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The Religious Affiliation of the Great Physicist
Michael Faraday


Faraday's parents were members of the obscure religious denomination of the Sandemanians, and Faraday himself, shortly after his marriage, at the age of thirty, joined the same sect, to which he adhered till his death. Religion and science he kept strictly apart, believing that the data of science were of an entirely different nature from the direct communications between God and the soul on which his religious faith was based. [Source: Paul Halsall, "Modern History Sourcebook: Michael Faraday (1791-1867): The Chemical History of A Candle, 1860", written August 1998, part of "Internet Modern History Sourcebook", on Fordham University website (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1860Faraday-candle.html; viewed 26 September 2005)]

Faraday, who was ranked #23 in Michael Hart's book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History for his discovery of magneto-electricity.

From: Rich Deem, "Famous Scientists Who Believed in God", last modified 19 May 2005, on "Evidence for God from Science" website (http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/sciencefaith.html; viewed 5 October 2005):

The son of a blacksmith who became one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. His work on electricity and magnetism not only revolutionized physics, but has led to so much in our lifestyles today which depend on them (including computers and telephone lines and so Web sites). Faraday was a devoutly Christian member of the Sandemanians, which significantly influenced upon him and strongly affected the way in which he approached and interpreted nature. The Sandemanians originated from Presbyterians who had rejected the idea of state churches, and tried to go back to a New Testament type of Christianity.

[Sources:] G. N. Cantor Michael Faraday, Sandemanian and Scientist (1993) or Michael Faraday (1996)

From: Dan Graves, Scientists of Faith, Kregel Resources: Grand Rapids, MI (1996), pages 110-112:
Farday's work propelled him into the limelight. By 1826 he was head of the Royal Institution, founded... to provide scientific education for the masses. Offered the presidency of the Royal Society, Faraday flatly refused, as he also refused the offer of a knighthood. He did not believe Christ of the apostles would accept these worldly honors...

[page 111] Farada's scientific achievements, among the greatest in history, sprang from his religious faith. As a lifelong member of a sect called the Sandemanians, he believed that nature substantiates the existence of its Creator. Because one God created the world, all of nature mut be interconnected as a single whole, he believed. Therefore, electricity and magnetism must be interlinked. This view of nature was the very view emphasized by the Sandemanians. Key to Faraday's thought was the idea that objective reality must judge every theory, no matter how elegant and sophisticated...

Michael served as a lay preacher in the Sandemanians throughout his life. Sandemanians, an offshoot of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, believed in practicing primitive Christianity (that is, Christianity as the apostles practiced it). They urged separation of church and state. They observed communion in conjunction with footwashing and love feasts. They were so strict that when Faraday appeared before Queen Victoria at her request, he was temporarily excommunicated because his attendance had been required at church.

His faith gave him the courage to turn down a government request that he develop poison gases for use in the Crimean War. He refused to buy insurance, believing that to do so was to show lack of faith...

[page 112] Although he was happily married to Sarah Bernard, a fellow Sandemanian, the Faradays had no children. When he died, he was buried, at his own request, beneath a simple headstone.

From: Raymond J. Seeger, "Faraday, Sandemanian" in The Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 35 (June 1983): page 101 (http://www.asa3.org:16080/ASA/PSCF/1983/JASA6-83Seeger.html; viewed 26 September 2005):
...His successor, the physicist John Tyndall, called Michael Faraday, "the greatest experimental philosopher the world has ever known."

...Faraday's family were Sandemanians, followers of the 18th century deposed Scottish Presbyterian minister John Glas and of his minister son-in-law Robert Sandeman, who died in Danbury, CT, after seven years sojourn in colonial America (he established six churches here). Faraday himself did not join the church until one month after his marriage to Sarah Barnard (he was 30, she 21); he became an elder and had to preach occasionally (a book of four of his sermons was printed; a Sandeman lent me a copy when I was at Oxford. At that time I visited a surviving church in Edinburgh and had dinner with the clerk of the one in London). The Sandemanians are opposed to any established church; they believe strictly in the Bible and in Christ. In a London sermon Faraday himself said, "I cannot do better than to read to you the words of the Scripture instead of multiplying my own words."

In a letter ( 1844) to Lady Lovelace, he noted, "In my intercourse with my fellow creatures that which is religious and that which is philosophical have ever been distinct things." The agnostic Tyndall commented unsympathetically, "When Faraday opened the door of the oratory, he closed that of the laboratory." Consequently he has often been held up as the example par excellence of the compartmentalization of science and religion. Closer examination, however, reveals that his attitudes towards both are quite similar. They are both rooted in the same experimental view of nature. In his only public address involving science and religion (Prince Consort Albert in the audience) he confessed, "The book of nature which we have to read is written by the finger of God." This lecture is published at the end of a volume on Experimental Researches in Chemistry and Physics, where he states, "These observations are so immediately connected in their nature and origin with my own experimental life; either as a cause or a consequence, that I have thought the close of this volume not an unfit place for their reproduction." He believed the universe is intelligible, beautiful, and adaptable to man's usedesigned by a rational, wise, and good God (cf. Rom. 1:20). He wrote, "The beauty of electricity, or of any other force, is not that the power is mysterious and unexpected, but that it is under law, and that the taught intellect can even now govern it." And so, he sought relations among the various forces in a unified nature: electric, magnetic, and even gravitational.

He regarded facts as fundamental, the observed ones of science and the revealed ones of religion. Each group, however, is surrounded by an aura of speculation, i.e., theory or theology. If these auras are large, overlap will occur and inevitable conflicts owing to the incompleteness and imperfection of each. (Everyone, I believe, will continually experience such personal conflicts of science and religion, but hopefully they will change as one matures.) In Faraday's case speculation was relatively less important so that the apparently independent facts remained separated-without conflict.

Faraday's life was consistent with his faith and hope. He had an unquenchable thirst for truth, but he recognized his own limitations (Job 9:20 was boldly marked in his own copy of the Bible). He pursued truth industriously throughout his whole life. Above all, he had great humility, born out of reverence for God and His universe, man and his environment. Tyndall noted that in Faraday's case, "You cannot separate the moral and the emotional from the intellectual." This irreligious colleague described him in Christian terms, "blameless, of good behavior, apt to teach, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient" (cf. I Tim. 3:2-7).

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Webpage created 12 July 2005. Last modified 5 October 2005.
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