Out from the Ether by Phillip E. Johnson

THE LEADING EDGE by Phillip E. Johnson

Out from the Ether

Sometime in the 1990s, I read Einstein's Cosmos by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, which described Einstein's science in the context of events in his life. Particularly fascinating was Kaku's account of the state of physics in the decade prior to 1905, when Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity set the discipline in a new direction.

When nineteenth-century physicists learned that light traveled through space in waves, they assumed that the waves must travel in a medium, just as ocean waves travel in water. Physicists called this hypothetical medium "ether," and, according to Kaku, attributed bizarre properties to it. The ether became an almost mystical substance. It was supposed to be absolutely stationary, weightless, invisible, with zero viscosity, yet stronger than steel. Then, in 1887, physicists Albert Michelson and Edward Morley performed a brilliantly designed experiment to determine the properties of ether by observing its effect on a beam of light.

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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

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