William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, 1824-1907 Ireland, Britain, a modern pioneer in science and faith

William Thomson, Lord Kelvin 1824-1907 Ireland, Britain

was an Irish and British mathematical physicist and engineer who was

born in Belfast in 1824. At the University of Glasgow he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form. He worked closely with mathematics professor Hugh Blackburn in his work. He also had a career as an electric telegraph engineer and inventor, which propelled him into the public eye and ensured his wealth, fame and honour. For his work on the transatlantic telegraph project he was knighted by Queen Victoria, becoming Sir William Thomson. He had extensive maritime interests and was most noted for his work on the mariner’s compass, which had previously been limited in reliability.

Lord Kelvin is widely known for determining the correct value of absolute zero as approximately -273.15 Celsius. The existence of a lower limit to temperature was known prior to Lord Kelvin, as shown in "Reflections on the Motive Power of Heat", published by Sadi Carnot in French in 1824, the year of Lord Kelvin’s birth. "Reflections" used -267 as an estimate of the absolute zero temperature. Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honour.

On his ennoblement in 1892 in honour of his achievements in thermodynamics, and of his opposition to Irish Home Rule,[2][3][4] he adopted the title Baron Kelvin, of Largs in the County of Ayr and is therefore often described as Lord Kelvin. He was the first UK scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords.

Thomson remained a devout believer in Christianity throughout his life; attendance at chapel was part of his daily routine.[38] He saw his Christian faith as supporting and informing his scientific work, as is evident from his address to the annual meeting of the Christian Evidence Society, 23 May 1889.[39]

One of the clearest instances of this interaction is in his estimate of the age of the Earth. Given his youthful work on the figure of the Earth and his interest in heat conduction, it is no surprise that he chose to investigate the Earth’s cooling and to make historical inferences of the Earth’s age from his calculations. Thomson was a creationist in a broad sense, but he was not a ‘flood geologist‘.[40] He contended that the laws of thermodynamics operated from the birth of the universe and envisaged a dynamic process that saw the organisation and evolution of the solar system and other structures, followed by a gradual "heat death". He developed the view that the Earth had once been too hot to support life and contrasted this view with that of uniformitarianism, that conditions had remained constant since the indefinite past. He contended that "This earth, certainly a moderate number of millions of years ago, was a red-hot globe … ."[41]

After the publication of Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species in 1859, Thomson saw evidence of the relatively short habitable age of the Earth as tending to contradict Darwin’s gradualist explanation of slow natural selection bringing about biological diversity. Thomson’s own views favoured a version of theistic evolution sped up by divine guidance.[42] His calculations showed that the sun could not have possibly existed long enough to allow the slow incremental development by evolution – unless some energy source beyond what he or any other Victorian era person knew of was found. He was soon drawn into public disagreement with geologists,[43] and with Darwin’s supporters John Tyndall and T.H. Huxley. In his response to Huxley’s address to the Geological Society of London (1868) he presented his address "Of Geological Dynamics", (1869)[44] which, among his other writings, challenged the geologists’ acceptance that the earth must be of indefinite age.[43]

Science is bound, by the everlasting vow of honour, to face fearlessly every problem which can be fairly presented to it.

I believe that the more thoroughly science is studied, the further does it take us from anything comparable to atheism.

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