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“In passing rapidly over the heavens with his new telescope, the universe increased under the eye of Herschel; 44,000 stars, seen in the space of a few. degrees, seemed to indicate that there were seventy-five millions in the heavens. But what are all these, when compared with those that fill the whole expanse, the boundless field of æther?
“The immense distance of the fixed stars from our earth, and from each other, is of all considerations the most proper for raising our ideas of the works of God. Modern discoveries make it
probable that each of these stars is a sun, having planets and comets revolving round it, as, our sun has the earth and other planets revolving round
of light, though its motion is so quick as to be commonly thought instantaneous, takes up more time in travelling from the stars to us, than we do in making a West-India voyage. A sound, which, next to light, is considered as the quickest body we are acquainted with, would not arrive to us from thence in 50,000 years. And a cannon-ball, flying at the rate of 480 miles an hour, would not reach us in 700,000 years.
• From what we know of our own system, it may be reasonably concluded, that all the rest are with equal wisdom contrived, situated, and provided with accommodations for rational inhabitants.
“What a sublime idea does this suggest to the human imagination, limited as are its powers, of the works of the Creator! Thousands and thou
sands of suns, multiplied without end, and ranged all around us, at immense distances from each other, attended by ten thousand times ten thousand worlds, all in rapid motion, yet calm, regular and harmonious, invariably keeping the paths prescribed them: and these worlds peopled with myriads of intelligent beings, formed for endless progression in perfection and felicity!”
The thought that would immediately occur to a dispassionate man in listening to this statement, would be, What a vast deal am I here called on to believe!
Now the first rule of sound and sober judgment, in encountering any story, is that, in proportion to the magnitude and seemingly incredible nature of the propositions tendered to our belief, should be the strength and impregnable nature of the evidence by which those propositions are supported.
It is not here, as in matters of religion, that we are called upon by authority from on high to believe in mysteries, in things above our reason, or, as it may be, contrary to our reason. No man pretends to a revelation from heaven of the truths of astronomy. They have been brought to light by the faculties of the human mind, exercised upon such facts and circumstances as our industry has set before us.
To persons not initiated in the rudiments of astronomical science, they rest upon the great and high-sounding names of Galileo, Kepler, Halley
and Newton. But, though these men are eminently entitled to honour and gratitude from their fellowmortals, they do not stand altogether on the same footing as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, by whose pens has been recorded “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
The modest enquirer therefore, without pretending to put himself on an equality with these illustrious men, may be forgiven, when he permits himself to suggest a few doubts, and presumes to examine the grounds upon which he is called upon to believe all that is contained in the above passages.
Now the foundations upon which astronomy, as here delivered, is built, are, first, the evidence of our senses, secondly, the calculations of the mathematician, and, in the third place, moral considerations. These have been denominated respectively, practical astronomy, scientific, and theoretical.
As to the first of these, it is impossible for us on this occasion not to recollect what has so often occurred as to have grown into an every-day observation, of the fallibility of our senses. It.
may be doubted however whether this is a just statement. We are not deceived by our senses, but deceived in the inference we make from our sensations. Our sensations respecting what we call the external world, are chiefly those of length, breadth and solidity, hardness and softness, heat and cold, colour, smell, sound and taste. The inference which the generality of mankind make in relation to these
sensations is, that there is something out of ourselves corresponding to the impressions we receive; in other words, that the causes of our sensations are like to the sensations themselves. But this is, strictly speaking, an inference; and, if the cause of a sensation is not like the sensation, it cannot precisely be affirmed that our senses deceive us. We know what passes in the theatre of the mind; but we cannot be said absolutely to know any thing
Modern philosophy has taught us, in certain cases, to controvert the position, that the causes of our sensations are like to the sensations themselves. Locke in particular has called the attention of the reasoning part of mankind to the consideration, that heat and cold, sweet and bitter, and odour offensive or otherwise, are perceptions, which imply a percipient being, and cannot exist in inanimate substances. We might with equal propriety ascribe pain to the whip that beats us, or pleasure to the slight alternation of contact in the person or thing that tickles us, as suppose that heat and cold, or taste, or smell are any thing but sensations.
The same philosophers who have called our attention to these remarks, have proceeded to shew that the causes of our sensations of sound and colour have no precise correspondence, do not tally with the sensations we receive. Sound is the result of a percussion of the air. Colour is produced by the reflection of the rays of light; so that
the same object, placed in a position, different as to the spectator, but in itself remaining unaltered, will produce in him a sensation of different colours, or shades of colour, now blue, now green, now brown, now black, and so on. This is the doctrine of Newton, as well as of Locke.
It follows that, if there were no percipient being to receive these sensations, there would be no heat or cold, no taste, no smell, no sound, and no colour.
Aware of this difference between our sensations in certain cases and the causes of these sensations, Locke has divided the qualities of substances in the material universe into primary and secondary, the sensations we receive of the primary representing the actual qualities of material substances, but the sensations we receive of what he calls the secondary having no proper resemblance to the causes that produce them.
Now, if we proceed in the spirit of severe analysis to examine the primary qualities of inatter, we shall not perhaps find so marked a distinction between those and the secondary, as the statement of Locke would have led us to imagine.
The Optics of Newton were published fourteen years later than Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding
In endeavouring to account for the uninterrupted transmission of rays of light through transparent substances, however hard they may be found to be, Newton has these observations.