Obituary: Sir Hermann Bondi
Sir Hermann Bondi (1 November 1919–10 September 2005)
One of GALHA’s vice-presidents, Sir Hermann Bondi, world-class scientist, mathematician and humanist, has died. He was 85.
Vienna-born Bondi was a wartime alien internee. Through his genius in the fields of mathematics and astronomy, he eventually progressed to become a master of a college at Cambridge University, holding top scientific posts in two government departments. During this time he worked with such luminaries as Fred Hoyle Thomas Gold on radar, and Bondi, Gold and Hoyle formulated the steady-state theory in 1948.
Sir Hermann was director general of the European Space Research Organisation (1967–71), chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence (1971–7) and the Department of Energy (1977–80), chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council (1980–4), and master of Churchill College, Cambridge (1983–90). He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1959 and a Knight Commander of the Bath in 1973. He received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2001. He was also a vice-president and a former president of the British Humanist Association.
Last autumn Sir Hermann wrote this tribute to GALHA on the occasion of its Silver Jubilee, and it was published in that quarter’s issue of Gay & Lesbian Humanist:
I want to give my personal congratulations to the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association for attaining its Silver Jubilee. Secondly, I want to congratulate all those whose courage, persistence and determination has led to the great achievement of changing our society as fundamentally in its attitude to the gamut of sexual orientation. The size of the wholly beneficial change is perhaps particularly apparent to those, like myself, who saw its success during the last half-century while we were adults. This gives me an appreciation of the size of what has been accomplished, but also of the force of those who want to reverse the great gains. The extension of human rights to all, of whatever sexual orientation, is a great achievement. The favours given to religious foundations with their entrenched views, both by the UK government and by the EU, are very worrying. It will need great vigilance to prevent backsliding and to fight for further extension of the gains made. In all this activity GALHA will be as much involved in its second quarter-century as in its first.
In 1995, Bondi spoke to the Humanist Congress in Madrid, saying he had no quarrel with humans’ awestricken wonderment at the cosmos. He would also not wish to contest those who say there could be a designer, or even those who have an ill-defined idea that this designer might have some regard for us.
However, he added, ‘Where I think the dividing line comes is with the fourth view, that there exists some special “revelation”, a particular form of firm and certain knowledge. ... Such a revelation is the basis of virtually every religion. In the name of such a superhuman (I would like to call it antihuman), certainly the most horrendous and repulsive deeds have been performed which stain human history. Therefore I am above all an anti-revelationist.’