American Minute with Bill Federer
And a church organist-turned-astronomer who discovered a planet – Sir William Herschel
Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), made a major contribution to the scientific revolution by discovering that the planets did not revolve around the Earth (geocentric), but instead the Earth, as well as all the other planets in the solar system, revolved around the Sun (heliocentric).
Copernicus, who had a doctorate in cannon church law, wrote:
“The Universe, wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator.”
”To know the mighty works of God, to comprehend His wisdom and majesty and power; to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of His laws, surely all this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.”
”I am aware that a philosopher’s ideas are not subject to the judgment of ordinary persons, because it is his endeavor to seek the truth in all things, to the extent permitted to human reason by God.”
Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) supported Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, and also confirmed the phases of Venus, discovered four of Jupiter’s moons, observed Saturn’s rings, and analyzed sunspots.
Galileo Galilei stated:
- ”I give infinite thanks to God, who has been pleased to make me the first observer of marvelous things.”
- “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.”
- “The laws of nature are written by the Hand of God in the language of mathematics.”
- “God is known by nature in His works, and by doctrine in His revealed Word.”
- “The prohibition of science would be contrary to the Bible which in hundreds of places teaches us how the greatness and glory of God shine forth marvelously in all His works, and is to be read above all in the open book of the heavens.”
Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) was the last major naked-eye astronomer, who compiled very accurate astronomical and planetary observations.
Tycho Brahe stated:
“Those who study the stars have God for a teacher.”
Brahe wrote in On Recent Phenomena in the Aetherial World, 1588:
“That the machine of Heaven is … divinely governed under a given law.”
In observing a super nova, Tycho Brahe wrote On the New Star, 1573:
“I noticed that a new and unusual star, surpassing all others in brilliancy … it was quite evident to me that there had never before been any star in that place in the sky …
A miracle indeed, either the greatest of all that have occurred in the whole range of nature since the beginning of the world, or one certainly that is to be classed with those attested by the Holy Oracles.”
German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), assisted Tycho Brahe and studied his observations.
Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion.
Kepler, who originally studied to be a priest at the University of Tübingen, wrote:
- “I had the intention of becoming a theologian … but now I see how God is, by my endeavors, also glorified in astronomy, for ‘the heavens declare the glory of God.'”
- “I believe only and alone in the service of Jesus Christ. In him is all refuge and solace.”
- “Science is the process of thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”
- “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”
- “The wisdom of the Lord is infinite as are also His glory and His power. Ye heavens, sing His praises; sun, moon, and planets, glorify Him in your ineffable language! Praise Him, celestial harmonies, and all ye who can comprehend them! And thou, my soul, praise thy Creator! It is by Him and in Him that all exist.”
Johannes Kepler remarked:
“Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”
“It is a right, yes a duty, to search in cautious manner for the numbers, sizes, and weights, the norms for everything God has created.
For He himself has let man take part in the knowledge of these things …
For these secrets are not of the kind whose research should be forbidden; rather they are set before our eyes like a mirror so that by examining them we observe to some extent the goodness and wisdom of the Creator.”
“Those laws are within the grasp of the human mind. God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts … and if piety allow us to say so, our understanding is in this respect of the same kind as the divine, at least as far as we are able to grasp something of it in our mortal life.”
In 1781, the same year the American Revolution ended, William Herschel discovered the first planet since ancient antiquity.
He desired to name the planet Georgium Sidus (George’s Star), after King George III.
Others wanted to give it the name of Herschel, as Thomas Jefferson wrote from Paris to John Page, August 20, 1785:
“You will find in these the tables for the planet Herschel, as far as the observations hitherto made … You will see … that Herschel was … the first astronomer who discovered it to be a planet.”
Born in Germany, November 15, 1738, William Herschel was a musician like his father, who was bandmaster in the Hanoverian guard.
William Herschel was a contemporary of Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart.
During the Seven Years War, which in America was called the French and Indian War (1756-1763), William Herschel fled to England.
There, he was hired as the first organist at St John the Baptist Church in Halifax, and then organist at the prestigious Octagon Chapel in Bath, eventually writing 24 symphonies.
An album of his music was released in 1995 titled: Sir William Herschel – Music by the Father of Modern Astronomy: First Recordings of the orchestrated chamber works by the celebrated 18th century composer/astronomer.
William Herschel pursued astronomy on the side, building his own telescope to observe, not just the solar system, but “the construction of the heavens.”
He taught himself how to grind and polish telescopic mirrors, becoming preeminent in that field.
His sister, Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), assisted him, and went on to become a renown astronomer in her own right as the first professional female astronomer.
Caroline Herschel received royal recognition for discovering several comets, one of which was named for her, and for discovering M110, the Andromeda Galaxy’s second known companion.
A crater on the Moon is named for her.
William Herschel constructed over 400 telescopes, including the largest reflecting telescopes of his day, using them to catalog over 90,000 new stars, as well as nebulae and galaxies.
Herschel discovered Uranus on March 13, 1781. It is the 3rd largest planet in our solar system, and 7th planet from the sun.
Uranus, named after the mythological Greek god of the sky, is basically tied with Neptune for having the coldest atmospheric surface temperature, reaching minus 371 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in both planets being classified as “ice giants.”
After Herschel’s discovery of Uranus, King George III granted him a permanent salary as a royal astronomer.
The King had him move to Windsor so the Royal Family could look through his telescopes.
William Herschel identified double-stars, coined the word “asteroid,” meaning star-like, and discovered infrared radiation.
The Scientific Papers of Sir William Herschel (published by the Royal Society in 1912), recorded a diary entry Herschel made after meeting Napoleon in Paris in August of 1802.
When French scholar Pierre-Simon LaPlace tried to explain creation as a result of naturalistic causes, Herschel recounted:
“The First Consul (Napoleon) … asked in a tone of exclamation … when we were speaking of the extent of the sidereal heavens ‘and who is the author of all this’ …
LaPlace wished to shew that a chain of natural causes would account for the construction … This the First Consul rather opposed.”
“Much may be said on the subject; by joining the arguments of both we shall be led to ‘Nature and Nature’s God.'”
The Royal Society editor wrote in a footnote of Herschel’s missing letters:
“Some 400 pages … are still extant (existing) … We are informed that Herschel in them interweaves his philosophy and even his musical studies with references of an earnest kind to the Creator as a beneficent Deity, expressing his gratitude and addressing Him in a prayerful spirit.”
William Herschel was made a Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order by Prince Regent, George IV, in 1816.
Sir William Herschel died in his observatory, AUGUST 25, 1822.
He was buried in St. Laurence Anglican Church in Slough, England, where a stained-glass “Herschel Window” commemorates his astronomical discoveries, with another window quoting Psalm 8:
“When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him?”
A contemporary of Sir William Herschel was the famous English poet, Edward Young (1681-1765), whose poem “Night Thoughts” was published in 1742.
The poem became so popular it was translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish and Magyar, and quoted throughout Europe and America.
Line 771 of Edward Young’s poem “Night Thoughts” is thought to be a reference to Sir William Herschel:
”By mortal ear, the glorious Architect,
In this His universal temple hung
With lustres, with innumerable lights,
That shed religion on the soul; at once,
The temple, and the preacher! O how loud
It calls devotion! genuine growth of Night!
Devotion! daughter of Astronomy!
An undevout astronomer is mad.”
William Herschel initially encouraged his son, John Frederick Herschel, to enter the ministry.
John married Margaret Stewart, the daughter of a Scottish Presbyterian.
When his father died, John took his inheritance and his father’s telescope and sailed with his wife to South Africa.
There, he cataloged hundreds of new stars and nebulae seen from the southern hemisphere.
He observed double stars, the Great Eruption of the stellar system Eta Carinae, and return of Halley’s Comet.
John Herschel wrote in a letter to Charles Babbage (The Shadow of the Telescope: A Biography of John Herschel by Günther Buttmann, p. 14):
“God knows how ardently I wish I had ten lives.”
In a diary entry, November 1855, John Herschel wrote:
“What God sends is welcome.”
John Herschel is quoted in The Athenaeum, Journal of English Foreign Literature, Science, and the fine arts (London, June 16, 1838, p. 555), as referring to:
“God’s great book of nature.”
White in South Africa, Herschel read Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology: being an attempt to explain the former changes of the Earth’s surface, by reference to causes now in operation (1830-1833).
Though Lyell rejected the transmutation of species, his book espoused a novel theory of uniformitarianism, that geological changes in the past happened gradually, in direct contrast to the accepted theory of catastrophism.
Influenced by Lyell’s book, John Herschel wrote:
“Time! Time! Time! — we must not impugn (attack) the Scripture chronology, but we must interpret it in accordance with whatever shall appear on fair inquiry to be the truth for there cannot be two truths. And really there is scope enough: for the lives of the Patriarchs may as reasonably be extended to 5000 or 50000 years apiece as the days of Creation to as many thousand millions of years.”
While Herschel was in South Africa, the HMS Beagle landed at Cape Town, South Africa, on June 3, 1836.
A passenger disembarked, the young Charles Darwin, who spent time visiting John Herschel.
Herschel’s fascination with Lyell’s long ages for creation may have influenced Darwin in the development of his theory.
The long ages view was a departure from views held by other famous astronomers, such as Johannes Kepler, who, after writing his book The Harmony of the World (1619), stated:
“See, I cast the die, and I write the book. Whether it is to be read by the people of the present or of the future makes no difference: let it await its reader for a hundred years, if God himself has stood ready for 6,000 years for one to study Him.”
Astrophysicist Hugh Ross stated:
“The age of the Earth makes no difference with respect to Christ’s atoning sacrifice for humanity’s sin or to the nature and character of God.”
“What’s true will never contradict what’s true. Article 2 of the Belgic Confession, based on Psalm 19, Romans 1, and several other texts, declares that God has given us two reliable revelations: the words of Scripture and the facts of nature. Thus, it would be impossible for the facts of nature ever to contradict the words of the Bible.”
During the later part of his life, Sir John Frederick Herschel was one of the most sought after men of science in Britain.
He advocated for public education “to fit (students) for a higher state of existence, by teaching them those (things) which connect them with their Maker and Redeemer.”
Dying on May 12, 1871, he was buried in Westminster Abbey next to Sir Isaac Newton.
Sir John Herschel was quoted by Marcel de Serres in “On the Physical Facts in the Bible Compared with the Discoveries of the Modern Sciences” (The Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 1845, Vol. 38, 260):
“All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more strongly the truths come from on high, and contained in the Sacred Writings.”
Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.