James Clerk Maxwell and the equations of light

  • Article
  • 5000 words
  • Level: university

An article about physicist James Clerk Maxwell, by historian and philosopher of science Thomas Forsyth Torrance. Maxwell, a devout Christian, is one of the most important figures in the history of science. Students in physics courses everywhere study “Maxwell’s Equations” that mathematically describe electromagnetic waves. These waves include light, radio, x-rays, etc. They are how astronomers learn about the universe and they are the basis of all wireless communication technology, including smart phones. Torrance writes about Maxwell:

[I]t is certainly clear that the kind of physical science which he advocated is much more congenial to Christian theology than that which developed when absolute notions of space and time were arbitrarily clamped down upon the empirical world and had the effect of reducing understanding of it to a hard and closed mechanistic system. For Clerk Maxwell himself rigorous scientific inquiry and simple devout Christian faith were life-long partners, each in its own way contributing to the strength of the other.

Click here for an excerpt selected by the Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science (Inters.org), which is edited by the Advanced School for Interdisciplinary Research, operating at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, and directed by Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti.

Click here for Torrance’s essay on Maxwell as published in Transformation & Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge (1998).