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Just a few days ago, the eclipse of the Moon came to an end and unusually it will be another ten years before we see a similar phenomenon. This super blood wolf Moon has been linked by some of the online religious prophets of doom to the end times or at least the chaos currently in the US. After all, they say today is the second anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, someone who also born on the day of a total lunar eclipse.  Others, perhaps more convincing, are joking that the Moon is trying to hide from yet more debate on Brexit.

Of course the reddish glow of a lunar eclipse has nothing to do with events on the earth. Most of the sunlight is blocked by the Earth but some of it is refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere and reaches the Moon. The red color is caused by so-called Rayleigh scattering of sunlight through the atmosphere, the same phenomenon that makes the sky blue.

This scattering is named after one of the great leaders of British experimental and theoretical physics, John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh. He made contributions to understanding waves in solids, the flow and stability of fluids as well as optics and the theory of sound. His work in radiation was key in the birth of quantum theory. Alongside many other honours, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1904 ‘for his investigations of the densities of the most important gases and for his discovery of argon.’

Yet for all this, it was said of him that ‘no man ever showed less consciousness of (his own) great genius’. Part of this natural humility came from his Christian faith. When his Scientific Papers were published he prefaced them, against some opposition, with a quotation from the Psalms, ‘The Works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein’. He spoke also of his faith in Jesus Christ as looking ‘to a power beyond what we see’.

Rayleigh is one of many scientists contemporary with and after Darwin who challenge the widely accepted myth of the conflict in history of science and religious belief. He is also an example to me of humble leadership which can come from the recognition that the whole creation is gift and that there is a higher power. Perhaps in this way, the blood Moon might be a reminder to other leaders this week of such humility.

And by the way I was up at five to see the eclipse, and I can report in Newcastle it was cloudless and beautiful.


This Thought for the Daywas written by Revd Professor David Wilkinson, and was originally broadcast by the BBC Radio 4 Today Programmeon 21stJanuary 2019