James Clerk Maxwell: Seeing the Light
James Clerk Maxwell was a physicist and mathematician by profession. Before his discovery, electricity, light, and magnetism were considered to be completely separate experiences. By uncovering that they all were manifestations of the electromagnetic field, his electromagnetic theory was a huge breakthrough in science.
Maxwell was gifted with a brilliant mind, and he used this gift to make contributions that go beyond the benefit of this world alone. He made scientific advancements that set the stage for radios followed by television. But all of his work was rooted in serving the Lord, as reflected by one of Maxwell’s prayers: “Teach us to study the works of Thy hands that we may subdue the earth to our use and strengthen our reason for Thy service.” The Lord answered his prayer, no doubt.
The mother of James Clerk Maxwell helped plant Biblical seeds that would remain instilled in her son. However, James’ mother died when he was still a boy, during the time period when he would take a curious interest in the way everything around him worked. Maxwell’s young mind quickly embraced learning and understanding mathematics and many sciences.
He would go on to advance the work started by Michael Faraday on electromagnetism. Maxwell discovered that electricity and magnetism were both forms of electromagnetic waves. After recognizing that these waves travel at a speed nearly equivalent to that of light, he was able to determine that light was simply a certain expression of electromagnetic energy. His discoveries were all shown mathematically, and “Maxwell’s Equations” is the name given to an important set of four differential equations that explain his theory. Maxwell’s contributions to science were important foundational frameworks for 20th century scientists like Albert Einstein.
James Clerk Maxwell is also known for his work on the behavior of gases, optics and color analysis, kinetics and thermodynamics, and the rings of Saturn. He also is credited with presenting the first color photograph, as well as discovering the process for creating color photography with the foundational three-color method.
Being a scientist, Maxwell fully examined the different subjects of his work. He did the same sort of examination with his spiritual beliefs. He studied Christianity. He inspected its reality and explored its evidence. Maxwell did not just believe in the reality of Christianity simply because his parents were Christians. He searched every area of his faith. The result of this was that James Clerk Maxwell held fast to truths in the Bible. He became sure of them and they affected his service, his vocation, and his life. His work was devoted to what he found to be true. He said, “The only desire which I can have is like David to serve my own generation by the will of God, and then fall asleep.”
Because of Maxwell, scientists were able to understand more about light, what it was and where it came from. His eyes were opened to that phenomenon, that type of electromagnetic wave, that we see when we open our own eyes. His eyes were also opened to that glory that shines from the God of all things: “I think men of science as well as other men need to learn from Christ, and I think Christians whose minds are scientific are bound to study science that their view of the glory of God may be as extensive as their being is capable.” His eyes were opened, and he saw the light.