In his compact, stylishly written “Stealing God’s Thunder,” Philip Dray zooms in on Franklin the scientist. He deals first and foremost with the inventor of the lightning rod, but he also does justice to the restlessly curious, penetrating intelligence that accurately charted the Gulf Stream and created the armonica, a musical instrument that produced sounds from the moistened edges of glass bowls.
Americans tend to regard Franklin’s scientific accomplishments as an interesting sideline. In his own time, however, Franklin was lionized abroad as the man who solved the age-old mystery of lightning, one of nature’s most fearsome power displays. It was a great victory for the Enlightenment when Franklin, the backwoods philosophe, snatched the thunderbolts of Zeus and robbed them of their destructive power.
I thought my readers would appreciate this.
The clergy turned a disapproving eye on Franklin’s great invention, the lightning rod. Who was he to disturb the instruments of divine wrath? Even Jean-Antoine Nollet, one of France’s foremost lightning researchers, warned that it was “as impious to ward off Heaven’s lightnings as for a child to ward off the chastening rod of its father.”
Franklin was amused. “Surely the Thunder of Heaven is no more supernatural than the Rain, Hail or Sunshine of Heaven, against the Inconvenience of which we guard by Roofs & Shades without Scruple,” he wrote to a friend.
Damn you Ben Franklin! Damn your hedonistic materialism! Damn your “self-evident” truths, however Newtonian they may be. Damn your Newtonism! Our nation’s long decline is ALL YOUR FAULT!