James Clerk Maxwell’s Apologetic
By: Jim Virkler
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) is a model for affirming the reality of God in a powerful way. This brilliant scientist masterfully promotes the dual reality of the existence of God linked with the reality of a divinely designed and wonderfully ordered physical world. Incredible human achievement is but a subset of the orderliness of the physical universe and the God who created it. Among brilliant scientists who present scientific discoveries as God-affirming, James Clerk Maxwell is a giant. On the scientific level, Albert Einstein enthusiastically pronounced his work “the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.” Were Einstein (1879-1955) still living, no doubt he would utter the same statement. A review of our previous posts featuring Maxwell is instructive before you read further:
With this post we conclude our series on “the usefulness of science to promote faith and belief in God’s realty, especially the promotion of a viable faith in young people. We present statements from James Clerk Maxwell’s fertile mind concerning the dual spheres of science and faith, linking Maxwell’s deep spiritual insights with his profound scientific gifts. We encourage prospective parents and teachers to embrace this challenge in order to enrich their children’s faith search according to their age and level of their ability.
Maxwell believed religious faith and science were partners. He saw the ordered uniformity, orderliness, and simplicity of nature rather than its peculiarity and complexity. He spoke of “…(impressing) his own mind with the extent, the order, and the unity of the universe.” Maxwell referred to “the book of nature…written by the finger of God, that is, created by divine power.”
“The Creator governs his material works by definite laws resulting from the forces impressed on matter,” Maxwell stated. “Every atom of creation is unfathomable in its perfection.” He claimed, “None of the processes of Nature, since the time when Nature began, have produced the slightest difference in the properties of any molecule.” Details of the structure of atoms were not discovered or publicized until decades after his death.
Maxwell believed the features of the universe were created, not eternally existent. He opposed the philosophy of some scientists in his day, and would have opposed many in our present day who lean toward philosophical naturalism: Nature is all there is. “We are therefore unable to ascribe either the existence of the molecules or the identity of their properties to the operation of natural causes,” he voiced. He fits the definition of a theistic scientist without frequently endorsing a mysterious “God of the gaps” perspective in his practice of science. Natural laws were authored by the God of Creation.
Maxwell’s Christian convictions were not threatened by the growing scientific materialism of the 19th century. Some Christians in our age struggle against this threat of materialism. Today’s scientists as a group tend to be less religious than the general population—a mysterious phenomenon. We posit that modern scientists rest in the perceived certainty and security of scientific laws. They derive, thereby, a satisfying personal effect. To them, the anchor of science knowledge is deemed more satisfying than the search for the so-called “mystery” of spiritual truths. I Timothy 3:16 refers to the “mystery of godliness.” Mystery connotes truths formerly obscured, but now more clearly manifest. Many other spiritual truths are classified as “mysteries” in Ephesians and Colossians, as well as in the gospels where some translators render the term as “secrets.”
We join with Maxwell in believing quality science is inseparable from faith. As the Creator of all things, God is also author of the science/faith duality. James Clerk Maxwell provides a reasoned, persuasive apologetic model for our Christian faith. His worldview is part of the legacy we strive to pass on to our young people.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.