Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ether is to Physics as Evolution is to Biology

From the appellate decision in the Scopes monkey trial:
he following statement of Dr. E.N. Reinke, Professor of Biology in Vanderbilt University, is repeatedly quoted in briefs of counsel for the defense:

"The theory of evolution is altogether essential to the teaching of biology and its kindred sciences. To deny the teacher of biology the use of this most fundamental generalization of his science would make his teaching as chaotic as an attempt to teach astronomy without the law of gravitation or physics without assuming the existence of the ether."

Here is a good description of ether:
in physics and astronomy, a hypothetical medium for transmitting light and heat (radiation), filling all unoccupied space; it is also called luminiferous ether. In Newtonian physics all waves are propagated through a medium, e.g., water waves through water, sound waves through air. When James Clerk Maxwell developed his electromagnetic theory of light, Newtonian physicists postulated ether as the medium that transmitted electromagnetic waves. Ether was held to be invisible, without odor, and of such a nature that it did not interfere with the motions of bodies through space. The concept was intended to connect the Newtonian mechanistic wave theory with Maxwell's field theory. However, all attempts to demonstrate its existence, most notably the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887, produced negative results and stimulated a vigorous debate among physicists that was not ended until the special theory of relativity, proposed by Albert Einstein in 1905, became accepted. The theory of relativity eliminated the need for a light-transmitting medium, so that today the term ether is used only in a historical context.

Yes, it was settled in 1905 that ether didn't exist. A full 21 years prior to the Scopes trial.

Hat tip to Uncommon Descent.

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