Ludwig Buchner

On this date in 1824, German physician and philosopher Friedrich Karl Christian Ludwig Buchner was born in Darmstadt, Germany. Buchner's father was a physician and his siblings were the freethinker writer and playwright Georg, the novelist Louise, Mathilde, the freethinker literary historian Alexander and factory owner and German parliamentarian Wilhelm. He was educated at the Universities of Giessen, Strassburg, Wurzburg and Vienna. After earning his medical doctorate with honors from Gissen in 1848, he taught medicine at Tubingen University. In 1855 he published his most famous work, Kraft und Stoff (Force and Matter). This book, because of its scientific, atheistic and rationalist ideas, caused his dismissal at Tubingen, and thus he began practicing medicine in Darmstadt. Force and Matter "made a bold attempt at transforming the then prevailing theory of the world which was based on theological philosophy, and adapting it to the requirements of modern science" (from a biographical sketch appearing as a preface to Force and Matter, 4th English Edition, p. ix). At the end of a Force and Matter chapter, in which he debunks the idea of God as universal, Buchner wrote: "If God is in us all and is the soul of the world, then he must directly partake of all our wickedness and imperfections. . . . In one man he does good, while in another he works evil and contends against his own laws. . . . But enough of all this nonsense!" (4th English Edition, p. 399).

Buchner,  considered one of the fathers of scientific materialism in Germany, wrote numerous articles and books, including Nature and Spirit, The Soul of Animals, Man's Place in Nature, The Idea of God, Darwinism and Socialism and The Influence of Heredity. Considered one of the fathers of scientific materialism in Germany, he traveled and lectured widely, including in the United States. According to his brother Alexander, Ludwig made visits to Charles Darwin. An obituary in the journal Science, by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said: "Buchner was well known for his series of popular works on physical science and the theory of evolution, as well as for numerous contributions to physiology, pathology and other sciences" (Vol. 9, January-June 1899). "[Buchner's] philosophic and scientific writings entitle him to a foremost place in the gallery of great men who have led the human race out of the bondhouse of superstition to the promised land of reason" (George Seibel in "Thomas Paine in Germany," from The Open Court, Vol. 34, edited by Paul Carus, January 1920). His brother Alexander wrote of him: "As if trying to outdo the theologian with his promises of sugar plums, he predicted a better future here on earth for advancing science" (Last Words on Materialism and Kindred Subjects by Ludwig Buchner with an "Introduction" by Alexander Buchner, 1901).  D. 1899.

"[A]ccording to the unanimous testimony of traders, philosophers, navigators and missionaries, there exists a by no means small number of peoples, who have either no trace of religious belief, or who have it in so strange and imperfect a form that it scarcely deserves the name of religion. If there are, therefore, many philosophers and naturalists who look to 'religiosity,' and more particularly to the idea of God as the distinctive feature of humanity, the contention referred to must either be false, or we must make up our minds to deny human character to by no means a small number of actual and undoubted specimens of mankind."

—Ludwig Buchner, Force and Matter, 4th English Edition, p. 382

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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