Karl Alois Kneller.

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is deranged, nothing ever lost, but the entire machinery,



1 Reynolds, Memoirs VI 88.

2 On Matter, Vital Force and Heat. By J. P. Joule. A Lecture
at St. Ann's Church Reading Room 1847. Reynolds ante VI 2.



G. A. HIRN.



complicated as it is, works smoothly and harmoniously.
And though, as in the awful vision of Ezekiel, wheel may
be in the middle of wheel, and everything may appear
complicated and involved in the apparent confusion and
intricacy of an almost endless variety of causes, effects,
conversions, and arrangements, yet is the most perfect
regularity preserved - - the whole being governed by the
sovereign will of God." l

Joule employed his theory of the transformation of
heat into work to explain the ignition of meteorites
on their entry into our atmosphere. The friction of
these bodies, travelling with the velocity of a planet,
is so great as to kindle them to a glow. The intensity
of the heat at last bursts them asunder, and so renders
them powerless to injure the earth. The consideration
of these facts leads Joule on to say:

"I cannot but be filled with admiration and gratitude for
the wonderful provision thus made by the Author of Nature
for the protection of His creatures. Were it not for the
atmosphere which covers us with a shield, impenetrable in
proportion to the violence which it is called upon to resist,
we should be continually exposed to a bombardment of the
most fatal and irresistible character. To say nothing of the
larger stones, no ordinary buildings could afford shelter
from very small particles striking at the velocity of eighteen
miles per second. Even dust flying at such a velocity would
kill any animal exposed to it." 2

Another investigator who must be named in connec-
tion with the Mechanical Theory of Heat is the Al-
satian engineer G. A. Him (f iSQO) 3 . Among his



1 Reynolds ante VI 12 13.

2 On Shooting Stars: Philosophical Magazine 1848. Reynolds,
Memoirs VI 112.

3 Gustave-Adolphe Him 1815 1890. Notice biographique avec
documents divers concernant la vie , la famille et les travaux de



26 I. A FUNDAMENTAL LAW: THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY.

numerous essays on physical and mechanical subjects,
the most interesting, next to the work on the Theory
of Heat, is that in which he discusses the conditions
of equilibrium of the Ring of Saturn, and proves, by
mathematical considerations, that it need not necessarily
be a connected whole but may be merely an aggregate
of many smaller independent bodies. Hirn shows him-
self in these works a physicist of the first order, and
his estimate of the philosophical implications of the dis-
coveries made by modern science is for that reason
highly valuable. In this connection he stands among
the great figures of modern research. As his philo-
sophic mind loves to pierce down to the basal prin-
ciples of modern Physics, of force, of ether, of the
kinetic theory of gas, so he occupies himself also with
the relations of Physics on the one hand to philosophy
and on the other to religion *. His last work published
posthumously bears the title "Modern Science and the
Question of a Future Life". In all his writings Hirn
is a resolute opponent of Materialism.



M. Hirn, par M. le Docteur Faudel et M. Emile Schwoerer,
ingenieur : Mitteilungen der naturhistor. Gesellschaft in Colmar, N. F. I,
Jahre 1889 1890, Colmar 1891, 181 235.

1 La notion de la Force dans la Science Moderne : Revue Scien-
tifique XXXVI, Paris 1885, 129 141; XXXVII, 1886, 252 253;
Recherches experimentales sur la relation qui existe entre la resistance
de 1'air et sa temperature. Consequences physiques et philosophi-
ques qui decoulent de ses experiences : Memoires de 1'Academie des
Sciences de Belgique XLIII, Bruxelles 1882; Reflexions critiques sur
la theorie cinetique de 1'Univers Refutation scientifique de la doc-
trine materialiste, ib. ; etc. His most important work on the sub-
ject: Constitution de 1'espace celeste, Bruxelles 1889, contains a cut-
ting criticism of the assumption of a material ether, which fills
all space.



G. A. HIRN. 27

In the work in which he recounts his researches into
the nature of heat * he treats also of the consequences
which result from the new discoveries for the whole
modern conception of the world; this latter question
is developed later in a separate book 2 . And what
are these consequences? According to Him all the
attempts to explain reality are reducible to three
systems : Materialism, for which there exists but matter ;
Pantheism, for which all things are God ; Spiritualism
whose characteristic is "that it admits a multiplicity of
substances, ranging from matter to pure spirit, and,
above all, maintains the immutability and individuality
of these substances" 3 .

The outcome of Hirn's investigation is to dismiss
both Pantheism and Materialism, and, after his fashion,
to establish Spiritualism. The earlier of the works
named concludes with the statement:

"Spiritualism drawn down by reason from the cloudy
regions whither it ' had soared only too often on the fatal
wings of mysticism : Spiritualism fashioned to the requirements
of the data furnished by empirical science, is, as things
stand, the only one of our three systems at once acceptable
to the reason and imposed on us by the facts, and is alone
to be called rational." 4



1 Recherches sur 1'equivalent mecanique de la chaleur, presentees
a la societe de physique de Berlin, par G. A. Him, ingenieur civil,
Colmar 1858.

2 Theorie mecanique de la chaleur. Consequences philosophiques
et metaphysiques de la thermodynamique, par G. A. Him. Analyse
elementaire de 1'univers. Paris 1868.

3 Ib. 3-4-

4 Le spiritualisme arrache par la raison des regions nuageuses ou
il n'est alle que trop souvent se perdre sur les ailes du mysticisme ;
le spiritualisme, plie aux exigences des faits fournis par les sciences



28 I. A FUNDAMENTAL LAW: THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY.

This citation would be enough for our purpose, but
we add another:

"The most trivial phenomenon of the inanimate world
implies the presence of two distinct elements, the material
element and the dynamic element: the most trivial being
of the animate world implies the presence of a third element,
in this case individualised in unities specifically different,
the animic element. ..."

"Either the universe as we know it to-day is in its present
condition for the first time, or it has passed through such
conditions an indefinite number of times. If the elements
of the universe exist from all eternity, then from all eter-
nity they have obeyed the laws of their constitution and
their qualities. Now however long we suppose the period
necessary to allow them to group themselves into the worlds
which exist to-day, though we heap aeon on aeon, this
period remains none the less finite ; we are therefore forced
to admit that the elements themselves remained inactive
during an indefinite period, and did not begin to enter into
relations until a given moment. The other horn of the
dilemma, the idea of a closed circle of recurrent phenomena,
does not indeed imply an absurdity; it is possible to say
that the worlds which people space, and which have been
formed by the condensation of the nebulae or cosmic sub-
stance will one day be destroyed and dispersed in space
so as to reconstitute similar cosmic nebulae, and that the
same series of phenomena will be repeated ad infinitum.
But let it be clearly understood that this second clause
of the dilemma is founded on no fact, on no analogy,
however remote, derived from known facts: it would cons-
titute in the physical sphere an article of faith, with which
reason has no more to do than with any other article of
faith." l



d'observation, est done pour le moment la seule de nos trois doctrines
qui a la fois soil acceptee et imposee, et qui puisse recevoir le nom
rationnelle (Him, Recherches sur 1'equivalent 337).
1 Him, Theorie 165.



G. A. HIRN. 29

The necessary inference from this is evident; matter
came into existence at a definite point of time and
through an act of creation.

Later in the work Hirn casts about to find an ar-
gument for the immortality of the soul J : creatures are
to him realised thoughts of the Creator 2 , and he always
by preference designates God "the Creator" 3 .

It is obvious that this whole line of thought is de-
rived from Christianity, and if logically pursued leads to
Christianity, although Hirn himself in regard to Chris-
tianity was full of prejudices and misconceptions. This
however does not affect our argument: it is enough
that a Physicist, completely master of his special depart-
ment and constantly occupied with the metaphysical
interpretation of physical discoveries, finds it in no wise
necessary to attach himself to Pantheism and Materialism,
but on the contrary declares both these systems irre-
concilable with the facts. "With his dying hand",
wrote A. Slaby 4 (Berlin) in an obituary notice of Hirn,
"he wrote on his last work as a Confession of Faith
the lines:



1 Ib. 167. 2 Pensees realisees du Createur (Him, The"orie 517).

3 Ib. 475 507 511 etc.

4 Mitteilungen der naturhistor. Gesellschaft in Colmar, N. F. I 335.
Cf. p. 212: C'est centre ce materialisrne, renouvele avec peu de modi-
fications de celui d'Epicure, de Lucrece, que Hirn n'a cesse de lutter
de toutes ses forces des 1'origine de ses travaux, mais avec des armes
de plus en plus puissantes, toutes tirees de fails aujourd'hui connus
appliques a 1'aide d'une methode neuve aussi. La Force, ou pour
nous exprimer plus exactement, ce qui dans 1'Univers e"tablit les re-
lations d'attraction, de repulsion, de lumiere, de chaleur, d'electricite
. . . entre les corps, est un Element specifiquement distinct de la
Matiere, une realite objective, et non plus une sorte d'entite me"ta-
physique ou un simple mouvement de la Matiere.



30 I. A FUNDAMENTAL LAW: THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY.

'Hoch tiber der Zeit und dem Raume webt

Lebendig der hochste Gedanke,

Und ob alles in ewigem Wechsel kreist,

Es beharret im Wechsel ein ruhiger Geist.' "

Far from unimportant was the contribution to the
Theory of Heat of the English engineer W. J. Macquorn
Rankine (f 1872). P. G. Tait writes of him in the bio-
graphy prefixed to his edition of Rankine's writings:

"He was profoundly attached to his parents; and one
of the most touching notes in his journal is the brief
record of his lasting obligations to them for early ins-
truction in the fundamental principles of the Christian
Religion and the character of its Founder." 1

Perhaps the greatest of recent Physicists is Sir William
Thomson (Lord Kelvin), born in 1824 in Belfast. As
early as 1846, at the age of twenty-two, he was
appointed Professor of Natural Science in the Univer-
sity of Glasgow; and in 1855 he was, in the words of
Von Helmholtz, "one of the first Mathematical Physicists
in Europe". He is the author of more than three
hundred important works.

Concerning Lord Kelvin's position among scientists,
the Berlin Academy of Science expressed itself as follows
n an "Address to Lord Kelvin on his Golden Jubilee,
July 15 th 1896".

"Rich indeed are the acquisitions made by Physics in the
last fifty years: but foremost among these great conquests
are the establishment and development of the Mechanical
Theory of Heat, and the vast extension of the Theory of



1 Miscellaneous Scientific Papers. By W. J. Macquorn Rankine.
With a Memoir of the author by P. G. Tait, edited by W. J. Millar,
London 1881, xx. Abbe Moigno says: Rankine was one of the
busiest letter writers in the world (Les Mondes XXX, Paris 1873, 2).



W. J. MACQUORN RANKINE. WILLIAM THOMSON. 3!

Electricity with its various applications. To all these vic-
tories you have in a supreme degree contributed. ..."

"We marvel at the boldness and accuracy with which in
your works you reach your conclusions, whether you are
engaged in synthesizing experiments of the laboratory, or in
deducing the density of ether from the energy of radiation :
in concluding from the times of the tides to the stability of
the globe, or in employing the laws of the conduction of
heat to unveil the remote past of our planet. ..."

"In a supreme measure you have become a teacher of
our generation, and among living Physicists there must be
few indeed who have not sat at your feet and who do not
with heartfelt gratitude acclaim you as their Master."

Not an unimportant proof of the far-reaching and
comprehensive penetration which is here praised in Lord
Kelvin is the fact that he recognised from the purely
scientific point of view the necessity for the existence
of a Creator. He does this in the paper in which, begin-
ning with the everyday phenomena of motion, heat, and
light, he tries to arrive at their ultimate mechanical
antecedents 1 .

If motion, heat, and light, are according, to modern
theories of Physics, only different forms, in which the supply
of "living force" or "energy" existing in Nature, manifests
itself, if any one of these forms of energy can pass into
another, the question naturally arises : Which form of energy
is at the beginning of the series, and is to be regarded as
the source of the others? Sir W. Thomson gives as first
consequence the following opinion, which forms the subject-



1 Sitzungsberichte 1896, 729. The renowned German Physicist,
H. v. Helmholtz, wrote in 1855 concerning W. Thomson, whom
he had visited in Kreuznach as follows: "Er ubertrifft iibrigens alle
wissenschaftlichen Grossen , welche ich personlich kennen gelernt
habe, an Scharfsinn, Klarheit und Beweglichkeit des Geistes, so dass
ich selbst mir neben ihm etwas stumpfsinnig erscheine" (L. Konigs-
berger, Hermann v. Helmholtz I, Braunschweig 1902, 255).



32 I. A FUNDAMENTAL LAW: THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY.

matter for further discussion: "We must regard the sun as
the source from which the mechanical energy of all the
motions and heat of living creatures, and of the motions,
heat and light derived from fires and artificial flames is
supplied." l

Those who have never reflected on the matter, may indeed
be astonished when they are told that the sun gives the
soldier strength to march, and the blacksmith power to deal
mighty blows on his anvil. But Lord Kelvin proceeds
to explain his views. All modes of life derive their bo-
dily heat and energy from chemical changes which are
due to the food which they have taken. The food of
man and of animals comes ultimately from the vegetable
kingdom, that of the herbivorous creatures directly, and that
of the carnivorous indirectly. But how do plants grow and
build up their organisms ? Except the fungus, they draw in
the greater part of their substance from the air and the soil
by the decomposition of carbonic acid and water. This
decomposition can however only go on under the influence
of light. Thus the plant is directly the child of the sun,
as is the plant-eating animal. Furthermore from the sun is
derived every species of artificial light and heat. "Coal
composed as it is of the relics of ancient vegetation, de-
rived its potential energy from the light of distant ages.
Wood fires give us heat and light which has been got from
the sun a few years ago. Our coalfires and gas lamps bring
us for our present comfort heat and light of a primeval
sun which have lain dormant as potential energy beneath
seas and mountains for countless ages." 2

Is the sun then to be regarded as the sole source of life
on earth? No. For the natural movements of earth and
water, we must admit, besides the effect of the sun, a second
cause, namely the motion of the earth, the respective move-
ments and mutual attractions of the earth, sun, and moon.



1 On Mechanical Antecedents of Motion, Heat, and Light. Mathe-
matical and Physical Papers by Sir W. Thomson II, Cambridge
1884, 3441-

2 Ib. II 35.



WILLIAM THOMSON. 33

Thus we seem to have arrived at a twofold source of
all power and energy. Might not both be traced back to one
common source? Sir W. Thomson tries to prove that this
is really the case. He attributes the motion of the planets
as well as the heat of the sun to gravity, a view which, with
one important correction by Von Helmholtz, concerning
the source of the sun's heat, is to-day the one most generally
received. To develop his suggestion, Thomson had to go
back to the first stage of the planetary system; he shows
at the outset that we have a right to speak of an evolution of
the planetary system, and to follow this development back
wards and forwards from its present condition. We meet
however with one obstacle, when we review the different
steps of the planetary system and seek to deduce one from
the other.

"All such conclusions are subject to limitations, as
we do not know at what moment a creation of matter
or energy may have given a beginning beyond which
mechanical speculations cannot lead us. If in purely
mechanical science we are ever liable to forget this
limitation, we ought to be reminded of it by considering
that purely mechanical reasoning shows a time when
the earth must have been tenantless; and teaches us
that our own bodies, as well as all living plants and
animals and all fossil organic remains, are organised
forms of matter to which science can point no ante-
cedent except the Will of a Creator, a truth amply
confirmed by the evidence of geological history." l

In these words it is laid down as self-evident, that
matter and energy can only come into existence by
being created, and that without God the origin of life
is inexplicable. We find the same thought expressed
by Lord Kelvin in other passages, for example :



i ib. 37-38.

Kneller, Christianity.



34 I- A FUNDAMENTAL LAW. THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY.

"It is impossible", he says, "to understand either the
beginning or the continuance of life, without an over-
ruling creative power ; and therefore, no conclusions of
dynamical science regarding the future condition of the
earth can be held to give dispiriting views as to the
destiny of the race of intelligent beings by which it is
at present inhabited." l

In the same paper he says that living beings could
not have come into existence spontaneously from in-
organic matter.

"I need scarcely say", he writes, "that the beginning
and maintenance of life on the earth is absolutely and
infinitely beyond the range of all sound speculation in
dynamical science. The only contribution of dynamics
to theoretical biology is absolute negation of automatic
commencement or automatic maintenance of life." 2

In the year 1871 when Darwinism still occupied the
fore-ground in scientific discussions, and the question
of the origin of life held the minds of all in suspense
Lord Kelvin had occasion to express his opinions on
this subject before a meeting of the British Association
in Edinburgh. Of evolution within the world of organisms,
he knows nothing at first hand, but that system of
evolution which takes its name from Darwin, he de-
clares to be unsatisfactory.

"Darwin", he says, "concludes his great work on the
Origin of Species with the following words: 'It is inter-
esting to contemplate an entangled bank clothed with many
plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes,
with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling



1 On the Age of the Sun's Heat. Popular Lectures and Dis-
courses I 198.

2 Ib. 314.



WILLIAM THOMSON. 35

through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately
constructed forms, so different from each other, and de-
pending on each other in so complex a manner, have all
been produced by laws acting around us.'

There is grandeur in this view of life with its several
powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into
a few forms or into one ; and that, whilst this planet has
gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from
so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and
most wonderful have been and are being evolved. With
the feeling expressed in these two sentences I most cor-
dially sympathise. I have omitted two sentences which come
between them, describing briefly the hypothesis of 'the
Origin of Species by Natural Selection', because I have
always felt that this hypothesis does not contain the true
theory of evolution, if evolution there has been, in biology.
Sir John Herschel . . . objected to the doctrine of natural
selection that it was too like the Laputan method of making
books, and that it did not sufficiently take into account a
continually guiding and controlling intelligence. This seems
to me a most valuable and instructive criticism. I feel pro-
foundly convinced that the argument of design has been
greatly too much lost sight of in recent zoological specu-
lations. Reactions against the frivolities of teleology, such
as are to be found not rarely in the notes of the learned
commentators on Paley's Natural Theology, have, I believe,
a temporary effect in turning attention from the solid and
irrefragable argument so well put forward in that excellent
old book. But overpoweringly strong proofs of intelligent
and benevolent design lie all round us; and if ever per-
plexities, whether metaphysical or scientific, turn us away
from them for a time, they come back upon us with irre-
sistible force, showing to us through Nature the influence
of a free will, and teaching us that living beings depend
on one ever-acting Creator and Ruler." 1



1 Report of the Forty-First Meeting of the British Association for the
Advancement of Science held at Edinburgh in August 1871: Address
by the President Sir William Thomson, London 1872, cv.

3*



36 I. A FUNDAMENTAL LAW : THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY.

One must refer to Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels
to find out how books are made in Laputa. The trend
of "that excellent old book" Paley's Natural Theology
can however be gathered from its second and more
detailed title, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes
of the Deity *.

More recently, in the beginning of May 1903, Lord
Kelvin emphatically voiced his opinions on the theme
"Science and Religion".

"The Times" contain the following report of his
Speech 2 :

"In connection with University College Christian As-
sociation the first of a course of lectures on 'Christian
Apologetics' was delivered last Friday, in the botanical
theatre at University College. Lord Reay, President of Uni-
versity College, occupied the Chair, and the large theatre
was filled to over-flowing, many visitors being unable to
find seats.

The Rev. Professor G. Henslow, who was the lecturer,
spoke on the subject of 'Present-day Rationalism, an Exami-
nation of Darwinism."

Lord Kelvin in moving a vote of thanks to the lecturer,
said he wished to make a personal explanation. He had
recently had occasion to make use of the expressions ether,
atoms, electricity, and had been horrified to read in the
press that he had spoken of ether-atoms. Ether was ab-
solutely non-atomic ; it was absolutely structureless and
homogeneous. He was in thorougji sympathy with Pro-
fessor Henslow in the fundamentals of his lecture, but he



1 Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes
of the Deity, London 1802 and subsequent editions. Between 1836
and 1839, Lord Brougham and Sir Charles Bell were occupied in
publishing an annotated edition.

2 The Times. Weekly edition. Vol. XXVII, Nr. 1375, London,
May 8 th 1903, Supplement ill.



WILLIAM THOMSON. 37

could not say that with regard to the origin of life science
neither affirmed nor denied creative power. Science positively
affirmed creative power. Science made everyone feel a
miracle in himself. It was not in dead matter that they
lived and moved and had their being, but in the creating
and directive power which science compelled them to
accept as an article of belief. They could not escape from
that when they studied the physics and dynamics of living
and dead matter all around. Modern biologists were coming
once more to a firm acceptance of something, and that was
a vital principle. They had an unknown object put before
them in science. In thinking of that subject they were all
agnostics. They only knew God in His works, but they
were absolutely forced by science to admit and to believe
with absolute confidence in a directive power - in an in-
fluence other than physical, dynamical, electrical forces.
Cicero had denied that they could have come into existence
by a fortuitous concourse of atoms. There was nothing
between absolute scientific belief in creative power, and
the acceptance of the theory of a fortuitous concourse of
atoms. Was there, he asked, anything so absurd as to believe



Online LibraryKarl Alois KnellerChristianity and the leaders of modern science; a contribution to the history of culture in the nineteenth century → online text (page 3 of 32)