Mr. Lemonick, Michael Faraday, and James Clerk Maxwell

Michael Egnor

Mike Lemonick, Time Magazine’s senior science writer and credulous Darwinist, has a habit of writing things that make even his Darwinist friends cringe.
He recently posted an essay sympathetic with Darwinists who are trying to shut down the Southern Methodist University Darwin vrs. Design conference. He called the Discovery Institute all kinds of names, including “propagandists” and purveyors of “half truths [that] will actually make people more ignorant.”
Mr. Lemonick made this remarkable statement:

If the DI had been around when people thought lightning was stuff the gods threw when angry, we might still not have electricity.

Let’s ask: what role did the inference to design play for scientists who gave us electricity? The 19th century physicists whose research formed the basis for our modern understanding of electromagnetism were Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell.

Michael Faraday was a devoutly religious Christian. He understood his life as a search for God’s design in nature. He was a member of Sandemanian church, an offshoot of the Church of Scotland. Sandemanians were considered particularly fervent believers, even by Victorian standards. Faraday was an elder in the church, and a sermon he delivered was recorded by his friend and biographer J.H. Gladstone:

It [is] his turn to preach. On two sides of a card he has previously sketched out his sermon with the illustrative texts, but the congregation does not see the card, only a little Bible in his hand, the pages of which he turns quickly over, as, fresh from an honest heart, there flows a discourse full of devout thought, clothed largely in the language of Scripture.

Michael Faraday’s life was a seamless blend of science and faith, and his life of passionate Christian belief would equal or exceed that of many of the scientists who have signed the Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwin List. Faraday would be appalled to see his work used as an example of science divorced from faith in God and from the inference to design in nature. He believed passionately in both. If he lived today, Mr. Lemonick would derisively label him a “fundamentalist” and a purveyor of “half truths [that] will actually make people more ignorant.”
James Clerk Maxwell, a devout Presbyterian, was also an intensely religious man. In a letter to the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, Maxwell explained his view of the unity of faith and science and the design he saw in the natural world:

At the same time I think that each individual man should do all he can to impress his own mind with the extent, the order, and the unity of the universe, and should carry these ideas with him as he reads such passages as the 1st Chap. of the Ep. to Colossians (see Lightfoot on Colossians, p.182), just as enlarged conceptions of the extent and unity of the world of life may be of service to us in reading Psalm viii, Heb ii 6, etc.

Like Faraday, Maxwell saw God’s design everywhere in his science. He explicitly believed that God’s design was evident in nature, and that it was his job as a scientist to study the design. Like Faraday, he would be appalled to see his work used to advance scientific materialism. If Maxwell lived today, Mr. Lemonick would dismiss him a creationist “propagandist.”
It’s ironic that Mr. Lemonick would choose electromagnetism as a vignette for the design inference in science. The two scientific pioneers of classical electromagnetism, Faraday and Maxwell, were particularly devout Christians who inferred design everywhere in nature. They believed that God designed everything–including electricity. Their approach to science was pure design inference, undiluted by atheism or materialism. Contra Mr. Lemonick, we have electricity because of men who believed in God and in the evident design in nature.
Mr. Lemonick misunderstands the philosophical origins of modern science. The Scientific Revolution emerged within, and only within, Judeo-Christian civilization, and nearly all of the scientists who gave us modern science—Copernicus, Pascal, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Leibniz, Harvey, Vesalius, Linnaeus, Lavoisier, Mendel, Pasteur, as well as Faraday and Maxwell, were devout Christians who inferred design in all of nature. They worked entirely from the design inference.
Mr. Lemonick’s misunderstanding of the history of electromagnetism, as well as the history and philosophy of science, is on a par with his misunderstanding of the Darwinism/ID debate. There’s reason for his blindness: Mr. Lemonick has an ideological axe to grind. He detests any approach to science that crosses the boundaries set by scientific materialism, and he wants science scrubbed of any hint of transcendence.
Science, and all philosophy, have a basis in culture. Western science is rooted in Judeo-Christian culture. If Mr. Lemonick seeks a culture that enforces the monopoly of materialistic science stripped of any inference to God or of any inference to design, there are places in the world in which materialistic science is de rigueur and de jure. North Korea, for example.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.