Charles Babbage's defence of the belief in divine miracles

Charles Babbage

In his autobiography "Passages from the Life of a Philosopher", Charles Babbage wrote a whole chapter on the topic of religion, where he identified three sources of divine knowledge:

  • A priori or mystical experience
  • From Revelation
  • From the examination of the works of the Creator

Babbage also wrote a defence of the belief in divine miracles. Babbage advocated for the belief of divine agency, stating "we must not measure the credibility or incredibility of an event by the narrow sphere of our own experience, nor forget that there is a Divine energy which overrides what we familiarly call the laws of nature." He alluded to the limits of human experience, expressing: "all that we see in a miracle is an effect which is new to our observation, and whose cause is concealed. The cause may be beyond the sphere of our observation, and would be thus beyond the familiar sphere of nature; but this does not make the event a violation of any law of nature. The limits of man's observation lie within very narrow boundaries, and it would be arrogance to suppose that the reach of man's power is to form the limits of the natural world."

Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871) was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer. Babbage originated the concept of a digital programmable computer and is considered to be the "father of the computer".



Charles Babbage's steam powered computer weighed fifteen tons

The Difference Engine No.2, built from Babbage's design

Charles Babbage began in 1822 with what he called the difference engine, made to compute values of polynomial functions. This first difference engine would have been composed of around 25,000 parts, weighed fifteen tons (13,600 kg), and would have been 8 ft (2.4 m) tall. Although Babbage received ample funding for the project, it was never completed. He later (1847–1849) produced detailed drawings for an improved version,"Difference Engine No. 2", but did not receive funding from the British government. His design was finally constructed in 1989–1991, using his plans and 19th-century manufacturing tolerances. It performed its first calculation at the Science Museum, London, returning results to 31 digits.

Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871) was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer. Babbage originated the concept of a digital programmable computer and is considered to be the "father of the computer".