Karl Alois Kneller.

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1 Ib. 224 225.



128 IV. PHYSICS. I. THEORY OF ELECTRICITY.

view; and the ways are infinite in which he occupies his
thoughts about the fears, or hopes, or expectations of a
future life. I believe that the truth of that future cannot
be brought to his knowledge by any exertion of his mental
powers, however exalted they may be, that it is made known
to him by other teaching than his own, and is received
through simple belief of the testimony given. Let no one
suppose for a moment that the self-education I am about
to commend in respect of the things of this life, extends
to any consideration of the hope set before us, as if man
by reasoning could find out God. It would be improper
here to enter upon the subject further than to claim an
absolute distinction between religious and ordinary belief.
I shall be reproached with the weakness of refusing to apply
those mental operations which I think good in respect of
high things to the very highest. I am content to bear the
reproach; yet, even in earthly matters, I believe that the
invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are
clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,
even His eternal power and Godhead; and I have never
seen anything incompatible between those things of man
which are within him, and those higher things concerning
his future, which he cannot know by that spirit." l

In his private notes also, as for example in his diaries
of travel, religious reflections come spontaneously to his
pen. During his Swiss tour of 1841 he finds in a country
churchyard a grave of extreme poverty: marked only
by a wooden cross, furnished with a sort of roof, and
under this, written on a plain sheet of paper the date
of birth and death. The survivors were too poor to
erect any more elaborate memorial, but Faraday thinks
it compensation that beneath the roof there hangs the
empty chrysalis of a now matured butterfly. He writes :
"How old and how beautiful is this figure of the Re-



1 Jones, The Life and Letters of Faraday I 298.



MICHAEL FARADAY. 1 29

surrection ! Surely it can never appear before our eyes
without touching the heart." 1

At Coblentz he reads the celebrated inscription set
up by the general of the French on his march to Russia,
and the note added by the general of the Russians
when passing through the town in pursuit of the de-
feated French. "A striking illustration of the saying
that all is vanity and vexation of spirit", remarks Faraday
in his diary 2 . The more he came to know of nature,
the more fully did he recognise the power of God.
"To all the objections of Colenso or to any scepticism
as to the Mosaic theory of the origin of the world",
writes his nephew Francis Bernard to Dr. Gladstone,
"he would have simply answered in the words of the
Apostle: l ls anything too difficult for God?'" 3

In spite of these declarations we find to our amazement
that Faraday also was in his day represented as an enemy
of Christianity. It was during the heat of the Darwin dis-
cussions that a letter dated July 6 th 1860 apprised the un-
suspecting Faraday of the fact, and begged for an explanation.
In an attack on the Biblical story of the creation of man,
some popular lecturer or other had alleged that in dis-
courses at Oxford, Cambridge, and London, Faraday had
declared life to be mere electricity, had produced worms
and other little animals manufactured by electricity, and
had expressly stated that man had come into existence in
the same way. In fact the whole drift of his discourses was
said to have been so unorthodox that he was compelled
to bring then to an abrupt conclusion. In reply Faraday
was of course able to say that there was not a single word
of truth in the allegation.

He had never lectured at Cambridge, he had never been
compelled to cut short any course of lectures elsewhere, and



1 Ib. II 133. 2 Ib. II 128.

3 Thompson, M. Faraday's Leben und Wirken 223.
Kneller, Christianity. 9



I3O IV. PHYSICS. I. THEORY OF ELECTRICITY.

if he had provoked opposition it was "because I was supposed
to pay too much respect to the Bible, which I believe to
be the word of God" *.

We see than, that the three great pioneers of electrical
science were, all their lives, faithful to Christ, and to the
Christian revelation. The fact is beyond dispute, and
its significance is obviously very great.

When the half-educated man of the world glides in an
electric car through the streets, under the golden glow of
electric lamps ; when he converses with friends hundred of
miles away, and even recognises their voices; when he com-
mits to express train or steamer a message for America or
Australia, how often pride in these marvellous inventions
brings to his lips a curl of contempt for the old woman
telling her Rosary beside him, or for those others who
are gabbling of religion and churches! How apt he
is to dismiss the past with all its beliefs and achieve-
ments, Christianity included, as obsolete and exploded !
And yet his contempt is itself contemptible, and is merely
a token of ignorance and shallowness. The intellects
that laid the foundation of all these marvels, bowed in
acceptance before the truths of Christianity ; the skilful
hands that were the first to unveil on the laboratory-
table the secret laws of electricity did not scorn to be
folded in prayer, and Volta and Ampere told their
Rosary beads as humbly as any poor woman. Let un-
belief .seek what capital it can find in other fields of
science ; in the field of electricity, which, more than any
other, attracts and dazzles the masses, it will certainly
find no authoritative name to serve as a weapon against
Christianity. There is a further point that should be



Jones, The Life and Letters of Faraday II 436 f.



L. GALVANI. 131

emphasized. Ampere and Volta made special study of
the grounds of Christian belief. Both were men of
supreme intellect, thoroughly acquainted with all that
has been said on each side of the controversy between
faith and scepticism ; and inquiry led both to complete
acceptance of the Christian dispensation. If then authority
is to decide the question, must not one man of the
stamp of Volta or Ampere outweigh a thousand who
may indeed know their Physics or Chemistry but as
regards higher questions are obliged to confess with
Darwin that they had never found time to investigate
them? And must not such a man outweigh ten thousand
of the type of Haeckel, who give themselves out with
the loudest assurance as the champions of science, and
when they come to discuss points of Christian history
and belief display an ignorance that absolutely stupefies
one into silence?

Volta, Ampere, Faraday stand at the head of the science
of electricity, but there are also other great discoverers
of whom we must take account. We have already
mentioned Coulomb and Ohm. There is also Galvani,
a precursor of Volta, and Oersted, a precursor of Ampere.
Maxwell in England, and Hertz in Germany led the way
in the interpretation of electrical phenomena, and the
establishment of a theory of its inner nature 1 .

A brief study of these six will only serve to confirm
the results already arrived at. L. Galvani (f 1/98)
was a deeply religious man, and indeed a Member of



1 If we go back to earlier times we must before all name B. Franklin.
He openly acknowledged the existence and the providence of God ;
his position as regards Christianity is not clear. Cf. Correspondance
de B. Franklin (1757 1790), trad, de 1'anglais et annotee par
E. Laboulaye, 2 vols, Paris 1866.

9*



132 IV. PHYSICS. I. THEORY OF ELECTRICITY.

the Third Order of St. Francis 1 . Coulomb was noted
for his firm and upright character, and the fact that at
the outbreak of the Revolution he resigned his offices
shows that his civil and domestic virtues rested on a
basis other than that of u Liberalism" 2 .
. An amiable and friendly nature was that of George
Simon Ohm (f at Munich July 6 th 1854), discoverer
of the law called by his name.

"Nature", said Lament 3 , "had given him in liberal measure
good nature and modesty, and these rare qualities appeared
in all his intercourse with the world. In matters of merely
personal concern he yielded 'to the tide of fortune readily
and without bitterness. The mishap which at the outset of
his career deprived him of an advantageous post did not
leave in him a trace of misanthropy, and when his abilities
at last received due and brilliant recognition, success in no
way altered his simplicity of character and bearing."

That Ohm had as little sympathy with the campaign
of destruction as the others cited here is shown by
many passing remarks in the introductions and notes
to his works. In the preface of the first volume of his
Molecular Physics he promises a second and third vo-
lume and "if God gives me length of days for it, a
fourth". On finding after the publication of his book
that a discovery recorded in it as original had been



1 Stimmen aus Maria-Laach LIX (1900) 18.

2 J.-B. B i o t in his Melanges scientifiques et litteraires III , Paris
1858, 104, compares Coulomb with Clouet, a disciple of Rousseau's, and
is of opinion that a greater contrast than that between these two is
inconceivable. "Coulomb", he continues, "a vecu avec patience parmi
les hommes de son temps, ne se separant que de leurs passions et
de leurs erreurs, se maintenant toujours juste, calme, ferme, et digne,
in se totus, teres atque rotundus, comme le sage Horace."

3 Denkrede auf die Akademiker Dr. Thaddaus Siber und Dr. Georg
Simon Ohm, Miinchen 1855, 35.



COULOMB. GEORGE SIMON OHM. HANS CHRISTIAN OERSTED. 133

anticipated by a Swedish scientist he consoles himself
with the remark: "The episode has given a fresh and
deep sense for my mind to the saying 'Man proposes,
and God disposes'. The project that gave the first
impetus to my inquiry has been dissipated into mist,
and a new one, undesigned by me, has been accom-
plished in its place." *

The campaign against Christianity will derive no more
support from Hans Christian Oersted 2 (f 1851)
than from Ohm. At the millenial celebration of the
introduction of Christianity into Denmark, Oersted chose
as the subject of his address the influence of Christianity
on Science.

"I shall be permitted", run his opening words 3 , "as speaking
in the name of our University to present to your attention
the favourable influence exercised by Christianity on science
and on intellectual development generally, and the advantage
that it has itself derived from that development. This
mutually helpful relation has been misrepresented, now by
the enemies of religion, now by those of enlightenment;
but convinced as I am that the kingdom of truth can never
be divided against itself, I believe that it is our highest
duty to demonstrate again and again its absolute concord,
so that honest but unfortified friends of the truth may not
be seduced from the true path by the clamour and confusion
of merely partisan polemics." 4

"No religion", he says further, "can in this respect com-
pare with ours" ; for most other religions "have shown them-



1 Lament ante 23 26.

2 Cf. C. H a u c h und G. F o r c h h a in m e r , H. C. Orsteds Leben.
Zwei Denkschriften. Aus dem Danischen von Dr. H. Sebald.
Spandau 1853.

3 Hans Christian Orsted, Der Geist in der Natur. Deutsch
von Prof. Dr. K. L. Kannegiefier, II, Leipzig 1854, 142.

4 lb. 143-



134 IV. PHYSICS. I. THEORY OF ELECTRICITY.

selves on the whole inimical to the intellectual progress of
humanity. Ours, on the contrary, has always been intimately
associated with that progress."

"In most instances the struggle which was supposed to have
been one between Christianity and enlightenment was really
one between merely human opinions which were mistaken
for Christianity, on the one side, and shallow licence,
which was mistaken for enlightenment, on the other." 1

Oersted loves to speak of nature as a way leading
up to God. He maintains that "every fundamental in-
vestigation into nature must issue in a recognition of
the existence of God" 2 ; and he planned a special work
to be devoted to the development of this thesis. "All
reality", he says, "is a product of the incessant activity
of God and bears in every part the stamp of infinite
and immutable reason." For us this continuous ope-
ration of Divine Reason and its perpetual accord with
itself are manifested as 'Laws of Nature'. From the
contemplation of the stars we learn that "man is nothing
as against God, but that through God he becomes
something". In a note made originally for his private
use we read :

"Make your conception as living as possible 1 The better
you succeed in this, the more joy will you feel in communion
with Him. Your soul will acclaim Him as the source of
all good; you will be able to say 'I love God', in so far,
at least, as the name of earthly passion can be applied to
so sublime a motion of the spirit." 3

While these citations show what a gulf there is between
Oersted and the enemies of religion, it must be admitted
that in his positive exposition of the nature of God and of
Christianity he was far from happy. His differences with
the Danish theologians of his day are indeed easy to under-



1 Orsted, Der Geist in der Natur 148. 2 Ib. II 227.

3 Ib. 173 175 280.



JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. 135

stand. They maintained that inanimate nature had been
altered by the Fall - - a contention refuted six hundred
years before by St. Thomas Aquinas - - and Oersted can
hardly be blamed for opposing such a view. And since
it was still necessary in the Denmark of 1837 to defend
the Copernican system against objections drawn from the
Bible we should feel grateful to Oersted for undertaking
the defence. l But his teaching as to the nature of God is
practically Pantheism, and he does not sufficiently recognise
the supernatural character of Christianity.

Many theories have been advanced to account for
the phenomena of electricity, but to-day only those are
entertained which move in the paths opened in 1855
by James Clerk Maxwell 2 . (Born June 13 th 1831,
died November 5 th 1879 at Cambridge, where from 1871
he had been Professor of Experimental Physics.) Max-
well was in religious questions a life-long ally of Fara-
day 3 . He was a professed and practical Christian. He
read the evening prayers in his family every evening 4 ;
"he was a constant regular attendant at church, and
seldom, if ever, failed to join in our monthly cele-
bration of Holy Communion, and he was a generous
contributor to all our parish charitable institutions. But
his illness drew out the whole heart and soul and spirit
of the man : his firm and undoubting faith in the In-
carnation and all its results ; in the full sufficing of the



1 Ib. 151.

2 L. Dressel, Elementares Lehrbuch der Physik II , Freiburg
1900, 757.

3 The Life of James Clerk Maxwell. With a selection from his
correspondence and occasional writings and a sketch of his con-
tributions to science. By Lewis Campbell and William
Garnett. London 1882.

4 Ib. 507.



136 IV. PHYSICS. I. THEORY OF ELECTRICITY.

Atonement; in the work of the Holy Spirit" 1 . On his
death-bed he frequently repeated the lines of Richard
Baxter :

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 2 .

u Mr. Colin Mackenzie repeated to me two sayings of
his during those last days which may be repeated here :
'Old chap! I have read up many queer religions: there
is nothing like the old thing after all', and 'I have looked
into most philosophical systems, and I have seen that
none will work without a God'." 3 These sayings carry
all the more weight inasmuch as Maxwell, like Volta
and Ampere, was widely read in Philosophy and even in
Theology. On Sundays after his return from church, he
"buried himself" 4 in the study of the old English theo-
logians. He did not, however, take sides in the contro-
versy between Anglicans and Calvinists.

In his discussions on the atomic theory Maxwell never
fails to raise the question of the origin of the atoms.
On at least three occasions he develops his own views
in detail, and he regards it as an established conclusion
of pure science that the atoms do not present or possess
in themselves the ground of their existence.

The first place in which we find an expression of this
view is towards the end of his book on Heat. Maxwell
there gives a bird's-eye view of the molecular theory in its
application to Physics generally. According to this
theory every body is made up of a determinate number



1 The Life of J. C. Maxwell, by Campbell and Garnett 416.

2 Ib. 409. 3 Ib. 426. 4 Ib. 321; cf. 415.



JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. 137

of minute particles, each possessing a definite mass and
definite properties. The molecules of the same sub-
stance are all alike, but they differ from those of any
other substance. Moreover there is no gradual passage
from the molecules of one element to those of another.
Every molecule belongs to a definite class ; and there are
no intermediate connecting links between the various
classes. Single atoms are inimutable and indestructible.
We have here the main lines of the atomic theory
as it had been accepted by the physicists. Maxwell
raises many further questions. How does it come that
only atoms of absolutely fixed properties exist, and
that there are no connecting-links between two classes?
This cannot be the outcome of a process of develop-
ment since they are insusceptible of change. Neither
can we postulate, to explain it, a process of elimination,
by which atoms intermediate between the existent classes
would have been expelled. For if that were the case,
whither have these eliminated atoms been driven ? The
fixed stars are composed of just the same elements as
earth and sun. There remains for Maxwell only the
hypothesis that the atoms were created by God, and
that He in the beginning created them alike. This theory
solves all difficulties.

"But", he writes, "if we suppose the molecules to be
made at all, or if we suppose them to consist of something
previously made, why should we expect any irregularity to
exist among them? If they are, as we believe, the only material
things which still remain in the precise condition, in which
they first began to exist, why should we not rather look for
some indication of that spirit of order, our scientific con-
fidence in which is never shaken by the difficulty which we
experience in tracing it in the complex arrangements of
visible things, and of which our moral estimation is shown in



138 IV. PHYSICS. I. THEORY OF ELECTRICITY.

all our attempts to think and speak the truth, and to ascer-
tain the exact principles of distributive justice?" 1

This line of reasoning is to be found more fully deve-
loped in a paper "On Molecules" read by Maxwell at
the meeting of the British Association at Bradford 2 .

The complete similarity of the atoms is according to
him assured by spectrum analysis. Analysis of the light
which comes to us from Sirius and Arcturus shows that
hydrogen atoms in these distant bodies transmit the same
rays and consequently possess the same properties as hydro-
gen atoms in our laboratories. This similarity and unity
cannot be the outcome of a process of development. "None
of the processes of nature, since the time when nature
began, have produced the slightest difference in the pro-
perties of any molecule. We are , therefore , unable to
ascribe either the existence of the molecules or the identity
of their properties to the operation of any of the causes
which we call natural."

On the other hand the similarity of constitution in mole-
cules of the same class gives them the character of "manu-
factured articles" 3 , and precludes the hypothesis that they



1 J. Clerk Maxwell, Theory of Heat 3 , London 1872, 312.

2 Printed in Nature VIII, May 1873 to October 1873, London
and New York 1873, 437 44 T - Cf. tne article Atom in the En-
cyclopaedia Britannica III 9 , Edinburgh 1875, 3^ 48-

3 For this comparison (which had been used by Herschel in
his Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy, London
I 85i, 38) Maxwell was attacked in Nature (X, 15. October 1874, 481).
The conclusion of his article Atoms in the Encyclopaedia Britannica
is, as Maxwell himself says in a letter (Campbell and Garnett,
The life of J. C. Maxwell 393), expressly intended as an answer to
this criticism. In this document he writes : "What I thought of was
not so much that uniformity of result which is due to uniformity in
the process of formation, as a uniformity intended and accomplished
by the same wisdom and power of which uniformity, accuracy, sym-
metry, consistency, and continuity of plan are as important attributes
as the contrivance of the special utility of each individual thing."



JAMES CLERK MAXWELL. 139

are eternal and self-existent. "We are thus led back along
a strictly scientific path very near to the point at which
science must stop.

But in tracing back the history of matter science is arrested
when she assures herself, on the one hand, that the mole-
cule has been made, and on the other, that it has not been
made by any of the processes which we call natural."

In further explanation of his theory, Maxwell remarks
that an atom in its concrete form cannot be described as
necessary.

"That matter as such should have certain fundamental
properties - that it should exist in space and be capable
of motion, that its motion should be persistent, and so on,
are truths which may, for anything we know, be of the kind
which metaphysicians call necessary. We may use our know-
ledge of such truths for purposes of deduction, but we have
no data for speculating as to their origin.

But that there should be so much matter and not more
in every molecule of hydrogen is a fact of a very different
order. We have here a particular distribution of matter
which we have no difficulty in imagining to have been
arranged otherwise."

At the conclusion of his address Maxwell speaks of the
immutability of atoms, a quality which makes them "the
true foundation stones of the material universe". The solar
system is constantly changing, but, though everything else
alters, the atoms remain the same as ever.

"They continue this day as they were created, perfect
in number and measure and weight, and from the ineffaceable
characters impressed on them we may learn that those
aspirations after accuracy, measurement, truth in statement,
and justice in action, which we reckon among our noblest
attributes as men, are ours because they are essential con-
stituents of the image of Him who in the beginning created,
not only the heaven and earth, but the materials of which
heaven and earth consist."

On other philosophico-religious questions also Max-
well expresses himself with equal clearness. Thus he



140 IV. PHYSICS. I. THEORY OF ELECTRICITY.

writes on "Natural Science and the Immortality of the
Soul" 1 :

"The progress of science, therefore, as far as we have
been able to follow it, has added nothing of importance
to what has already been known about the physical con-
sequences of death, but has rather tended to deepen the
distinction between the visible part, which perishes before
our eyes, and that which we are ourselves, and to show
that this personality, with respect to its nature as well as
to its destiny, lies quite beyond the range of science."

Maxwell belonged to a philosophical club which in-
cluded among its members Lightfoot, Hort, Westcott
and others, and he read before it on February II th 1873
a paper dealing with the question whether the progress
of natural science has been unfavourable to the doctrine
of free-will 2 . His answer is in the negative. We may
fitly conclude our study of Clerk Maxwell with a frag-
ment found among his papers after his death. It is
the true prayer of the man of science 3 :

"Almighty God, who hast created man in Thine own image,
and made him a living soul that he might seek after Thee,
and have dominion over Thy creatures, teach us to study
the work of Thy hands that we may subdue the earth to
our use, and strengthen our reason for Thy service ; and so
to receive Thy blessed Word, that we may believe in Him
whom Thou hast sent to give us the knowledge of salvation
and the remission of our sins. All which we ask in the
name of the same Jesus Christ our Lord."

All who knew Maxwell intimately describe him as
one of the noblest men it had ever been their fortune



1 Nature XIX, London, 19 th December 1878, 142.

2 Reprinted in The Life of J. C. Maxwell, by Campbell and



Online LibraryKarl Alois KnellerChristianity and the leaders of modern science; a contribution to the history of culture in the nineteenth century → online text (page 11 of 32)