One of his most poignant legacies was the annual Christmas Lectures for children, a tradition that continues to the present. Adults had to stand in the back as the children got all the front seats for these delightful events. Faraday could keep the young audience in rapt attention as he made the ordinary seem extraordinary. His most popular Christmas Lecture series was called The Chemical History of a Candle , which, transcribed into book form, remains a classic today there have been 70 Japanese editions alone. Faraday could take a simple household object, a candle, and draw out of it all the diverse wonders of nature.
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What separated Michael Faraday from the other poor boys of his neighborhood? Undoubtedly, his Christian faith was the biggest factor. His parents grounded him in the Biblical world view. Historians find it intriguing that Faraday, a scientist, remained so loyal to his church all his life. Puritanism and Methodism are other examples of Nonconformist groups; John Dalton, Joseph Priestly and Joseph Henry were also scientists of nonconformist faith.
The Faraday family belonged to a denomination known as the Sandemanians, a breakaway sect from the Scottish Presbyterian church, founded a century earlier by John Glas. The name Sandemanian comes from his son-in-law, Robert Sandeman, who became the leader. Critical of the traditions the high church had added to the Scripture, and the corruption that often ensued, they sought to return to the primitive, apostolic Christianity of the New Testament.
Some distinctives of their worship included a plurality of elders, closed communion, foot washing, reading of Scripture and long prayers. Members were treated as equals, with no division between clergy and laity. They frowned on wealth accumulation and other forms of worldliness, and extolled humility, simplicity, and charity.
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Their services and fellowship meals took up a good part of each Sunday. How could such worship habits, seemingly so devoid of scientific interest, influence the lab work of a young scientist?
Though he admits the connection between these developments is sometimes obscure, he points out some features of Nonconformism that contributed to scientific endeavor and produced some of the greatest scientists from the ranks of Nonconformists. For one thing, Nonconformists were social outcasts to one degree or another; though often tolerated, they had been been through severe waves of persecution at times one only has to remember the Pilgrims leaving all to sail to the New World primarily for religious freedom; later, Robert Sandeman also immigrated to America because of religious pressure in England.
This kind of treatment harked back to the Reformation itself, a nonconformist tradition of the first order; yet when some Protestant churches became the new establishment, new reformers often felt compelled to break away. In so doing, they suffered some of the same reproaches endured by the early Reformers Here is where you can use that longest word in the English language, antidisestablishmentarianism. Secondly, as outcasts, they were rugged individualists.
Nonconformists were often subject to legal restrictions.
They were prevented from attending the state schools and universities, intertwined as those institutions were with the state church. One result of this was a fresh infusion of new attitudes and nontraditional methods in education. The dissenting academies became an important seedbed of science. But why would religious people concerned about imitating the early church care about science?
It directly motivated his experiments on electromagnetic induction and other attempts to relate electricity, magnetism, chemical energy, motion and even gravity though he failed in the latter; some are still seeking that unification today. No wonder he viewed the pursuit of scientific discovery as a holy calling, the understanding of nature as a gift of God. He drinks from a fount on Sunday which refreshes his soul for the week. That persistency nearly drove him to exhaustion at one point. His friends insisted he take an extended rest. His wife worried about him only on the day he walked forty-five miles.
Faraday lived through the Darwinian revolution, but it never troubled him. Faraday was no easy believer; gullibility was definitely not part of his character, as judged by his zeal for accuracy in all his measurements and his reluctance to state a conclusion before proved by experiment. He angrily scorned the naivete of the spiritualists, for instance.
Yet his confidence in the Word of God was unshakeable. I have none. I am resting on certainties. That persuasion carried him into his old age. Michael suffered from memory loss that began in his twenties and gradually became severe in his later adulthood. It was not incoherence or mental incompetence, but simple forgetfulness, perhaps brought on by exposure to mercury or other lab chemicals.
Thomas provides some extended quotes to show off this legacy of literature, which includes original papers and letters. His versatility, originality, intellectual energy and sheer stamina leave us in awe. His tactful, self-effacing, thoughtful wordsmithing could calm a disputatious opponent, gently express righteous indignation, graciously decline a favor or humbly accept an honor.
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In a book review in Nature 29 May , pp. Due to limitations of space, one example must suffice:. The science of electricity is that state in which every part of it requires experimental investigations; not merely for the discovery of new effects, but what is just now of far more importance, the development of the means by which the old effects are produced, and the consequence more accurate determination of the first principles of action of the most extraordinary and universal power in nature:— and to those philosophers who pursue the inquiry zealously yet cautiously, combining experiment with analogy, suspicious of their preconceived notions, paying more respect to a fact than a theory, not too hasty to generalize, and above all things, willing at every step to cross-examine their own opinions, both by reasoning and experiment, no branch of knowledge can afford so fine and ready a field for discovery as this.
Such is most abundantly shown to be the case by the progress which electricity has made in the last thirty years: Chemistry and Magnetism have successively acknowledged its over-ruling influence; and it is probable that every effect depending upon the power of inorganic matter, and perhaps most of those related to vegetable and animal life, will ultimately be found subordinate to it. In this prediction and many others, his insight proved correct.
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As he aged, his body remained strong, but his memory continued to fail. Faraday continued lecturing till age 70, but only with difficulty. He accepted his lot with equanimity and grace. Such peace is alone in the gift of God, and as it is He who gives it, why shall we be afraid? Upon his retirement from the Royal Institution, the queen awarded him and his wife a house in Hampton Court near the palace, in appreciation for his many contributions to science.
He shrugged off knighthood and requested only his name be written on his tombstone. One thing he never forgot as the mental fog crept in was his love for the Lord and confidence of His good promises. He spent the remaining nine years of his life at Hampton Court, quietly fading away, looking forward to heaven, which he entered on August 26, The world below basks in the light of discoveries made by plain old Michael Faraday. Not an ounce of guile or inconsistency mars his memory. We can, however, with the benefit of hindsight, speculate on some things that might have been.
Faraday personally knew almost all the great scientists of his day; why did the Darwinian revolution occur on his watch? Why did his Christian testimony have so little influence on those who were sowing the seeds of skepticism, atheism, methodological naturalism, and higher criticism all around him? For one thing, Faraday was 69 when Darwin published On the Origin of Species ; by then, his memory was severely impaired.
Nevertheless, movements have roots, and throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, seeds of doubt that were to undermine Biblical faith were already growing. Though Faraday was undoubtedly aware of such skeptical movements, it is difficult to find any account of Faraday speaking out against them, even though his outburst over spiritualism shows that he was capable of having strong opinions. Huxley spoke four times at the Institution from to , two years after The Origin was published, a year when England was ablaze with controversy over evolution.
In , Faraday wrote a letter to Tyndall that is a model of conciliation and peacemaking; but within 20 years, this same Tyndall would announce before the British Association the triumph of scientific naturalism. In all fairness, the Royal Institution was a non-religious body, and Faraday had a responsibility to allow leading scientists to speak; inviting a speaker does not imply endorsement. Yet the silence is puzzling. Without having Faraday here to defend himself, it would be unfair to judge his apparent inaction as real; he may have done and said more than history recorded.
All we can do is argue from the silence, make inferences from rare quotations, and analyze cultural and political trends of the day. We have the benefit of hindsight to see the evil fruit these skeptical trends produced — eugenics, Marxism, Nazism, social Darwinism and higher criticism.
To Faraday, they were philosophical issues bandied about in a culture that still survived by inertia on Christian presuppositions. Michael Faraday strived to live peaceably, a good and noble personal goal, but there is a time and place to oppose evil. Faraday had the gifts and the credibility to help define the issues and influence the direction of science.
He certainly advanced the secular part of it, and his personal character was impeccable, but the dichotomy between his church life and scientific life seems almost schizophrenic. It is regrettable, knowing what followed, that he did not speak and write more on the Christian philosophy of science and the relation of Biblical faith to scientific endeavor, or to respond to the increasing arguments favoring naturalistic evolutionism when it was most needed.
He underlined I Timothy and Romans in the privacy of his study, but did he spread the message? Another factor was the growing acceptance of methodological naturalism that can be traced to Sir Francis Bacon: the assumption that it is possible, even desirable, to approach science secularly, to discover truth through the pure accumulation of empirical facts and making inductive conclusions from the facts.
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Presumably, this does not imply metaphysical naturalism, that nature is all there is. Ultimately, however, the naturalistic method of science led to scientism, logical positivism and to the complete takeover of all branches of knowledge, even history and the arts, by secularists and materialists. The Christian natural philosophers did not predict this outcome; they thought God was glorified in our discovering the laws of nature that He had set up.
Nature became the clock that God wound up at the beginning and left to run down on its own. Ultra-Newtonianism pictured a predictable, clockwork universe that could be described by equations, provided we knew all the variables. John Herschel, William Whewell and others who promoted methodological naturalism were Christians who believed in an all-wise Creator, but their assumption nature could be approached inductively without metaphysical presuppositions denies the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life.
Methodological naturalism works to a point, as when measuring charge, force, temperature and other observable, repeatable causes and effects, but what are the limits? By not defining the limits of science, the natural philosophers opened the door for the secularists to consider all fields open to secular inquiry, even psychology and origins.