Max Planck: The Gates of the Temple of Science


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On 23 April 1858, Max Planck (1858–1947) was born. A German theoretical physicist, his earliest work was on the subject of thermodynamics, an interest he acquired from his studies under Kirchhoff, whom he greatly admired, and very considerably from reading R. Clausius’ publications. He published papers on entropy, on thermoelectricity and on the theory of dilute solutions.

At the same time also the problems of radiation processes engaged his attention and he showed that these were to be considered as electromagnetic in nature. From these studies he was led to the problem of the distribution of energy in the spectrum of full radiation. Experimental observations on the wavelength distribution of the energy emitted by a black body as a function of temperature were at variance with the predictions of classical physics. Planck was able to deduce the relationship between the energy and the frequency of radiation. In a paper published in 1900, he announced his derivation of the relationship: this was based on the revolutionary idea that the energy emitted by a resonator could only take on discrete values or quanta. The energy for a resonator of frequency v is hv where h is a universal constant, now called Planck’s constant.

This was not only Planck’s most important work but also marked a turning point in the history of physics. The importance of the discovery, with its far-reaching effect on classical physics, was not appreciated at first. However the evidence for its validity gradually became overwhelming as its application accounted for many discrepancies between observed phenomena and classical theory. Among these applications and developments may be mentioned Einstein’s explanation of the photoelectric effect.

In 1918, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of quantum theory. Planck’s constant is named for him, a foundation of quantum formulation. He was revered by his colleagues not only for the importance of his discoveries but for his great personal qualities. He also organized conferences and authored philosophical works, among them Science and Faith (1930) and Where is Science Going? (1932).

Planck was twice married. Upon his appointment, in 1885, to Associate Professor in his native town Kiel he married a friend of his childhood, Marie Merck, who died in 1909. He remarried her cousin Marga von Hösslin. Three of his children died young, leaving him with two sons.

Planck faced a troubled and tragic period in his life during the period of the Nazi government in Germany, when he felt it his duty to remain in his country but was openly opposed to some of the Government’s policies, particularly as regards the persecution of the Jews. He suffered a personal tragedy when one of his sons, Ernst Planck, who was active in the Nazi resistance, was executed for his part in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

Sources: , Nobel Lectures, Physics 1901-1921, Where is Science Going (Norton Press, 1932). Image: American Institute of Physics.


Karl Braun: Theoretical Confirmation?


marconi braun image 4c.jpg On 20 April 1918, Karl Ferdinand Braun (1850–1918) passed away in Brooklyn, NY. He shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.”

A biography noted his childhood upbringing with religious instruction: “Besides undergoing conventional religious instruction — he had been confirmed in the Lutheran faith at 14 — the young boy acquired a Kantian conception of the world from his teacher” (Kurylo & Susskind, 1981).

Braun recounted his early experiments in his Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1909) as follows: “If, by means of a coil in the receiver circuit, the oscillations were transferred inductively into a second coil located in a tuned circuit containing the indicator (parallel to a small capacitor), not only was the sharpness of the resonance but also—and here was the surprise—the intensity of the excitation was raised as soon as the two coils were moved away from one another… In the summer of 1902 came the publication of a theoretical study of the coupled transmitter by Max Wien. This theoretical investigation was most effective in clarifying the problem basically, and it will remain the foundation… The field of measurements in relation to practice was beginning to be opened up. From then on, the work spread further and further outwards, branching into that of the scientific laboratories on the one hand, and the conversion of their results into practice with its complicated conditions and extensive requirements on the other.” Prophetically, his Nobel lecture had also anticipated the similar sample preparation methods with immuno-electrophoretic (Kerenyi & Gallyas, 1971) and immuno-colloid (Faulk & Taylor, 1971) gold and silver particles, used in scanning light and scanning electron microscopy.

After Braun first began his physics teaching career at St. Thomas Gymnasium, Leipzig (a Lutheran high school famous for its 18th century choirmaster, J.S. Bach), he held professorships at the University of Marburg, U. of Strasbourg, the Technical High School in Karlsruhe, and the University of Tübingen.

… And perhaps fitting for his (Catholic) co-laureate, Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) had the unique honor of overseeing the first radio broadcast of a pope. On 13 February 1931, Marconi introduced Pope Pius XI (1857–1939) with the following words:

“I have the highest honor of announcing that in only a matter of seconds the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Pius XI, will inaugurate the Radio Station of the Vatican City State. The electric radio waves will transport to all the world his words of peace and blessing. With the help of Almighty God, who allows the many mysterious forces of nature to be used by man, I have been able to prepare this instrument which will accord to the Faithful of all the world the consolation of hearing the voice of the Holy Father. Most Holy Father, the work that Your Holiness has deigned to entrust to me, I, today return to you… may you deign, Holy Father, to allow the entire world to hear your august words.” https://www.

Kurylo, Friedrich, & Charles Susskind. Ferdinand Braun, A Life of the Nobel Prizewinner and Inventor of the Cathode-Ray Oscilloscope. (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 1981), 7.
Braun, K.F. “Nobel Lecture: Electrical Oscillations and Wireless Telegraphy.” Stockholm, SWE. 11 Dec 1909.
Kelly, Brian. “Vatican Radio, Guglielmo Marconi, and Now an Absorption.” Images: Braun (L) Guiné-Bissau stamp; Marconi (R) German stamp.

Erasmus Darwin: Science Magnifies the Creator


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On 18 April 1802, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802) passed away in Derby, England. He was the grandfather of Charles Darwin (1809–1892) and was himself a natural philosopher, inventor, abolitionist and poet. With several contemporaries, he helped establish the Lichfield Botanical Society to translate the works of the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778) from Latin into English. He was buried at All Saints Church, Breadsall, and has also been commemorated in a Sandstone/Moonstone carving outside of Birmingham, Great Britain.

In his Zoonomia (1794-1796) and the posthumous poem The Temple of Nature (1803), he had outlinedone of the first formal theories on evolution.” His writings have been noted for what has been termed “an ‘integrative’ approach: he used his observations of domesticated animals, the behaviour of wildlife, and he integrated his vast knowledge of many different fields, such as paleontology, biogeography, systematics, embryology, and comparative anatomy” (UC-Berkeley, Museum of Palentology).

The following passages from Zoonomia: The Laws of Organic Life (1794-1796) demonstrate both his scientific view of microscopic evolution as well as his theological view of creation:

This idea of the production and changes of form of microscopic animalcules is countenanced by the smaller kinds… Various new animalcules are formed from the decomposition of those which previously existed; owing in both cases to the immutable laws impressed both on inanimate and on organized matter by the great First Cause…”

“This perpetual chain of causes and effects… divides itself into innumerable diverging branches, which, like the nerves arising from the brain, permeate the most minute and most remote extremities of the system, diffusing motion and sensation to the whole. As every cause is superior in power to the effect, which it has produced, so our idea of the power of the Almighty Creator becomes more elevated and sublime, as we trace the operations of nature from cause to cause, climbing up the links of these chains of being, till we ascend to the Great Source of all things. Hence the modern discoveries in chemistry and in geology… enlarge and amplify our ideas of the power of the Great First Cause.

Late in life, his grandson Charles Darwin would recall: “I had previously read the Zoonomia of my grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, in which similar views are maintained, but without producing any effect on me. Nevertheless, it is probable that the hearing rather early in life such views maintained and praised may have favoured my upholding them under a different form in my Origin of Species. At this time I admired greatly the Zoonomia; but on reading it a second time, after an interval of ten or fifteen years, I was much disappointed; the proportion of speculation being so large to the facts given.”

Sources– “Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802).” UC Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology.
Darwin, Erasmus. Zoonomia. (Boston, MA: Carlisle Press, 1st ed. 1794-1796), 438, 441.
Autobiography of Charles Darwin Ed. Francis Darwin. (London, GB: Murray, 1892), 166.
Images: Painting by Joseph Wright (1734–1797);

Federico Angelo Cesi, founder of the Accademia del Lincei



On 13 April 1625, the word “microscope” was coined as a suggested term in a letter written by Johannes Faber of Bamberg, Germany, to Federico Cesi, Duke of Aquasparata and founder of Italy’s Accademia dei Lincei (Academy of the Lynx).

Federico Angelo Cesi (26 February 1585 – 01 August 1630) was born to an aristocratic family of Rome. He was educated privately and at an early age became interested in natural science. In 1603, at age eighteen, Cesi founded the Accademia dei Lincei, the Lyncean Academy. Although he looked back to the model of the Aristotelian-Platonic Academy, his aim was altogether special and innovative. Cesi wanted with his Academicians to create a method of research based upon observation, experiment, and the inductive method. He thus called this Academy ‘dei Lincei’ because the scientists which adhered to it had to have eyes as sharp as lynxes in order to penetrate the secrets of nature, observing it at both microscopic and macroscopic levels. Seeking to observe the universe in all its dimensions, the “Lincei” made use of the microscope (tubulus opticus) and the telescope (perspicillus-occhialino) in their scientific research, and extended the horizon of knowledge from the extremely small to the extremely large. Federico bestowed his own motto on the “Lincei”: minima cura si maxima vis (take care of small things if you want to obtain the greatest results).

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From the outset the Academy had its ups and downs. A few years after its foundation it was strongly obstructed by Cesi’s father because he believed that within it activity was being engaged in which was not very transparent in character – for example, studies in alchemy. But after the death of Federico’s father (1610), the abundant economic resources which were now obtained thanks to Federico’s inheritance, as well as the fact that renowned scholars such as Galileo Galilei, Giovan Battista della Porta, Fabio Colonna, and Cassiano dal Pozzo joined its ranks, enabled the Academy to progress and advance.

Its initial members were Cesi, the mathematician Francesco Stelluti, the physician Johannes Eck from the Low Countries, and the polymath Anastasio De Fillis. The members lived communally and almost monastically in Cesi’s house, where he provided them with books and laboratory equipment. The religious character of the Academy cannot be overlooked. It was placed under the protection of St. John the Evangelist who was often portrayed in the miniatures of its publications with an eagle and a lynx, both of which were symbols of sight and reason. It was therefore conceived as an assembly of scholars whose goal -as one can read in its Rules, described as the “Linceografo”— was “knowledge and wisdom of things to be obtained not only through living together with honesty and piety, but with the further goal of communicating them peacefully to men without causing any harm.” Nature was seen not only as a subject of study but also of contemplation. Amongst the suggestions of the “Linceografo” there is also that of preceding study and work with prayer — “for this reason the Lynxes, near to doing anything at all, must first raise their minds to God, and humbly pray to him and invoke the intercession of the saints” (cf. di Rovasenda and Marini-Bettòlo, 1986, p. 18). Amongst the practices of the spiritual piety of the members there was the reciting of the liturgical office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Davidic Psalter. For this reason, as Enrico di Rovesanda observes, “the religious inspiration of the Lincei cannot be overlooked, as is done in many quarters, nor can it be reduced to an ‘almost mystical glow of the school of Pythagoras,’ as has also been suggested. The high moral figure of Cesi acts to guarantee the sincere and loyal profession of its religious faith” (ibidem, p. 19). One of the mottoes of the Academy, Sapientiae cupidi, indicated the striving for constant research into truth through scientific speculation, based upon the mathematical and natural sciences but always located within a sapiential horizon.

Like Galileo, whose great supporter he was, Cesi admired Aristotle but not the Aristotelians of the University of Padua who had refused to look at things through the telescope of the Pisan scientist. He was in addition rather critical of the university culture of his day. Federico Cesi also engaged in important activity of mediation between the Roman theological world and Galileo, reaching the point of advising the latter to not insist in his polemics about the interpretation of Holy Scripture so that he could dedicate himself in a more effective way to scientific research.

Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Pontifical Academy of Sciences (
Federico Cesi (1585-1630) and the Accademia dei Lincei, The Galileo Project

Picture: Portrait of Federico Angelo Cesi (1585-1630) by Pietro Fachetti (wikipedia)

Cesi was also involved in coining the name “telescope

John Archibald Wheeler: Looking at Science From the Perspective of Faith


John Wheeler 2dOn 13 April 2008, John Archibald Wheeler (1911–2008) passed away at Hightstown, NJ.

Educated at Johns Hopkins University, he was an American physicist most known for having popularized the term “black hole,” an astrophysical object whose escape velocity is greater than or equal to the speed of light. He was also known for his mathematical descriptions of the Breit–Wheeler process, the Wheeler–DeWitt equation, work in Geometrodynamics and Unified field theory, as well as for his proposing of the concepts of the “delayed choice experiment” and the “participatory anthropic principle.”

In his autobiography, he described his religious upbringing in Unitarianism and his effort to establish a Unitarian Church in New Jersey. He further elaborated upon the motivations which led him to adopt a religious stance.

“There is something comforting about colleagueship based on shared values, and a good sermon stimulates my thinking—making me perhaps a better, more caring person. There are many modes of thinking about the world around us and our place in it. I like to consider all the angles from which we might gain perspective on our amazing universe and the nature of existence.” (p.153)

Elsewhere, Wheeler expanded upon the service that faith renders to scientific research:

“Since earliest times, science has been driven by a faith in simplicity. A faith that laws exist and that they are simple, unchanging laws. A faith that as we probe more deeply, to smaller and smaller units of matter, we find ever simpler systems and ever simpler laws governing them. Twentieth-century science has in part sustained this faith, and in part it has not. On the one hand, fundamental laws such as those of Einstein’s general relativity and Dirac’s electron theory are expressed by equations of breathtaking brevity and generality. Most physicists call these equations both simple and beautiful. They sustain the faith that nature at its core is simple. On the other hand, when we see time symmetry marred in an elementary process, when we contemplate the writhings of spacetime in wormholes and quantum foam, when we see tiny deviations from Dirac’s predictions for the electron produced by quantum fluctuations, we realize that the ‘floor’ of simplicity as we move to smaller and smaller domains is illusory. Beneath that floor, in still smaller domains, chaos and complexity reign…” (p.348-349)

Source: Wheeler, J.A. Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics. (New York, NY: Norton & Co., 1998), 153; 348-349. Image: © Institute for Advanced Study.

Luther Burbank: Eternal Mind & Energy Underlying Matter



On 11 April 1926, Luther Burbank (1849–1926) passed away in Santa Rosa, CA.

An American agricultural scientist, he was famous for his production of the Burbank potato in 1880. During his career, he would develop over 800 strains of fruits, vegetables, grains, grasses and flowers. A forerunner to the modern science of genetics, he was in part influenced by the theories of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829).

Burbank had written somewhat at length regarding his religious views—which he described as a view of God revealed as an immanent ‘kingdom within us’—discoverable through the study of the laws of nature. From the biography Luther Burbank: Our Beloved Infidel; His Religious of Humanity, edited by F.W. Clampett (1926):

The Religion of Humanity, Burbank felt, will be founded on belief in one Eternal Energy almighty and omnipresent. This universe without a God was incredible to him. Huxley never wrote anything more logical, in his judgment, than this:
‘I am utterly unable to conceive the existence of matter, if there is no mind to feature that existence. The problem of the ultimate cause of existence is one which seems to me hopelessly out of reach of my poor powers. Of all the senseless babble, the demonstrations of these philosophers who undertake to tell us all about the nature of God would be the worst, if they were not surpassed by the still greater absurdities of the philosophers who try to prove that there is no God.’

“… Religion cannot be founded on a principle; it needs the power of an Eternal Energy, almighty and omnipresent. Burbank had already made that point clear when he said: ‘I prefer and claim the right to worship the infinite, everlasting, almighty God of this vast universe as revealed to us gradually, step by step, by the demonstrable truths of our savior, science’

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Jean Baptiste André Dumas: Faithful to the Senses



On 10 April 1884, Jean Baptiste André Dumas (1800–1884) passed away in Cannes, France. Educated at the University of Geneva and the University of Paris (1822), he was a French chemist who contributed to the theory of halide substitution (“metalepsis”) in organic chemistry, the analysis and synthesis of acids generated by the oxidation of alcohols (their homologous series), the determination of atomic weights and molecular weights (via vapor density measurements), and a method for the analysis of nitrogen content in compounds. He also experimentally discovered that the role of the kidney was to remove urea from the blood of the renal artery.

A quote from Jean Baptiste André Dumas (1800–1884):

Modern and ancient chemists have one thing in common: their method. What is this method, as old as the science itself, and which has characterized it from its very beginnings? It is a total faith in the testimony of the senses; it is an unbounded confidence placed in experience; it is a blind submission to the power of facts. Ancient or modern, chemists want to see with the eyes of their physical body before employing those of the mind: they want to make theories for the facts and not seek out facts for any preconceived theories.”

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1909):

“Dumas was a consistent Catholic, and remained true to his faith all his life. When it was necessary, he never hesitated to defend Christianity against the attacks of materialism. Examples of his views in this regard may be found in his various addresses, as: his address on Bérard; his commemorative address on Faraday, and the speech in which he extended the greetings of the Academy to the historian Taine…”

He was a friend and correspondent of the English physicist Michael Faraday (1791–1867). See: Jones, Bence. The Life and Letters of Faraday. Vol. 2. (London, GB: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1870), index:

Bensaude-Vincent, Bernadette and Jonathan Simon. Chemistry: The Impure Science. (London, GB: Imperial College Press, 2012), 177.
Sloane, Thomas O’Conor. “Jean-Baptiste Dumas.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. (New York, NY: Robert Appleton Co., 1909). Image: © Allt Om Vetenskap Förlag AB.