Re: The Star-Trek effect

From: george murphy (
Date: Tue Jan 22 2002 - 17:33:51 EST

  • Next message: Jonathan Clarke: "Re: The Star-Trek effect"

    Glenn Morton wrote:

    > Whewell then attacks the concept of life on planets around the nebula (what
    > we call galaxies) by denying that they are really galaxies or separate star
    > systems. He did discuss some very good evidence indicating the modern view
    > was correct. however, he chose to reject that data. Instead of the points of
    > light telescopes reveal in the galaxies being stars, Whewell claims that
    > they are comets around a much smaller object.
    > "And if we suppose a large mass of cometic matter thus to move in a highly
    > resisting medium, and to consist of patches of different densities, then
    > some would move faster and some more slowly; but all, in spirals such as
    > have been spoken of; and the general aspect produced would be, that of the
    > spiral nebulae which I have endeavoured to describe. The luminous matter
    > owuld be more diffused in the outer and more condensed in the central parts,
    > because to the center of attraction all the spirals converge." William
    > Whewell, Of the Plurality of World’s, edited by Michael Ruse, (Chicago:
    > University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 128
    > And, thus, since we know that life can't exist on a comet, we don't need to
    > worry about life in the nebula!
    > Today, there is hardly a Christian who denies that galaxies are actually
    > star systems, but Whewell denied this IN SPITE OF MUCH EVIDENCE THAT THIS
    > WAS THE CASE. He didn't believe the sense data! He hypothesized some
    > improbable situation in order to avoid the impact of astronomical data. He
    > let his theology drive him to doubt the obvious.

    Glenn -
            In 1853 there were proponents of the idea that some of the nebulae were
    galaxies external to our own, but no compelling evidence for this view. At that
    time it wasn't possible to resolve individual stars in M31 (Andromeda) or other
    spirals and there was no way of measuring the distances to these objects. Thus
    it was quite reasonable to argue, as many astronomers did, that they were within
    the Milky Way. This situation continued for some time, & there seemed to be
    strong arguments against the extragalactic character of these nebulae. E.g., in
    ~1889 there was what we now know to be a supernova in M31, but since astronomers
    didn't know about SNs they thought it was an ordinary nova & greatly
    underestimated its distance. The extragalactic character of nebulae like M31
    wasn't firmly established until the early 1920s. So on this point I'm not sure
    one can be too critical of Whewell.
            Richard Berendzen et al., Man Discovers the Galaxies by Richard (Science
    History Publications, 1978) is a good account of the long debate about the
    nebulae. (But the title is unfortunate, since some vital contributions were
    made by women.)



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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