RE: The Star-Trek effect

From: Glenn Morton (
Date: Wed Jan 23 2002 - 23:11:56 EST

  • Next message: Jonathan Clarke: "Whewell's impact"

    Hi Michael

    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: Michael Roberts []
    >Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2002 5:23 AM
    >To: Glenn Morton; Asa@Calvin. Edu
    >Subject: Re: The Star-Trek effect

    I will be delighted to learn more about what the 19th century historians say
    about science, but maybe you should also. You have ideas that you know what
    Whewell believed about galaxies, and what knowledge was available to him and
    thus you are judging him (and me) by your ideas of that knowledge which
    frankly are wrong. I perfectly well know that we can't judge historical
    people by knowledge they didn't have and I didn't do it. But we can judge
    them by what they did know and that I am positively doing. By what you say
    it is rather obvious that you don't know what he had available in the way of
    astronomical information and what information he gives us in that book

     You must have missed it, and I will repost here, Whewell's own words which
    condemn him as he was aware of data from the largest telescope of the day
    that there was an excellent case to make for the nebula being made up of
    stars. What else is one to do with such a case, Michael? Whewell knew of
    the latest scientific information and he rejected it, wriggled around like a
    worm on a hook trying to avoid its impact and that is what is so sad. So you
    will know, Whewell said this of the nebula:

    "It was conceived that they were not stars, but Stellar matter in the course
    of formation into stars,; and it was conceived, further, that by the gradual
    concentration of such matter, whirling round its centre while it
    concentrated, not only stars, that is, suns, might be formed, but also
    systems of planets, circling round these suns; and thus this Nebular
    Hypothesis, as it has been termed, gave a kind of theory of the origin and
    formation of systems such as the solar system. But the great telescope which
    Lord Rosse has constructed, and which is much more powerful than any optical
    instrument yet fabricated[it was 6 feet in diameter p. 114--grm], has been
    directed to many of the nebulae, whose apearance had given rise to this
    theory; and the result has been, in a great number of cases, that the
    nebulae are proved to consist entirely of distinct stars; and that the
    diffused nebulous appearance is discovered to have been an illusion,
    resulting from the accumulated light of a vast number of small stars near to
    each other. In this manner, we are led to regard every nebulae, not as an
    imperfectly formed star or system but as a vast multitude of stars, and, for
    aught we can tell, of systesm; for the apparent smallness and nearness of
    these stars are, it is thought, mere results of the vast distance at which
    they are placed from us." William Whewell, Of the Plurality of World’s,
    edited by Michael Ruse, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 12

    And he then turned around and argued that what we see are mere dots of light
    (which is all he was able to see when a telescope looked at a star) and that
    these dots might very well be comets instead of stars and thus we could
    ignore the idea that these could possibly be an abode of life. He abused
    the science of his day by treating it as a law case to wriggle through the

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