Arthur Holly Compton: We Need Faith & We Need Science


arthur holly compton1

On 15 March 1962, Arthur Holly Compton (1892–1962) passed away in Berkeley, CA. He was an American physicist who researched and taught at Wooster College, OH, University of Chicago, IL, Oak Ridge Laboratory, TN, the Hanford Engineering Center, WA, and Washington University in St. Louis, MO. He shared the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his discovery of the effect named after him” with Charles Thomson Rees Wilson (1869–1959) “for his method of making the paths of electrically charged particles visible by condensation of vapour.”

A devoted Christian from his youth, he wrote a number of articles about the shared ideas of science and religion:

—Compton, Arthur H. “Man’s Place in God’s World.” Mark Twain Quarterly (1937): 1-15.
—Compton, Arthur H. “We Need Faith.” The Phi Delta Kappan 28.4 (1946): 155-157.
—Compton, Arthur H. “God and the Atom.” American Magazine (1950).
—Compton, Arthur Holly. “Man’s Destiny in Eternity.” (1970).

His National Academy of Sciences biography made note that his family “believed deeply in the old saying ‘scientia et religio ex uno fonte,’” and a colleague at the University of Chicago said of him “Arthur Compton and God were daily companions.”

From the Chicago Daily News, April 12, 1936:


Alison, Samuel K. “Biographical Memoir: Arthur Holly Compton (1892-1962).” (Washington, DC: NAS Press, 1965), 81.
Rhodes, Richard. Making of the Atomic Bomb. (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012), 363.
—Quoted in: White, Joe, and Nicholas Comninellis. Darwin’s Demise. (Green Forest, AZ: New Leaf Publishing, 2001), 174.
Images online: Commemorative stamp issued by the Republic of Guyana; RareNewspapers(dot)com


Stephen Hawking (1942–2018)



In memoriam of Stephen Hawking (8 January 1942 – 14 March 2018).

At a conference at the Vatican in October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI and Stephen Hawking met, where the pope described science as the pursuit of knowledge about God’s creation.

The Pope stated: “There is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences.” The church accepts evolution as scientific theory. Defending proponents of theistic evolution, who see no reason why God could not have used an evolutionary process in forming the human species, the pope stated: “To ‘evolve’ literally means ‘to unroll a scroll’, that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists.”

At the conference, Hawking stated he was “not religious in the normal sense.” “I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science,” he said. “The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.”

In an interview with the Guardian in 2011, Hawking was asked by the interviewer: “Is our existence all down to luck?… So here we are. What should we do?” The physicist responded: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.” When asked: “…What, if anything, do you fear about death?” Hawking responded: “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.”

On Wednesday morning (14 March), the Pontifical Academy of Sciences tweeted:hawking tweet 1.jpg

Following up with several remembrances:

hawking tweet 2

“Address of his Holiness Benedict XVI to Members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the Occasion of their Plenary Assembly.” Clementine Hall Friday. 31 October 2008. © Copyright 2008 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Persio, Sophia Lotto. “Did Stephen Hawking Believe in God? What the Physicist Said about About the Creation of the Universe.” Newsweek. 14 March 2018.

William Henry Bragg: We Need Both Religion and Science



On 12 March 1942, Sir William Henry Bragg (1862–1942) passed away in London, UK.

With his son, William Lawrence Bragg (1890–1971), William Henry Bragg was co-awarded the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics, a unique Nobel honor shared by a father and son: “for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays.” The mineral Braggite is named after him and his son.

Quote from Sir William Henry Bragg (1862–1942):

“From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.”

Source:  “The Art of the Physicist.” (Abdus Salam). New Scientist. Vol. 35 (20 Jul 1967): 163.


Ira Remsen: Faith in Natural Laws & Faith in Scientific Doctrines

ira remsen.jpg

Photo: Ira Remsen (1846–1927), left, with Constantin Fahlberg (1850–1910).  Exhibit at the National Museum of American History, Washington, DC.

On 04 March 1927, Ira Remsen (1846–1927) passed away in Carmel, CA. He was an American chemist who served as the first president of Johns Hopkins University. After completing his education at Columbia University (MD, 1867) and University of Göttingen (PhD, 1870), he discovered the artificial sweetener saccharin (C₇H₅NO₃S) while working with a graduate student, Constantin Fahlberg (1850–1910). Many years later, he was awarded the 1923 Priestley Medal for this research.

His National Academy of Sciences biography notes that: “In his boyhood Remsen was reared in a very strict, religious atmosphere and he retained a simple religious faith throughout his life.” An interesting story recounts an event which inspired his vocational path in chemistry:

“While reading a text-book of chemistry I came upon the statement, ‘nitric acid acts upon copper’ … Having nitric acid and copper, I had only to learn what the words ‘acts upon’ meant. Then the statement, ‘nitric acid acts upon copper’ would be something more than mere words. All was still. In the interest of knowledge, I was even willing to sacrifice one of the few copper cents then in my possession. I put one of them on the table; opened the bottle marked ‘nitric acid’; poured some of the liquid on the copper; and prepared to take an observation. But what was this wonderful thing I beheld ? The cent was already changed, and it was no small change either. A greenish blue liquid foamed and fumed over the cent and over the table. The air in the neighborhood of the performance became colored dark red. A great colored cloud arose… Taking everything into consideration, that was the most impressive experiment, and, relatively, probably the most costly I have ever performed. I tell it even now with interest. It was a revelation to me. It resulted in a desire on my part to learn more about that kind of action. Plainly the only way to learn about it was to see its results, to experiment, to work in a laboratory.’”

In 1902, Prof. Remsen was appointed the president of the American Chemical Society. The following is an excerpt from his ACS presidential address, Washington, DC (20 Dec 1902):

“The first great generalization that was reached after the method of weighing was generally adopted by chemists was what we sometimes call the law of the indestructibility of matter, or, in more refined language, the law of the conservation of mass. Then followed the laws of definite and multiple proportions. Now a law of nature is quite a different thing from a doctrine. A law once discovered does not wither and die. It is eternal. Such a statement cannot be proved to be true. It calls for faith, but faith is called for at every turn in scientific matters as well as in spiritual. Without it progress would be impossible. As I am trying to deal with doctrines and not with laws, let me say that doctrines call for even a larger faith than laws. The very essence of a doctrine is ‘faith in things unseen’. The discovery of the laws of definite and multiple proportions led to the thought of atoms— not the evasive atoms of the Greeks, but atoms that could in a way, be made the subject of experiment — the Daltonian atoms…

“ … J.J. Thomson gives me faith in the thoughts suggested by him. As I understand, it the worst that can be done for chemistry by the corpuscle is to change the atom so slowly that it would take something like a million years to enable us to detect the change by the balance. Perhaps the atomic weights of the elements, or of some of them, are undergoing change. Whether in the course of geological ages the atoms are becoming simpler or more complex is a question that appears idle at first, and yet when we bear in mind the fact that the atoms of our day have already been subjected to a great variety of influences for ages past, and that the atoms that we know are comparatively complex, we may at least suspect that the tendency so far is towards complexity.”

As an educator, he would author eight textbooks and laboratory manuals, several of which exerted an important influence on chemistry education in the following decades. He also founded the American Chemical Journal, which he edited for 35 years. Additionally, he was known for his “lectures on the history of chemistry… In these lectures Remsen proved himself to be a philosopher as well as a scientist.” In response to his teaching and research, it has been said: “Much had been accomplished by a few gifted men in America before Remsen’s day, but he opened up a life work in chemistry as a career to many, and developed a spirit of research that spread over the country.”

Noyes, William Albert, and James Flack Norris. “Biographical Memoir of Ira Remsen (1846-1927).” (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences Press, 1931), 207-209.
Remsen, Ira. “The Life History of a Doctrine.” Journal of the American Chemical Society 25.2 (1903): 115-132.
Image: National Museum of American History, Washington, DC.


Billy Graham on Faith and Science


Billy Graham, known as “America’s pastor”, passed away on 21 February 2018. Here at Science meets Faith, we share two of his testimonies on the interaction between faith and science.

The first comes from his book Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man (1997):

“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren’t meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. … whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.

The second is a TEDtalk from 1998 titled “Technology, faith and human shortcomings” (February 1998):

“…How do we change man, so that he doesn’t lie and cheat and our newspapers are not filled with stories of fraud in business, or labor, or athletics, or wherever? The Bible says the problem is within us, within our hearts and our soul. Our problem is that we are separated from our Creator, which we call God… we need to have our souls restored…

“The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was not a religious man, but he said: ‘It’s in our hearts that the evil lies, and it’s from our hearts that it must be plucked out.’ Albert Einsteinmade this statement: ‘It’s easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.’ ….

“You’ve seen people take beneficial technological advances, such as the internet we’ve heard about tonight, and twist them into something corrupting. You’ve seen brilliant people devise computer viruses that bring down whole systems. The Oklahoma City bombing was simple technology, horribly used. The problem is not technology, the problem is the person or persons using it. King David said he ‘knew the depths of his own soul.’ … Yet King David sought God’s forgiveness and he said: ‘You can restore my soul.’ You see the Bible teaches that we’re more than a body and a mind, we are a soul. And there’s something inside of us that is beyond our understanding. That’s the part of us that yearns for God, or something more than we find in technology.”

Video source and transcript online.


Nicolaus Copernicus: Conversations among the ‘Heliocentrists’



On 19 February 1473, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) was born in Toruń, Poland. He was an astronomer known for his heliocentric model of planetary motion.

From historian Edward B. Davis:

“At the time, Roman Catholic officials recognized that the calendar that had been in use since the time of Julius Caesar was increasingly out of step with the stars. Copernicus was known to be working on a new theory of celestial motion, according to which the earth revolves around a stationary sun, and the church wanted him to participate in conversations about fixing the calendar. Copernicus, however, preferred to work quietly on his own.

For many years he ignored the pleas of at least one cardinal and two bishops to publish his ideas, until finally a young Lutheran astronomer from the University of Wittenberg, Georg Joachim Rheticus, came for an extended visit and was able to persuade Copernicus to allow his book to be printed back in Germany. Contrary to what is often said or implied, Copernicus had full freedom to pursue his ideas while working for the church and was even encouraged to publish them…

“A handful of biblical texts appear to speak of the earth as immobile, or of the sun as in motion. Why should anyone seek to alter interpretations that only agreed with the best science of the day? Although Martin Luther had dismissed heliocentrism as a foolish idea that contradicted the account of Joshua’s long day in the Bible, his disciple Philip Melanchthon revered mathematical astronomy: in his view, neither the perfection of the heavens nor the certainty of mathematics had been adversely affected by the Fall. Melanchthon also considered the earth’s motion unbiblical, but he encouraged the teaching of Copernican theory as a false but useful hypothesis at Lutheran universities. Thus, a young Johannes Kepler learned about it from astronomer Michael Maestlin at Tübingen, where he was preparing to be a theologian.

“Kepler liked the Copernican view partly because he believed that the three parts of the heliocentric universe constituted an image of the Trinity – the central sun with its emanating light representing God the Father, the starry sphere God the Son, and the intermediate space God the Holy Spirit. As he realized, the opponents of heliocentrism had to be persuaded that it did not contradict the Bible. In the preface to his most important book, Astronomia nova (1609), Kepler argued that, in order to be widely understood, the Bible is written in the ordinary language of the common person and not in the technical language of the astronomer. Therefore, the Bible should not be read as a scientifically accurate text or used to refute an astronomical theory….”

Edward B. Davis, “Christianity and Science in Historical Perspective.”
Image: Painting (1873) entitled “Astronom Kopernik, czyli rozmowa z Bogiem” (“Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversations with God”) by Jan Matejko (1838–1893).


Pope em. Benedict XVI on Creation


PB16 on creation 2013-02-06

On 06 February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI dedicated one of his last audiences to the topic of creation:

“But our question today is: in the age of science and technology, does it still make sense to speak of creation? How should we understand the Genesis narratives? The Bible is not intended as a natural science manual; its intention instead is to teach us the authentic and profound truth of things. The fundamental truth that the Genesis stories reveal to us is that the world is not a collection of contrasting forces, but has its origin and its stability in the Logos, in God’s eternal Reason, who continues to sustain the universe. There is a plan for the world that arises from this Reason, from the creating Spirit. Believing that such a reality is behind all this, illuminates every aspect of life and gives us the courage to face the adventure of life with confidence and hope.”

You can read the whole text here.