Ernest Barnes

English mathematician and clergyman

Ernest William Barnes (April 1, 1874 – November 29, 1953) was an English mathematician and scientist who became a liberal theologian and was ordained in the Anglican Church in 1902. In 1898 he was awarded the first Smith's Prize in mathematics. In mathematics he is remembered for the Mellin-Barnes Integrals and for the Barnes G-function, a contribution to the theory of transcendental functions. Barnes was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1909 and served as the Bishop of Birmingham from 1924 to 1953.

Ernest William Barnes


  • The astonishing thing about Einstein's equations is that they appear to have come out of nothing.
    • As quoted by Gerald James Whitrow, The Structure of the Universe: An Introduction to Cosmology (1949)
  • The conclusion seems to be irresistible that such laws of nature as the principle of conservation of energy, the principle of conservation of momentum and the law of gravitation are necessary consequences of our modes of measurement. They are, in fact, elaborately disguised identities which could have been predicted a priori by a being of sufficiently powerful analytical insight who fully understood all that is implied in the way we measure space-time intervals.
    • As quoted by Gerald James Whitrow, The Structure of the Universe: An Introduction to Cosmology (1949)

Spiritualism and the Christian Faith (1918)

  • Our own attitude to intercourse with "spirits" must be determined not by the authority of great teachers of the 13th or any other century, but by our examination in the light of the best secular knowledge of our time of the revelation of spiritual truth given by Christ.
  • A perfectly evil human society is unthinkable: it would be self-destructive. We therefore deny that any society of absolutely evil spirits could be permanent. Evil in short, cannot be a unifying spiritual principle: to put it colloquially, there must be some good in the Devil or he must ultimately destroy himself. It is certain that the Devil cannot be the creative source of evil in the same way that God is the creative source of good.
  • Human experience has pronounced "black magic" a delusion. Its practice is criminal folly: criminal because its objective is evil, folly because the means employed are futile.
  • There has been the assumption that men are finite spirits. They are, that is to say, not only animals with a brief terrestrial existence, but in them is an element which comes from, and belongs to, the spiritual world. This world we postulate to be the world of eternal reality, of God; and we assume that in it whatever is of God, the things that are good, beautiful and true, will exist for ever with Him. We have then, to justify our belief that, because such God-like qualities exist in human personality, that personality will survive the destruction of the body.
  • We see in man three elements; the material body, the life principle and the element of human personality. The last has only slowly reached its present complexity and is still far from the power and perfection that we can imagine it will some day possess.
  • Man is what he is, because a spiritual element has entered into, and taken possession of, animal consciousness. This spiritual element is not, according to Christian teaching, divine: but it is capable of entering into relations with God. It can perceive Him: in thought, it can reason as to His nature and actions: in will and feeling, it can serve and love Him, or disobey and fear Him. Such activity shows itself in what we call the working of conscience.
  • Revelation can be supplemented by reason. Christ Himself gave reasons for His belief, and put in modern form, these reasons are, to my mind, conclusive. You remember the passage in the earliest Gospel: "But as touching the dead, that they are raised; have ye not read in the book of Moses, in the place concerning the bush, how God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living: ye do greatly err" (Mark xii, 26 R.V.) Herein, in a form adapted to Jewish thought is "the one great argument which has made most sincere believers in God believers in Immortality also.
    • citing H. Rashdall: Doctrine and Development, Methuen, 1898 p. 177.

Quotes about Bishop Barnes

  • Barnes was notorious for delivering what the press called his "guerilla sermons," in which he pointed out the need for the church to be honest in admitting how much of its traditional dogma would have to be abandoned if evolution theory was accepted. Even a progressionist, teleological evolutionism required a reinterpretation of the doctrine of original sin. To begin with, Barnes said little about the actual process of evolution, but he seems to have assumed that it was purposeful and aimed at the production of higher mental states. In 1930, though, he obtained a copy of R. A. Fisher's Genetical Theory of Natural Selection and began a correspondence with Fisher, who had studied under him while a student at Cambridge. Barnes was one of the few clergymen who could actually understand Fisher's mathematics (although even he admitted that it was hard going)... He did not concede that the selection theory offered a complete explanation, and he continued to believe that evolution was intended to produce beings with higher mental and spiritual qualities, but he was now aware that the more simpleminded forms of teleology were unacceptable.
    • Peter J. Bowler, "The Spectre of Darwinism," Darwinian Heresies (2004) ed., Abigail Lustig, Robert J. Richards, Michael Ruse
  • The Roman Catholics were already prominent in the debate on abortion in Britain in the 1930s. It is notable, for example, that only two religious groups were keen to give evidence before the Inter-Departmental Committee in Abortion between 1937 and 1939 or sent written statements to the Committee. One was the Modern Churchmen's Union, and in particular its most prominent supporter, though not a member, Ernest William Barnes, the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, which was concerned to advance the cause of abortion on eugenic grounds, and the other was the Roman Catholics... No representatives of the Protestant Nonconformist Churches took part or made statements (Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee 1939)
  • Although he was trained in mathematics and was not a biblical scholar... Barnes, undertook to write a book about the origins of the Christian religion. Published in 1947, The Rise of Christianity caused a stir because it was so frankly dismissive of traditional Christian dogma, especially the miraculous. In this book, for example, Barnes calls the birth stories "edifying legend." He observes that the roots of the story of the Virgin Birth are "pagan." He questions the dogma of the Logos—the eternal word incarnate in this man, Jesus—set forth in the first chapter of John's Gospel. And he denies the bodily resurrection of Christ. Like Thomas Jefferson, he admires Jesus' character and teaching.
    • David Hein, Geoffrey Fisher: Archbishop of Canterbury, 1945-1961 (2008)
  • The only Bishop (Ernest William Barnes...) in the Royal Society appears to have contracted the habit so prevalent among popular scientists of making stupid and unsupported statements... In his book, Scientific Theory and Religion, he tells us that the flatness and fixity of the earth were "taken over into the Christian Creeds." Which creeds? ...he describes as erroneous the "authorized teaching of the Roman Church" regarding the date of creation. What date did the Church authorize? He also refers to the "doctrine of the special creation of the species." There is no such doctrine. Incidentally one of the most eminent of English mathematicians, Professor Whittaker, F.R.S., severely criticizes the mathematical theories that are put forward in this book by Bishop Barnes.
    • Karl Keating, Controversies: High-level Catholic Apologetics (2001) Ch. 6, note 40.
  • With a view to recalling Clausen's identity, we begin by introducing the generalized Gaussian and Clausenian hypergeometric function defined, in the notations of Leo Pochhammer and Ernest William Barnes... as already pointed out by Barnes, the generalized hypergeometric function pFq originated with Clausen and was studied, among others, by Johannes Karl Thomae, Édouard Jean-Baptiste Goursat, and Pochhammer whose voluminous work on the subject provides a detailed development of the theory.
    • George M. Rassias, The Mathematical Heritage of C. F. Gauss (1991)
  • In general, Protestants of that era [late 1930s] did not object to state involvement in reproductive control; indeed, some of the Protestant Churches had originated as extensions of state power in the first place. Many protestants embraced eugenics as part of a broader trend towards acceptance of the secularization of modern societies. ...Many Protestant theologians were outspoken eugenicists, and some even supported eugenic sterilization: in Britain, William Ralph Inge, the dean of St. Paul's and Ernest William Barnes, the Bishop of Birmingham; in Germany, Hans Harmsen... in Romania, Alfred Csallner... Such direct involvement with eugenics demonstrates that a religiously sanctioned programme of human improvement was possible.
    • Marius Turda & Aaron Gillette, Latin Eugenics in Comparative Perspective (2014)
  • The philosophical consequences of the General Theory of Relativity are perhaps more striking than the experimental tests. As Bishop Barnes has reminded us, "The astonishing thing about Einstein's equations is that they appear to have come out of nothing." We have assumed that the laws of nature must be capable of expression in a form which is invariant for all possible transformations of the space-time co-ordinates and also that the geometry of space-time is Riemannian. From this exiguous basis, formulae of gravitation more accurate than those of Newton have been derived. As Barnes points out...
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