July 14, 2009
Week 7: An Anonymous Essay Alters the Debate
Topics covered: The Distinguished Master of Trinity College; The Origin of Whewell’s Reexamination; Summary of Whewell’s Of the Plurality of Worlds; Reactions in England and America
Synopsis: Week 7 examines the content of, and controversy surrounding, an anonymously published essay that altered the extraterrestrial life debate not only through the strength of its arguments, but later, via the revelation that none other than Rev. William Whewell was its author. Whewell, then Master of Trinity College at Cambridge, had supported a plurality of worlds in earlier writings, but his 1853 essay reversed that position and challenged prevailing views. Additional topics include responses to Whewell’s essay by Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), and selected American theologians.
Assigned readings: Chapter 11, “Whewell’s Of the Plurality of Worlds and Responses” (Crowe 2008:333-366). Crowe’s text includes primary source excerpts from this work:
William Whewell, Of the Plurality of Worlds: An Essay; Also, A Dialog on the Same Subject, 4th ed. (London: John W. Parker and Son, 1855).