Karl Alois Kneller.

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was done mainly in the field of Optics; but he was
also engaged for several years in Spain and the North
of England as a member of the French Commission
for the measurement of the degrees of longitude, and
as a teacher of Mathematics and Physics he exercised
a wide influence. He possessed, says Von Martius, "a
rare lucidity of intellect, which, unaccompanied by any
great imaginative power, found its real attraction in the
nobility of justice, moral worth, and absolute truth".
"Biot was an austere, independent, inexorable critic
who believed exclusively in pure reason. In accordance
with its dictates he ordered his life, ambitions, and
studies, and no other consideration had any weight
with him."

As for his religious opinions, Biot was not always a
believing Christian. For many years the recollection of
his First Communion was the only relic left to him of
a pious boyhood. Under the influence of the circle
that gathered round Laplace his indifference developed
into a vague Deism. But his experience of Deists and
Atheists and of the practical fruits of Christian belief,
as he saw them in the lives of some of his nearest re-
latives, led him back to the faith of his childhood.

1 Gedachtnisrede on March 28 th 1862 in v. Martius, Akademische
Denkreden, Miinchen 1866, 456.


For the last thirty years of his life he was a fervent
Catholic, and he so continued to the end. His friend
and confessor, Pere Ravignan, could justly characterise
him as a true Christian savant, as he does in a letter
acknowledging the receipt of Biot's memoir of the
mathematician Cauchy: "That is Cauchy to the life,
and you yourself to the life! You manifest to all in
the noblest language an intimate alliance between true
science and true faith." * But this memoir was by no
means Biot's only confession of faith. "He had", as
Abbe Moigno 2 tells us, "shown the liveliest joy at the
entrance of his grand-son M. Milliere into the priest-
hood, and it was an affecting sight to see the august
old savant receiving Holy Communion in the Basilica
of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont from the hands of the young
priest who called him grandfather."

Biot's return to the Church was not regarded by all
with favourable eyes. If Sainte-Beuve sought to de-
preciate his reputation as a scientist, and others busied
themselves in exaggerating the blemishes of his life,
we must ascribe this in part to anti-Christian feeling.
This feeling found further expression in the attempt
to fill the chair in the Academy left vacant by Biot's
death, by the election of an atheist. The candidate

1 A. de Ponlevoy, Vie du R. P. Xavier de Ravignan de la
Comp. de Jesus II 15 , Paris 1900, chap. 27, 387. For de Ravignan's
relations to Biot cf. chap. 19, 131 133.

2 In his newspaper Cosmos XX, Paris 1862, 203. Moigno charac-
terizes the same Biot as a "chretien convaincu, sincere et pratiquant.
Son retour a la foi datait de pres de trente ans ; un des premiers
nous en resumes la confidence". Cf. Lefort, Un savant chretien,
J.-B. Biot, in Le Correspondant dec. 1867; U. Maynard in Biblio-
graphie catholique XL, Paris 1868, 93.


put forward was Littre , a materialist , socialist , and
atheist. He succumbed however, to the vigorous op-
position of Lacordaire, and did not till a later date ob-
tain a place among the immortals. Littre himself, it
is worthy of remark, did not remain a materialist till
death. He wrote many articles in his Revue Positiviste
of a Christian tendency, as if to prepare his friends for
a change, and in his last illness he asked for baptism
and died in the faith 1 .

Many important contributions were made to Optics by
Jacques Babinet (f 1872) whose name is perpetuated
by various physical apparatus. His loyalty to the Christian
belief was shown strikingly in his last painful illness, which
he endured with exemplary patience and resignation. He
was all his life charitable almost to a fault. He gave without
stint, and the number of his beneficiaries was countless 2 .

1 Allgemeine Zeitung, Augsburg 1881, 2301 2310. For Littre's
earlier relations to Christianity cf. Ch. Clair, Le R. P. Milleriot de
la Compagnie de Jesus 24 , Paris-Bruxelles-Geneve 1881, 179 f. Littre's
Article is reprinted from the Revue posit, in Les Mondes LV, Paris
1881, 2, 224: "Certaines ames pieuses se sont interessees a mes dis-
positions intimes. II leur a semble que, n'etant un contempteur absolu
du christianisme et lui reconnaissant avec insistance des grandeurs
et des bienfaits, il y avait en mon coeur des cordes qui pourraient
vibrer. . . . Comme je n'ai eprouve ni exprime de la repulsion ou du
malaise en me sentant 1'objet des sentiments dont je viens d'esquisser
les nuances etc. - - In a letter of 14. April 1878, which has been
published lately , Littre writes to a person who wished to dedicate
a book to him: Je ne puis accepter la dedicace de votre livre.
II est d'une polemique trop aggressive a 1'egard des idees th^ologi-
ques et du catholicisme, pour qu'il convienne a la position que j'occupe
dans 1'ecole de la philosophic positiviste (L'intermediaire des cher-
cheurs et curieux XLVII, Paris 20 mars 1903. Quest, n. 386).

2 Moigno writes of him in Les Mondes XXIX, Paris 1872,
293 : Cette mort precedee d'une longue et cruelle infirmite, supportee
avec une patience incomparable, rompt pour nous les liens d'une


The discoverer of fluorescence, David Brewster(fi 86 1),
was also a fervent Christian. He was a Protestant of the
older school and found prophecies of the Pope in many
passages in the Old Testament (Dan. 7) l . But he was a
firm, practical Christian, and he enriched Optics with many
acquisitions. He invented the kaleidoscope and the lensed
spectroscope, and wrote a biography of Newton 2 .

During the middle years of the iQ th century, perhaps
the greatest living physicist was Victor Regnault
(born 1810 at Aix-la-Chapelle, died 1878 at Paris).

"It was in the year 1849", writes Berthelot 3 , "that I first
came to know .him, and received from him advice and
inspiration not easily to be forgotten. Science was then
full of his glory, his name was cited by all our teachers
in the company of the greatest physicists of all time.
The genius of precision seemed to have taken flesh in
his person. The celebrity of Gay-Lussac, of Dulong, of
Faraday built up by so many magnificent discoveries seemed
to pale before that of Victor Regnault; and the glory he
enjoyed was spotless, earned by the sheer force of hard
work, without the aid of intrigue or self-advertisement, po-
litical or literary."

amitie etroite de plus de 35 ans. Nous avons eu du moins la con-
solation de voir notre illustre savant dans les sentiments d'une foi
sincere et d'une resignation vraiment touchante. . . . Notre ami avait
une qualite bien rare, poussee chez lui jusqu'a 1'exces, il donnait tout
ce qu'il avait ; le nombre des infortunes qu'il soulageait est incom-
mensurable. F a y e says in his funeral oration : Reconcilie avec
tous et par-dessus tout avec Dieu, vous avez revele dans cette longue
agonie la force de votre ame (ib. 338).

1 J.-B. Biot, Melanges I 407 415. The life of Sir J. Newton
by D. Brewster, London 1831, 227 272.

2 II s'est endormi dans une profonde paix et dans 1'esperance
ferme du salut parfait en Jesus-Christ, wrote his son to the Academy
of Munich. V. its Sitzungsberichte, Miinchen 1868, I 469.

3 Science et philosophic, Paris 1886, 218.


How highly Regnault was esteemed throughout Europe
was shown on the occasion of an accident which befell
him, Aug. 9 th 1856. His condition from hour to hour
was everywhere the subject of conversation, and the
newspapers published as full and frequent bulletins as
if he had been a prince 1 .

Regnault's fame is not perhaps quite so brilliant to-
day. But he remains one of the first experimenters of
the century, and his investigations, especially into the
expansion of gases, are classical in point of accuracy
and skill in detecting possible sources of error. He
had toiled his way up from the humblest origin to the
proudest heights of science and glory when trial after
trial began to oppress and all but overwhelm him. In
1856 he had lost his wife and her mother; in 1871, during
the Franco-Prussian war, his laboratory was reduced
to ruins, his instruments destroyed, and his notes, re-
presenting the work of years, were burned. His son, who
had already had some success as a painter, was killed
in battle, and in 1873 Regnault himself had a stroke
which although it did not cloud his intellect, left him
in many other respects weak and helpless. "Few men",
said Daubree, "have in their declining years been more
sorely tried. . . . His religious faith alone was capable
of consoling him, and it was a source of consolation
that never failed." 2

1 Allgemeine Zeitung 1856, 3581 3672 3693 3709 3725.

2 Peu d'hommes ont e*te , comme on le sait , plus cruellement
frappes , pendant les dernieres annees de sa vie. Quel douloureux
contraste, si nous nous reportons a trente-cinq annees en arriere lors-
que nous le rappelons , ayant vaincu toutes les difficultes de son
adolescence, avec tous les charmes seduisants de la jeunesse et de
1'esprit , entoure d'une charmante famille dont il etait 1'idole , au


"Worthy rivals of Regnault in elegance of method and
accuracy of measurement" is the description given by Troost
of the physicists Paul Desains and De La Provostaye. Their
elaborate researches prove that as regards emission , ab-
sorption, reflection, refraction, and polarization, radiant heat
possesses all the qualities of light. The universal theme of
the memorial speeches pronounced over Desains (f May 3 th
1885) was the upright character of the dead scientist. Fizeau
praised his benevolence and rectitude, his loyalty to his
friends, his untiring devotion to duty, and his religious habit
of mind. A personal friend of his, the Academician Mezieres,
said that to him death was "the day-spring of realisation for
those immortal hopes to which he had always clung with
robust belief" *.

Cesar Mansuete Despretz (f March 15* 1867) la-
boured for forty years in the investigation of heat, sound,
and electricity. He inaugurated no new theories, but his
industrious researches established a mass of important facts,
and we find him, on that account, frequently cited in text-
books of Physics. Despretz was a believing Catholic. He
defended the Church and clergy from various attacks with
courage and effect. Nevertheless he so far gave way to the

milieu des succes les plus brillants, recevant de toute part les honneurs
les mieux merits. Sa foi religieuse pouvait seule le consoler, et
cette consolation ne lui a pas manque (Comptes rendus LXXXVI,
Paris 1878, 141).

1 Apres avoir rappele les titres qui honorent le savant , dans
M. Desains, nous ne ferons qu'exprimer le sentiment de tous ceux
qui 1'ont connu , en rendant hommage aux rares qualites de son
coeur. Si sa droiture, sa bonte, son esprit de justice, sa fidelite a
ses amis , son infatigable devouement a ses devoirs , ses sentiments
religieux, la dignite de sa vie, en un mot, lui ont toujours merite
les respects de tous pendant sa vie , le souvenir des qualites et des
vertus dont il a donne 1'exemple ne peut manquer de rester attache
a sa memoire (Fizeau in Comptes rendus C, Paris 1885, 1259).
Tu as vu venir la mort avec calme ; elle etait pour toi le com-
mencement d'une vie nouvelle , 1'aurore des immortelles esperances
dont ta foi robuste n'a jamais doute (Mezieres ante 1266).


influence of the age that not till his death-bed did he return
to the practical exercise of his religion l .

Cesar Antoine Becquerel (f 1878) is a name
familiar to every student of science. His line of re-
search is well known. "For more than fifty years", he
himself writes, "I have been engaged in physico-chemical
research, working mainly at the question of the relations
existing between electricity and attraction at greater or
less distances, and between electricity, light, and heat."

Becquerel was a convinced Christian. In the memorial
speech pronounced at his grave-side Fizeau declared
that he had died "with the serenity of a philosopher,
the tranquility of soul of a good man, the trust in God
and immortal hope of a Christian" 2 . Becquerel him-
self had spoken out unmistakably his verdict on materia-
lism. In his work on physico - chemical forces , and
the part they play in the production of natural pheno-
mena he expressly declares that it is impossible to
explain the origin of life on earth apart from the con-
ception of a Creator.

Every thinker who accepts the modern theory of the for-
mation of the earth, is constrained to hold that in the be-
ginning it was without vegetation. Organic life could only
have begun in the soil deposited as sediment. But how
was the passage from inorganic to organic effected? That
is the secret of the Creator.

1 Moigno in Les Mondesi, Paris 1863, 141 143. Cf. Sitzungs-
berichte der k. bayr. Akad., Miinchen 1863, II 385388.

2 M. Becquerel touchait a la fin de sa quatre-vingt-dixieme ann6e,
lorsqu'il s'est eteint doucement, au milieu des siens, avec la serenite
du sage, la tranquillite d'ame de 1'homme de bien, la confiance en
Dieu et les immortelles esperances du chretien (Comptes rendus
LXXXVI, Paris 1878, 128).


"Geology tells us that nature has followed a progressive
plan in the creation of organised beings, beginning with
the simplest and gradually rising to the most complex forms
as atmospheric conditions changed. But what are the forces
that went to the formation of all these organised bodies?
Our ignorance in this regard is such that, while we know
that if the organic bodies and other various substances of
the earth were to be suddenly volatilised by excessive heat,
and if this were followed, as in the first ages of the earth,
by a gradual cooling down, our inorganic compounds would
be reconstitued according to known laws , we are quite
unable to conceive in what fashion vegetable and animal
life could be reproduced. We must then postulate the
existence of a creative power which has manifested itself
at certain epochs, but whose sole operation at present is to
conserve those living species actually in existence."

Becquerel then quotes a passage from Berzelius in which
the great chemist argues in favour of the existence of God
and against materialism, and continues 1 :

"We have cited these sublime words in order to show
that, in the opinion of the most gifted minds, matter is in-
capable of ascending to the stage of organic life by the
sole agency of the forces which govern inorganic nature." '

1 It will be given in an extract, v. p. 180.

2 . . . Ce n'est que dans les terrains de sediment que la vie or-
ganique a du commencer ; mais comment s'est operee la transition
de la vie inorganique a la vie organique? La est le secret du
Createur. ... II taut done admettre 1'existence d'une puissance
creatrice qui s'est manifestee a certaines epoques, et qui ne semble
plus agir aujourd'hui que pour perpetuer les especes actuellement
vivantes. Berzelius s'exprime a cet egard en ces termes : ... Nous
avons cru devoir rapporter ces paroles sublimes, pour montrer que
les esprits les plus eleves ne pensent pas que la matiere puisse
s'organiser elle-meme par le concours seul des forces qui regissent
la nature inorganique (Des forces physico-chimiques et de leur inter-
vention dans la production des phenomenes naturels. Par M. Becquerel,
Paris 1873, 45)-


The name ofLuigi Palmieri (f 1896) was first intro-
duced to the scientific world in 1843 by the invention of
an electro-magnetic apparatus designed to show the existence
of earth-magnetism. In 1856 he became director of the Ob-
servatory which King Ferdinand II. had built in 1841 on
Vesuvius to facilitate the study of the volcano. Palmieri
filled this post for forty years with tireless industry, and
made many valuable contributions to Meteorology, and to
the study of volcanoes. He invented many instruments for
the measurement of tellural disturbances, of the velocity of
wind, and of atmospheric electricity. His work on the latter
is very celebrated. He made observations of an outbreak
of Vesuvius under most dangerous conditions l .

Palmieri was a thorough going Catholic. "He heard Mass
not only on the prescribed Feast Days but also on those in
regard to which there was no obligation, and till his death
at the age of 89 his piety continued unabated. . . . We can
repeat of Palmieri, what he himself said of Galluppi : 'The
Catholic religion was the inspirer of his studies, and, fortified
by its unspeakable consolations, he passed from earth to
eternal peace.'" 2

Everyone who has studied in any detail the theory
of Laplace as to the origin of the planetary system
has also heard of the Belgian physicist , Plateau.
J. A. F. Plateau (born at Brussels 1801 , died at
Ghent 1883) had in 1843 the misfortune to be blinded
in the course of his researches into sense - illusions,
but in spite of this he continued his scientific career,
and established many laws of the first importance re-
garding the conditions of equilibrium 3 . He too is to

1 L. Palmieri, Die atmospharische Elektrizitat. Ubersetzt von
Heinr. Discher, Wien 1884. Der Ausbruch des Vesuv vom
2.6. April 1872. Deutsch von C. Rammelsberg, Berlin 1872.

2 Civilta cattolica, Ser. 16, XI, Roma 9 agosto 1897, 470.

3 Sketch from life in the Annuaire de 1'Academie royale des sciences,
des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique LI, Bruxelles 1885, 389 to


be counted with those scientists whom widening know-
ledge of nature only confirmed in their veneration of
religion. "Plateau", says his son-in-law, Van Der
Mensbrugghe, "was a convinced Christian; it always
pained him to hear scientists speak of the wonderful
scientific achievements of our century as making in
favour of materialism, and against the religious con-
ception of life. Religion, he said, is a heavenly balsam
for all our sorrows of soul and body; and it is high
treason against humanity to seek to deprive poor suf-
ferers of this consolation. As for himself, the deeper
he penetrated into the secrets of nature the more humbly
he bowed before the mysteries of the supernatural
order." *

Peter Guthrie Tait (f July 4 th 1901) is a name
famous far beyond the shores of his native land, al-
though less for his original research than for his text-
books and popular scientific writings. In collaboration
with Sir W. Thomson he began a manual of Theoretical
Physics , the single completed volume of which was
translated into German by Von Helmholtz. His books
on thermo-dynamics, light, heat, and cognate subjects

486. Cf. F a y e in the Comptes rendus of the Academy of Paris
XCVII (1883) 687-689.

1 Plateau etait un chretien convaincu ; il se desolait chaque fois
qu'un savant se prevalait des progres merveilleux de ce siecle pour
avancer des doctrines materialistes ou antireligieuses ; la religion,
disait-il , est un baume celeste pour toutes les souffrances morales
ou physiques, et c'est un crime de lese-humanite que de chercher
a en priver les malheureux ici-bas. Quant a lui, plus il avait ap-
profondi les secrets de la nature, plus il s'inclinait devant les mysteres
de 1'ordre surnaturel (Sketch of his life in the Annuaire de 1'Academie
royale des sciences etc. LI 460).

P. G. TAIT. 177

went into numerous editions and translations 1 . He was
a man who had a comprehensive grasp of Physics, as
a whole, without being a mere superficial dabbler. For
this reason his views on the limits of science, and its
relations with philosophy are likely to be more valuable
than those of a specialist, who never emerges from his
particular province nor troubles his head about even
his next door neighbour in the city of science. In an
address delivered before the British Association at Edin-
burgh Tait sets out to determine the frontier line be-
tween the realities which can be reached , and the
realities which cannot be reached, by the methods of
Physics. He describes two classes of writers on the

On the one side there is "a crowd of ignorant persons
whose sole recommendation is their rapidly increasing number,
and the adhesion of a few fanatical deserters from the ranks
of science. They refuse to admit that all phenomena of
dead matter belong essentially and exclusively to physical
science. On the other hand, there is a numerous group,
not in the slightest degree entitled to rank as Physicists
(though in general they assume the proud title of Philo-
sophers), who assert that not merely life, but even Volition
and Consciousness, are mere physical manifestations. These
opposite errors, into neither of which is it possible for a
genuine scientific man to fall, so long at least as he retains
his reason, are easily seen to be very closely allied. They
are both to be attributed to that credulity which is charac-
teristic alike of ignorance and incapacity. Unfortunately
there is no cure; the case is hopeless, for great ignorance

1 Vorlesungen iiber einige neuere Fortschritte der Physik, deutsch
von G. Wertheim, Braunschweig 1877; Warmelehre, deutsch von
E. Lecher, Wien 1885; Die Eigenschaften der Materie, deutsch von
G. Siebert, Wien 1888; Elementares Handbuch der Quaternionen,
deutsch von G. v. Scherff, Leipzig 1880.

Kneller, Christianity. 12


almost necessarily presumes incapacity, whether it shows
itself in the comparatively harmless folly of the Spiritualist
or in the pernicious nonsense of the Materialist" *.

Tait deals in the same address with the chemico-
physical interpretation of vital processes:

Even if we had wholly unveiled the secret of life, he
says, it must not be imagined that we should be able to
produce the simplest living being except from already existing
life. "Our President's (Sir W. Thomson) brilliant idea of
the vortex ring will enable us, if it rests on truth, to under-
stand matter completely, and to investigate all its properties
mathematically. Yet its very basis implies the absolute ne-
cessity of an intervention of Creative Power to form or
destroy one atom even of dead matter." 2

We may conclude this section with the opinion of
still another German scientist on the philosophical im-
port of the conclusions of science. Philip Jolly (f 1885)
worked with much success at the determination of the
mass of the earth, the theory of heat, etc. "He never
failed", says a biographer, "to add at the conclusion
of his earlier lectures that all science is only piece-
work, and is incapable of making any pronouncement
as to the ultimate ground or end of existence." 3 If
Physics is incompetent to reach any conclusion in this
regard, then it is incompetent to find arguments against
the teaching of Christianity.

1 Report of the 41 st Meeting of the British Association for the
Advancement of Science, held at Edinburgh in August 1871, Trans-
actions of the sections: Mathematics and Physics. Address by Pro-
fessor P. G. Tait, London 1872, 7.

2 Ib. 6.

3 Allgemeine Zeitung 1885, Nr. 80, Beil. p. 1179.



The modern science of Chemistry is, comparatively
speaking, of very recent growth. It begins with La-
voisier (f 1794) who was the first to lay proper stress
on accurate measuring and weighing, and whose ana-
lysis of the process of combustion gave the first in-
sight into the nature of chemical union.

A theory of fundamental importance is that which
conceives the elements as composed of atoms. This
atomic theory was established by Dalton (f 1844). The
two laws on which it rests, that of gravity and that
of multiple proportions received their full experimental
proof in the innumerable analyses and calculations of
Berzelius (f 1848)!.

Of the various theories of the nature of chemical
combination the so-called dualistic hypothesis of Ber-
zelius held the field during the first half of the 19 th cen-
tury. It has given way however to the substitution-
theory of the French chemist Dumas (f 1884).

Organic chemistry is also practically a creation of
the 19 th century. Amongst the most brilliant pioneers
of the science were Dumas, Chevreul (f 1889), and
Liebig (f 1873).

We do not propose to give here even the most
cursory sketch of the history of Chemistry in the last

Online LibraryKarl Alois KnellerChristianity and the leaders of modern science; a contribution to the history of culture in the nineteenth century → online text (page 14 of 32)