This interesting piece from the BBC came across my desktop the other day…
and I feel compelled to comment.
One interesting science-historical fact is from the days before the discovery of atomic forces, before we ‘knew’ that the energy produced by the sun is based on nuclear fusion where two heavy hydrogen atoms are fused into one helium atom. The energy contained in the one helium is less than that of the two hydrogen and the energy difference makes our days bright and life possible on earth.
But it is not, that before the discovery of these processes, scientists just sat there and agreed to wait for the discovery of nuclear fusion – no – they used what they knew then to explain the sun. Lacking nuclear fusion to generate heat they turned to coal, which they knew well to generate heat. So they came up with the idea that the sun is a big ball of pure coal – and it burned. They already had a good idea how big the sun was so, commandeering all the scientific methods at their disposal, they calculated how long we could depend on the sun to give is light and life. I don’t recall what the number was they came up with, but it was considerably lower that the now estimated ten billion. It did not matter too much, as other branches of science also did not know too much about the time it took for the current state to develop to what they could observe. And the creation of the world in five days was still a well accepted possibility.
We might smile just how cute – and wrong – science was then. But I can not help imagine scientists in a century or two who unearth this BBC video and have a good laugh.
I wonder where the humility of science has been lost so that it can now tell us with utter conviction “How the Solar System Formed.”