JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
I've been reading through the notes and bibliography of Michael Crowe's excellent The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750-1900 and decided to post a few of the early-modern scientific speculations on extraterrestrial life. The first is from Hollis Read's (1802-1887) concentrically-connective theo-explanations/celebrations of life in the universe, The palace of the Great King : or, The power, wisdom and goodness of God, illustrated in the multiplicity and variety of His works (New York, Scribner, 1859). It is published in the same year as On the Origin of Species..., and takes a decidedly different theological spin on interpreting Nature. It does take a very interesting turn on page 224 though (not the probably-misprinted page 160 as Crowe notes) where Read speculates on intelligent life elsewhere, and winds up on the Rings of Saturn, which would have no doubt delighted Kurt Vonnegut.
In some sense Read buries his speculations on life on the rings, occurring in the middle of a paragraph in the middle of the book, and seems not to go any further with it. He says that there are 28 billion square miles (on both sides) of the rings ("588 times the whole habitable portion of the earth"), which he feels could support a population of 8 billion, which he said is 10,000 times that of the earth. It seems he just extrapolated the population/density of the Earth to that of Saturn's rings to get that figure--I should point out that "billion" here actually means "trillion", which was one custom of the day, so the 10k number Read came up with is more-or-less accurate.
There really isn't a reason given from I've read in Read for the possibility of life on Saturn's rings, except that the beauty the rings must be fitted for something other than "waste and desolation". I've wondered about the theological issues about Life Elsewhere in natural law theo-scientific books like this--like, well, what about Adam and Eve? Had they been present would they have been so just here on Earth, or would they have been better off on the rings? Or are there Adams and Eves wherever they are needed? Or--to paraphrase an old story--would it have been Adams&Eves all the way down? It seems as though that may have been a tricky question to answer...
- [Source: full text of the Read book is available via the Internet Archive from the University of California, http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006524997]