Karl Alois Kneller.

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These triumphs were followed by another still more
notable. However strong had been the grounds for
accepting the new undulatory theory, nobody had yet
brought forward a phenomenon which was not expli-
cable by the old emanation-theory. Arago had indeed
observed that if this latter were true, light should travel
faster in water than in air; if the wave-theory were
true the relative velocities should be reversed. But the
matter had never been put to the test, the necessary
measuring apparatus not being at hand. Foucault and
Fizeau showed themselves equal to the task, and after
the dissolution of their partnership, each of the two
published (in 1850) an account of experiments proving
that light travels faster in air than in water. This gave
its death-blow to the emanation-theory.

It yet remained to determine the absolute velocity
of light in atmospheric air. Fizeau took up the problem,
and struck out a brilliant idea; he measured the velo-
city of light by the passage of a slender ray between
the teeth of a rapidly revolving toothed-wheel. Mathe-
matically regarded, the experiment is a very simple one.
The great practical difficulty was the conduct of a
slender ray of light along a path of several kilometres
in such a way as to prevent diffusion or diffraction.
"The skill with which this was effected", saysCornu 1 ,
"ranks among the most notable triumphs of Physics.
One hardly knows which to admire the more, the bold-
ness of the idea or the splendid simplicity of the means
taken to realise it."

Fizeau now projected a measurement of the velocity
of electricity by a somewhat similar method. But his

1 Corn u in Annuaire pour Tan 1898, public par le Bureau des
longitudes C 14.


work on the subject published in 1880 in conjunction
with Gounelle had a very cold reception. Neither Fizeau's
results, nor his treatment of electricity as a wave-motion
fitted in with the scientific conceptions then current.
To-day the case is different, and opinion is much more
favourable to Fizeau l .

"A real discovery" was also the great improvement
which he introduced into induction apparatus, the con-
denser in which still bears his name. As regards the Phy-
sics of the ether, Fizeau "was far in advance of the science
of the day" 2 . Having ascertained the velocity of light
in air and in water, he asked himself the question whether
in disturbed air or in disturbed water the respective velo-
cities were in any way altered ; in other words, whether
or not the particles of light-ether are carried along by
the moving particles of air or water. The query had
been started by Fresnel. He had been obliged to assume,
in order to explain observed phenomena, that in a certain
measure, determined by the refraction-exponent, the light-
ether is undoubtedly affected by the movement of the
surrounding medium. Fizeau, displaying his usual in-
genuity in the invention of apparatus, proved experi-
mentally the correctness of Fresnel's assumption. The
measurement of the velocity of light in disturbed water
is described as "the most difficult in modern optics".
It was not till near the end of the 19 th century that
any scientist ventured to repeat it. The result was to
confirm Fizeau's conclusions.

Inasmuch as the earth's atmosphere revolves together
with the earth itself at a great velocity, this cannot
fail to affect the light which streams across the atmo-

1 Cornu, Annuaire C 16. 2 Ib. C 21.


sphere. Not even Fizeau succeeded in demonstrating
the fact by experiment, but his attempts to do so led
him to an important discovery. Christian Doppler had
suggested in 1 842 that approach to the source of sound
or light must produce a change of pitch or colour;
Fizeau developed this suggestion to the exact formula,
known as the law of Doppler and Fizeau, which has
borne such fruit in astronomy, enabling us, as it does,
to calculate the rate at which a star is approaching us.

In addition to these "works of the first importance 1
which set Fizeau at the head of the physicists of his
day", he also published many others, e. g. those on the
application of monochromatic light.

After this chronicle of scientific triumphs readers will
be astounded to learn that Fizeau's death (September 1 8 th
1896) attracted practically no notice. He received no
funeral honours; and, save Cornu, not a single scientist
raised his voice in praise or commemoration 2 . We may,
perhaps, furnish an explanation of the riddle.

Fizeau's general philosophy of life, apart from his
triumphs in his special province, receive but scant treat-
ment at the hands of Cornu. He had an unshakable con-
fidence in everything that he believed to be soundly
established by "tradition or evidence"; his admiration
for the great laws of science and their discoverers "had
a tinge of mysticism" 3 . These expressions rather deepen

1 Cornu, Annuaire C 33.

2 The obituary notices in the Comptes rendus CXXIII (1896)
471 in La Nature LIV, Paris 1896, 523 524, and in Leopoldina
XXXII, Halle 1896, 182.

8 "Sa parole , ordinairement si calme , s'animait d'une vivacite
singuliere , lorsqu'il exprimait son admiration un peu mystique pour
les grandes choses ou pour les grands genies qui les ont accomplies.


the mystery. Let us turn for an explanation to Fizeau's
own works.

At the Public Session of the Academy of Sciences
on March io th 1879, he delivered, in his capacity as
President, a discourse on the departed year. He ex-
pressed himself as follows concerning the relations be-
tween the philosophy of the day and natural science:

"But even in the flush of these great successes, Science,
anxious above all to retain her dignity and independence,
wisely refuses to ally herself with philosophic systems which
in their ardent enthusiasm might come to dominate her,
and seduce her from her proper path. She has always
shown herself able to repel what might have become an
enslaving yoke; on her part she limits her ambition to the
diffusion of knowledge, and does not intrude inopportunely
on philosophical or social questions nor set herself in hostili-
ty to the noble promptings of the heart, or the pure voice
of conscience." l

In these words we have a clear condemnation of the
misuse of science to propagate materialism. Elsewhere
we find positive expression of Fizeau's veneration for
religion ; as, for example, in his speech at the unveiling
of the statue to Leverrier. The French Republic had

II avait une confiance inebranlable dans ce qu'il considerait comme
solidement etabli par tradition ou par evidence" (Cornu ante C 38).
1 Cependant, au milieu de ces grands succes, toujours attentive
a conserver intactes sa dignite et son independance, la science evite
avec sagesse de se meler aux ardeurs et aux entrainements des
systemes qui pourraient, en la dominant , la detourner de sa route ;
ayant montre , en toute occasion, qu'elle salt repousser tout ce qui
ressemble a un joug destine a 1'asservir, elle borne a son tour son
ambition a repandre au loin sa lumiere , sans vouloir entrevenir,
hors de propos, dans les questions philosophiques ou sociales, ni se
mettre en opposition avec les nobles accents du creur ou la voix
pure de la conscience (Comptes rendus LXXXVIII [1879] 447).


not looked favourably on the project of honouring a
man of Leverrier's principles with a memorial in a place
so public and so impressive, as that which his friends
had chosen. At the unveiling Fizeau expressed his
amazement at the action of the Government:

"Without inquiring here into the probable motives behind
such a decision, let me remind you that under the Empire,
Leverrier was appointed Director of the Observatory; he
was also a Senator. But under the Empire also he was
disgraced and degraded-, and it was the Republic that
restored him to the Observatory, there to die. We know
indeed that Leverrier was a deeply religious man. Is that
a subject of reproach? We know that he was a man of
haughty temper, master of a severe eloquence which made
him formidable in argument: whose is the grievance? I
can then only give expression to the amazement with
which this decision has been received by all the friends of
Science." l

In his memorial discourse on Desains, Fizeau praises
his piety of character; in his speech on Becquerel he
also renders homage to religion 2 .

All this may suggest to the reader the explanation
which we are about to offer. We have, through the
medium of a friend in Paris, information of the most
trustworthy kind that Fizeau was all his life a loyal,
open, and practical Christian. It was for this reason
his name was struck out of the list of those presented
for the Cross of the Legion of Honour at the Centenary
celebration of the Academy. Were scientific merit re-
garded, what dignity could have been too high for him ?

1 ... On salt encore que Leverrier etait religieux ; et qui aurait
qualite pour le lui reprocher . . . (Annuaire pour 1'an 1890, public
par le Bureau des longitudes 643).

2 V. the passages in the following extract p. 171 172.


Cornu's was the only voice raised in protest against the
"odious and revolting intrigue" l .

We have already made mention of the name of
Leon Foucault 2 , collaborator of Fizeau in his earlier
work. It is often the case that men of genius excel
in only one province, not rising in others above the
level of mediocrity, and Foucault is a striking example
of this. A delicate and timid lad, he had the greatest
difficult in completing the ordinary course of studies.
He then proceeded to medicine, but found himself unable
to bear the sight of blood, and was forced to relinquish
all thoughts of this career. The professor of Micro-
scopy, however, discerned something of Foucault's quali-
ties, and entrusted him with the preparation of experi-
ments. This brought into play that unique combination
of skill and inventiveness which he was before long to
apply to the most complicated problems of Mechanics
and Optics. He began his career with certain improve-
ments in the process of photography ; then followed his
collaboration with Fizeau, and in 1850 his famous appa-
ratus for comparing the velocity of light in air with its
velopity in water. He attained a European reputation
through the well-known pendulum-proof of the rotation
of the earth on its axis; and in 1852 he published an

1 "II etait Chretien cpnvaincu et pratiquant , et ne s'en cachait
nullement du reste ; c'est meme pour cette raison , qu'il a etc" lors
du centenaire de 1'institut 1'objet d'une mesure absolument odieuse
et revoltante" etc.

2 Recueil des Travaux Scientifiques de L. Foucault . . . mis en
ordre par C. M. Gariel, Paris 1878 (vol. II contains a sketch
from life drawn by Lissajous). Ph. Gilbert in Revue des questions
scientifiques V (1879) IQ 8 155 516 564. Jos. Bertrand, Eloges
academiques, Paris 1890, 247.


account of another apparatus, the gyroscope, designed
for the same end. In 1854 he became Physicist to the
Observatory of Paris, and during his tenure of this post
introduced many improvements in the construction of
telescopes and microscopes. "I have matter for another
twenty years", he said about 1866, after his reception
into the Academy. But the twenty years were not to
be vouchsafed him. He was occupied in the construction
of a regulator for the Paris Exhibition, and had spent
infinite labour on it; overwork brought on a stroke
of apoplexy on July io th 1867; he sank slowly, and died
on February 13 th 1868 at the age of forty-nine.

Foucault, during the period of his feverish scientific
activity, had given little thought to religious questions.
But this attitude of mind changed as sickness over-
whelmed him, and all earthly hope vanished. The name
of God was constantly on his lips. Step by step he
returned to his childhood's faith in a Creator and a
Redeemer, and found in it strength and consolation.
Although the apoplectic fit had all but deprived him
of the power of speech "it was extraordinary to ob-
serve the facility with which he spoke of God and Jesus
Christ, scarcely any trace of impediment appearing".
He died peacefully in communion with the Church 1 .

The name of Edward Ketteler stands high among
the leaders of Optics (born in 1836 at Bocholt, died
December io th 1900, a Professor at Minister) 2 . He was
a fervent and outspoken Catholic.

Two Catholic priests also deserve a brief mention.
Abbe Laborde, in a communication to the Paris

1 Moigno in Les Mondes XVI, Paris 1868, 344; cf. 337.

2 Leopoldina XXXVII, Halle 1901, 3536.


Academy of Science, anticipated to some extent Fizeau's
determination of the velocity of light 1 . And it seems
to be beyond doubt that Foucault's famous pendulum-
experiment was suggested long before by Canon Au-
gustin Stark (f 1839) of Augsburg 2 .

On February 2 th 1903, there died at Cambridge a
savant "known to every student of Physics, held in the
highest esteem by all specialists in his particular pro-
vince". This was Sir George Gabriel Stokes 3 (born
in 1819 at Screen in Ireland, Lucasian Professor at
Cambridge from the year 1849). ^ n addition to this,
he was member of Parliament for the University and
President of the Royal Society of Science, two posi-
tions that had been filled by no one man since Newton.
He was in 1899 created a Baronet, and he also held
the German Order Pour le Merite.

Stokes is perhaps best known for his researches into
the phenomenon of fluorescence. But his real strength
lay rather in mathematical than in experimental Physics.
He published works on the problems of Optics, on the
wave-theory, but more particularly on Hydro-dynamics,
his contribution to this latter being of fundamental im-
portance. It was Stokes who with Maxwell and Lord
Kelvin won for the Cambridge School of Physics the re-
putation which it still enjoys. Stokes had the greater part
of his scientific achievements behind him when occasion
called him to speak out his mind on the existence of
God, and more specifically on natural religion and

1 Cosmos-Les Mondes, 3 e ser. V, mai-aout 1883, J ^4 166.

2 Gun t her in Allg. deutsche Biographic XXXV 488.

3 Obituary Notice in Naturwissenschaftl. Rundschau XVIII, Braun-
schweig 1903, 217, cf. Encyclopaedia Britannica XXXII. 10 86.7 ff.

Kneller, Christianity. II


morality. He received an invitation from the University
of Edinburgh to deliver the GifTord Lectures for iSgi 1 .
The terms of the foundation of this Lectureship pre-
scribed for subjects the existence and nature of God,
and the precepts of the moral law, but without any
reference to a positive revelation.

Stokes intimates clearly in his lectures that this limi-
tation does not meet with his approval. He expresses
doubts whether a tenable theology and ethics can be
developed on any other basis than that of Christianity.
Hints and suggestions, at least, must be constantly
adopted from the Christian system even if the principles
in question are provable by pure reason. And this
being so, is it not a curiously unnatural proceeding to
ignore the sources from which we are drawing? Stokes
confesses frankly that for a task such as that prescribed
for the Gifford Lectures he is ill-prepared 2 :

"What I have previously written has been mainly scientific
memoirs ; as to theology, I have merely written a few short
articles, and in those, though I did not scruple to employ
natural reason, I have gone on the basis of accepting a
supernatural revelation, more especially on that of accepting
the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as a supernatural
historical fact."

Subsequent statements are even more to our pur-
pose; and we subjoin some extracts from the course,
published later under the title of "Natural Theology".
What a man like Stokes has to say e. g. on the order
and majesty of nature cannot fail to be interesting,

1 Natural Theology. The Gifford Lectures, delivered before the
University of Edinburgh in 1891, by Prof. Sir G. G. Stokes, Bart.,
M. P., London and Edinburgh 1891.

2 Ib. 270.

G. G. STOKES. 163

although these are questions by no means exclusively
scientific :

"It will be absurd to deny to the creating will powers
which the created being is found to possess. Now there is
one of these possessions of which we are innately conscious ;
I refer to free will. I feel that I have the option of moving
my hand to the right or the left, and similarly with regard
to innumerable other actions. The words of every language
testify to the consciousness of such a power. Of course I
may wish to do a thing which I have not the power to do ;
but that is a different matter altogether. A thief might wish
to carry away on his shoulders an ingot of gold worth 50000
but he would not be able. Such an ability does not in the
least degree militate against our consciousness of free will.
We cannot deny man's Maker this power which we find
man himself possesses. . . .

"Now we know very well that a man may in general act
uniformly according to a certain rule, and yet for a special
reason may on a particular occasion act quite differently.
We cannot refuse to admit the possibility of something ana-
logous taking place as regards the actions of the Supreme
Being. If we think of the laws of nature as self-existent
and uncaused, then we cannot admit any deviation from
them. But if we think of them as designed by a Supreme
Will, then we must allow the possibility of their being on
some particular occasion suspended. Nor is it even neces-
sary that some results out of the ordinary course of nature
should be brought about, that they should even be suspended ;
it may be that some different law is brought into action
whereby the result in question is brought about without any
suspension whatsoever of the laws by which the ordinary
course of nature is regulated. I will endeavour to illustrate
my meaning by reference to something with which we are
familiar. Suppose that a clock with an iron pendulum had
long been observed and noted. Its rate we know is deter-
mined by the laws of motion and gravitation. Suppose that
on one occasion it went much faster for an hour or two,
and then resumed its usual rate. It may have been that some
one designedly put a powerful magnet under it, which after



a time was taken away again. The acceleration of rate was
here produced not by any suspension of the laws of motion
or of gravitation, but by bringing into play for a time a
special force which left the laws of motion and of gravita-
tion perfectly intact, and yet brought about the result that
we have supposed to have been observed.

"It will probably have been perceived that in what I have
just been saying I have had in view the question of the
abstract possibility of what are called miracles. Admit the
Existence of God, of a personal God, and the possibility of
miracles follows at once; if the laws of nature are carried
on in accordance with His will He Who willed them may
will their suspension. And if any difficulty should be felt
as to their suspension, we are not even obliged to suppose
that they have been suspended." *

Of the proofs of the existence of God, Stokes lays
most stress on that derived from design ; for, that nature
does manifest design, he considers undeniable. Having,
for instance, concluded a description of the eye, he
writes: "I think the evidence of design which it affords
must be to most minds well nigh overwhelming, though
at the same time, I grant that it requires some know-
ledge of the laws of light, and also of the structure
of the eye itself to feel the full force of the argument." 2

Inasmuch as Darwin's theory is by many supposed to in-
validate the argument from design, Stokes examines in some
detail the doctrine of evolution. He begins by pointing out
that Darwin, before he can speak of the struggle for life or
the survival of the fittest has to assume certain postulates,
"the existence of life ; the power possessed by living things,
whether animal or vegetable, of reproducing their kind ; the
general similarity of offspring to parents, combined with
small variations of detail" 3 . But if these are the indispen-
sable postulates of the theory then, according to Stokes, the

Natural Theology 2225. 2 Ib. 41. 3 Ib.

G. G. STOKES. 165

principle of the survival of the fittest by no means supplants
and makes superfluous a purposive Creator. For if we do
not accept His existence whence are we to derive life, the
power of reproduction, the transmission of qualities once
acquired ?

"It seems to me likely enough that this principle may
really operate to a certain extent, and so far as it does, it
points out a sort of self-acting mechanism, founded in its
action on the postulates with which we started, for adapting
the structure of the living thing to the requirements of its
environment. This however does not destroy, but only
alters the argument of design. If, indeed, the postulates of
the theory were taken as self-existent and uncaused, then I
grant the argument would fall to the ground. But I have
heard on good authority that Darwin himself regarded the
argument from design as rather elevated than destroyed by
the adoption of his theory." l

"But even supposing the theory to be accepted as accounting
for the permanence of more or less neighbouring species, it
seems to me inconceivable that it should be competent to
bridge over the interval which separates remote forms. There
are structures so complex, so artificial, so eminently (to all
appearance at least) having a purpose to serve, that it seems
inconceivable that they could have been built by a mere
selection of haphazard variations from a type which in con-
sequence of this selection undergoes a slow secular change.
Take, for example, that exquisitely contrived organ, the eye
It seems to me well-nigh inconceivable how any one who
studies these various arrangements, so far as man has been
able to follow them, can imagine them to be merely the
cumulative effect of casual variations selected in the manner
supposed, or can fail to be impressed, perhaps if he does
so regard them, with the idea that they were designed for
the office which we find them to fulfil." 2

A writer in the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1902 ranked
Lord Rayleigh , Lord Kelvin , and Sir George Stokes

Ib. 42 f. 2 Ib. 43 f.


as the three greatest physicists of the day 1 . We have
seen the views of all three as to the relation between
science and religion.


We have now dealt at some length with the pioneers
in Heat, Light and Electricity, and the reader will have
perceived how very far they are from declaring unani-
mously against Christianity. Before leaving this branch
of our subject we desire to add one or two distinguished
names, which for various reasons have not been in-
cluded in the preceding two sections.

"For many years, longer indeed than an average life-
time, there was to be met in the Academy of Sciences
in Paris a venerable figure, no less remarkable for his
lively interest and constant interventions in the dis-
cussions of that learned and brilliant body, than for the
universal honour and respect which he received from
his colleagues. Tall and powerfully built, he retained
beneath the snow of years the vigour and resolution of
youth; his pale face mobile and clear-cut, was the
mirror of a subtle and rapid mind ; his voice, although
thin with age, was firm and impressive, and in the un-
conscious modulation of the moment gave token of
unwavering conviction. . . . The whole presence and
bearing of this remarkable man was that of a cosmo-
politan savant, who found the only content worth having
in the propagation of those scientific and moral prin-
ciples to which he was so ardently attached."

The scientist of whom these glowing words were
spoken by Von Martius, the botanist, at a meeting of

1 Encyclopaedia Britannica XXXII 10 184.

J. B. BIOT. l6y

the Bavarian Academy was J. B. Biot 1 (1774 1862).
He was one of the most celebrated men of his day,
a leader in Physics, a historian of the science, and a
brilliant stylist. He enjoyed membership of three of
the five French Academies, and it is impossible to-day
to read a text-book of Physics without finding honour-
able mention of his name. His original research-work

Online LibraryKarl Alois KnellerChristianity and the leaders of modern science; a contribution to the history of culture in the nineteenth century → online text (page 13 of 32)