Thomson on religion

Thomson on religion
A depiction of William Thomson caught between his Irish Catholic beliefs (Christianity) and the newly being discovered sciences of thermodynamics, James Joule's 1843 paddle wheel experiment (right), electricity, and physics, at the end of which, he sided with a "creative power" (1903) model over that of evolution (Darwin).
In geniuses on, Thomson on religion refers to the published opinions, statements, views, and expressed beliefs of Irish-born Scottish mathematical physicist William Thomson (1824-1907) on religion, god, and science.

Thomson, in his early writings, was not overtly religious; say as compared to someone like James Joule who preached about the mechanical equivalent of heat in Church and how his calculations has something to do with the water churning actions described in the flood myth of the Bible.

In 1852, Thomson used the technique of using overtly scientific language, with covertly hidden religious backdoor key terms; such as stating that "there is a universal tendency in nature to the dissipation of mechanical energy" and suggested how this tendency might relate to "vegetable life" or to the "will of animate creatures". [1] This type of description, for lack of better terms, is "scientific god code" or "covert creationism"; a modern example of which is: Robert Ulanowicz and his ascendency principle.

Kelvin on crystals
A synopsis of William Thomson’s vacillating 1897-1903 views on "crystals", e.g. water crystal (Ѻ) formation shown above, which he believes are formed by the “fortuitous concourse of atoms” (Cicero on Greek atomic theory), whereas moss sprigs, microbes, and animals are formed by the “creative power” of god acting on atoms, via a miracle; though in his 2 May 1903 impromptu speech he slips and says it is absurd to believe that crystals could form by the “fortuitous concourse of atoms”, then request a recant two days later, after reading his published statements in The Times.
Crystals | God
In 1897, William Thomson, in his “The Age of the Earth as an Abode Fitted for Life”, stated the following: [6]

“My task has been rigorously confined to what, humanly speaking, we may call the ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’, in the preparation of the earth as an abode fitted for life. Mathematics and dynamics fail us when we contemplate the earth, fitted for life but lifeless, and try to imagine the commencement of life upon it. This certainly did not take place by any action of chemistry, or electricity, or crystalline grouping of molecules under the influence of force, or by any possible kind of fortuitous concourse of atoms. We must pause, face to face with the mystery and miracle of creation of living creatures.”

In 2 May 1903, Thomson, amid a five part public lecture by professor George Henslow (1835-1925), on “Christian Apologetics”, delivered at the Botanical Theater, at University College, the first of which being on “Present-day Rationalism: an Examination of Darwinism”, gave thanks to Henslow by say a few words, as follows: [2]

Science positively affirmed creative power. Science made everyone feel a miracle in himself. It was not in dead matter that they lived and moved and had their being, but in the creative and directing power which science compelled them to accept as an article of belief. They could not escape from that when they studied the physics and dynamics of living and dead matter all around. Modern biologists were coming once more to a firm acceptance of something, and that was a vital principle. They had an unknown object put before them in science. In thinking of that object they were all agnostics. They only knew God in his works, but they were absolutely forced by science to admit and to believe with absolute confidence in a directive power—in an influence other than physical, dynamical, electrical forces.

Cicero denied that they could have come into existence by a fortuitous concourse of atoms. Was there anything so absurd as to believe that a number of atoms by falling together of their own accord could make a crystal, a sprig of moss, a microbe, a living animal? People thought that, given millions of years, these might come to pass, but they could not think that a million of millions of years could give them unaided a beautiful world like ours. They had a spiritual influence, and in science a knowledge that there was that influence in the world around them. He admired the healthy, breezy atmosphere of free thought in professor [John] Henslow's (Ѻ) lecture. Let no one be afraid of true freedom. They could be free in their thoughts, in their criticisms, and with freedom of thought they were bound to come to the conclusion that science was not antagonistic to religion but a help for religion.”

Thomson, then, after reading his praise commentary, as printed in The Times, sent a "request to amend" letter to the editor of The Times, which was printed on May 4, 1903, wherein he states the following humorous request:

“Sir,—In your report of a few words which I said in proposing a vote of thanks to Professor Henslow for his lecture ‘On Present Day Rationalism’ yesterday evening, in University College, I find the following:—‘Was there anything so absurd as to believe that a number of atoms by falling together of their own accord could make a crystal, a sprig of moss, a microbe, a living animal?’ I wish to delete ‘a crystal,’ though no doubt your report of what I said is correct.”

Thomson elaborates on his reasoning behind this request as follows:

“Exceedingly narrow limits of time prevented me from endeavoring to explain how different is the structure of a crystal from that of any portion, large or small, of an animal or plant, or the cellular formation of which the bodies of animals and plants are made; but I desired to point out that, while ‘fortuitous concourse of atoms’ is not an inappropriate description of the formation of a crystal, it is utterly absurd in respect to the coming into existence, or the growth, or the continuation of the molecular combinations presented in the bodies of living things. Here scientific thought is compelled to accept the idea of creative power. 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 forces. He answered, ‘No, no more than I could believe that a book of botany describing them could grow by mere chemical forces.’ Every action of human free will is a miracle to physical and chemical and mathematical science.”

(add discussion)

In 1908, American James Walsh, following is obituary on Kelvin, in Catholic World, commented that those wishing to become proficient in Christian apologetics, should consult Thomson. [3]

Quotes | Related
The following are related quotes:

“Kelvin was a strong Christian, opposing both Darwinian evolution and Lyellian uniformitarianism.”
Henry Morris (c.1960) [5]

The following are other representative Thomson on religion quotes:

“Modern biologists are coming, I believe, once more to a firm acceptance of something beyond mere gravitational, chemical, and physical forces; and that unknown thing is a vital principle.”
— William Thomson (c.1900) [4]

“Modern biologists are coming, I believe, once more to a firm acceptance of something beyond mere gravitational, chemical, and physical forces; and that unknown thing is a vital principle.”
— William Thomson (c.1900) [4]

“Overwhelming strong proofs of intelligent and benevolent design lie around us.”
— William Thomson (c.1900) [4]

“The more thoroughly I conduct scientific research, the more I believe that science excludes atheism.”
— William Thomson (c.1900) [4]

“The atheistic idea is so nonsensical that I do not see how I can put it in words.”
— William Thomson (c.1900) [4]

“Do not be afraid of being free thinkers. If you think strongly enough you will be forced by science to the belief in God, which is the foundation of all religion. You will find science not antagonistic but helpful to religion.”
— William Thomson (c.1900) [4]

“The hypothesis that life originated on this earth through moss-grown fragments from the ruins of another world may seem wild and visionary; all I maintain is that it is not unscientific.”
— William Thomson (c.1900) [4]

“I feel profoundly convinced that the argument of design has been greatly too much lost sight of in recent zoological speculations. Reactions against the frivolities of teleology, such as are to be found, not rarely, in the notes of the learned commentators on Paley's Natural Theology, has, I believe, had a temporary effect in turning attention from the solid and irrefragable argument so well put forward in that excellent old book. But overwhelmingly strong proofs of intelligent and benevolent design lie all around us, and if ever perplexities, whether metaphysical or scientific, turn us away from them for a time, they come back upon us with irresistible force, showing to us through nature the influence of a free will, and teaching us that all living beings depend on one ever-acting Creator and Ruler.”
— William Thomson (c.1900) [4]

1. Thomson, William. (1852). "On a Universal Tendency in Nature to the Dissipation of Mechanical Energy" (Ѻ) (Ѻ), Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh for April 19, 1852, also Philosophical Magazine, Oct. 1852, also Mathematical and Physical Papers, vol. i, art. 59, pp. 511.
2. (a) Thomson, William. (1903). “On Religion and Science”, praise commentary of George Henslow’s (Ѻ), lecture on Christian Apologetics, Botanical Theater, University College.
(b) Thomson, William. (1903). “On Religion and Science”, in: London Times, May 2.
(c) Walsh, James J. (1908). “Lord Kelvin” (Ѻ), Catholic World (quote, pgs. 758-59), 86:757-68.
3. Walsh, James J. (1908). “Lord Kelvin” (Ѻ), Catholic World (quote, pgs. 758-59), 86:757-68.
4. Kelvin’s quotes on science and religion? (2009) – Yahoo Answers.
5. Coppedge, David. (2000). “The World’s Greatest Creationist Scientists: 1,000 to 2,000” (Ѻ),
6. (a) Thomson, William. (1897). “The Age of the Earth as an Abode Fitted for Life” (Ѻ), Annual Address of the Victoria Institute (with additions written at various times from Jun 1897 to May 1898, in: Philosophical Magazine, 5(47):66-90, 1899.
(b) Smith, Crosbie and Wise, Norton. (1989). Energy and Empire: a Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin (pg. 612). Cambridge University Press.
(b) Kelvin’s quotes on science and religion? (2009) – Yahoo Answers.

Further reading
● Crutchley, Peter. (2013). “Kelvin’s Conundrum: Is it Possible to Believe in God and Science?” (Ѻ), BBC, Religion & Ethics, Oct 20.
● Livio, Mario. (2103). Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein, Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe (§4: How Old is the Earth?, pgs. 60-). Simon & Schuster.

TDics icon ns

More pages