Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Biography (2)

Though I have read several lighter books recently (including two by Alexander McCall Smith), I was fascinated by another biography. Actually, the title first drew me: The Last Man Who Knew Everything. Andrew Robinson has written about the polymath Thomas Young (1773-1829), who was so brilliant he seemed to know everything! As a physicist he challenged Isaac Newton's theories and proved light is a wave. As a physician he showed how the eye focuses and proposed the three colour theory of vision, only confirmed 150 years later. As engineer he developed the modulus of elasticity. As an Egyptologist he was key to deciphering the Rosetta Stone. A major scholar of ancient Greek, a phenominal linguist, he was authoritative writer of all manner of subjects. I laughed out loud when I read that when he was pressed to contribute articles to a new edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1816 offered subjects: alphabet, annuities, attraction, capillary action, cohesion, color, dew, Egypt, eye, focus, friction, halo, heiroglpyphics, hydraulics, motion, resistance, ships, sound, strength, tides, waves and "anything of a medical nature." In the end he wrote many other articles as well, including a number of biographies. Three entries -Egypt, Languages and Tides -broke entirely new ground.

Yet, the biography shows him to be an attractive modest man who, motivated by curiosity, was never known to boast. Reading the book was hard work, richochetting from the details of one burst of brilliance to another. Celebrating his bicentenary in 1973 the London's Science Museum wrote: 'Young probably had a wider range of creative learning than any other Englishman in history. He made discoveries in nearly every field he studied." Whoa!

It is overwhelming and intimidation to spend time with such genius. At the same time as I was reading this book I was thinking ahead to a Christmas service I have to speak at. It struck me how rarely we think of Jesus as a brilliant mind who knew everything. Of course there are flashes of his prodigy brilliance as a child of twelve (Luke 2:47). But, throughout the gospel record, Jesus rubs shoulders with the most ordinary of people who are captured by his love, actions, integrity and spiritual teaching. When we read that Jesus "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant" (Phil. 2:6,7) it speaks volumes about the humility of Jesus, the greatest mind there has ever been, coming among us. Whoa!

No comments: