Cover image for The extraterrestrial life debate, 1750-1900
The extraterrestrial life debate, 1750-1900
Crowe, Michael J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Mineola, N.Y. : Dover Publications, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxiv, 680 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Format :


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Material Type
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QB54 .C76 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This is the first detailed, scholarly study in English of the astronomical, philosophical, and religious ideas that developed between 1750 and 1900 regarding the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. The author examines the roles of prominent figures such as Kant, Herschel, Paine, and Lowell in the issue. 16 illustrations.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface to the Dover Edition
Introduction: before 1750
1 The plurality of worlds debate before 1750: a background survey
I The debate in ancient and medieval science and philsophy
2 from Copernicus and Bruno to Fontenelle and the Newtonians
3 "Pluralism in the early eighteenth century: "This is the best possible world" or "this Earth is Hell" "
Part I from 1750-1800
2 Astronomers and extraterrestrials
I "Wright, Kant, and Lambert: pioneer sidereal astronomers and proponents of a plurality of worlds "
2 "Sir William Herschel: "promise not to call me a Lunatic" "
3 "Herschel's continental contemporaries: Schröter and Bode, Laplace and Lalande "
3 Extraterrestrials and the Enlightenment
I "The idea of a plurality of worlds in Britain: "One sun by day, by night ten thousand shine" "
2 "Pluralism across the Atlantic: from "Poor Richard" to President Adams "
3 "Pluralism and the French Enlightenment: philosophes, savants, and abbés "
4 "Advocacy of extraterrestrials elsewhere in Europe: from Klopstock's cosmic Christ to Jean Paul's "Speech of the Dead Christ" "
5 Conclusion: the century ends and new tensions arise
Part II from 1800 to 1860
4 The intensification of the pluraity of worlds debate after 1800
I Between the deism of Thomas Paine and the evangelism of Thomas Chalmers
2 "All the world is acquainted with Dr. Chalmers' splendid Astronomical Discourses"
3 "Responses to Chalmers, especially the one world of Alexander Maxwell and the many, many worlds of Thomas Dick"
4 "Saving the selenites, including evidence that R. A. Locke's "moon hoax" was not a hoax"
5 The decades before Whewell
I "Pluarlism in Britian: Would nature "tip a hogshead to fill a wineglass"?"
2 "Extraterrestrials and Americans: Given modern astronomy, "Who can be a Calvinist or who an Atheist"?"
3 "Conseptions on the Continent: "Who dwells on yonder golden stars?"
4 Conclusion: the half-century surveyed
6 William Whewell: pluralism questioned
I "Whewell's plurist period: "No one can resist the temptation..."
2 "Whewell's dialogue "Astronomy and Religion": a way around a "desolate" and "dark thought inhabitants of other spheres"
3 "Whewell in "combat against all the rational inhabitants of other spheres"
4 "Whewell's first critic, his earliest ally, and "the most curious of all [his] unpublished pieces"
5 "Conclusions concerning Whewell's Essay, "the cleverest of all the author's numerous writings"
7 The Whewell debate: pluralism defended
I "Sir David Brewster: "why is he so savage?"
2 "Rev. Baden Powell's attempt "to hold the balance"
3 "Responses from astronomers and mathematicians: "a plurality of opponents" of Whewell's "singular" book"
4 "Responses from geologists: "Geology versus Astronomy"
5 "Responses of other scientists: "mercurial in Mercury, saturnine in Saturn, and anything but jovial in Jupiter" "
6 "Religious responses: "a Bethlehem in Venus, a Gethsemane in Jupiter, a Calvary in Saturn"? "
7 "Pluralism and the public: other responses to Whewell "who has so electrified us all" "
8 "Conclusion: "a most elaborate and spirited controversy" "
Part III from 1860 to 1900
8 New approaches to an ancient question
I "Developments from the 1860's, especially the "new astronomy" "
2 Richard Proctor: Anglo-American popularizer of astronomy and pluralist of evolving views
3 "Camille Flammarion: a "French Proctor"? "
4 The continuing quest for lunar life and some surprising side effects
5 The signal question: sending messages to the moon or Mars
6 "The message of the meteorites: "From World to World/The Seeds were whirled"? "
9 Religious and scientific discussions
I "French religious writings: is man a "citizen of the sky"? "
2 "German religious writings: "Heathens, Christians, atheists... hand in hand" in the pluralist cause? "
3 "British religious writings: "What links are ours with orbs that are/So resolutely far"? "
4 "American religious writings: "The world! H'm! there's billions of them!" "
5 "Scientific writings: the prevalence of "Proctorian pluralism" "
10 The battle over the planet of war
I "The commencement of the canal controversy: enter Giovanni Schiaparell: "a gazer gifted with that supreme power of brain-directed vision" "
2 "Mars oppositions from 1877 to 1884: SchiaparelIi's "curious drawings" and the responses of Green and Maunder "
3 "The oppositions from 1886 to 1892: Schiaparelli supported and Mars masked with "grotesque polygonations and geminations"
4 "The canal controversy in 1894: enter Percival Lowell, who "has taken the popular side of the most popular scientific question afloat"
5 "The las oppositions of the century" why Schiaparelli was finding Mars a "frightful and almost disgusting subject"
6 "The early oppositions of our century and the disappearence of the "marvelous legend of the canals of Mars"
7 "Conclusion: "the canal fallacy...relegated into the myths of the past"
11 Some conclusions concerning the unconcluded debate
I Extent and character of the extraterrestrial life debate before 1917
2 "The unfalsifiability, flexibility, and richness in explanatory power of many pluralist theories"
3 The importance of empirical evidence
4 Recurrent fallacies and linguistic abuses
5 The place of the idea of a plurality of worlds in the history of astronomy
6 Interactions between extraterrestrial life ideas and religion
7 A concluding comment
Appendix: bibliography of books on the question of a plurality of worlds published before 1917
Name Index
Subject Index