Lord Kelvin as Scientist and Believer

Light of Truth

Kuruvilla Pandikattu SJ

Lord Kelvin (William Thomason 1824-1907) is a giant of 19th Century science. In addition to the Kelvin Scale of absolute temperature, for which he is usually remembered, his pioneering research in the fields of mechanical energy and mathematics proved vital in the task of laying the first transatlantic communication cable which connects Europe to America.

Kelvin was knighted in 1866 for his key part in this mammoth engineering feat. He was also the first UK scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords and maintained that his life-long Christian faith supported and informed his scientific work.

He was also a devout Christian and firm believer in God. He asked: “Is there anything so absurd as to believe that a number of atoms falling together of their own accord can by any chance make a sprig of moss, a microbe or a living animal? Nobody can think that any such process even in millions and millions of years could unaided give us a beautiful world like ours?”

He added,“Let nobody be afraid of true freedom of thought. Let us be free in thought and criticism, but with freedom we are bound to come to the conclusion that science is not antagonistic, but is a help to religion.”

Lord Kelvin was not afraid to make his strong confession of faith with this striking passage: “Forty years ago I asked Liebig walking somewhere in the country, if he believed that the grass and flowers which we saw around us grew by mere chemical force. He answered no, I believe it no more than I could believe that a book of botany describing them could grow by mere chemical force.”

One of Lord Kelvin’s favourite expressions is “Every action of the human free-will is a miracle to physical, and chemical, and mathematical science.”

Kelvin believed science must be treated with reverence, as he explained: I have long felt that there was a general impression that the scientific world believes science has discovered ways of explaining all the facts of nature without adopting any definite belief in a Creator. I have never doubted that impression was utterly groundless.

“The more thoroughly I conduct scientific research, the more I believe science excludes atheism. If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all religion.”

Thus in Kelvin we see an accomplished scientist and a committed believer. An intelligent and committed Christian.


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