RE: Whewell's contemporaries

From: Glenn Morton (
Date: Sat Jan 26 2002 - 13:23:39 EST

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    Ok, one more note, and then it is time to draw this thread to a close. My
    main point was to try to draw an analogy between Whewell's astronomy and
    Ross's anthropology, a point which has taken a huge diversion into trying to
    prove that I wasn't mistreating the poor deceased Doctor. :-(

    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: []On
    >Behalf Of Woodward Norm Civ WRALC/TIEDM
    >Sent: Friday, January 25, 2002 11:14 AM
    >To: Glenn Morton; Asa@Calvin. Edu
    >Subject: RE: Whewell's contemporaries

    >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

    As to resting on Herschel's position, Whewell could not rest his conclusion
    that the objects were not stars upon Herschel because of the quote below. He
    could appropriately rest his view of the distance to the nebula upon
    Herschel. I do however, think that the issue of where the nebula were went
    on for quite a while. But in answer to your real question, "could stars
    within our galaxy appear as dust in those fine telescopes we are hearing so
    much about?", the answer is a decided YES because the stars in the Milky way
    TODAY look like this and they are in our galaxy. That is part of the data
    used against Whewell. At that time, they didn't know the size of the
    universe so they couldn't know how far our galaxy extended either. If I
    recall correctly, and I could be wrong on this, the parallax of stars had
    only been finally measured in the 1830's and that was the first indication
    of how far some of the stars really were.

    As to Herschel's views on stars, Whewell quotes Herschel as believing that
    there were stars in the Magellanic nebula.

    "When the larger of these two clouds is examined through powerful
    telescopes, it presents, we are told, a constitution of astonishing
    complexity: 'large pagches and tracts of nebulosity in every stage of
    resolution, from light, irresolvable with 18 inches of reflecting aperture,
    up to perfectly separated stars like the Milky Way, and clustering groups
    sufficeintly insulated and condensed to come under the designation of
    irregular, and in some cases pretty rich clusters. But besides these, there
    are also nebulae in abundance, both regular and irregular; globular clusters
    in every stage of condensation and objects of a nebulous character quite
    peculiar, and which have no analogies in any other region of the heavens.'"
    Herschel, Outl. of Astr. Art 893 cited by William Whewell, Of the Plurality
    of World’s, edited by Michael Ruse, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
    2001), p. 118.

    Note Herschel's use of stars. Given this, and given Lord Rosse's data as
    well as data from America, Whewell was seriously questioning the data of his
    day and challenging the experts in a field which was NOT his own. Whewell

    "But the result of the optical scrutiny of the nebulae by more modern
    observers, especially by Lord Rosse in Ireland, and Mr. Bond in America, has
    been, that many celestial objects which were regarded before as truly
    nebulous, have been resolved into stars; and this resolution has been
    extended to so many cases of nebulae, of such various kinds as to have
    produced a strong suspicion in the minds of astronomers that all the
    nebulae, however different in their appearance, may really be resolved into
    stars, if they be attacked with optical powers sufficiently great." William
    Whewell, Of the Plurality of World’s, edited by Michael Ruse, (Chicago:
    University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 116

    Thus, even Whewell implicitly admitted that the tide of astronomic opinion
    was against his viewpoint. His use of the word 'stars' shows that these
    observers were not thinking in terms of comets or Whewell would have latched
    onto it with vigor. Whewell would have served Christianity better had he not
    denied the observational evidence of his day and he would have done better
    to believe the experts in fields which were not his own. I have spent much
    of the past 10 years trying to get christian apologists to pay attention to
    the observational evidence and to get them to believe the experts in fields
    which are not theirs, but unfortunately too many of them let their theology
    get in the way in precisely the way that Whewell did. And they look equally
    silly to those in the know.

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