Why is the Sky Blue? (What Was God Thinking? Science Can’t Tell) – Eric Cornell

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Physicist Eric Cornell writes on God and the blue sky. Cornell shared the Nobel Prize in Physics 2001 for synthesizing the first Bose–Einstein condensate in 1995. Cornell writes:

Let me pose you a question, not about God but about the heavens: “Why is the sky blue?” I offer two answers: 1) The sky is blue because of the wavelength dependence of Rayleigh scattering; 2) The sky is blue because blue is the color God wants it to be.

My scientific research has been in areas connected to optical phenomena, and I can tell you a lot about the Rayleigh-scattering answer. Neither I nor any other scientist, however, has anything scientific to say about answer No. 2, the God answer. Not to say that the God answer is unscientific, just that the methods of science don’t speak to that answer.

Before we understood Rayleigh scattering, there was no sci­entifically satisfactory explanation for the sky’s blueness. The idea that the sky is blue because God wants it to be blue existed before scientists came to understand Rayleigh scattering, and it contin­ues to exist today, not in the least undermined by our advance in scientific understanding. The religious explanation has been supplemented — but not supplanted — by advances in scientific knowledge. We now may, if we care to, think of Rayleigh scattering as the method God has chosen to implement his color scheme.

Click here for an excerpt selected by the Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science (Inters.org), which is edited by the Advanced School for Interdisciplinary Research, operating at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, and directed by Giuseppe Tanzella-Nitti.

Click here for Cornell’s essay as original published by Time in 2005.