The Euler Society is a related group dedicated to scholarly research into the life and work of Leonhard Euler.  They started publishing a monthly newsletter in 2002.

The History of Mathematics site has a good biography of Euler’s personal life and mathematical achievements.

The Australian Mathematics Trust has another short biography on Euler.

Clark Kimberling’s short biography of Euler lists thirty-six mathematical items tied to Euler’s name.

The Euler Project is a springboard for further information on his life.

Want to buy 82 volumes of Euler’s work?  Shop here.

  Bernhard Riemann     1826 - 1866  

Let’s turn now to another remarkable Christian mathematician who, like Blaise Pascal, changed the world but never reached his 40th birthday: Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann (pronounced REE-mon).

Mathematics is the language of science and the two are almost useless without one another.  There are textbooks both in mathematical physics and physical mathematics.  Sometimes the scientist presses the mathematician to produce better tools for computation, but sometimes the mathematician opens up new vistas for the scientist to explore.  Riemann was such a man.  He liberated mathematics from the strictures of Euclidean geometry that for 2,000 years had seemed intuitively obvious and inviolable.  In so doing, he created a new space for Einstein to apply his mental powers.  Howard Anton called Riemann’s work “brilliant and of fundamental importance,” and lamented that “his early death was a great loss to mathematics.”  Yet such achievement would have seemed unlikely for a boy who wanted to become a preacher.

Like Leonhard Euler in the previous century, Riemann was the son of a Protestant minister.  Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, Bernhard had a trait that would not have suited the preaching profession, according to John Hudson Tiner: he was excessively shy.  Nevertheless, throughout his life, he was devoutly religious and sincere in his Christian faith.  Early on, his propensity for mathematics became obvious.  Dan Graves says that he outpaced his teacher at age ten, and at age 16 “he mastered Legendre’s (1752-1833) massive and difficult Theory of Numbers—in just six days.”  He breezed through Euler’s works on calculus and studied under the great Carl Friedrich Gauss, under whom he received his PhD with a thesis on complex functions. 

In order to obtain an assistant professorship, Riemann had to deliver a lecture on one of three topics.  Gauss selected the topic for which his student was least prepared: the foundations of geometry.  After hastening to prepare, he delivered a paper so brilliant it astonished his aging master.  Riemann’s work led to a bizarre concept hard for many to grasp: curved space, in which Euclid’s rules of geometry broke down.

One of Euclid’s primary assumptions was that parallel lines never meet; another was that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  A few, including Gauss, had speculated whether it would be possible to question these assumption, and thereon build a non-Euclidean geometry.  By proposing that space was curved, Riemann’s method succeeded far better than earlier attempts.  In curved space, parallel lines could meet, and the shortest distance between two points would be a curve on the curved surface.  These ideas, mere curiosities among the learned in the 1850s, were fundamental to Einstein’s theories of relativity 50 years later.  Riemann also formalized the modern understanding of the definite integral and made other important contributions in both physics and mathematics, yet he did not achieve fame or recognition in his lifetime.

Personally, Riemann was bashful, reserved, and a perfectionist.  These traits led to two breakdowns from overwork, and contributed toward ill health much of his life.  For most of his short career he had low-paying jobs.  Though poor himself, he unselfishly supported his unmarried sisters.  Within a month of marrying at age 36, he suffered respiratory diseases that sent him into a downward spiral.  Through all his troubles, he maintained a steadfast faith and conducted daily spiritual examination.  As he was succumbing to tuberculosis, the Lord’s prayer comprised the last words on his lips.  His tombstone bears the inscription of Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”

Calculus students today learn about Riemann sums, Riemann surfaces and Riemann integrals.  Knowing a little about the person behind the terms is definitely integral to appreciating them.

Learn More About
Bernhard Riemann

Here is a biography of Riemann on the History of Mathematics website.

This biography goes into more detail about some of his mathematical discoveries.

Eric Weisstein can link you to further information about Riemannian mathematics.


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