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Who said: “Dangerous... to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust. It has been fatal to many, both men and beasts.”
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Thumbnail of  George Fownes (source)
George Fownes
(14 May 1815 - 31 Jan 1849)

English chemist who prepared furfurine and benzoline (1845), the first examples of vegeto-alkali or organic salt-bases, as they were known then. Fownes was the first winner of the one hundred guineas (£105) Actonian Prize from the Royal Institution.

The Actonian Prize



from The Galaxy magazine (Jan 1872)

IT is a fact of very great significance in the present state of science that the Royal Institution of Great Britain has offered the Actonian prize of two hundred guineas for the best essay illustrative of the wisdom and beneficence of the Almighty as seen in the Theory of the Evolution of Living Things. Competitors are to send in their essays before June 30, 1872, and the adjudication will be made by the managers of the institution in December of 1872. This event is noteworthy, not so much as an indication of the advance of science, as of the far deeper fact of the progress of enlarged and liberal feeling and of a steadily diminishing antagonism between religion and science. It is now a commonplace of history familiar to school-boys, that the sciences all had to struggle into existence against the most inveterate theological hostility, in each department of inquiry the new truth established contravened pre-existing opinions which had all the force of religious sanction. And worse than that, the dominant theological feeling discouraged and forbade all inquiry into the works and ways of nature as impious. To explore the heavens or the earth or the human body was regarded as but an irreverent prying into mysteries which were concealed from man by Divine design and which it was therefore wicked to attempt to penetrate. All that is now not only passed away, but the whole case is inverted, so that religion now seeks its proofs and supports from sources which it formerly pronounced sinful to examine.

And so it is with the special truths which science has arrived at. Doctrines at first denounced as heretical and blasphemous are afterward accepted not only as true, but as furnishing the most convincing proofs of the greatness and goodness of the Author of nature. The Bridgewater treatises were a series of elaborate works in which the great results of science in all its chief departments were brought forward to bear witness to the wisdom and beneficence of God.

Thumbnail of George Fownes, face in profile, looking left. Colorization ©
George Fownes (source)

The last* Actonian prize awarded by the Royal Institution was to Prof. Fownes for his essay** on the wisdom and goodness of the Almighty, as exemplified by the phenomena of chemistry in nature. And now it is proposed to appeal to the latest great principle of biological science—the principle of the Evolution of Life—as an evidence of creative wisdom. That life in its course is governed by a law of evolution, whatever be its formula or whatever its extent, is an incontestable truth; every adult is evolved from a germ. And as all truth must bear witness of the Author of truth, there is the same propriety in showing the bearings of the argument in this case as in any of the former instances of its application.

* Prof. Fownes received the first Actonian Prize in 1844. Two others were awarded prior to the Jan 1872 date of the article. ** A link to his winning essay, Chemistry, as Exemplifying the Wisdom and Beneficence of God is included below. —Webmaster

Image, not in original text, added from source shown, with colorization © Text from The Galaxy: a Magazine of Entertaining Reading (Jan 1872), 13, 126. (source)

See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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