Whewell's contemporaries

From: Glenn Morton (glenn.morton@btinternet.com)
Date: Fri Jan 25 2002 - 19:43:08 EST

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    For those who have criticized my 'whiggish' views of Whewell's rejection of
    Lord Rosse's data on nebula, and for those who have claimed that I 'have my
    mind made up about Whewell' as if I am making all this up out of whole
    cloth, I will offer my last comment on the topic--Whewell's contemporaries.
    Surely the criticisms of Whewell's contemporaries regarding his essay should
    be a fair judge of the state of knowledge in 1853 concerning the nebula, the
    points of light within the nebula and how far away the nebula were.That is,
    unless someone suggest that these mid-19th century men traveled to the 21st
    century to find out what we beleive and then went back to pummel Whewell's
    view--a cosmic exercise in looking at the answer in the back of the book! I
    will repeat that in 1853, the issue, for everyone EXCEPT Whewell was
    settled, the nebula were made of stars but the distance to them, and the
    question of whether they were inside our galaxy or outside was still

    In the back of Ruse's edition of Whewell's book is an appendix to the 2nd
    edition of Whewell's "Of the Plurality of Worlds, entitled, 'A Dialogue on
    The plurality of Worlds.' Ruse notes that this dialogue resulted from the
    biggest scientific brouhaha between the publication of Chamber's Vestiges
    and Darwin's Origin. Whewell had published his work anonymously, but didn't
    keep it secret. Because of that, everyone knew it was Whewell but apparently
    the custom of the time allowed every critic to be thoroughly rough and
    tumble and anonymous also. Through notes left by Whewell, detective work by
    Whewell's biographer and additional detective work from a modern worker, the
    participants of the Dialogue are known with a high degree of probability.
    When citing the dialogue, I will tell you who is speaking. In the following
    Z is always Whewell.

    My whiggish and out of date criticism of Whewell was based upon the idea
    that Whewell had access to data which showed him to be wrong but he ignored
    it. His whiggish CONTEMPORARIES criticized him on EXACTLY the same
    grounds!!!! Here is an excerpt from that Dialogue

    "G.[Sir James Stephens] But let us come more to points of detail. You, Mr
    Essayist, say, (Chap. VII Art. 12) that the resoulution of the Nebulae into
    stars, by Lord Rosse's and other powerful telescopes, is merely
    distinguishing the nebulous mass into lumps, and that we have no right to
    call these lumps, stars. But surely this is bold phraseology. We have the
    same right to dall these bright objects stars, as we have to call any others
    so. You might just as well call Arcturus or Sirius lumps."
    "Z.[Whewell] Not exactly. I call Arcturus and Sirius stars, because they are
    stars. THe name has always been used to describe such objects. I avoid
    calling the dots into which Nebulae are resolved, stars because I do not at
    all know that they are object of the same kind as ARcturus and Sirius."
    "F. [A chorus of critics raised this issue] Why not? they differ only in
    being smaller and requiring a powerful telescope to see them: and that
    arises onlyf rom their being much more distant."
    "Z.[Whewell] THey differ also in being elements of Nebulae, differ, very
    likely, as a cloud of dust differs form a rock. The dust may be resolvable
    into microscopic masses of stone; but it may also consist of vegetable and
    animal fragments: and it is possible that its small portions may not be of
    stony consistence. I would not call a cloud of dust a host of rocks, merely
    because a small speck of stone may possibly appear, in the microscope, as a
            "And then as to the Nebulae being much more distant than the Fixed
    Stars:==are you sure of that? How do you know it?
    F.{a chorus of critics raised this response] Why, are not all intelligent
    persons agreed that it is so?" [note by GRM--If a host of 19th century
    critics hit him for this, why do we deny that they knew the nebulae were
    made of stars?]
    "Z. Not all astronomers, certainly. I have commenced my speculations on this
    subject, not with an opiniohn only, but with a proof, supplied by Sir John
    Herschel, that the fact is not so:--that the Nebulae, as a class of objects,
    are not more distant than the Fixed Stars." William Whewell et al, "A
    Dialogue on The Plurality of Worlds," in Of the Plurality of Worlds, 2nd ed.
    edt by Michael Ruse, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p.

    NOTE BY GRM: notice that Herschel didn't deny that the nebula were made of
    stars. He denied ONLY that the nebula were outside of the galaxy.

    And there is more whiggishness among other critics of Whewell.

    "G.[Sir Henry Holland] In your zeal for reducing the Nebulae to a state of
    thin luminous vapour, you ovrlook the close agreement between the Nebulae
    and the Galaxy. Both contain nebular light of the same aspect; and we cannot
    reasonably assume that they are substances of different kind.
    "Z.[Whewell] And what inference do you draw from this similarity?"
    "G.[Sir Henry Holland] This. THe nebulous portions of the Galaxy are
    resolvable, by telescopic aid, into stars. These stars, we have reason to
    believe, are of the same nature as bright Fixed Stars; for there appears to
    be a gradation from the bright stars lying in the Galaxy, to the smallest
    stars of the Galaxy; and from these smallest obvious stars, to the
    telescopic stars into which the nebular parts of the GAlaxy are resolved.
    And therefore the telescopic stars into which the other Nebulae are
    resolved, are of the same nature as the bright FIxed STars. You see I have
    four Terms compared, and I assert that these Terms are of the same kind:
    Bright stars: small stars in the Galaxy; resolved stars in the Galaaxy;
    resolved stars in Nebulae. And I say that in the transition from any one of
    these Terms to any other, there is nothing which authorizes us to suppose
    that we are passing from an object of one kind to an object of another
    "Z.[Whewell] An excellent argument; and one which it is very important for
    me to examine well. If all the four links of your chain hold, you will go
    near to pull down the doctrine of the Essay about Nebulae."
    "G.[Sir Henry Holland] So, I think. And yet, which of the links has any flaw
    in it?"
    "Z.[Whewell in a very YEC-like response] You speak of them much more
    strongly than the case will justify, when you talk of them as links without
    flaw. The arguments are all of the pourquoi non form; which, as I have said,
    generally admits of being retorted. Three or four pourquoi nons do not make
    a very strong chain, even if none of the questions be answered." William
    Whewell et al, "A Dialogue on The Plurality of Worlds," in Of the Plurality
    of Worlds, 2nd ed. edt by Michael Ruse, (Chicago: University of Chicago
    Press, 2001), p. 442-443

    Note by GRM Whewell then gets wierder in trying to deal with Holland's
    criticism. He claims that the stars around the sun are big and the more
    distant stars are physically smaller. Whewell says:
    "And while the parts of the universe nearest to us are gathered into stellar
    masses, of which our sun is a large and definite portion (why not the
    largest?), the farther portions of the galactic stratum may consist of
    smaller stars; and the farthest portion, of nebular matter not gathered into
    stars at all."
    "G.[Sir Henry Holland] But this is a mere arbitrary conjecture.
    "Z. [Whewell] But the equality or approximate equality of all stars, obvious
    and telescopic, merely because they are stars, is no less a mere arbitrary
    conjecture. My conjecture has the advantage of explaining the difference of
    stars and nebulae; which is so strongly supported by the best astronomers as
    I have shewn you. [note by GRM all he shewed is that Herschal thinks the
    nebula are within the galaxy, not that Herschel or any other astronomer
    beleives the nonsense he is spouting]
    "G.[Sir Henry Holland] But your scheme makes the solar system the center of
    the Universe."
    "Z. [Whewell] Not quite that. But if id did, are you prepared to add, which
    is absurd?"
    "G.[Holland]It is at least contrary to the general current of modern
    speculation; which, ever since the discovery of the telescope, has been
    running strongly against the ascription of any such peculiar character to
    the solar system."
    "Z.{Whewell in another YEC-like answer] But it is a very common, almost
    universal occurrence, that such strong currents of speculation overrun the
    point of equilibrium where truth resides." William Whewell et al, "A
    Dialogue on The Plurality of Worlds," in Of the Plurality of Worlds, 2nd ed.
    edt by Michael Ruse, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 12-13

    Holland then claims. Whewell changed the letter representing him as he did
    with others also.
    "H.{Holland] You would have us believe, then, that the stars of the Milky
    Way are smaller and smaller, as they are farther from the sun.
    "Z.[Whewell] If you reject such a supposition, what is the alternative
    "H. That the stars in the Milky Way are, in a general way, of the same size
    as our Sun. And why not?"
    "Z[Whewell] Perhaps we may soon see a possible reason why not. But as I now
    understand you, this collection of stars, of the order of our Sun, forms a
    stratume in which we are placed, and see its mass edgeways, and thus we see
    the Milky Way. And this stratum seen afar off is a nebula. Is this not your
    "H.[Holland] Sir William Herschel's as well as mine." William Whewell et al,
    "A Dialogue on The Plurality of Worlds," in Of the Plurality of Worlds, 2nd
    ed. edt by Michael Ruse, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p.

    For everyone's information, Thomas Huxley caught Whewell in a misquotation
    of Owen--another YEC-like behavior.

    Anyway, if I absolutely REJECT any critcism that I am judging Whewell by
    21st century knowledge, I absolutely reject the idea that I am being unfair
    to Whewell, I absolutely reject the concept that I am biased agains poor
    deceased Whewell who can't defend himself. If the critics would kindly read
    the literature, it would be a better discussion!

    The analogy is exact with respect to what RTB is doing to anthropology. THey
    know of the data against their view, but they reject it, they don't talk
    about it, and indeed, they almost never cite it in any of their newsletters.
    Surely we Christians can do better than this!

    My critics can have the last word on this topic.

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