The popular excitement generated by the detection of gravity waves (more accurately gravitational waves) in February 2016 has inspired popular broadening of interest in science as it molds our visualization of reality in our creation. Our recent posts highlighted the concept of fields, in particular, gravitational fields. The recent gravitational wave publicity emphasized three scientists who conceived of fields such as electric, magnetic, electromagnetic, and gravitational fields. In the last 200 years Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, and Albert Einstein have illuminated the field concept. Let’s define a field this way: A region of space in which every point is affected by a force. The field concept was revolutionary in 19th century science. The three scientists mentioned above are acknowledged as the prime movers in scientific understanding of forces and fields. Faraday and Maxwell comprise the 19th century component of this trio.
As young people, each scientist experienced a varied background which helped mold his mature scientific ability. Parental mentoring was important, but perhaps not as important as personal desire and initiative. In the case of Faraday and Maxwell, their strong Christian worldview undergirded them. All of these factors supplied fertile ground for the germination of scientific genius. We must realize, however, that achievement in science or any other endeavor is an example of giftedness. There is no guarantee that any young child will develop giftedness for science even if his parents follow a prescribed child-rearing formula.
Michael Faraday was born into a poor family and was essentially self-educated. He read many books as an outgrowth of his activity as an apprentice book-binder. “Faraday never lost his enthusiasm for natural beauty, especially such grandiose spectacles as a thunderstorm or an alpine waterfall,” according to the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Michael Faraday conceptualized intuitively. He observed and experimented with magnets and electric currents and visualized the relationships between them. My personal search of quotes from Faraday turned up one which epitomizes his discovery. “I happen to have discovered a direct relation between magnetism and light, also electricity and light, and the field it opens is so large and I think rich” he wrote in 1845. Regarding his Christian worldview, he said, “I cannot doubt that a glorious discovery in natural knowledge and the wisdom and power of God in the creation is awaiting our age.”
It remained for Maxwell not only to conceptualize intuitively as did Faraday, but also to express it in a burst of mathematical equations about the time of the American Civil War. Many sources have stressed Faraday knew hardly any formal mathematics. In contrast, Maxwell was one of the finest mathematicians of his time. However, the pioneering discoveries of Faraday which were not supported by advanced mathematical skills was not disparaged by Maxwell, who wrote, “I was aware that there was supposed to be a difference between Faraday’s way of conceiving of phenomena and that of the mathematicians so that neither he nor the mathematicians were satisfied with each others’ language…This discrepancy did not arise from either party being wrong.”
Maxwell’s giftedness was apparent from his early youth. Many accounts express his curiosity. For example, he produced reflections of sunlight across his parent’s faces with a tin plate given him by his father when he was two and a half years old. He said, “I got it in with the tin plate.” As a child he constantly asked, “What’s the go o’ that,” or, “What does it do,” and sometimes reiterated, “But what’s the particular go of it?” At six years old he was fascinated by watching the “violino primo’s” bowing at the community “barn ball” social rather than the dancers in order to discover “the go of that.” He wanted to have his parents tell him about a lapful of “curiosities” picked up on hikes through the woods with his nurse.
He was not always asking questions. Rather, he was frequently doing or making ingeniously. When he was eight years old during the final illness of his mother she counseled the young boy to “look up through Nature to Nature’s God.” That same year he was able to repeat Psalm 119 in its entirety and quote chapter and verse for almost any quotation in the Book of Psalms. His biographer, Rev. Lewis Campbell, co-author of The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882) produced a volume of nearly 700 pages largely composed of his personal letters. Many of them detailed the workings of his brilliant mind. His letters also contained profoundly deep Christian insights which he possessed and expressed until the premature end of his life at the age of 48. He is an eminent giant in the world of science, universally recognized for his contributions. I recommend the Campbell volume for its multifaceted insights into Maxwell’s giftedness.
We appropriate a measure of literary license in quoting verses from I Corinthians 12. This passage is meant to express the variety of spiritual giftedness in the church, but these verses may also apply across the spectrum of human experience to different types of gifts in any sphere. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” I Cor. 12:4-6 (ESV). We give thanks for the variety of giftedness in the field of science and in all human experience.