• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Septemer 25: British Responses to Whewell

Page history last edited by brooke 15 years ago

“What wonderful health [Whewell] has  And indeed he ought to be strong, to destroy a plurality of worlds as he is trying to do.

Have you seen the big pestle and mortar by which he has pounded 500,000 worlds into comet-tail-dust, and the big snuffers

by which he has put out the lights of all livers above and below the earth? I was much amused by it, but not convinced.”

                                    -Rev. Adam Sedgwick (Crowe, p.363).

     Overall the general response gathered about Whewell’s essay (William Whewell and the denial of plurality) was that the reviewer was not convinced. Offering an argument against plurality from a religious perspective upset many at the time because of the widely accepted view that plurality was possible due to God’s great powers. Sir David Brewster, a staunch adversary of Whewell was so opposed to his arguments that he wrote a response in the form of his book More Worlds than One: The Creed of the Philosopher and the Hope of the Christian.

    Brewster was a close associate of Thomas Chalmers and took up many of the same opinions as Chalmer on different issues. As a response to Whewell’s argument that Jupiter was essentially a sphere of water and unsuitable for life as we know it, Brewster claimed that the mere size of Juipter (1300 times larger than Earth) alone was enough to prove that it had been made for a “grand and useful purpose”. (Crowe, p. 356)

    To the contrary, Frederick William Cronhelm was one of the few that chose to side with Whewell’s stance and argued that it is unlikely to suppose that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity would go on “successive missions of salvation from world to world, assuming one after another the nature of every fallen race” (Crowe, p.357). This was an argument that had been used at that time for and against plurality but had no actual way of being tested.

    In his response, James David Forbes stated, “No unsentimental housemaid ever made with relentless broom a cleaner sweep of a geometrical cobweb”(Crowe, p.357) This statement was another response to Whewell’s claim about Jupiter and basically states that he destroyed peoples hopes for intelligible life on other planets. This destruction of hope became a reoccurring theme throughout the response and seems to be a major reason as to why people believed in plurality even though it fails as far as scientific validity goes.

    Sir John Herschel was a long time friend and Whewell personally sent him a copy of his Essay but did not reveal he was the author. In his response letter, Herschel states, “I find myself obliged to admit that I should not have thought there was so much to be said on the non-plurality side of the question...though somewhere I have myself stated that taken in a lump Saturn might be regarded as made of Cork-it never did occur to me to draw the conclusion that ergo the surface of Saturn must be of extreme tenuity- though I long ago came to the conclusion that the rings were fluid (that if solid they would tear themselves to pieces)” (Crowe, p.356). From there he went on to state that he had never thought of Jupiter in such a way as Whewell had mentioned and that even if it were true the ocean, that was potentially Jupiter, would still harbor magnificent fish and other creatures such as Sirenes from the tabasheer, or developed nucleus that Herschel speculated surrounded the planet.

    Thomas Henry Huxley was a leading champion of Darwinian Theory and concluded that the topic of plurality of worlds was “unfit for discussion” at that point since such an eminent man had written so ill upon it. He felt that when further investigation that yield results that could be tested, then it would be proper to address the topic.

    Along with those responses, many others held the stance that if God could create life on this planet, why not the rest? Rev. Baden Powell stated, “If it be an inscrutable mystery wholly beyond human comprehension that God should send His Son to redeem this world, it cannot be a more inscrutable mystery...that he should send His Son to redeem ten thousand other worlds” (Crowe, p.362). From there he went on to state that a natural progression should be taking place on each planet at different rates of development from insensible to intellectual and moral beings. This showed the evolution of creation that Whewell touched on and that many other thinkers in the 1900's would come to accept.

    Along the lines of Powell, Alfred Lord Tennyson stated, “It is to me anything but a satisfactory book. It is inconceivable that the whole Universe was merely created for us who live in this third-rate planet of a third-rate sun” (Crowe, p.365). To follow Tennyson’s negative stance on the outcome of mankind, Sir James Stephen hoped for plurality of worlds because he would be embittered by the fact that this planet was Gods only creation. In one of his letter he states, “Can it really be that this world is the best product of omnipotence... that the Deity has called into existence one race of rational beings only, and that one race corrupt from the very dawn of it’s appearance?” (Crowe, p.364). Hugh Miller, a writer on geology and the relations between science and religion, argued that the “point of union between the Divine and the created nature” that is present on Earth may have had the ability to spread to “all created nature” (Crowe, p.361). 

    Overall, the reviews that were against Whewell were still strongly based off of speculative arguments of the past that people held to be very true. No real evidence was proposed to refute his claims and it would not be until the 1900's that testable evidence could be collected, by way of the spectrometer, that could disprove any of his arguments.


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.