Arthur S. Eddington and the Bending of Light


arthur eddington 3Arthur S. Eddington (28 December 1882–22 November 1944) was an English astrophysicist. One of his major findings was the Bending of Light: Light bends in the presence of bodies with large masses. The amount of this shift had been calculated by Albert Einstein as double the value accounted for by Newton’s theory of gravitation.

During a solar eclipse on 29 May 1919, Eddington and his team confirmed the deflection of light by seeing the outward shift of the stars (as shown below) and found values near those predicted by Einstein. This provided evidence for the theory of General Relativity.

Eddington was also known for developing the first cosmological models that used the theory of relativity, and he contributed significantly to studies on the thermodynamic structure of the stars. He attempted to elaborate a unified theory capable of joining microphysics and macrophysics, seeking to obtain fundamental physical constants through deduction.

Arthur Stanley Eddington - Bending of light

Outside of mathematical physics, Eddington wrote on scientific epistemology, developing a neo-Kantian inspired deductive-idealist vision of the scientific method. In his work “The Nature of the Physical World” he wrote:

It is essential to our faith in a theory that its predictions should accord with observation, unless a reasonable explanation of the discrepancy is forthcoming, so that it is highly important that Einstein’s law should have survived these delicate astronomical tests in which Newton’s law just failed. But our main reason for rejecting Newton’s law is not its imperfect accuracy as shown by these tests; it is because it does not contain the kind of information about Nature that we want to know now that we have an ideal before us which was not in Newton’s mind at all. We can put it this way. Astronomical observations show that within certain limits of accuracy both Einstein’s and Newton’s laws are true. we are confirming a statement as to what the appearances would be when referred to one particular space-time frame. No reason is given for attaching any fundamental importance to this frame. In confirming (approximately) Einstein’s law, we are confirming a statement about the absolute properties of the world, true for all space-time frames. For those who are trying to get beneath the appearances, Einstein’s statement necessarily supersedes Newton’s; it extracts from the observations a result with physical meaning as opposed to a mathematical curiosity.” [1]

Eddington was also a teacher of Georges Lemaître (1894–1966), but did not like Lemaitre’s “theory of the Primeval Atom” (we call it today Big Bang theory) as he wrote in Nature in 1931. Lemaitre provided an answer in the article: “The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory.” Lemaitre started with these words:

“Sir Arthur Eddington states that, philosophically, the notion of a beginning of the present order of Nature is repugnant to him. I would rather be inclined to think that the present state of quantum theory suggests a beginning of the world very different from the present order of Nature. Thermodynamical principles from the point of view of quantum theory may be stated as follows : (1) Energy of constant total amount is distributed in discrete quanta. (2) The number of distinct quanta is ever increasing. If we go back in the course of time we must find fewer and fewer quanta, until we find all the energy of the universe packed in a few or even in a unique quantum…” [2]

[1] Eddington, Arthur S. The Nature of the Physical World: Gifford Lectures of 1927. Ed. H.G. Callaway (Newsastle, GB: Cambridge Scholars, 2014), 126-127.
[2] Lemaitre, Georges. “The Beginning of the World from the Point of View of Quantum Theory.” Nature 127, 706 (9 May 1931). Image: São Tomé and Príncipe stamp.


Fatima: Miracles and Natural Laws


fatima 1.jpgToday, on 13 May, Catholics remember Our Lady of Fatima. And on 13 May 1981, Pope John Paul II was hit by a bullet that could easily have been deadly. Exactly one year later,  the Holy Father visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima to commemorate in a very special way the first anniversary of the attempt on his life and the sixty-fifth anniversary of Our Lady’s first apparition there. He said:

“I seemed to recognize in the coincidence of the dates a special call to come to this place. And so, today I am here. I have come in order to thank Divine Providence in this place which the Mother of God seems to have chosen in a particular way. Misericordiae Domini, quia non sumus consumpti (Through God’s mercy we were spared-Lam 3:22), I repeat once more with the prophet.” [1]

We may also call it Divine Providence that the three sheperd children saw several apparitions of Mary from 13 May to 13 October 1917, in the middle of World War II and at the wake of the Communinist Revolution in Russia. On 13 October 1917, the so-called “sun miracle” happened. All people present saw the sun turning like a ball and coming closer and going back up again. Is the miracle the fact that the turning and moving of the sun is not compatible with the laws of nature? Not necessarily, as Fr. Stanley Jaki tries to explain.  It is rather timing and message, that’s important in God’s plan.


Here is Fr. Stanley Jaki on this meteorological phenomenon:

“Enough data are on hand to force one to recognize the meteorological nature of “the miracle of the sun” and to look askance at the phrase, “the sun danced over Fatima.” That the miracle was not solar, that it did not imply any “solar activity” in the scientific sense of that term, is indicated by the fact that nothing unusual was registered by observatories about the sun at that hour. Prior to that hour rain was coming down heavily over the area from the late morning hours on, with the clouds being driven fast by a westerly wind across the sky. A cold air mass was obviously moving in from the Atlantic, only at about 40 kms from Fatima, which itself is at about 15 kms to the east from the line where the land begins to form a plateau well over 300 meters above sea level. The hollow field, Cova da Iria, outside Fatima is itself at about 370 meters. An actual view of the geographic situation is a great help for an understanding of the true physical nature of “the miracle of the sun,” especially when one takes a close look at cloud patterns typical over the Cova.

I feel that at this juncture I must summarize my explanation of the miracle. It began at about 12:45 pm, solar time, after the rain suddenly stopped, and lasted about ten to fifteen minutes. During all that time, the sun, that had not been seen for hours, appeared through thin clouds, which one careful observer described as cirrus clouds. Suddenly the sun’s image turned into a wheel of fire which for the people there resembled a “rodo de fuogo” familiar to them in fireworks. The physical core of that wheel was, as we now have to conjecture, an air lens full of ice crystals, as cirrus clouds are. Such crystals can readily refract the sun’s rays into various colors of the rainbow.

The references to the strong west-east wind and to the continued drift of clouds may account for the interplay of two streams of air that could give a twist, in a way analogous to the formation of tornadoes, to put that lens-shaped air mass into rotation. Since many present there suddenly felt a marked increase in temperature, it is clear that a sudden temperature inversion must have taken place. The cold and warm air masses could conceivably propel that rotating air lens in an elliptical orbit first toward the earth, and then push it up, as if it were a boomerang, back to its original position. Meanwhile the ice crystals in it acted as so many means of refraction for the sun’s rays. Some eyewitnesses claimed that the “wheel of fire” descended and reascended three times; according to others this happened twice. Overwhelmed by an extraordinary sight that prompted most of the crowd to fall on their knees, even “detached” observers could not perform as coolly as they would have wished. Only one observer, a lawyer, stated three decades later that the path of descent and ascent was elliptical with small circles superimposed on it.” [2]

[1] Pope John Paul II, Homily, Mass of Our Lady of Fátima, Fátima, Portugal, 13 May 1982
[2] Stanley L. Jaki. A Mind’s Matter: An Intellectual Autobiography (Cambridge U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), Chapter 13 “A Portuguese Proverb.”
Images: blogspot; americaneedsfatima.

There is more in the article from Stacy Trasancos:

Cecilia Helene Payne-Gaposchkin: Stellar Atmospheres


Cecilia Helene Payne-Gaposchkin - border corrected.jpg

Cecilia Helene Payne-Gaposchkin (10 May 1900– 07 Decemer 1979) was an English-American astronomer who discovered the true physical constitution of the universe. She was the first woman to receive tenure and the first to chair a department in the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard. Her dissertation in 1925 was titled “Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars” and was hailed as “the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.”

“Payne-Gaposchkin’s most dramatic scientific contribution was the discovery that hydrogen is millions of times more abundant than any other element in the universe,” said Jeremy Knowles, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, as Harvard celebrated her accomplishments in February 2002 by adding her portrait to the Faculty Room in University Hall, where only one other woman is depicted. He quoted an undergraduate’s wry assessment: “Every high school student knows that Newton discovered gravity, that Darwin discovered evolution, even that Einstein discovered relativity. But when it comes to the composition of our universe, the textbooks simply say that the most prevalent element in the universe is hydrogen. And no one ever wonders how we know.”

In 1924, she met George Lemaitre (1894–1966) and described him in a letter as: “almost too good to be true—not shy, a sense of humour, enthusiasm, and . . . surprising mental quality”

After receiving her Ph. D. degree, “she lectured in the astronomy department, but her lectures were not listed in the course catalogue,” Knowles said. “She directed graduate research without status; she had no research leaves; and her small salary was categorized by the department under ‘equipment.’ And yet she survived and flourished.” In 1938, Harvard officially appointed her to the faculty of astronomy, and in 1956, she was the first woman promoted to a full professorship.

Prof. Owen Gingerich described her in these words: “Payne-Gaposchkin was a many-sided personality known for her wit, her literary knowledge, and for her personal friendships with individual stars.”

She and her husband, the Russian Astronomer Sergei Gaposchkin, whom she had met in Germany in 1933 were members of the First Unitarian Parish in Lexington, where she taught nine- to twelve-year-olds in the Sunday school. Her daughter Katherine Haramundanis tells a story about her mother donning heavy woolen slacks and walking more than three miles to teach Sunday school one bitterly cold winter morning when the family car would not start. Perseverance was clearly one of her strengths.

She published several books including: “Stars of High Luminosity” (1930), “Variable Stars” (1938), “Variable Stars and Galactic Structure” (1954), “Introduction to Astronomy” (1956), “The Galactic Novae” (1957), “Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin : an autobiography and other recollections” (1984) ed. Katherine Haramundan)

Sources: – Wikipedia
Herbert F. Vetter: Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin: Astronomer and pioneer.
Owen Gingrich: Payne-Gaposckin, Cecilia (1900-1979);
Unitarian Communications: Finding Ada: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. Picture: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin. Portrait by Patricia Watwood, Harvard Portrait Collection.

Amos Eaton: A Scientist’s Prayers


amos eaton 2.png

On 10 May 1842, Amos Eaton (1776–1842) passed away in Troy, NY.

He was an American botanist, geologist, and educator who co-founded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1824 with Stephen Van Rensselaer III (1764–1839). His work as an educator is considered to have helped established the modern science education system independent of the liberal arts.

A biography notes that he underwent a Christian conversion following an affliction:

“‘Professor Eaton was a firm believer in the Christian religion’, says Prof H.B. Nason, who knew him as well as any man, ‘and he was sustained and comforted by its truths amid trials and afflictions which seldom fell to the lot of man,’

“In a letter to his wife after a deep affliction he wrote, ‘I feel that these trials are but the chastisement of a father. My faith in divine revelation and in the immediate agency of an all seeing God is greatly strengthened.’

“Again he writes: ‘My little office has become to me a house of prayer. I can close my work by strenuous exertion so as to gain two or three hours each day for reading of the scriptures, contemplation, and prayer.’ ‘At last’, he adds, ‘I seemed to consent to all the terms of the Gospel, and to throw myself wholly upon Divine mercy without reserve. I have faith to believe that he heard my prayer and gave my soul its first moments of real peace’.”

Among his books were Art without Science (1800), Elementary Treatise on Botany (1810), Botanical Dictionary (1817) (2nd 1819, 4th ed. 1836), Manual of Botany (1817) and Chemical Notebook (1821), Chemical Instructor (1821), Cuvier’s Grand Division (1822), Geological Nomenclature of North America (1822), Zoological Syllabus and Notebook (1822), Geological and Agricultural Survey of the District adjoining the Erie Canal (1824), Philosophical Instructor (1824), Botanical Exercises (1825), Botanical Grammar and Dictionary (1828), Geological Text-Books Prepared for Popular Lectures on North American Geology (1830), Directions for Surveying and Engineering (1838), Geological Text-Book for the Troy Class (1841).

“Amos Eaton.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
Ballard, Harlan Hoge. Amos Eaton. (Pittsfield, MA: Berkshire Historical Society, 1897), 232. Images: United States Geological SurveyUndated postcard from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Alexander von Humboldt: Adapting to Providence



On 06 May 1859, Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) passed away in Berlin, Germany. Educated at Freiberg School of Mines (1792) (w/ subsequent studies at Frankfurt, Göttingen, and Berlin), he was a natural scientist, explorer, ecologist and geographer.

From the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography:

“Humboldt, although indisputably one of the founders of geography as a science, had as his major goal a comprehensive view of nature to which the earth sciences would contribute significantly. As a Prussian government official, there would be difficulties for him in pursuing such a major undertaking, but upon his mother’s death in 1796 he became financially independent. Leaving the civil service, he looked ahead to a ‘great journey beyond Europe.’

“The Kosmos is a popular scientific book in the best sense of that term. The entire material world from the galaxies to the geography of the various mosses, the history of physical cosmography, the needed stimulation for nature study—he sought to present all in vivid, ‘pleasing’ language. Volumes III through V, containing his special research findings and added material, were not equally successful; Humboldt died before completing the fifth volume. The index was prepared according to his specifications and he credited each contemporary to whom he felt in debted. The work cites over 9,000 sources and is thus an important reference for the history of science.”

For further reading, see an online article on the influence of von Humboldt on Charles Darwin (1809–1882): —van Wyhe, John. “Humbodlt’s Personal Narrative and Its Influence on Darwin.” The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online. 2002.

Quote from a letter dated September 6, 1825:

“I will not insist on this as an ordinance of religion, but simply on the grounds that life, even in its utmost extent, is so short, in comparison with eternity, which is wholly veiled to us as regards the nature of our being, that we must take care not to limit it by our wishes, but to allow it to continue as it will, for really the manner in which a man views his fate is more important than what his fate is. It is a saying, that every one creates his own fortunes, and, indeed, we make them good or bad by our reason or our folly. One may, however, so receive his lot as ordained by Providence, and so adapt himself to it, as to find it good, however opposite it may seem.”

Referenced:–Biermann, Kurt-R. “Alexander von Humboldt.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography.© Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008. — Humboldt, Friedrich Wilhelm C.K.F. Letters to a Lady. Trans. Henry Stebbing (London, GB: Arthur Hall, 1849), 126-127.
Image: Alexander von Humboldt in his library (1856), by Eduard Hildebrant (1818–1868).

Dorothy Garrod: One Vision & One Faith of a Scientist


On 05 May 1892, Dorothy Garrod (1892–1968) was born. She is considered a pioneer of the development of early prehistoric archaeology. She was an advocate of prehistory on a global scale, excavating over a wide geographical area and making connections between continents to achieve her vision. Garrod’s work strongly contributed to the development of prehistoric archaeology as a defined subject in its own right. Garrod was renowned as a field archaeologist, continuing to research and excavate up until her death in 1968.

It is her excavations at Mount Carmel for which she is most famous, through which she contributed towards the foundation of the chronology of the prehistory of the Levant, the basis of which remains to this day. Garrod was the first women to be appointed to the Disney Chair of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, subsequently training the next generation of prehistoric archaeologists and lecturers who took prehistory out into the World. Garrod was not herself keen to be thought a feminist figurehead but today she is considered a pioneer within the disciplines of the Archaeology of Women and Gender Archaeology, providing inspiration even today. As a committed Catholic throughout her life, Garrod’s humility, thoughtfulness and gentleness is evident within her work and no doubt provided her with strength throughout her extensive career.

See: Price, K.M. “One Vision, One Faith, One Woman: Dorothy Garrod and the Crystallisation of Prehistory.” In R. Hosfield, F.F. Wenban-Smith & M. Pope, Eds. “Great Prehistorians: 150 Years of Palaeolithic Research, 1859–2009.”

Image online.

Teilhard de Chardin on scientific research


2014-02-27 TdChardin

“We Christians have no need to be afraid of, or to be unreasonably shocked by, the results of scientific research, whether in physics, in biology, or in history. Some Catholics are disconcerted when it is pointed out to them – either that the laws of providence may be reduced to determinisms and chance – or that under our most spiritual powers there lie hidden most complex material structures – or that the Christian religion has roots in a natural religious development of human consciousness – or that the human body presupposes a vast series of previous organic developments. Such Catholics either deny the facts or are afraid to face them. This is a huge mistake. The analyses of science and history are very often accurate; but they detract nothing from the almighty power of God nor from the spirituality of the soul, nor from the supernatural character of Christianity, nor from man’s superiority to the animals.”

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in a lecture on 27 February 1921 in Paris titled “Christ and Science”