Snippets 113. In Snippets 21 and 46 we looked at some of William Carpenter’s One Hundred Proofs that the Earth is not a Globe (published 1885). Amusingly, most of his ‘proofs’ can be explained away by Carpenter ignoring two simple facts: (1) the Earth is actually quite big, and (2) gravity.
Taking his inspiration from Carpenter (in fact, he quotes him extensively), David Wardlaw Scott wrote a much larger and more detailed book, Terra Firma: The Earth not a Planet, Proved from Scripture, Reason and Fact, in 1901. It is 300 pages of (perhaps deliberate) misunderstanding of basic scientific principles, such as the following quote that argues against the existence of gravity itself:
If Gravitation in the vast body of our Astronomers’ Sun were a reality, why does it not attract, or even, as it might be expected to do, absorb such a light body as a Comet, when it comes so near it, instead of letting its long gossamer tail depart unscathed?…
The truth is no Astronomer on Earth, nor anybody else, knows one single fact respecting Gravitation, which is an unknown and an unknowable quantity, and the sooner it is committed to the grave of oblivion, the more scope will be given for the advancement of true science.
Any object which is heavier than the air, and which is unsupported, has a natural tendency to fall by its own weight. Newton’s famous apple at Woolsthorpe, or any other apple when ripe, loses hold of its stalk, and, being heavier than the air, drops as a matter of necessity, to the ground, totally irrespective of any attraction of the Earth. For, if such attraction existed, why does not the Earth attract the rising smoke which is not nearly so heavy as the apple? The answer is simple — because the smoke is lighter than the air, and, therefore, does not fall but ascends. Gravitation is only a subterfuge, employed by Newton in his attempt to prove that the Earth revolves round the Sun, and the quicker it is relegated to the tomb of all the Capulets, the better will it be for all classes of society…
Gravitation is a clever illustration of the art of hocus-pocus — heads I win, tails you lose; Newton won his fame, and the people lost their senses.
On a lighter note, Scott offers the following quote from Punch:
To the Editor of Punch,
Allow me to call your serious and polite attention to the extraordinary phenomenon demonstrating the rotation of the Earth, which I at the present moment experience, and you yourself or anybody else, I have not the slightest doubt, would be satisfied of under similar circumstances. Some sceptical individuals may doubt that the Earth’s motion is visible, but I say, from personal observation, it is a positive fact. I don’t care about latitude or longitude, or a vibratory pendulum, revolving round the line of a tangent on a spherical surface, nor axes, nor apsides, nor anything of the sort. That is all rubbish. All I know is that I see the ceiling of this coffee-room going round. I perceive this distinctly with the naked eye — only my sight has been sharpened by a slight stimulant. I write after my sixth go of brandy and water, whereof witness my hand.
If you enjoyed this “snippet” please consider sharing on Facebook or Twitter, to help other people find and enjoy Windows into History. You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen. I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.