Over the past few years, I have been writing a series of elementary science courses for home educated students. Since the courses discuss scientific concepts in chronological order, I have spent a lot of time learning the history of science. In the process, I have found that a lot of what I was taught in school (including university) about how science developed is simply false. I have also become acquainted with the views of many great scientists from the past, which has allowed me to learn from them. I want to discuss one of those great scientists in order to share something I have learned.
James Joule was born in 1818. Because his father was a successful brewer, chemistry was in his blood. He was taught at home for many years, and then his father sent him to study under John Dalton, the founder of modern atomic theory. Dalton suffered a stroke two years later, but his influence on Joule continued long after he stopped teaching. Even though Joule ended up taking over the family brewery, he spent a lot of time doing experiments, mostly focused on trying to explain electricity and magnetism in terms of Dalton’s new atomic theory.
However, the more experiments he performed, the more interested he became in the heat that was generated in electrical systems. As he studied heat, he eventually demonstrated that he could convert mechanical energy into heat. This allowed him to argue that heat is just another form of energy, which went against the scientific consensus of his day. Of course, today we know he was correct, and because of that, the standard unit for measuring energy is named after him (the Joule).
In her testimony, she says that her parents were atheists who preferred the term “agnostic” and that religion played no part in her life as she grew up. Indeed, only three of the people she met by the time she was 25 had identified themselves as Christians. She says:
My view of Christianity was negative from an early age, and by the time I was in my twenties, I was actively hostile toward Christianity. Looking back, I realized a lot of this was the unconscious absorption of the general hostility toward Christianity that is common in places like Canada and Europe; my hostility certainly wasn’t based on actually knowing anything about Christianity. I had come to believe that Christianity made people weak and foolish; I thought it was philosophically trivial.
This is something Dr. Salviander and I had in common. When I was an atheist, I viewed religion as a crutch. It was okay for people who didn’t have the intellectual fortitude to face reality, but for someone who was knowledgeable about science and philosophy, it was absurd. Like Dr. Salviander, I eventually learned how wrong such a position is.
Once again, there has been a long pause in blog entries because I am working hard to finish my new high school chemistry course so it will be ready for those who want to use it during the upcoming academic year. I just finished the rough draft of the course, and my reviewers are running ahead of schedule. Thus, it looks like the course will be ready on time. I truly hope it meets the needs of homeschoolers who want a college-preparatory, scientifically-sound, and homeschool-friendly general chemistry course.
Even if you aren’t in need of a high school chemistry course, you might be interested in the way that I start and end my text, because it involves the views of two people who know more about science than I ever will know. I start with Dr. Arthur Leonard Schawlow, who shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics with Nicolaas Bloembergen and Kai Siegbahn for his work on laser spectroscopy. In addition to that high honor, Dr. Schawlow was awarded the National Medal of Science, the Stuart Ballantine Medal, the Young Medal and Prize, and the Frederic Ives Medal. As a fitting tribute to him, the American Physical Society established the Arthur L. Schawlow Prize in Laser Science.
As part of a project developed by Dr. Henry Margenuau and Roy Abraham Varghese, Dr. Schawlow was asked, “What do you think should be the relationship between religion and science?” Here is his part of his reply:1
But the context of religion is a great background for doing science. In the words of Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” Thus scientific research is a worshipful act, in that it reveals more of the wonders of God’s creation.
I strongly agree with Dr. Schawlow. Using science to study God’s creation is what led me to believe in Him, and every time I learn something new about His creation, I am filled with awe and wonder.
I use Dr. Schawlow’s quote in the introduction to my chemistry book to let students know that science is more than just an academic exercise. It is a way to come to a deeper appreciation of God’s majesty and power.
Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691) is generally considered to be one of the founders of modern chemistry. He took the study of how matter changes out of the mystical realm of alchemy and turned it into a scientific endeavor. He is known by nearly every freshman chemistry student as the author of Boyle’s Law, which tells us how a gas behaves when its pressure changes. In addition to being a brilliant scientist, he was also a devout Christian, and he saw the pursuit of science as a way of learning more about the majesty of God. Here is how he put it:1
“…when, in a word, by the help of anatomical knives, and the light of chymical furnaces, I study the book of nature and consult the glosses of Aristotle, Epicurus, Paracelus, Harvey, Helmont, and other learned expositors of that instructive volume, I find myself oftentimes reduced to exclaim with the Psalmist, How manifold are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all!”
Even though he was a firm believer in Christ, he was an advocate of doubt. In fact, his most famous work is a book entitled The Sceptical Chymist. In addition to his published works, he kept of series of “work diaries” in which he wrote down his daily thoughts. One of the entries reads as follows:2
He whose Faith never Doubted, may justly doubt of his Faith.
We don’t know whether this is something Boyle came up with on his own or whether he read it and thought it was worth noting in his diary. Regardless, we know it was important enough to him that he wanted to record it. This seems to indicate that Boyle thought doubt was not only a necessary part of science, but it was also a necessary part of the Christian faith.
Why am I writing about Robert Boyle and doubt? Because it relates to the results of a recent survey of college students in the United States.