RE: Whewell's contemporaries

From: Woodward Norm Civ WRALC/TIEDM (
Date: Fri Jan 25 2002 - 14:14:02 EST

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    -----Original Message-----
    From: Glenn Morton []
    Sent: Friday, January 25, 2002 7:43 PM
    To: Asa@Calvin. Edu
    Subject: Whewell's contemporaries

    "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.

    It appears that Whewell's critics were not denying his logic, that if
    nebulae were within the Milky Way, any solar-type stars within them would
    not appear as dust; they just seemed adamant that the nebulae were much
    further away. So he rested his case on Herschel's position, since it seemed
    to be substantial enough, though erroneous, to hold it.
    So the questions really should be, was Whewell's contention correct: could
    stars within our galaxy appear as dust in those fine telescopes we are
    hearing so much about? And had Herschel stated plainly, at that time, that
    he was confident that the nebulae were made of stars?
    Norm Woodward
    Warner Robins, Georgia

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