Karl Alois Kneller.

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T. M. KETTLE, B. L., M. P.









Friburgi Brisgoviae, die 3 August! 1910.

De mandate


All rights reserved.

Printed by B. HERDER in Freiburg im Breisgau.


A few days ago the newspapers announced that Mr. Edi-
son had declared himself a materialist. He had
satisfied himself that the physico-chemical forces at
work in the brain, with the resultant electrical effects,
were sufficient to account for all the phenomena of
conscious life in man. This was the first public in-
timation that the distinguished inventor had turned
philosopher. He had previously been known as an in-
genious contriver of useful mechanisms. He had invented
the phonograph, megaphone, kinetoscope, and had intro-
duced many important improvements in telegraphy. His
success in bending the forces of Nature to his will had
won him a deserved celebrity ; he was recognised as an
adept in the application of science to practical ends,
if not in science itself. Such fame notwithstanding,
his profession of materialism left the world wholly un-
perturbed. No believer saw in it a new menace to his
faith ; no unbeliever found in it a new justification of
his unbelief. The incident passed with a tribute of
comment from the press scantier than would be accorded
to a horse race or a prize fight.

This attitude of the public mind seems to indicate a
healthy spread of sober thought, a growing capacity
to appreciate at their true value the pronouncements
of "science" on the supreme problems of life.



The study of the inorganic and organic worlds leads
men irresistibly to speculate on the ultimate causes of
the phenomena they investigate. The necessity is im-
posed by an inherent tendency of thought. With every
fresh advance this constraining impulse becomes more
imperative. But progress along the lines of empirical
research brings with it no new light on the issues of
deepest import to man. The discoveries of chemistry
have enabled us to substitute molecules, atoms, electrons
for the elemental earth , air , fire , and water of the
Greeks; but the problem of the constitution of matter
has become only more perplexing for the change. In
biology we have got down to the cell as the basal
element in living structures; but vital activity in the
cell is as mysterious and inexplicable as in the most
complicated organisms; the cerebral movements which
accompany the functions of mind have been, in some
measure, determined ; but this gives no new help towards
an explanation of consciousness ; in this respect the most
accomplished physiologist has no more effective data
at command than the man who knows only that we
see by means of eyes and hear by means of ears.
The question whether the universe is ordered on a pre-
conceived plan is not brought nearer a solution by
discoveries which merely multiply for us the elements
constituting it; the question whether there is an im-
material soul in man is not elucidated by an increased
knowledge of the complexities of structure and move-
ment in the organism within which the phenomena of
sensation and thought manifest themselves. In face of
these problems the man of science and the man of
normal human experience stand upon the same plane.
In both the answer will be given by that spontaneous


process of inference which decides, for learned and
unlearned alike, the urgent issues of life, and which
is so largely influenced by the perfections or the defects
of individual character. We may attempt a logical
analysis of the process, endeavour to follow step by
step the path which the mind has traversed with light-
ning speed. But whatever the result of this attempt, be
it satisfactory or otherwise, the assent to the conclusion
is not thereby affected. Doubt as to the correctness of
an analysis of our own act of reasoning is one thing;
doubt as to the validity of the inference itself is quite

It stands to the credit of the founders of modern
science - - the master minds of the 17 th and i8 th Cen-
turies - - that they had a salutary sense of the limi-
tations of empirical methods. Their discoveries, which
opened the way to all subsequent progress, did not
interfere with their faith in God, or their belief in the
spirituality and immortality of the human soul. If any-
thing, their reverence for the Mind that reveals Itself
in Nature grew more profound as their knowledge of
natural phenomena became deeper. The more enlighten-
ed of their successors in the 19 th Century have upheld
their conception of Nature's God , and of man's place
in Nature. This it is the purpose of Father Kneller's
book to demonstrate. The thoroughness with which
he has executed his task is obvious on every page;
he has rendered a conspicuous service to Christianity
and to Science.

Dublin, October 1910.

T. A. Finlay.



Introduction ......... v

I. A Fundamental Law ; the Conservation of Energy . 7

II. Mathematics . . . . . . . . 41

III. Astronomy ........ 74

IV. Physics.

1. Theory of Electricity 113

2. Theory of Light 146

3. Supplementary . . . . . . . 166

V. Chemistry 179

VI. Geography 218

VII. Mineralogy ........ 234

VIII. Geology 247

IX. Physiology ........ 295

X. Zoology and Botany 335

XL Theory of Evolution ...... 363

Retrospect 387


"TV /Tany excellent people", said the distinguished phy-
sicist Lord Rayleigh * on one occasion in a public
speech, "are afraid of science as tending towards ma-
terialism. That such apprehension should exist is not
surprising, for unfortunately there are writers, speaking
in the name of science, who have set themselves to
foster it. It is true that amongst scientific men, as in
other classes, crude views are to be met with as to
the deeper things of nature; but that the lifelong be-
liefs of Newton, of Faraday, and of Maxwell, are in-
consistent with the scientific habit of mind, is surely
a proposition which I need not pause to refute." We
might have adopted these words of the eminent sci-
entist 2 as the motto of our work, for they give a clear
statement of the fundamental idea which we seek to
develop here. In Germany also we have a great many
writers, who, announcing themselves as champions of

1 Report of the 54 th Meeting of the British Association for the Ad-
vancement of Science, held at Montreal in August and September 1884 :
Presidential Address 22. London 1885.

2 John William Strutt, since 1873 Lord Rayleigh, born in 1842,
was Maxwell's successor as Professor of Experimental Physics at Cam-
bridge. He is one of the greatest recent authorities on Natura
Philosophy in England. He attained a world-wide reputation when in
1894 he discovered a hitherto unknown constituent of the atmosphere,
namely argon.

Kneller, Christianity. I


, acjenpe,. proclaim in its name and on its authority the
'''irfeparaoie d&ft&t of religion and Christianity. Scientific
discoveries, we are assured, have undermined the very
foundations of religion belief in the existence of God,
and in the presence of a spiritual soul in man and in
short we must either renounce religion altogether or
cast about for a new form of it, more in harmony
with the results of the modern interpretation of nature.
Assertions of this kind are to be met with everywhere.
Newspapers and brochures are full of them ; popular
works on science treat them as self-evident, and seize
every opportunity of insinuating that no one of any
scientific standing any longer troubles about religion.
Nor does it need any deep knowledge of human nature
to understand how greatly representations of this kind
contribute to the spread of Materialism. It is not only
in matters of dress and outer things that fashion rules,
and that society takes its tone from certain 'circles'.
Those who by wealth, nobility of birth, or erudition
stand out from the common mass, exercise, by word and
example, the most far-reaching influence in graver ques-
tions also, questions in which least of all their influence
ought to be felt. How then could the average man
fail to be startled when, following an exposition of the
brilliant discoveries of modern research, he is assured,
or at least given to understand, that every eminent
mind that has contributed to such marvels has rejected
Christianity and welcomed in Materialism and Atheism
the light and the salvation of the future?

The essential value of such an argument is indeed
very slight. Even if it were true that modern scientists
as one man stood out against Christ and the Church,
this would offer no disproof of Christianity. In earlier


days, at all events, Natural Science took up no such
position, and the fact that a certain opinion is for a
period generally accepted cannot be held to guarantee
its truth.

The leaders of Physics, Chemistry, Geology speak
with authority as regards the actual facts and empirical
laws of their own special provinces. But Materialism,
Atheism, Positivism are not observed facts, but systems
of philosophy, inferences from facts, and inferences which
fall, properly speaking, within the province not of Science
but of Metaphysics. And as regards conclusions of
this order, the scientist is not, as such, the authoritative
judge. Other people have quite as good, and indeed
better claims to be heard. "I do not think", says Lord
Rayleigh elsewhere, "that he has a claim superior to
that of other educated men, to assume the attitude of
a prophet. In his heart he knows that underneath the
theories that he constructs there lie contradictions he
cannot reconcile. The higher mysteries of being, if
penetrable at all by human intellect, require other
weapons than those of calculation and experiment."
Further it is a fact of history that many an opinion
which represented itself as the only truly scientific
opinion, has none the less fallen in course of time into
contempt; and that very often the higher synthesis by
no means confirms the brilliant pretensions of 'culture'.
Our Lord Jesus Christ had ranked against him, solidly
and with a complete self-consciousness, the Science of
the Jews. But, in spite of this, the wisdom of the scribes
and their Talmudic erudition is to-day utterly disregard-
ed ; Christ was right , the Science of His day was
wrong. In a later century Neo-Platonism spoke of Chris-
tianity, although borrowing largely from it, as the product


of a barbarian brain 1 ; the Gnostic and the Manichean
thought themselves exalted far above the orthodox theo-
logy when, instead of the teaching of Christ, they pro-
claimed as the Higher Wisdom a medley of Greek and
Oriental speculations, glossed over with Christian ideas.
To-day we repeat of those discoveries the contemptuous
words of St Jerome touching the Greek philosophers of
his time: " At most a few old bookworms, who would
otherwise be unoccupied, still concern themselves about
it in the seclusion of their libraries. But with our rustic
and uncultured fishermen the whole world resounds."'
As far as material culture goes, the Arabs of the early
Middle Ages could boast themselves superior to the
Christian nations , as later the Anabaptists and the
Mormons surpassed the rest of Christianity in industrial
pursuits. The comparison becomes still clearer, if we
look back to the remotest ages. In the Old Testament
as often as Israel came in contact with the dazzling
culture of Egypt, Assyria or Greece, multitudes of the
chosen people yielded, as if bewitched, to the intoxi-
cating appeal to the senses. They felt in comparison
with it rude and primitive, grew ashamed of the religion
of their fathers, flung themselves into the arms of
attractive idolatries, and laboured as in the time of the
Maccabbees to obliterate the last trace of adherence to
the old faith. But who to-day doubts that the many,
who so acted, bartered their treasure and their heritage
for mere tinsel, in a blindness all but inconceivable,
and that as a world-philosophy the religious system of

1 A ftdpftapov r6XfjLT)iJ.a. Porphyrius in Euseb. , H. E. 6, 19.

2 Vix in angulo otioso eos senes recolunt. Rusticanos vero et
piscatores nostros totus orbis loquitur , universus mundus sonat
(S. Hieron., In Gal. 1. 3 init).


Israel was far loftier than the nature-worship of Greece
and the Orient?

A thousand times in the course of history material
culture has advanced the claim to formulate also the
general philosophy of life. But on every occasion this
claim has been withstood by countless believers, and
for the most part in the process of history its pretences
have been punished. Humanity has continued to seek
the sources of the higher life less in the palaces than
in the catacombs of Rome, less in the philosophical
schools of Athens and Alexandria than in the solitudes
of the Thebaid.

If then there is in fact hostility between Christianity
and the Science of to-day, that is to say, Natural
Science, why must it be assumed that the truth lies on
the side of Science? It is idle to say that things do not
stand as in previous conflicts of this kind, that in former
times what passed for the criticism of Christianity was
mere metaphysical speculation, soon dissipated, but that
the Science of to-day relies on facts which can certainly
never be refuted. It is not the facts that are hostile
to Christianity, but the philosophy which it is sought
to ground on them; and this is as unstable a struc-
ture as any philosophy of the past.

But we must not delay here over any further con-
sideration of these points. As against the apostles of
Materialism , mentioned above , we desire to develop
the thought suggested by Lord Rayleigh in his reference
to Newton, Faraday, and Maxwell. We call in question
not the inference from the alleged enmity between
science and religion, but the fact of this enmity itself.
From the writers who represent themselves as the cham-
pions of science we wish to turn to those who are


recognized as such in the largest sense of the word,
those to whom the advance of science is due, the veri-
table pioneers. These, before all, we desire to question
concerning this conflict between scientific research and
religious belief. If it exists, it will naturally be found
most patent to minds of the first order. And if on
the other hand we find among the great investigators,
the very pioneers of science, many firm and fervent
believers, and many others who admit the fundamental
truths on which Christianity is founded, we shall not
set a very high value on this pretended antagonism
between knowledge and belief.

Our standpoint has, we hope, been now made clear.
Our object is not to set forth an argument for Chris-
tianity, but to point out the emptiness of a familiar ob-
jection urged against it. We seek, not to collect the
testimony given in favour of Christian belief by great
scientists, but to repel the hostile inference drawn from
the alleged unanimity of Science in its disfavour. Nor
do we aim at exhibiting the question in every light,
but only in one, limiting ourselves, namely to the con-
tention that such unanimous opposition simply does
not exist.

We confine our survey to the savants of the 19 th Cen-
tury. For nobody thinks of calling in question the
Christian faith of the earlier scientists, of Copernicus,
Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Leibniz, Euler, Boyle, Mariotte,
Haller and Linnaeus. Living contemporaries ought not,
perhaps, to be dealt with in this connection, but we
satisfy our scruples by referring only to discourses pro-
nounced publicly by them in the ear of the whole world.


The greatest conquest of the 19*'' Century in Physics,
its richest gain on the theoretical side, is beyond ques-
tion the mechanical theory of heat, and what is
intimately bound up with this theory, the Law of the
Conservation of Energy. The formulation of this theory
was not only a great advance in our knowledge of
a single natural force, but a light on the constitution
of matter in general, full of significance for every branch
of exact science.

It had long been known that beneath the changes,
incessant and manifold of the material world, organic
as well as inorganic, beneath the perpetual formations
and disintegrations, the underlying matter merely moves
hither and thither and never diminishes or increases in
the minutest degree. It was now proved that a similar
law holds good of the force operative in matter. The
kindling of a fire produces heat and light. But that
which issues in the form of light and heat from the
burning material was already present in it, as the energy
of the discharged arrow was present in the bent bow.
If we burn coal to set a steam-engine in motion, we may
say similarly that we produce motion. But this pro-
duction is not a creation out of nothing, but a trans-
formation. As much mechanical work can be done as
there is power to do work in the burning material, and


no more. This law applies to all changes, physical or
chemical. If the work of the steam-engine be translated
into electricity, this again into light or heat, and the
light or heat into any form of "Motive-power" or
"Energy", all these are simply transformations; an in-
crease or diminution of the existent sum of energy is
as impossible as an increase or diminution of the origi-
nally created sum of matter.

H a e c k e 1 1 combines the two laws, the Conservation
of Matter and the Conservation of Energy, under the
single "Law of Substance", and not only calls this "the
supreme and basal law of the Cosmos" in which are
synthesized "all the most important results" and in-
tellectual conquests of modern science, but sets it down
further as "Paragraph I of the Monist Religion of the
future". He expresses himself full of contempt that
the great physicist Von Helmholtz was buried at Berlin
"amidst the tolling of church-bells" and in the pre-
sence of the highest people of the land. "Did none
of these 'first people in the land', then, suspect . that
these honours were being heaped on a 'Freethinker',
who to their eyes must appear as an iconoclast, an
obstinate 'heretic' of the first order? Did none of
them know that Helmholtz's greatest achievement, the
Law of Substance, is Paragraph I of the Monist Re-

Now we are very far indeed from taking such rhetoric
seriously. For what does Haeckel really mean to say?
Does he assert that the Law of the Conservation of
Energy is in contradiction with some Christian dogma?
This would be a completely unintelligible assertion, for

1 Die Zukunft III, Berlin 1895, I 99-


what doctrine of Christianity could forbid my acceptance
of the 'Law of Substance' if the evidence in its favour
seemed to me conclusive? Or does he mean to make
it a reproach against Christianity that it has not taught
the Law of Substance? That would be even more
unintelligible, for the Christian Revelation has not been
given to impart truths of the natural order; these are
to be acquired by human reason. What does Haeckel
mean ?

But we are straying a little from our subject. Our
aim with regard to this pretended incompatibility of
science and religious faith is not to discuss the question
directly, but rather to ascertain what was thought by
the leaders of science themselves of the supposed anti-
Christian character of their discoveries. Let us turn
first of all to the brilliant scientists to whom we owe
the Mechanical Theory of Heat, and the Law of the
Conservation of Energy, and ascertain whether they
gave the same account of the significance of their dis-
coveries as is given by Haeckel.

The first inquirer who was led by his researches to
suggest that heat is a form of matter, and so to prepare
the ground for the later view that it is a form of motion,
was Count Von Rumford. His discovery was confirmed
by Davy. The more modern determination of the
relation between heat and mechanical work, and the
first general statement of the Law of the Conservation
of Energy we owe to the German scientist Robert
Mayer. Independently of Mayer, perhaps, Helmholtz
also enunciated the Law; and original statements of the
relation between heat and mechanical work were also
made in France by Him, and in England by Joule. The
consequences of the Law of the Conservation of Energy


for the whole Cosmos were expounded by Clausius and
William Thomson (Lord Kelvin).

Whatever is to be said of the American Benjamin
Thompson, Count Von Rumford (f 1814), who pursued
his epoch-making researches in Munich, he certainly
was no precursor of Haeckel. "Whatever were the
feelings of Rumford towards men", writes G. Cuvier of
him, "they did not diminish his respect for the Deity.
In his writings he neglects no opportunity of expressing
his pious admiration for Providence, and of proposing
to the admiration of others the innumerable variety of
safeguards which it has adopted for the conservation
of its creatures." i

Of Sir Humphry Davy (f 1829) precisely the same
can be said. His opposition to Materialism, and his
conviction of the immortality of the soul and the
existence of God find, more than once, clear and un-
ambiguous expression. Thus in his "Last Days of a
Philosopher" 2 , a volume in dialogue form, written in

1 Quels que fussent au reste les sentiments de M. de Rumford pour
les hommes (he bad rather pessimistic and misanthropical views on
this subject), ils ne diminuaient en rien son respect pour la Divinite.
II n'a neglige dans ses ouvrages aucune occasion d'exprimer sa re-
ligieuse admiration pour la Providence , et d'y offrir a 1'admiration
des autres les precautions innombrables et variees par lesquelles elle
a pourvu a la conservation de ses creatures (Cuvier, Recueil des
eloges historiques lus dans les seances publiques de 1'Institut Royal
de France II, Strasbourg-Paris 1819, 230). Cf. J. B. Dumas, Dis-
cours II 253; Allg. deutsche Biographic XX 655. For a general
view of Rumford cf. Bence Jones, The Royal Institution: its Foun-
ders and its First Professors, London 1871, r 113.

2 Consolation in travel or the Last Days of a Philosopher, in The
Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy, edited by his brother John
Davy, IX, London 1840, 213.


his leisure hours towards the end of his life, Philalethes,
who, in these conversations as in another connection
u the Unknown" - represents Davy's own views, says
in the Fourth Dialogue, "Proteus or Immortality" 1 :

"The doctrine of the materialists was always even in my
youth, a cold, heavy, dull and insupportable doctrine to me,
and necessarily tending to atheism. When I had heard with
disgust in the dissecting rooms, the plan of the physiologist,
of the gradual accretion of matter and its becoming endow-
ed with irritability, ripening into sensibility and acquiring
such organs as were necessary, by its own inherent forces,
and at last rising into intellectual existence, a walk into the
green fields or woods by the banks of rivers brought back
my feelings from nature to God ; I saw in all the powers
of matter the instruments of the Deity. . . . Then my own
mind I felt connected with new sensations and indefinite
hopes, a thirst of immortality. These feelings, though gene-
rally considered as poetical, yet, I think offer a sound
philosophical argument in favour of the immortality of the
soul." 2

Of religion "the Unknown" says in the same Dialogue:

"Its influence outlives all earthly enjoyments, and becomes
stronger as the organs decay and the frame dissolves; it
appears as that evening star of light in the horizon of life,
which, we are sure, is to become in another "season a
morning star, and it throws its radiance through the gloom
and shadow of death." 3

In the next Dialogue, Davy defends the Science of
Chemistry, and attempts to paint an ideal picture of

Online LibraryKarl Alois KnellerChristianity and the leaders of modern science; a contribution to the history of culture in the nineteenth century → online text (page 1 of 32)