Guglielmo Marconi: Tuning in with God’s Help

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On 20 July 1937, Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) passed away in Rome. He shared the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics with Karl Braun (1850–1918) “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy.” N.B. Several other inventors have also been recognized for their work in the development of the radio with an unresolved claim to priority: Oliver Lodge (1851–1940), Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), Karl Ferdinand Braun (1850–1918), Alexander Stepanovich Popov (1859–1906), Fr. Roberto Landell de Moura (1861–1928), and Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858–1937).

As noted in his Nobel biography: “In 1931 Marconi began research into the propagation characteristics of still shorter waves, resulting in the opening in 1932 of the world’s first microwave radiotelephone link between the Vatican City and the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.” During this time, Marconi 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.”

His co-laureate, Karl Braun, had also interacted with his religious background during his development of radio technologies. “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). Later, he would undertake his first physics teaching job at St. Thomas Gymnasium, Leipzig (a Lutheran high school famous for its 18th century choirmaster, J.S. Bach).

Referenced:
“Guglielmo Marconi – Biographical.” Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media.
Kelly, Brian. “Vatican Radio, Guglielmo Marconi, and Now an Absorption.” Catholicism.org.
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.

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Pierre-Joseph Pelletier: The Mystery Cinchona Bark

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On 19 July 1842, Pierre-Joseph Pelletier (1788–1842) passed away in Paris, France. He was a French chemist who isolated quinine and helped found the chemistry of alkaloids. Pelletier was professor at the School of Pharmacy, Paris, and, from 1832, director. In 1817, in collaboration with the chemist Joseph-Bienaimé Caventou (1795–1877), he isolated chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that is essential to the process of photosynthesis.

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He was also one of the pioneers of the study of plant alkaloid chemistry. Alkaloids are organic compounds that induce various effects in medicine, including painkillers and respiratory stimulants. Together with and Joseph Caventou (1795–1877), a student of pharmacy, they set up to solve the mystery of “cinchona bark.”

From the Journal of the Association of Physicians of India (March 2015): “In 1817, they tackled the problem that had baffled scientists for decades- wrestling the secrets of Peruvian barks that were so useful in malaria. After sweating out for months they isolated from the yellow bark, a sticky, pale yellow gum that could not be induced to crystallise. The gum was soluble in acid, alcohol, and ether and highly effective in malaria. The two men named the new chemical quinine after quinaquina the name given by Peruvian Indians to the bark. The announcement was made in 1820. Caventou and Pelletier prepared pure salts of quinine, had them tested clinically, and set up manufacturing facilities. They refused any profit from their discovery. Instead of patenting the extraction process they published the method of separation of quinine and cinchonine from the cinchona barks so that anyone could manufacture quinine. They received many honours; the most lucrative was Prix Monthyon of 10 thousand Francs awarded by the French Institute of Science.”

They also discovered brucine, strychnine, and veratrine. Some of these compounds soon found medicinal uses. Such applications marked the beginning of the gradual shift away from the use of crude plant extracts and toward the use of natural and synthetic compounds found in nature or formulated by the chemist. In 1823 Pelletier published analyses of several alkaloids, thus providing a basis for alkaloid chemistry. He did further important studies of other compounds, including caffeine, piperine, and picrotoxin.

From Catholic Encyclopedia (1911): “He had five children with his first wife, Aglae-Genevieve Vergez, who died in 1830. He remarried on December 1832 with Esther Courtin. As his colleague Augustin-Louis Cauchy testifies, Pelletier was a convinced Catholic.

Sources:
—Pai-Dhungat, JV. “Caventou, Pelletier & – History Of Quinine.” Journal of the Association of Physicians of India • Vol 63 • March, 2015. Download.
Dr BS Kakkilaya, “Saga of Malaria Treatment.” Malaria: History 
Georges Dillemann, La vie de Joseph Pelletier, Revue d’Histoire de la Pharmacie Année 1989. Vol. 281-282 pp. 128-134.
Sloane, Thomas O’Conor. “Pierre-Joseph Pelletier.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. (New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company, 1911). Image: online.

Josef Hyrtl: Mind, Brain and Immutable Organic Laws

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On 17 July 1894, Josef Hyrtl (1810–1894) died at Vienna, Austria-Hungary. He was an Austro-Hungarian anatomist and medical biologist. As a professor and museum curator at the University of Vienna, he was an influential 19th century scientist known for his popularization of the study of human anatomy.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) notes: “His inaugural address as rector had for its subject ‘The Materialistic Conception of The Universe of Our Time.’ In this he brought out very clearly the lack of logic in the materialistic view of the world and concluded: ‘When I bring all this together it is impossible for me to understand on what scientific grounds is founded this resurrection of the old materialistic view of… Epicurus and Lucretius. Nothing that I can see justifies it, and there is no reason to think that it will continue to hold domination over men’s minds.’”

One passage from this speech had influenced the faith of the German composer Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) near the end of his life. Quote from Bruckner’s diary (25 March 1894) referencing the speech by Prof. Josef Hyrtl:

Is the soul a product of the brain, which functions according to immutable organic laws, or is this brain rather one of those prerequisites through which the interaction of an immaterial soul-being with the world-in-space is transmitted?

Among his notable texts were: “Lehrbuch der Anatomie des Menschen”/“Textbook of Human Anatomy” (Prague, 1846), “Handbuch der topographischen Anatomie/“Handbook of topographical anatomy,” 2 vols., 8vo (Vienna, 1853), “Handbuch der Zergliederungs kunst”/“Manual of the Surgical Arts” (Vienna, 1860). One of the more famous anatomical specimen of which he had made a study was the skull of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791).

Referenced:
Walsh, J.J. “Joseph Hyrtl.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. (New York: Appleton, 1910).
Hyrtl, Josef. “Die materialistische Weltanschauung unserer Zeit.” University of Vienna, 1 Oct 1864. Quoted in Maier, Elisabeth. “A Hidden Personality: Access to an ‘Inner Biography’ of Anton Bruckner” in Bruckner Studies, Eds. Timothy L. Jackson & Paul Hawkshaw. (Cambridge, UK: University Press, 1997), 50.
“Mozart’s Skull: the Hyrtl Skull Collection at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.” The Appendix. Vol. 2, No. 2 (1 May 2014). Image online: http:// theappendix. net/

David Douglas: Science on the Verge of Another World

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david douglas 31On 12 July 1834, David Douglas (1799–1834) died at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

A Scottish American biologist, he is most known for his exploration of the Highlands of Scotland, the Northwest of the United States, and the Hawaiian islands. Over eighty species of plants and animals have scientific names which include the designation douglasii in his honour.

A biography described the motivation necessary for Douglas to undertake some of his more distant journeys: “The stories the early explorers told of the west coast of America, and the specimens they sent back, had tantalized horticulturalists and botanists, as well as the general public. But the live plants remained elusive and unknown. The difficulties of journeying to this wild and inhospitable land at the right time to collect seeds, and then of transporting seeds and specimen safely home, seemed insurmountable. Now, however, the Horticultural Society saw the possibilities of glory, and in a leap of faith decided to despatch David Douglas, their newly proven prodigy…” (Mitchell et al., 2005).

Douglas himself recognized in these formidable terrains and their geological contrasts a manifestation of the Creator’s wisdom and power:

“Were the traveller permitted to express the emotions he feels when placed on such an astonishing part of the earth’s surface, cold indeed must his heart be to the great operations of Nature, and still colder towards Nature’s God, by whose wisdom and power such wonderful scenes were created, if he could behold them without deep humility and reverential awe. Man feels himself as nothing as if standing on the verge of another world. The death like stillness of the place, not an animal nor an insect to be seen far removed from the din and bustle of the world, impresses on his mind with double force the extreme helplessness of his condition, an object of pity and compassion, utterly unworthy to stand in the presence of a great and good, and wise and holy God, and to contemplate the diversified works of His hands!

Referenced:
Mitchell, Ann Lindsay, and Syd House. The Tree Collector: The Life and Explorations of David Douglas. (London, UK: Aurum Press, 2005), 32.
Wilson, W.F. David Douglas, Botanist at Hawaii. (Honolulu, HI: Honolulu Press, 1919), 32-33.  Image: Artwork for film Finding David Douglas (Lyman Museum, Hawaii).

Edith Quimby: The Reality Behind Exploration

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On 10 July 1891, Edith Quimby (1891–1982) was born in Rockford, IL. She is recognized as being one of the founders of nuclear medicine for her work in diagnostic and therapeutic applications of X-rays. Additionally, she conducted research on the potential of synthesised radioactive materials for treating cancer and in other medical research applications. She was elected president of the American Radium Society in 1954; was one of the first members of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine in 1958; and was honored with American College of Radiology Gold Medal in 1963.

An edited volume of a radiology journal included an interesting historical perspective on the religious aspects of x-rays and other radioactive forms of energy:

“You may remember that in ancient Egypt and Babylonia, demons were commonplace, and every man, wise or simple, knew that they regulated the two most important things in the world: his business and his health. Many of these spirits were anonymous; others bore such dreadful names… Ordinarily it was possible to placate them by easy and familiar incantations, but when there was a flood, plague, famine or other catastrophe it was the custom to call in a specialist. These were the priest-physicians, and they were able by divination and other rites to identify and drive away the offending spirit… [I]t is remarkable that in all the works of Hippocrates, spiritual causes of disease are mentioned only once, and then with courteous doubt. The Romans and primitive Christians were relatively indifferent to demons, but in the Dark and Middle Ages, the spires, arches and cornices of any Gothic cathedral find goblins roosting more thickly than pigeons. For a thousand years every flood, ulcer, pestilence and stillbirth was attributed to the act of a demon, intimately and implacably concerned with human woe. One strange family of evil spirits was said to inhabit certain mines in Saxony, and tonight they deserve our particular respect. They were called Kobolds, and were thought to cause the wasting and pallor in miners that has since been traced to arsenic, a heavy ore contaminant. Eventually the caves of these spirits yielded an element that has been marvelously refined and transmuted into an agent of healing, but it still carried its demon name: Cobalt 60… For the past two hundred years, demons have been on the decline all through the West… Probably we have heard the last of them for a time. And when we are asked why, especially as scientists, an easy answer comes to mind. We cannot see them…

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Joseph LeConte: Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought

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On 06 July 1901, Joseph LeConte (1823–1901) passed away at Yosemite Valley, CA.

After studying at Franklin College in Athens, GA, and the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, NY, LeConte made his first expedition as a biologist with his cousin, John Lawrence LeConte (1825–1883), traveling over a thousand miles along the Upper Mississippi River in a birchbark canoe in 1844. This experience led him to study for a second graduate degree in the natural sciences, completed in 1851, under the guidance of notable American biologist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) at Harvard University.

Teaching at the University of South Carolina during Civil War and encountering various hardships, he moved to the University of California, Berkeley in 1868, where he worked with John Muir (1838–1914) and helped establish the Sierra Club. His published works included scientific papers on geology and ecology, and the textbooks Elements of Geology (1878), Religion and Science (1874), and Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought (1888).

“… evolution is the process by which the Divine plan is carried out. These two views, that which refers phenomena directly back to the primal intelligence, & that which refers them back to secondary & intermediate causes have always existed and will always exist. They do not exclude each other. They are two formulas for the same thing; the one the formula of religion, the other the formula of science. The one formula is an expression of the domain of faith, the other of the domain of knowledge…

“We see around us everywhere invariable laws. Now, intelligence in the presence of invariable laws, or acting through invariable laws, can attain results only by contrivance. It is impossible that there should be invariable laws without contrivance, or contrivance without invariable laws. We are hampered, conditioned, limited on every side, by the inviolable laws of Nature, and, in order to attain results, we are compelled to resort to indirect methods, to mechanical and other contrivances, in accordance with these laws… Now, Deity himself, if He acts by laws, must bring about results by what seem to us contrivances. Shall we then speak of Him, the unconditioned, as conditioned by the laws of Nature? With our limited faculties, we cannot do otherwise. We cannot speak of Him, we cannot even think of Him except under conditions. But, observe the difference betwixt Him and us, in this regard.

“These laws of Nature, which condition man, are external to him, and therefore, in the nature of a law of necessity. But, to the Deity, they are not external; they are the laws of his own being—they are the modes of operation of his own will, perfect, because He is perfect, invariable, because He is unchangeable. Thus, then, the laws of Nature are to Him not a law of necessity, but a law of freedom.”

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Georges Lemaitre – the Big Bang Cosmology and its metaphysical implications (II)

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This is the second of two part. You can read the first part here.

Lemaitre‘s Cosmology and Stephen Gould’s NOMA

NOMA stands for Non-Overlapping Magisteria, meaning that science and religion simply should not or do not overlap. Therefore, there is only one responsible level of explanation at a given time, either the scientific one, for example, when it comes to evolution, fossils, molecular genetics, or the religious one, which helps to understand what the meaning of life is, whether there is a soul, and Heaven. (This is of course simplistic). NOMA can be criticized, just because there are overlaps, especially when it comes to us humans: just that he can think about abstract concepts such as NOMA suggests that there is something that exceeds the purely materialistic sphere of science. While Christians complain that NOMA gives science too much competence (“it is always religion that has to give way”), Atheists see in NOMA a cheap excuse to introduce a bit of religion through the back door.

While NOMA wants to achieve a mere juxtaposition, that is not one of Lemaitre’s goals. He is concerned with the clear separation of the categories “physics” (meaning all scientifically detectable things) and “meta-physics”, and both categories (or levels) must not be blurred or mixed. He is firmly anchored in the Thomistic viewpoint, which distinguishes between the first cause (God) and the second causes (the creatures in the broadest sense), which act according to their inherent (and ultimately God-given) qualities and possibilities.

Lemaitre sees both categories simultaneously present:

“Physics does not exclude Providence. Nothing happens without its order or permission, even if this gentle action is not miraculous. Evolution, whether of the universe or of the living world, could be made at random by quantum leaps or mutations. Nevertheless, this chance has, from a superior point of view, been directed towards a goal. For us Christians, it was oriented towards the appearance of life. In what was done, there was life, intelligence and life was light in man and finally in humanity by the incarnation of the Man-God: the true light that illuminated our darkness.

Chance does not exclude Providence. Perhaps chance provides the strokes mysteriously actuated by Providence.” [5]

God’s providential actions will not be rendered superfluous or non-existent due to scientific insights. But Providence remains often hidden to us, similarly as God Himself remains “a hidden God”

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself” (Is 45:15)

God is hidden behind and in His creation. He is a “hidden God”, transcending all our knowledge and cognition. “Truly, you are a God who hides himself“, as we read in Isaiah [Is 45:15].  We will find this term and concept often in Lemaitre’s writings. Already in 1931, Lemaitre writes:

“I think that everyone who believes in a supreme being supporting every being and every acting, believes also that God is essentially hidden and may be glad to see how present physics provides a veil hiding the creation”.

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