... direct evidence is entirely lacking as to whether these bodies are within or without the stellar system ... If, however, it is assumed that these nebulae are external to the stellar system, that they are in fact systems co-equal with our own, we have at least an hypothesis which can be followed up ... it follows that our own system is a spiral nebula.Although it took another twenty years before a full theory of galactic rotation was developed and explained in detail the statistics of star streaming, we can today recognize Eddington's hypothesis as basically correct. The second and perhaps greatest contribution of Eddington to astrophysics was to create the discipline of the structure of stars. His insights included
Eddington's later work on the cosmological constants suffered because his imagination was not adequately balanced by his critical facilities.
I cannot help wondering, however, if similar flaws would have been overlooked had the astronomers drawn realist, or even materialist, conclusions from their science. Some, at least, of the fury of the philosophers could be explained by chagrin at seeing ideas that they had imbibed as students, and then reacted against, advanced in widely read books by two eminent scientists.
In science as in religion the truth shines ahead as a beacon showing us the path; we do not ask to attain it; it is better far that we be permitted to seek.
They believe in the doctrine of the Trinity ... that we obtain salvation through the antoning merits of the death of Christ; that man ... forfeited his right to the blessings of the Creator by his fall, and will owe his restoration ... to the mercy of God and the blood of Christ, that the Holy Scriptures are the work of inspiration, and a good rule of life and faith. ...These teachings would count as thoroughly orthodox Christianity today. Perhaps the key theological position that gave them the reputation of unorthodoxy was their rejection of all sacraments
The baptism which saves the soul is not dipping or sprinkling with water but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The communion of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus is inward and spiritual.These are sentiments with which I would not hesitate to agree, but Quakers believe that they render outward ceremonies and liturgical acts superfluous. Most other Christians would regard Baptism and Holy Communion (or the Lord's Supper) as traditions instituted by Jesus himself, and to be observed in memory of and obedience to him. Eddington's commitment to the Society of Friends was a deep influence on his life and thought. As well as his regular participation in the local gathering, he was active in the Quaker Guild of Teachers. The Guild, founded in 1896, was intended to help its members to understand and integrate their faith and their intellectual life, and to equip themselves for their vocation. Eddington joined in 1906 and and was elected to the executive five years later. In 1908 he combined his love of strenuous outdoor holiday activities with his faith, by attending the Guild's Summer School in Kendal, camping with others of the 200 participants beside the river, and dining in the hall of Stramongate School. Lectures in the morning and evening were on subjects like Mysticism, Christianity and its Early Foes, and on social action. The Quaker distinctive that perhaps helps us most to understand Eddington is their teaching concerning the "inner light" that they believe enlightens every human. This teaching is reflected in their emphasis on the direct, silent, encounter with the divine within the believer's soul. I feel compelled to see in Eddington's repeated reliance upon his scientific intuition a reflection of a habit of inner conviction based on spiritual practice and commitment. Indeed Eddington's philosophical writing makes clear that he regarded these direct intuitive perceptions as having equal validity with the more quantitative approach that is most often identified as scientific.
observation is the supreme Court of Appeal ... [physical knowledge must be] such that we can specify ... an observational procedure which would decide whether it is true or not. ... [therefore it must be an] assertion of what has been or would be the result of carrying out a specified observational procedure.But the critical point for Eddington is what we can learn from epistemology. He develops an extended analogy between science and an Icthyologist's net which has a hole size of two inches. The first thing a naive Icthyologist concludes is that all fishes are two inches or greater in size. This is Subjectively selected knowledge. But sooner or later the intelligent Icthyologist gets to thinking not so much about the fish as about the net. Epistemology is analogous to examining the net. Here he undoubtedly has in mind the crucial role of observation in quantum physics. But Eddington insists that there must be a priori knowledge, without it we could know nothing. But such knowledge would be impossible if the universe were wholly objective. Hence his term Selective Subjectivism. Eddington believes that an adequate epistemology can deduce not only the methods and limitations of science but also its content. He argues that such principles as Heisenberg's uncertainty: the impossibility of knowing simultaneously both position and momentum, or the relativistic impossibility of establishing distant simultaneity are not observational deductions, but definitional, arising from "logical contradiction in the definition which professes to specify the procedure for observing it". Thus, he regards Newton's hypotheses as being reduced by Einstein's relativity to epistemological truths.
Physical science has made a place for itself by greatly limiting the sphere of demonic activity, so that there is an extensive realm of experience in which behaviour can be counted on and scientific prediction is possible. Great as may be the practical effects of this change, it is a matter of detail (special fact) rather than of principle. Demonic activity (volition) remains, though it is limited to certain centres in men and the higher animals. Prayer and propitiation may still influence the course of physical events when directed to these centres. We now think it ludicrous to imagine that rocks, sea and sky are animated by volitions such as we are aware of in ourselves. It would be thought even more ludicrous to imagine that the volitionless behaviour of rocks, sea and sky extends also to ourselves, were it not that we have scarecely yet recovered from the repressions of 250 years of deterministic physics.Bertrand Russell, whose antipathy to Christianity is well known, sought to skewer Eddington and Jeans (Christians and scientific philosophizers both) in his much quoted epigram
Sir Arthur Eddington deduces religion from the fact that atoms do not obey the laws of mathematics. Sir James Jeans deduces it from the fact that they do.This certainly misrepresents Eddington in that he strongly opposed all attempts to deduce religious belief from any scientific result, saying for example "the religious reader may well be content that I have not offered him a God revealed by the quantum theory, and therefore liable to be swept away in the next scientific revolution" But he did feel that quantum uncertainty implied an openness of the world that removed certain difficulties about free will inherent in the prior determinism. Eddington's Swarthmore Lecture starts with a sweeping and poetic scientific outline of natural history that he describes as how "the scientifically minded among us approach the problem of [man's] relation to the Unseen World". He excuses his lack of direct religious reference in his description by an analogy:
A business man may believe that the hand of Providence is behind his commercial undertakings ...; but he would be aghast at the suggestion that Providence should be entered as an asset in his balance sheet. I think it is not irreligion but a tidiness of mind, which rebels against the idea of permeating scientific research with a religious implication.He describes the reductionistic identification "that the dance of atoms in the brain really constitutes the thought ..." as "out of keeping with recent ... fundamental principles of physics", and recalls that "Mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience; all else is remote inference." Following up with a discussion of the problem of experience, he argues that the "mystical outlook" does face the hard facts of experience, whereas reductionists are "shirking one of the most immediate facts of experience, namely that consciousness is not wholly nor even primarily a device for receiving sense impressions." Although these arguments for "natural" mysticism do not imply a religious mysticism, they mean that many objections lose their force. Materialism is dead but not natural laws. Natural laws are, however, not applicable to the unseen world. One cannot "extract the square root of a sonnet". There is meaning in events that cannot be described by the laws of physics. An alien visitor observing that all of England becomes quiet on 11 November, would be mistaken in likening this observation to the two minutes of darkness during an eclipse. The eclipse is predictable by physics; the Armistice observance is not. But even if it were, the alien would have missed the significance by such a prediction. At bottom though, the question is not "does God exist".
In the case of our human friends we take their existence for granted ... we could read philosophical arguments designed to prove the non-existence of each other, and perhaps even be convinced by them - and then laugh together over so odd a conclusion. I think that it is something of the same kind of security we should seek in our relationship with God.For that reason, arguments between atheism and deism or pantheism are not important.
Religion does not depend on the substitution of the word `God' for the word `Nature'. The crucial point for us is not a conviction of the existence ... but ... of the revelation of a supreme God. I will not speak here of the revelation in a life lived nineteen hundred years ago ...Eddington advocates the appropriateness of the term Personal God, in comparison with more vague, physical sounding terminology, since "the spiritual world ... is bound up with those aspects of consciousness in which personality is centred". He disparages the controversy between modernism and traditionalism in religion through a sustained analogy with a newspaper debate about terminology for a sunset saying that the insecurity and dissension is
... all because it is forgotten that what the ... man looked out for each evening was an experience and not a creed.
The modern world owes much to the Society of Friends. ... This debt is immeasurably increased when we remember that Sir Arthur Eddington was of that company of devout seekers after truth. He took the universe from atoms to stellar galaxies and likewise the world unseen save by `the eye of the soul' as his hunting grounds, and therein - to borrow Blake's words - imagination and reason went forth in uncurbed glory.