February 11, 1847 - October 18, 1931
Atheist and Renowned Inventorby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Today, the name "Thomas Edison" brings to mind this inventor's unprecedented additions to the technological realm, including his invention of the phonograph and amendments to the light bulb. As a child, young "Al" would often spend hours studying or working in his private laboratory. Because he learned differently from other students, he struggled during his first year in school. Few envisioned that this boy, who had "only three months of formal education" in his entire life 1, would become one of the most renowned inventors in American history. One could say that there was rarely ever a time where Edison was not learning. Sadly, throughout all of his research and studies, he never discovered the hope that is found through Jesus Christ. "I have never seen the slightest proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God. If there is really any soul, I have found no evidence of it in my investigations." 2 Despite the genius mind of Thomas Edison, he ignored the existence of the ultimate Genius.
On February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio, the seventh child of Samuel Edison, Jr. and Nancy Elliot was born. Thomas Alva Edison, the youngest of the family, had two brothers and four sisters. 3 When Thomas was seven years old, his family moved to Port Huron, Michigan, a rapidly growing town near Lake Huron. There, Samuel Edison was able to run a successful lumber business while maintaining crop production on his small farm. Unfortunately, Thomas did not fare well in school, due to impatience from his schoolmaster and also because of a slight hearing disability, which worsened year by year. 4 When he was about eight years old, his mother chose to teach her son at home, as she had once been a teacher herself. Although Thomas was strong in geography and penmanship, he struggled with mathematics. 5 Despite this, he had a love for books and remained an avid reader throughout the course of his life. By the age of ten, he had read dozens of books, including Thomas Paine's Age of Reason and Sir Walton Scott's Ivanhoe. 6 Thomas also had a keen interest in science, as he taught himself the study of chemistry and spent hours devouring various science books.
At the age of twelve, Edison started his own business to help support his family. He sold newspapers, books, magazines, candy, and fruit on a passenger train that ran from Port Huron to Detroit, Michigan. 7 During the layover, he would visit the Detroit Public Library and study until the returning train departed in the evening. When Edison began to read Newton's Principia, he became confused and frustrated with the concepts; thereby, increasing his distaste for mathematics. 8 Coupled with his hearing disability (impairment), Edison had the excuses to give up on his studies. However, he persevered, using his loss of hearing to his advantage. His ability to concentrate while working ultimately proved extremely useful whenever he was working on projects. As this intelligent youth continued to mature, he started working with the telegraph, and quickly became adept with sending and receiving messages through the Morse code system.
In 1868, Edison decided to move to New York and become a full time inventor. 9 There, he continued to perform scientific experiments and make improvements to the telegraph. At the age of the twenty-four, Edison married sixteen-year-old Mary Stilwell. 10 Although they had three children, Edison did not slow down in his scientific endeavors. Within the next dozen years, he had invented the phonograph and the electric light bulb. "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration," said Edison. 11 He continuously toiled, both physically and mentally, on his projects, demonstrating his persistence despite the trials of life. He earnestly meant it when he said, "There is no substitute for hard work." But as much as he supported "intellectual labor", Edison also expressed his dislike for theoretical science. 12 Because of his agnostic belief, he disregarded religion and the existence of a personal God 13. After his wife died in 1884, Edison shortly thereafter married Mina Miller, a devout Christian, who tried to show him the truth about God. 14 In spite of all her efforts, however, Edison stubbornly refused to listen. Remaining true to his atheism, he said, "I do not believe in the God of the theologians; but that there is a Supreme Intelligence I do not doubt." 15 A similar opinion was held by at least one of his workers, Nikola Tesla, who discovered the rotating magnetic field that enabled the building of the AC motor.
Edison went on to invent the storage battery, mimeograph, movie projector, and boasted over one thousand U.S. patents. Time and again, he worked through experimental failure and always sought to find the answer to his problem. 16 When it came to science, Edison was always eager to learn. Yet, when it came down to theological discussions about life after death and the existence of a God, he refused to delve deeper. At age 63, Edison said, "No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of.our desire to go on living.our dread of coming to an end as individuals. I do not dread it though. Personally, I cannot see any use of a future life." 17 Twenty-one years later, when asked of his opinion regarding an afterlife, Edison answered, "It does not matter. No one knows." 18 Unwilling to accept the truth, Edison went to his grave on October 18, 1931. John 3:16 says that God loved the world so much that "he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." However, Edison did not even accept the existence of God and also rejected the idea of eternal life. Despite his admirable work ethic and all his creative inventions, Edison missed out on a relationship with the master Creator.
Back4 Sabin, Louis. Thomas Alva Edison: Young Edison Troll Associates. 1983. Page 16. 31. March. 2004.
Back5 Ibid, 20.
Back7 Ibid, 32.
Back16 "I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work." -Edison. (source)