Making Us A Mere Speck
By James Naylor
It is the pride and boast of Modern Astronomy, that, compared with the ancient systems, it has introduced order for confusion, simplicity for complexity, and placed a comprehension of the universe within the reach of all. And the boast is not without some seeming justification; for if the modern system as ordinarily presented, be compared with the epicycle systems of the past, the former appears to much greater advantage.
Indeed, so much is this the case, that Sir John Herschel might well say in his “ Outlines of Astronomy.” “ We shall take for granted from the outset the Copernican system of the world, relying on the easy, obvious and natural explanation it affords of all the phenomena as they come to be described.” Now we are not concerned with a defence of the systems with which modern astronomy is contrasted, except in so far as they teach a plane earth, with the heavenly bodies in subordination to it. We are, however, concerned to show that, in spite of plausible appearances to the contrary, modem astronomy, both in its primaries and secondaries, is the most complex and confusing system ever palmed upon human credulity.
This is a strong statement, but we propose in this, and some following papers, to thoroughly justify it; and also to show, that if any will but put astronomical claims to an impartial investigation, they will inevitably conclude that these claims are but a confused jumble of unproven, contradictory, and self-destructive assumptions, that are utterly unworthy of acceptance in the name of truth. The scope of our labour is tersely expressed by our title, “ The pretensions and pretences of modern astronomy,” which also conveniently divides those labours into two parts, and gives to the “ pretentious,” a priority in the order o f examination ; these latter, however, need not occupy us long, for have they not been graphically portrayed by the great Sir John Herschell himself? Here are his words: “The earth on which we stand and which has served for ages as the unshaken foundation of the firmest structures, either of art or nature, is divested by the astronomer of its attribute of fixity, and conceived by him as turning swiftly on its centre, and at the same time moving onward through space with great rapidity.
The sun and the moon… become enlarged in his imagination into vast globes…The planets…are to him spacious, elaborate and habitable worlds . . . The stars . . are to him suns of various and transcendent glory, effulgent centres of life and light to myriads of unseen worlds, so that when after dilating his thoughts to comprehend the grandeur of those ideas his calculations have called up, and exhausting his imagination and the powers of his language to devise similes and metaphors, illustrative of the immensity of the scale upon which his universe is constructed, he shrinks back to his native sphere, he finds it in comparison a mere point, so lost . . as to be invisible and unsuspected from some of its principal and remoter members.”
It would be difficult for anyone to surpass language like the foregoing, in either the extent o f its pretensions or the graphicness of its diction. We will not, therefore, attempt it, but simply content ourselves by stating more formally the claims here asserted:
1 — The Earth, which naturally appears to us as the largest and most beautiful object with which we are acquainted, is viewed by the astronomer as a mere speck of the universe and so utterly insignificant as to be unsuspecting either by some of its principal or remoter members.
2 — O f the Earth’s motions of both rotation, and of translation through space are asserted, though its seemingly fixed and immovable character are amongst our earliest and most persistent impressions.
3 — The sun, moon and planets in astronomy become vast globes some o f which are elaborate and habitable worlds, though to the ordinary mind the two former appear but as centres of light or of heat, and the latter but as a variety of the objects with which the heavens appear studded.
4 — T h e stars, which from our earliest recollections have appeared to us as tiny, but withal, beautiful specks are enlarged by the astronomer into resplendent centres of systems ; in many cases vaster than the solar one, of which the Earth is asserted to be a member.
5— The Universe is of such immensity that it embraces myriads of unseen worlds, where existence is only asserted, or assumed, but not attempted to be proved, even by the astronomer.
To be continue