Guglielmo Marconi: Tuning in with God’s Help


marconi braun radio

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).

“Guglielmo Marconi – Biographical.” Nobel Media.
Kelly, Brian. “Vatican Radio, Guglielmo Marconi, and Now an Absorption.”
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.


Peter Guthrie Tait: Unseen Universe


On 04 July 1901, Peter Guthrie Tait (1831–1901) died. He was a mathematical physicist known for his research on ‘knot theory’ and graph theory (Tait’s disproven conjecture stated that every 3-connected planar cubic graph had a path that passed through each vertex point only once), as well as additional mathematical research on quaternions, a number system that extends the complex number into three dimensions. These are defined as:tait 1

with the property:

tait 2.png

Many years later (1924), it was found in quantum mechanics that the spin state of electrons depends on the properties of quaternions. This research was published by Wolfgang Ernst Pauli (1900–1958).

Tait also researched the properties of the ozone layer and diatomic molecules in the presence of electrical discharge. He was the author of Elementary Treatise on Quaternions (1867), Treatise on Natural Philosophy, co-authored with Lord Kelvin (1824–1907) and Introduction to Quaternions (1873).

His book, The Unseen Universe: Or, Physical Speculations on a Future State (1875), co-authored with Balfour Stewart (1828–1887), had evinced his belief in the infinite divisibility of the continuum—“Indeed we are entire believers in the infinite depth of nature… To our minds it appears no less false to pronounce eternal that aggregation we call the atom, than it would be to pronounce eternal that aggregation we call the Sun. All this follows from the principle of Continuity, in virtue of which we make scientific progress in the knowledge of things and which leads us, whatever state of things we contemplate, to look for its antecedent in some previous state of things also in the Universe.” The quoted text above is from pages xiv-xv.

Stewart, Balfour and P.G. Tait. The Unseen Universe: Or, Physical Speculations on a Future State. (London, GB: MacMillan & Co., 1875), xiv-xv. Image: ART UK, Cambridge.

Blaise Pascal: Faith in Light & in Shadows


On 19 June 1623, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) was born in Clermont-Ferrand. A French philosopher, apologist, and scientist, he was one of the major thinkers who tried to apply reason to faith, without yielding to rationalism. He engaged in important studies on cones, combinatorics calculus, and the physics of fluids.


His vibrant, and often profound spiritual reflections were gathered posthumously together in the book Pensées, which to this day remains a masterpiece of human thought on the relationship between faith and reason. The section of Pensées, part III is perhaps most famous, known as Pascal’s wager. Historically, the argument has had numerous defenders, for example, John Locke (1632–1704), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), John Craig (1663–1731), William Paley (1743–1805), John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), T.S. Eliot (1888–1965), John von Neumann (1903–1957), and Max Tegmark (b.1967), as well as detractors, including Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) and Sigmund Freud (1856–1939).

The argument’s logic weighs the relative value of one mortal life versus both a mortal life and a life hereafter, i.e. “raison gager un pour avoir deux.” Philosophically, it has been noted by some scholars to be formally related to the St. Petersburg paradox.

For a modern commentary on Pensées (i.e. 23 Nov 1654: “… The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of the philosophers and scholastics”), see the 20th century theologian Paul Tillich (1886–1965): “Against Pascal I say: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the God of the philosophers is the same God. He is a person and the negation of himself as a person.”

“… in faith, there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t…”

Pascal’s Pensées. Trans. W. F. Trotter. (New York, NY: E. P. Dutton & Co, 1958).
Jordan, Jeff. Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2006), 149.
Tillich, Paul. Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 85.

Karl Darrow: Excavating for Hidden Clues


On 7 June 1982, Karl Kelchner Darrow (1891–1982) passed away. A student of Robert A. Millkan (1868–1953), he was an American physicist working at Western Electric from 1917-1925 and then Bell Laboratories from 1925-1956. The author of over 200 technical articles, histories, and critical reviews in the Bell System Technical Journal, his books included Introduction to Contemporary Physics (1926), Electrical Phenomena in Gases (1932), The Renaissance in Physics (1936), and Atomic Energy (1948). Darrow also served as the secretary of the American Physical Society from 1941-1967.

In his book Introduction to Contemporary Physics (1926), Darrow made several references to the need for faith in theoretical and experimental discoveries: (“Fermat had faith in ‘economy of time’ as a fundamental principle of Nature” p. 158; “…such curves appear in the literature of physics, showing more or less conspicuous breaks; some are as striking as the best instances in the figure, some require a good deal of care and experience to locate them properly, and some, one is driven to conclude, are visible only to the eye of faithp. 286).

The text quoted above is taken from The Renaissance in Physics (1936):

I like to compare that classical era of discovery with the gradual excavation of some great ancient city long interred. All through the middle ages, and even to this day, there have been localities where scattered columns project here and there from a vast expanse of ground. For hundreds or thousands of years all who see them are content merely to look and pass ; but finally the archaeologists come with their spades, and after years of work they uncover the city, and anyone can see its scope and its plan and its organization… Electricity lay thus buried in dense matter for all but the three latest centuries of history, and only a couple of eminences jutted up into sight. One of these was the curious power of amber. The Greeks and many others looked at it and passed by. [William] Gilbert [(1544–1603)] began to investigate it, and the successors of Gilbert came—one by one at first, and then in legions—not with spades but with the tools of the physicist. By now they have revealed such great and unexpected wonders that hardly anyone ever thinks of the little phenomenon which was the guide of the pioneers: so trivial a thing it seems, so little and inconsequential, and yet it was the key to all the rest.

His Physics Today obituary recorded: “In 1951, he was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor for ‘services rendered to the international relations of science and to the cultural relations between France and the United States.’ Van Vleck chose the word ‘style’ to characterize Darrow’s unique role in US physics. His colloquium talks were models of clarity, timing and subtle humor. His scientific articles were lucid… Darrow was at the same time an internationally renowned author and lecturer and a patron of the arts. As Van Vleck so cogently stated, ‘if all savants were like him, C. P. Snow would never have been able to coin the phrase “the two cultures”.’”

“Karl Kelchner Darrow.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
Darrow, Karl K. Introduction to Contemporary Physics. (New York, NY: Van Nostrand Company, 1939), 158; 286.
Darrow, Karl K. The Renaissance in Physics. (New York, NY: Macmillan. 1936), 29-20. (full text at Amazon:
Havens, W.W. “Obituaries: Karl K. Darrow.” Physics Today 35.11 (1982): 83-84.

Roger Cotes: Discerning Creation’s Laws Through Experimentation


roger cotes.jpg

On 05 June 1716, Roger Cotes (1682–1716) died at Burbage, UK. He was an important mathematician and physicist, known for proof-reading and editing the second edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton (1642–1727).

Several important equations are due to him, including the original statement of Euler’s formula (i.e. eⁱᶿ = cosθ + isinθ), the Newton-Cotes formula for integration (i.e. for function weights, wᵢ, the area under a curve is ∫ f(x) dx = Σᵢ f(xᵢ) wᵢ), and the method of least squares (i.e. linear fitting data points to the y-intercept, β₀, and slope, β₁, with equation f(x,β)=β₀+β₁x, minimizing the squares of the residues, S = Σᵢ rᵢ², defined as rᵢ=yᵢ-f(xᵢ,β).

Cotes’s religious views can be found in his preface to the 1713 edition.

“The true business of natural philosophy is… to inquire after those laws on which the Great Creator actually chose to found this most beautiful frame of the world, not those by which he might have done the same, had he pleased… Without all doubt this world, so diversified with that variety of forms and motions we find in it, could arise from nothing but the perfectly free will of God directing and presiding over all. From this fountain it is that those laws, which we call the laws of Nature, have flowed, in which there appear many traces indeed of the most wise contrivance, but not the least shadow of necessity. These therefore we must not seek from uncertain conjectures, but learn them from observations and experiments.”

N.B. The third edition of the Principia was edited and published by Dr. Henry Pemberton, MD (1694–1771). The fourth and later editions of 1739–42 were edited and published by Fr. Pères Thomas LeSeur (1703–1770) and Fr. François Jacquier (1711–1788), two French catholic priests of the Minim order.

Newton, Isaac and Roger Cotes. The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. V.1. Trans. Andrew Motte. (London, GB: H.D. Symonds, 1803), 24, 30.
— “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica: Later editions.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Image: Hinckley Historical Society (UK).

The Catholic Piarists & the Philadelphia Experiments


franklin beccaria kinserley 2c.jpg

On 27 May 1781, Fr. Giovanni Battista Beccaria (1716–1781) passed away in Turin, Italy.

An Italian Piarist father, he is credited with having introduced the research of Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) on electricity to Europe during the 1750s. Franklin was also known to have worked with the Baptist minister and electricity experimentalist Rev. Ebenezer Kinnersley (1711–1778).

Franklin’s experiments are generally considered to have been the basis for the inverse-square law for electric charges, or Coulomb’s law, first proposed by Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) when he repeated the original experiments of Franklin in 1767. This appears to be the consensus of historians of physics:

“Upon repeating Franklin’s experiment, Priestley was struck by the analogy that a mass inside a spherical shell experiences no gravitational force from the shell… Since the inverse-square nature of the gravitational force is responsible for this behavior, Priestley proposed that the electric force between two charges might also obey an inverse-square law regarding the distance between the charges.” (Richard Olenick, 1986)

“Franklin repeatedly refers to quantities of ‘electrical fire’ as increasing or decreasing. It was too early for the mathematization of this branch of physics, but just barely, as Franklin laid the groundwork for later developments… More immediately, an experiment suggested by Franklin and performed by one of his electrical followers, Joseph Priestley, led directly to the inverse square law.” (Paul Pasles, 2008)

Joseph Priestley (1733–1804)

“The above fundamental law of force between two charges, at rest with respect to each other and to the observer, was first verified experimentally by Charles Augustin de Coulomb in 1785. Actually, the inverse-square behavior had been surmised ever earlier, in 1767, by Joseph Priestley, on the basis of experiments by Benjamin Franklin.” (Albert Shadowitz, 1988)

“It appears that Benjamin Franklin was the first to notice that the field inside a conducting shell is zero. The results seemed strange to him. When he reported his observation to Priestley, the latter suggested that it might be connected with an inverse square law, since it was known that a spherical shell of matter produced no gravitational field inside.” (Richard Feynman, 1st ed., 1964)

Some other important names regarding these researchers and the discovery of the inverse square law include: Peter Collinson (1694–1768), the middle-man for letters between Franklin and Joseph Priestley (1733–1804); Rev. Ebenezer Kinnersley (1711–1778), a Baptist minister and an experimentalist in Philadelphia, known by Franklin as his “ingenious neighbor”, who was an inaugural member of the American Philosophical Society and honorary degree recipient from the College of Philadelphia.

12109284_983316845072800_157470437106100228_n Franklin’s Catholic friend, Fr. Beccaria, was also a physicist and published the book, “Dell’elettricismo artificiale e naturale” (1753). Quote: “The results of Beccaria’s brief, vigorous study of electricity appeared in his first book, Dell’elettricismo artificiale e naturale (1753). The volume, which Franklin praised, presents the elements of the new theory clearly and logically; illustrates them with variations of Franklin’s experiments, to which Beccaria primarily added observations of the different appearances of discharges from positively and negatively electrified points; modifies secondary aspects of the theory and applies it to new territory; and seeks to explain meteorological and geophysical phenomena as manifestations of ‘natural’ electricity.”

Fr. Beccaria’s graduate student was Joseph Louis-Lagrange (1736–1813), who later taught Augustin-Louis Cauchy, Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier, Siméon Denis Poisson and others, according to the Mathematics Genealogy Project.

You can read more about 17th-18th century researches on electricity and electrodynamics in this book: Heilbron, John L. Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics. (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1979), 569 pgs.

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Yuval Ne’eman: God Geometrizes


On 14 May 1925, Yuval Ne’eman (1925–2006) was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. He was a 20th century particle physicist most known for his SU(3) classification of hadrons, known as the “Eightfold Way” (referencing the teaching of Gautama Buddha (c. 6th-5th century BCE)). This model was also published independently by his collaborator Murray Gell-Mann (b. 1929). This theory led to the quark model, first described in 1964 by Gell-Mann and George Zweig (b.1937). This youtube video offers an introductory presentation of the Eightfold Way:

As an administrative and political figure, Ne’eman founded the Dept. of Physics & Astronomy at Tel Aviv University (1965), and then served as the president of Tel Aviv University (1971-75). In 1983, he established the Israel Space Agency in 1983, was a member of the Atomic Energy Commission (1965-84) and served as chief scientist of the Defense Ministry from 1974 to 1976. He also co-directed the Center for Particle Theory at UT-Austin (1968-80) with E. C. George Sudarshan (b.1931).

An interesting philosophical/theological article: Ne’eman, Yuval. “Plato Alleges that God Forever Geometrizes.” Foundation of Physics. 26.5 (1996): 575-583.

“The most famous biographer-historian of antiquity, Plutarch tells us: Πλάτων έλεγε τον θεδν άε’ι γεωμετρεΐν (Plato alleges that God forever geometrizes). What is meant can be read in Jammer’s Concepts of Space: ‘With Plato, physics becomes geometry … Physical coherence, or, if one likes, chemical affinity, is the outcome of stereometric formation in empty space, which itself is manifested physically in the difference between the layers of the elements. Geometric structure is the final cause of what has been called “selective gravitation,” where like attracts like. In accordance with the Pythagorean Philolaus, Plato conceived the elements as endowed with definite spatial structures’…

“In the light of physical observations, as they stood around 450BCE, this is a remarkable set of deductions… It took some 2,500 years for geometry to return to the scene, but when this finally occurred, it was a complete takeover. In two unannounced ‘campaigns’,  first between 1908 and 1915 and then again between 1971 and 1975, basic physics (first classical and then at the quantum levels) was transformed into an application of geometry… Plato alleges that God forever geometrizes.”

Referenced: – “Yuval Ne’eman.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
Ne’eman, Yuval. “Plato Alleges that God Forever Geometrizes.” Foundation of Physics. 26.5 (1996): 575-583. Image: online.