Powell, Baden an Anglican divine, noted rather as a scientific student than as a theologian, was the son ,f a London merchant, and was born at Stamford Hill, near London, Aug. 22, 1796. He studied at Oriel College, Oxford, where he graduated M.A., with first-class mathematical honors, in 1817; took holy orders in 1820, and was appointed vicar of Plumstead, in Kent, in 1821. In 1824 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society; and three years later was appointed Savilian professor of geometry, a chair which he held till his death, which took place in London June 11, 1860.
As a professor, Powell's great aim was to bring about a larger recognition of the importance of physical and mathematical science in the curriculum of learned study at Oxford. To the "Philosophical Transactions," the "Reports" of the British Association, and other vehicles of scientific instruction, he contributed numerous valuable papers: but he is perhaps best known by his strenuous exertions to obtain for modern science the right of modifying the views of nature and the origin of the world, regardless of the views expounded in the O.T. Scriptures, especially in The Study on Evidence of Christianity in Essays and Reviews (1860). In this perilous department of controversy he displayed great learning, logical power, moderation of tone, and philosophic urbanity; but his conclusions were too unmistakably rationalistic to be acceptable to orthodox Christianity. Powell does not exactly place himself on the same theoretical ground with Hume and Spinoza, but the moral effect of his attack upon miracles as an evidence of Christianity is not less antagonistic than the theories of either of these authors. "Spinoza," says Dr. Hurst (Hist. of Rationalism, p. 487 sq.), "held that miracles are impossible, because it would be derogatory to God to depart from the established laws of the universe, and one of Hume's objections to them was their incapability of being proved from testimony (Replies to Essays and Reviews, p. 135). Prof. Powell objects to them because they bear no analogy to the harmony of God's dealings in the material world; and insists that they are -not to be credited, since they are a violation of the laws of matter, or an interruption of the course of physical causes. The orthodox portion of the Church are laboring under the egregious error of making them an essential doctrine, when they are really a mere external accessory. Reason, and not 'our desires,' must come to our aid in all examination of them. The keynote to Prof. Powell's opposition is contained in the following statement: 'From the nature of our antecedent convictions, the probability of some kind of mistake or deception somewhere, though we know not where, is greater than the probability of the event really happening in the way and from the causes assigned (Essays and Reviews, p. 120). The inductive philosophy, to which great respect must be paid, is enlisted against miracles. If we only knew all about those alleged and held as such, we should find them resolved into natural phenomena, just as 'the angel at Milan was the aerial reflection of an image on a church; the balls of fire at Plausac were electrical; the sea-serpent was a basking shark on a stem of sea-weed. A committee of the French Academy of Sciences, with Lavoisier at its head, after a grave investigation, pronounced the alleged fall of aerolites to be a superstitious fable (ibid. p. 155). The two theories against the reality of miracles in their received sense are, first, that they are attributable to natural causes; and, second, that they may involve more or less of the parabolic or mythic character. These assumptions do away with any real admission of miracles even on religious grounds." The animus of the whole essay may be determined by the following treatment of testimony and reason: "'testimony, after all, is but a second-hand assurance; it is but a blind guide; testimony can avail nothing against reason. The essential question of miracles stands quite apart from any consideration of testimony; the question would remain the same if we had the evidence of our own senses to an alleged miracle; that is, to an extraordinary or inexplicable fact. It is not the mere fact, but the cause or explanation of it, which is the point at issue" (ibid. p. 159). This means far more than Spinoza, Hume, or any other opponent of miracles, except the radical Rationalists of Germany, has claimed-that we must not believe a miracle, though actually witnessed. The different replies which this Essay on the Study of the Evidences of Christianity (in Essays and Reviews) elicited are: No Antecedent Impossibility in Miracles-some Remarks on the Essay of the late Rev. Baden Powell, etc. (1861, 8vo); An Answer to Mr. Baden Powell's Essay, etc., by William Lee, D.D. (1861, 8vo); Examination of Mr. Baden Powell's Tractate on Miracles (1861, 12mo); and are defended in, A Few Words of Apology for the late Prof: Baden Powell's Essay, etc., by a Lay Graduate (1861, 8so); The late Prof. Powell and Bishop Thirlwall on the Supernatural, etc., by the Rev. R. B. Kennard (1864, 8vo). See also Farrar, Crit. Hist. of Free Thought, lect. 4:5; Moberley, Sermons on the Beatitudes (1860), Preface; Young, Science Elucidated by Scripture (1863, fep. 8vo); Goodwin, American Theology (1861), p. 438; Christian Remembrancer, July, 1861; Brit. Quar. Rev. Nov. 1864; London Reader, 1865, 1, 77; Journ. of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 32; Christian Examiner, June to May, 1858; North Brit. Rev. Nov. 1859; Smith (H. W.), Essays Theol. and Philos., edited after his death (N. Y. 1877, 8vo).
Among Prof. Powell's other works may be mentioned, Revelation and Science (Oxf. 1833): — A Historical View of the Progress of the Physical
and Mathematical Sciences (Lond. 1834): — The Connection of Natural and Divine Truth, or the Study of the Inductive Philosophy considered as Subservient to Theology (ibid. 1838): — Tradition Unveiled, a Candid Inquiry into the Tendency of the Doctrines advocated in the Oxford Tracts: — A General and Elementary View of the Undulatory Theory as applied to the Dispersion of Light, etc. (ibid. 1841):The Unity of Worlds and of Nature: — Essays on the Spirit of the Inductive Philosophy, the Plurality of Worlds, and the Philosophy of Creation (ibid. 1855): Christianity without Judaism (1857): — The Order of Nature considered with Reference to the Claims of Revelation (1859). (J. H. W.)