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Sagan's Folly Part 1

On February 25, 1974, Carl Sagan presented a lengthy criticism of Worlds in Collision[1] before a capacity audience in the Grand Ballroom of San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel.  The occasion was a symposium ­"Velikovsky's Challenge to Science"--held under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Though Sagan's symposium paper was supposed to be finalized at the time of delivery, nearly two full years were to elapse before the "finished" product was actually made publicly available.  By then, the paper had been considerably expanded, revised or modified, and updated to include post-1974 material; several appendices became available for the first time also.

In the meantime, the press and scientific journals were eagerly and repeatedly touting and hailing Sagan's critique as the definitive coup de grace to Worlds in Collision.  Nevertheless, as we shall rigorously demonstrate, this zeal is badly misplaced.  A thorough scrutiny of Sagan's paper reveals it to be nothing more than "Sagan's folly" ­a white elephant foisted upon unsuspecting scientists and laymen alike, and whose only weight is its imprimatur from establishment dogmatism. [2]

After a lofty-sounding introduction, in which he expounds on the role of science, the desirability of scientific open-mindedness with regard to unorthodox ideas, and the virtue of vigorous criticism in science, Sagan then comes to the subject of Velikovsky and Worlds in Collision.  "Emotions in the scientific community have run very high on the issue of Immanuel Velikovsky's work, especially his first book, 'Worlds in Collision,' published in 1950." Yet, "in reading the critical literature on 'Worlds in Collision,' I am surprised at how little of it there is and how rarely it approaches the central points of Velikovsky's thesis.  In fact, I seem to find that neither the critics nor the proponents of Velikovsky have read him carefully; and I even seem to find some cases where Velikovsky has not read Velikovsky carefully.

As we shall clearly see, it is Sagan who has not read Velikovsky carefully, thereby adding his own name to an already long list of careless critics.

Upon concluding his prefatory remarks, Sagan has this to say: "In this paper I have tried to do my best to analyze critically the thesis of 'Worlds in Collision.'  I have attempted to approach the problem both on Velikovsky's terms and on mine--that is, to keep firmly in mind the ancient writings which are the focus of his argument; but at the same time to confront his conclusions with both the facts and the logic I have at my command....

"There is nothing absurd in the possibility of cosmic collisions.... What then is all the furor about? . . . In the 4.5 billion year history of the solar system, many collisions must have occurred.  But have there been major collisions in the last 3500 years, and can the study of ancient writings demonstrate such collisions?  That is the nub of the issue."

A concession by Sagan follows: "I find the concatenation of legends which Velikovsky has accumulated stunning .... My own position is that even if twenty percent of the legendary concordances which Velikovsky produces are real, there is something important to be explained.  Furthermore, there is an impressive array of cases in the history of archaeology--from Heinrich Schliemann at Troy to Yigael Yadin at Masada--where the descriptions in ancient writings have been validated as fact."  However, as opposed to Velikovsky's view that the worldwide distribution of common elements in myths and legends is explainable only on the basis of common observation and experience of global catastrophes, Sagan expresses his own tend­ency to favor the "diffusion" theory.  For Sagan, the "diffusion" theory is a crucial weapon in his arsenal of criticism and is invoked early (pp. 10-12) in an attempt to discredit the totality of Velikovsky's mythological, theological, and iconic concordances (though these constitute only a portion of the large aggregate of concordances and evidence to be found in Worlds in Collision).

The subject of "diffusion" is far more complex than Sagan would have us believe, and his cavalier use of the term enables him to gloss over the detailed mass of evidence compiled by Velikovsky in Worlds in Collision.

According to George Kubler, renowned Mexicologist and certainly no supporter of Velikovsky: "The independent inventionists have never denied the occurrence of small-scale intermittent migrations from Asia or Europe [into America] ... but they have rightly regarded these episodes as insignificant in the large framework of indigenous development."  Furthermore, "utilitarian traits survive or ­travel more easily than symbolic systems, which are much more perishable.  In this context, the diffusionists have yet to explain the translation of Asiatic symbolic forms to America, where matters of mere utility failed to 'survive' " (Kubler, The Art and Architecture of Ancient America, 1962, pp. 11-12, 325, ref. #17--emphasis added).

In a similar vein, R. C. Padden also blasted diffusionist theory: "Non-diffusionists are increasingly willing to concede that from time to time there could have been accidental landfalls and shipwrecks that resulted in contact [between the Old World and the New].  What is lacking is any apparent connection between ... freak [Old World] finds and Mesoamerican cultural development." On the subject of linguistical affinities, Padden, in taking no less than Cyrus Gordon to task, noted that "competent linguists simply do not compare isolated words of unrelated languages in order to demonstrate historical re­lationships.  No one has yet established a continuity of linguistic families between the hemispheres in the pre-Columbian period" (Padden, "On Diffusionism and Historicity," American Historical Review, 78, 4: Oct. 1973, pp. 996-997).

Sagan's brief discussion (pp.  10-11) of the Nahuatl word "Teo" as a clear cognate of the common Indoeuropean root for god, pre­served, among other places, in the words 'deity' and 'theology' " turns out to be a most inept diffusionist argument against the thesis of Worlds in Collision and can scarcely account for the striking parallels found in Pre-Columbian catastrophic and legendary traditions and those of the Old World.  On p. 10, Sagan refers to "the fact that the Toltec name for 'God' seems to have been 'Teo,' as in the great pyramid city of Teotihuacan ('City of the Gods')." Nominally, Teotihuacan had nothing to do with the Toltecs, as Sagan seems to imply.  "The name is Aztec, and roughly 600 years removed from the real (lost) name" (Kubler, op. cit., p. 327, ref. #14--emphasis added).[3] "Teotihuacan (from the Nahuatl word, teotia, to worship), the 'place of deification' or 'place of the gods,' was not the name of the city during its centuries of occupation" (J.  E. Hardoy, Pre-­Columbian Cities: 1973, p. 38).  Finally, the initial history of the site of Teotihuacan post-dates the time period covered by Worlds in Collision by possibly as much as 600 years and is thus totally irrelevant to the subject at hand.

So much for Sagan and his "linguistical-diffusionist" theories.  His entire treatment of the subject of "diffusion" is naive, amateurish, and inadequate (Cf.  Man across the Sea, ed. by C. L. Riley, et al: 1973, especially the chapter by David H. Kelley,"Diffusion: Evidence and Process," pp. 60-65). [4]

Even more than Sagan, Velikovsky was aware of particular global cognates and offers his solution to this phenomenon in the sections of Worlds in Collision titled "Theophany" (N.B. p. 99, ref. #18), "Sword-Time, Wolf-Time" (N.B. p. 268), and "The Hurricane , pp. 68-69.

What makes Sagan's "diffusionist" posture especially vulnerable is his later commentary about the Crab Supernova event of the year 1054 A.D.  "Impressive evidence has been uncovered in cave paint­ings in the American Southwest of contemporary observations of the Crab Supernova event of the year 1054, which was also recorded in Chinese, Japanese and Korean annals" (pp. 18-19).  For this cosmic event, recorded hemispheres apart, Sagan breathes not a word of "diffusion". [Why is it that Europe and Islam have left no record of the Crab Supernova?] Instead, he wonders why there are "no [sic] contemporary graphic records" of the Velikovskian catastrophes, which had to be far more impressive than a supernova event (p. 19).  Sagan adroitly omits any reference to the fact that the Velikovskian catastrophes were both more immediate and lethal.

In answer to Sagan's wonderment, we may state the following:

1)  A cosmic catastrophe, by its very nature, would have undoubtedly inhibited or limited any immediate "graphic recordings".

2)  Since there was more than one cosmic catastrophe, many "graphic recordings", dating from earlier periods, would have been obliterated.

3)  As it happens, we do have a wealth of "graphic recordings" (e.g. the dragon and serpent motifs, symbols on Shang bronzes, scenes of theomachy, ubiquitous universal symbols of a cosmic nature that are not explicable or properly understood by uniformitarian analysis, papyri and other cultural sacred writings, and last but not least--the Bible[5]).

4)  The depiction of a terrifying experience may be transmuted and not obviously recognizable for what it is.  A case in point is the Japanese reaction to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the survivors produced no "graphic recordings" for an event easier comparable to the localized experience of a cosmic catastrophe.  Yet, the flood of Japanese monster movies that have appeared during the past two decades symbolically and "graphically" represent the atomic trauma (See "Theomachy in the Theater," KRONOS I:2, June 1975, pp. 23-32).

It is worthwhile to conclude our present discussion with a few more pertinent remarks about "diffusion" and the "commonality of experience".  Again Padden: "Historians have not rejected diffusion­ist claims out of obtusity or fear of new ideas.  They have refused to accept the postulation of historical processes and events that are patently lacking in historicity . . . . the diffusion of culture is a his­torical question ultimately and in the realm of historiography wherein it is to be resolved there is no confusion or misunderstanding as to the nature of evidence, nor is there doubt concerning the sufficiency of evidence" (op. cit., pp. 1003-1004; Cp.  F. Katz, The Ancient American Civilizations: 1972, pp. 16-17). --

And the words of Vine Deloria on myth and the origin of religion: "The conclusion that must be drawn is that religions most probably do not originate from the speculations of generations of poets, no matter how profound.  In ancient times a great many of them most probably originated from the experiences of a group of people sur­viving a spectacular planetary event.

"It seems doubtful that the other theories of the origin of religion, which see religious beliefs and practices beginning as a result of poetic story-telling, can withstand the rigorous methodology of investigation and interpretation Velikovsky utilizes in developing his thought.  The burden of proof should be shifted from Velikovsky, who uses ancient sources for data, to those who so blithely dismiss the details of myths and present their own interpretations--interpretations which reflect a 'verbal' reality unrelated to events on our planet" ("Myth and the Origin of Religion," Pensee IX, Fall, 1974, p. 50--emphasis added).

Deloria's last statement is especially applicable to Sagan who, despite his deep involvement with humankind's future "cosmic con­nection", is stubbornly oblivious to the fundamental implications of humankind's past "cosmic connection" (Cf.  KRONOS 1: 1, "Cos­mology and Psychology," April, 1975, pp. 33-50).  Apparently, Sagan also forgot his own self-directed admonition: "... to keep firmly in mind the ancient writings which are the focus of [Velikovsky's] argument ... [and] to confront his conclusions with both the facts and ... logic. . ."

Deloria's conclusions parallel those of the Swiss writer, Julius Schwabe, who likewise expressed the view that "the myths and symbols of the first high civilizations are related to cosmic phenom­ena rather than human emotions and that archetypes are not products exclusively of the unconscious mind.  In this Schwabe is following Bachofen: 'Earthly events are knotted to the cosmic.  They are its telluric expression.  It was the universal, fundamental belief of the ancient world that earthly and heavenly phenomena obeyed the same laws and that a great harmony permeated perishable and imperishable alike' " (S.  Giedion, The Eternal Present, Vol.  I (N.Y., 1962), p. 88; Schwabe, Archetyp und Tierkreis (Basel, 1951); J.J. Bachofen, Das Mutterrecht (1861); 1948 edn., 11, Basel), p. 131; Cp.  Worlds in Collision, "Tao").

"The notion of a connection between astral bodies and human destinies is part of a universal concept that the cosmos contains nothing fundamentally dead or inimical . . . . For the Sumerians and Akkadians, the sky was, in effect, a great map on which their destiny was inscribed.  Men called the constellations 'the writing of heaven' or 'the writing of the firmament'. . . . How far [this] tradition was based on experience, on mythical thought, or on pure superstition is a complex question today left hovering in mid-air, though it demands elucidation just as do the Mesopotamian symbols, also neglected in research.  It is no longer sufficient to sweep them under the rug with Cartesian logic" (S.  Giedion, The Eternal Present, Vol. 11 (N.Y., 1963), pp. 138-139; E. Dhorme, Les Religions de Babylonie et dassyrie (2nd edn.: Paris, 1949), p. 282).

The relationship between man and the cosmos in prehistoric times and in the first high civilizations was basically different than our own.  Yet, "the entire structure of present-day knowledge requires that it reject all mystical connection between cosmic and earthly happenings .... nevertheless, many observations from earlier times live on with­out context. . . . They stem from a time when there was still an un­disturbed belief in the interdependence of man's fate and the cosmos" (Giedion, Ibid., p. 139--emphasis added).

The anthropomorphization of the universe was one of the most significant events in human history.  As Giedion has astutely ob­served: "The decisive change that came about with this creation of undying gods with human forms was their transference into the cosmos.  This transposition is of fundamental significance for the further development of religious thought.  It was the starting point for all later religious systems, with their increasing emphasis upon the transcendental factor....

"This cosmic transfiguration induced a powerful upsurge in imaginative thought, and gave rise to questions which have not yet ceased to disquiet mankind.  There is the eternally unsolved cos­mogonic question: how and by whom was the world created?  There are also cosmologic problems: what are the relationships between the earth, the heavens, and the heavenly bodies, and what order do they obey ? " (Giedion, Ibid., pp. 9 6-9 7--emphasis added).


Sagan (p.  IO): On p. 303 of Worlds in Collision (Section, "Of 'Pre­existing Ideas' in the Souls of Peoples"), Velikovsky wrote: "The migration of ideas may follow the migration of peoples, but how could unusual motifs of folklore reach isolated islands where the aborigines do not have any means of crossing the sea?  And why did not technical civilization travel together with the spiritual?  Peoples still living in the stone age possess the same, often strange, motifs as the cultured nations. [Cp.  Kubler, op. cit., p. 325.1 The particular character of some of the contents of folklore makes it impossible to assume that it was only by mere chance that the same motifs were created in all corners of the world."

After he lifted only part of a single sentence from the preceding paragraph--a device frequently employed in Sagan's approach to Worlds in Collision--Sagan is "not sure which islands and which aborigines Velikovsky refers to".  The stage is thus set for a "diffusionist" assault.  However, besides misrepresenting and mis­sing the point of discussion on pp. 303-305, Sagan could have ended his uncertainty by consulting pp. 32, 174, 179, and 308-309 of Worlds in Collision.

The flimsy credibility of Sagan's brand of diffusion has already been demonstrated.  Furthermore, contrary to what Sagan may choose to believe, Velikovsky was also well aware of a potential "diffusionist" argument when he wrote Worlds in Collision; and he countered it thus:

"If a phenomenon had been similarly described by many people, we might suspect that a tale, originating with one people, had spread around the world, and consequently there is no proof of the authenticity of the event related.  But just because one and the same event is embodied in traditions that are very different in­deed, its authenticity becomes highly probable, especially if the records of history, ancient charts, sundials, and the physical evi­dence of natural history testify to the same effect" (p. 308; see also "The Subjective Interpretation of the Events and Their Authenticity").

Sagan (p. 12): "Velikovsky even goes so far as to believe that a close approach to the Earth by the planet Mars so distorted it that it took on the clear shape (page 264) of lions, jackals, dogs, pigs, and fish."

Velikovsky (p. 264): "In the Babylonian astrological texts it is said that 'a star takes the shape of divers animals: lion, jackal, dog, pig, fish' " (emphasis added).  A reference to the work of Kugler is then provided.

Sagan (p. 12): "Velikovsky claims a world-wide tendency in ancient cultures to believe at various times that the year has 360 days, that the month has 30 days, and that--of course, inconsistent [sic] with the above two beliefs--the year has ten months."

Velikovsky: "For a period between two catastrophes, the moon re­ceded to an orbit of thirty-five to thirty-six days' duration.  It remained on such an orbit for a few decades until, at the next up­heaval, it was carried to an orbit of twenty-nine and a half days' duration, on which it has proceeded since then.

"These 'perturbed months' occurred in the second half of the eighth century, at the beginning of Roman history. . . . When the month was about thirty-six days and the year between 360 and 365 1/4 days, the year must have been composed of only ten months.   This was the case" (emphasis added--W in C, pp. 344-345).

In other words, a year consisted of ten months during the eighth century B.C. when the months were thirty-five to thirty-six days long.  Furthermore, "the period when the year was com­posed of ten months of thirty-five to thirty-six days each was short" (emphasis added--W in C, p. 347; Cp. p. 348).

For a year of 360 days consisting of twelve months, the reader is referred to Part II, Chapter 8 of W in C and p. 335 in particular.

Sagan (p. 13): "I am not as confident as Velikovsky in the compu­tational precision of ancient astronomers."  This is a loaded state­ment that is actually a two-edged sword.  In his attempt to dis­credit Velikovsky's interpretation of past "aberrant calendrical conventions", Sagan brings himself into direct conflict with the megalithic interpretations of Thom and Hawkins, uniformitarian readings of the so-called "Venus Tablets of Ammizaduga", and runs head-on into Egyptological supporters of the so-called "Sothic period"--the very foundation stone of ancient history's chrono­logical edifice.

Sagan (p. 14): Sagan commits a non sequitur.  After referring to Leach, "an expert on early time-reckoning," Sagan says the follow­ing: "In ancient cultures the first eight or ten months of the year are named, but the last few months, because of their economic unimportance [sic] in an agricultural society, are not.  Our month December, named after the Latin decem, means the tenth, not the twelfth month. (September = 7, October = 8, November = 9, as well.)"

Sagan never even pauses to question why the twelfth month of the year is presently called the tenth.  Had he read Worlds in Collision, pp. 345-346, with any care he would have found the reason.

Sagan (p. 15): The statement in paragraph one pertaining to coral growth rings is based upon uniformitarian retrocalculation and is therefore irrelevant to the thesis of Worlds in Collision.  Further, the corals seem to have been carefully selected to fit such retro­calculation; and doubts do exist about the accuracy of the counts made on the corals.

Sagan (p. 15): On the subject of "ancient ages terminated by catas­trophe", Sagan totally twists and obscures what Velikovsky has to say.  The result is pure hyperbole.  Velikovsky's key statement, completely ignored by Sagan, is the opening paragraph of the section in Worlds in Collision titled "The World Ages". -

"A conception of ages that were brought to their end by violent changes in nature is common all over the world.  The number of ages differ from people to people and from tradition to tradition.  The difference depends on the number of catastrophes that the particular people retained in its memory, or on the way it reckoned the end of an age" (W in C, p. 29--emphasis added).

Velikovsky cited twenty-three sources (many of them primary) for his section on "The World Ages" (pp. 29-33).  In his feeble attempt to disparage Velikovsky, Sagan cited one source (p. 15), and that was nothing more than a recent popularized work of Joseph Campbell which can only qualify as a tertiary source.

Contrary to the meager few examples offered by Sagan, Velikov­sky noted that there were a number of "analogous traditions of four expired ages" in both East and West.  He also acknowledged that there were traditions of seven ages (Etruscan, Persian, sacred Hindu and Hebrew writings), ten ages (Chinese), and nine ages (Polynesia and Iceland) as well, while carefully pointing out that the number of years ascribed to various ages differed (pp. 30-33).  Nothing was hidden.  Yet, the section's opening caveat, quoted above, was deliberately omitted in Sagan's critique.

Sagan (p. 17): On the subject of Athena as the goddess of the planet Venus, Sagan has this to say: "On page 251 Velikovsky notes that Lucian 'is unaware that Athene is the goddess of the planet Venus.'  Poor Lucian seems to be under the misconception that Aphrodite is the goddess of the planet Venus.  But in the footnote on page 361 there seems to be a slip, and here Velikovsky uses for the first and only time the form 'Venus (Aphrodite)'."

Velikovsky: What Velikovsky actually said in the footnote on p. 361 of Worlds in Collision was: "Mars had near contacts with the moon and with the planet Venus, and, as a result of these two 'romances' the goddess Venus (Aphrodite) became associated in mythology with the moon as well as with the planet of that name" (emphasis added).

As one can readily see, Velikovsky made no slip, though Sagan, in attempting to attribute one, has made yet another.

Sagan (P. 17): "It does not increase our confidence in the presenta­tion of less familiar myths when the celestial identification of Athena [with the planet Venus] is glossed over so lightly [sic]."

Velikovsky devotes whole sections of Worlds in Collision to the celestial identification of Athena (See Part 1, Chapter 9, and the index).  Sagan's sarcastic remark: "But it is far from the prevail­ing wisdom either now or two thousand years ago. . ." is directly contradicted by the ancient sources (Cf.  P. James, "Aphrodite ­The Moon or Venus?" SIS Review 1: I (Jan., 1976), pp. 1-7, &P.  James, SIS Review 1:3 (Summer, 1976), pp.  II ff.) for the latter part of his statement, though Sagan's own ignorance lends truth to the former part.

Sagan (p. 17): Sagan says that "on page 179 [of W in Cl is enunciated a principle that when two gods are hyphenated in a joint name, it indicates an attribute of a celestial body--as, for example, Ashteroth-Karnaim, a horned Venus. . ."

If one turns to p. 179 of Worlds in Collision, absolutely no principle is enunciated along the lines that Sagan claims; and Veli­kovsky's presentation has once again been distorted by Sagan.

Ashteroth-Karnaim was indeed a descriptive name, but Ammon-­Ra (referred to by Sagan on p. 18) was a syncretic name of two different deities.  In fact, Velikovsky identifies Ammon (Amon,

 Amen) as Jupiter--see W in C, p. 174; Oedipus and Akhnaton, p. 61--while Ra may once have been associated with the planet Saturn before the name was affiliated with the Sun.

Once again, Sagan displays a total ignorance of divine nomen­clature and planetary worship, and a naievete regarding mankind's theological "cosmic connection".

Sagan (p. 18): "There is a contention (page 63 [of W in C])that in­stead of the tenth plague of the Exodus killing the 'first born' of Egypt, what is intended is the killing of the 'chosen.'  This is a rather serious matter, and at least raises the suspicion that where the Bible is inconsistent with Velikovsky's hypothesis, Velikovsky retranslates the Bible.  The foregoing queries may all have simple answers, but the answers are not to be found easily in 'Worlds in Collision'."

Velikovsky: At the bottom of p. 63 of W in C, Velikovsky said that "in Ages in Chaos (my reconstruction of ancient history), I shall show that 'first born' (bkhor) in the text of the plague is a corrup­tion of 'chosen' (bchor).  All the flower of Egypt succumbed in the catastrophe."

And, true to his word, Velikovsky did give detailed reasons in Ages in Chaos (pp. 32-34) why the expression "first born" should be read as "chosen".  If answers cannot be found easily, it is only because the seeker has not willingly employed sufficient effort (For the devastation to Egyptians and Hebrews alike, during the plagues of Egypt and shortly afterwards, see W in C, pp. 59 88; A in C, p. 33 and n. 3.)

Sagan (p. 18): On the subject of art, Sagan has this to say in his paper: In looking for " corroboratory evidence from other sources", due to the fuzzy situation in legend and myth, "I am stuck by the absence of any confirming evidence in art.  There is a wide range of paintings, bas reliefs, cylinder seals, and other objets d' arts produced by humankind and going back at least to tens of thousands of years B.C. [sic] .... If the Velikovskian catastrophes occurred, why are there no [sic] contemporary graphic records of them?

To the above remarks of Sagan, we may say the following:

1)  First of all, Sagan displays an appalling ignorance of art his­torical chronology.  Cylinder seals do not go back in time "at least to tens of thousands of years B.C." since they do not pre-date the Uruk VI-IV phase of Mesopotamian art (ca. 3100-2700 B.C.) at which time they were first devised (Cf.  EWA IX, p. 742; EWA XII, p. 84 1; H. Frankfort, The Art & Architecture of the Ancient Orient, pp. 14-17, where origins of cylinder seals are dated to ca.3500-3000 B.C.--Frankfort's dates have been revised downward).  Interest­ingly enough, "the rise of the great school of seal designing at Uruk (levels V4V) coincides significantly with the architectural activity in the sacred precinct of E-anna in that city" ("Seals," Encyclopedia of World Art XII, p. 84 1).

Uruk was a singularly important religious center and was the city of Inanna", and its chief gods--Anu and Inanna--"were considered owners of the city" (Giedion, op. cit., 11, pp. 205-206). Inanna was, of course, the goddess associated with Venus; and it is quite possible that the cylinder seals, with their abundant and varied motifs, were created in response to the appearance of this luminary.  According to Giedion (Ibid., p. 82), "before Inanna assumed human form she appeared as a primeval symbol, a long, comet like pole of bound reeds" (emphasis added--see also pp. 120-121)

2)  As for "bas reliefs"--"With very few and doubtful exceptions, relief did not appear until after about 18,000 [B.C.] " (N.  K. San­dars, Prehistoric Art in Europe: 1968, p. 19).  This is hardly "tens of thousands of years B.C."

3)  While the first signs of man's artistic endeavors may have appeared some 30,000 years ago during the Middle Aurignacian period, this is not "a wide range" of art from "tens of thousands of years B.C."  Indeed, according to Breuil and Berger-Kirchner, "up to the present day we know of no paintings that could unequivocally be ascribed to the Solutrian period" (30,000-20,000 B.C.) [The Art of the Stone Age: 1968, p. 241.  The full efflorescence of cave painting, moreover, did not even occur until after 14,000 B.C. W. F. Libby (Pensee IV, Spring-Summer, 1973, p. 8) notes that "colored paint­ings of the Lascaux Cave in France are 16,000 years old" based upon radiocarbon dating.

More important than the age of prehistoric art is the question of its meaning, if any.  Why were paintings executed in caves in the first place?  What role did these paintings play in the struggle be­tween order and chaos and man's place in the universe?  "Cosmos and chaos, gods and giants, lapiths and centaurs are older than the first work of art.  They are there in the early ice age; and so too apparently is the Apollonian gesture, ensuring that in this 'debate of the instincts' order is stronger than anarchy.  The primitive work of art, with the aesthetic instinct that formed it, was on the side of order, symmetry, cosmos; though more than purely intellectual activities, and sometimes to its peril, it has trafficked with chaos" (Sandars, op. cit., p. 6).

4)  Finally, there are "contemporary graphic records" of the catas­trophes described by Velikovsky, though they have not come down to us in the form of a modern representational mural of the type to be found in Soviet Socialist Realism or Communist Chinese art.

To paraphrase Isaac Asimov, all this shows that as an art his­torian, Sagan may quite possibly be an excellent astronomer.

Sagan (p. 19): After finding fault with Velikovsky's mythological concordances through misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and self-created error, Sagan "cannot find the legendary base of Velikovsky's hypothesis at all compelling.  If, nevertheless, his hypothesis of planetary collisions and global catastrophism were strongly supported by physical evidence, we might be tempted to give it some credence.  If the physical evidence is however not very strong, the mythological evidence will surely not stand by itself."

At this point in his paper, from the above statement, one would have expected Sagan to comment on the physical evidence, or lack of it.  Otherwise, why mention it in the first place?  Sagan, how­ever, chose to go on to a completely different subject--"Velikovsky's Principal Hypothesis".  Thus, the evidence compiled by Velikovsky in Earth in Upheaval was completely ignored by Sagan.  Worse still, the very existence of the book was not even acknowl­edged.

The whole purpose of Earth in Upheaval was to provide inde­pendent evidence for Worlds in Collision from the record of stones and bones.  Yet, astronomy once again snubs geology.

Sagan (p. 20): When Sagan finally comes to "Velikovsky's Principal Hypothesis; his errors begin to mount with alarming rapidity.  For example: "The Vermin described in Exodus are produced by the comet--flies and perhaps scarabs [sic] drop out of the comet, while indigenous terrestrial frogs are induced by the heat of the comet to multiply."

The reader is invited to find where in Worlds in Collision Veli­kovsky refers to "scarabs" dropping out of the comet.  It is a fabrication by Sagan, pure and simple--the product of his own exo-biological imagination.  What is also interesting is to contrast Sagan's AAAS statement--"indigenous terrestrial frogs are in­duced by the heat of the comet to multiply" (emphasis added) ­with earlier public statements made by Sagan on December 2, 1973 before a group of scientists at a NASA Ames Research Center news conference.  At the latter get-together, Sagan said ­"Velikovsky explicitly [sic] predicts the presence of frogs and flies in the clouds of Jupiter. ..";"pioneer 10 cannot detect velikovskian frogs in the clouds of Jupiter. . ." (Cf.  Pensee VI, Winter, 1973-74, p. 57).  Nowhere does Velikovsky ascribe frogs to the Jovian atmo­sphere; and Sagan's methods of reporting Velikovsky's theories are reprehensible.

When questioned about his remark concerning "Velikovskian frogs" by Thomas Ferté, in a letter dated February 1974, Sagan replied (letter dated March 6, 1974) that "Velikovsky is equivocal about frogs, but quite explicit [sic] about flies" (Cf.  T. Ferté, "Velikovsky's Frogs: The Unscientific Reception of Worlds in Collision (1950-74)," Chiron, Vol. 1, Nos.  1 & 2, Winter-Spring, 1974, p. 12).

In case anyone is confused by Sagan's critical legerdemain, let us recapitulate: 1) In December of 1973, Sagan publicly claims that Velikovsky ascribes frogs to the Jovian clouds; 2) In February of 1974, Sagan properly refers to the frogs as being "indigenous terrestrial"; 3) In March of 1974, Sagan takes a middle ground and says that "Velikovsky is equivocal about frogs. . ."[6]

Perhaps we should not be too hard on Sagan, despite his incon­sistencies.  After all, in the introduction to his own AAAS paper, he did say that "scientists, like other human beings, have their hopes and fears, their passions and despondencies--and their strong emotions may sometime interrupt the course of clear thinking and sound practice" (p. 1--emphasis added).

In case anyone may be wondering what Sagan's thoughts are re­garding life on Jupiter, we quote the following statement by Sagan from his co-authored work--Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966):

"It is much more difficult to say anything about the possibility of the origin and present existence of life on Jupiter.  For example, we can imagine organisms in the form of ballasted gas bags, float­ing from level to level in the Jovian atmosphere, and incorporating preformed organic matter, much like plankton-eating whales of the terrestrial oceans" (p. 329--emphasis added).

Sagan (p. 20): "Earthquakes produced by the comet level Egyptian but not Hebrew dwellings."

Velikovsky: "The reason why the Israelites were more fortunate . . . than the Egyptians probably lies in the kind of material of which their dwellings were constructed.  Occupying a marshy district and working on clay, the captives must have lived in huts made of clay and reeds, which are more resilient than brick or stone .... An example of the selective action of a natural agent upon various kinds of construction is narrated also in Mexican annals" (W in C, P. 63).

There is absolutely nothing supernatural in Velikovsky's straight­forward discussion.  One merely has to think of the comparison be­tween the oak and the willow during a strong windstorm.  Further­more, there are modern parallels to the events described in Exodus.   The leveling of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb resulted in selective destruction to various structures; and during World War 11, American-built Quonset huts, of steel, were torn apart by typhoon winds on Okinawa while native huts, of reeds and straw, remained basically unscathed. (N.B. during the plague of darkness, forty-nine out of every fifty Israelites are said to have perished--W in p. 59.)

Sagan (p. 20): After making so many mistakes of fact and interpre­tation, Sagan then throws in his classic derisive remark--"The only thing that does not seem to drop from the comet is cholesterol to harden Pharoah's [sic] heart"--and misspells the word Pharaoh in the process, as he does throughout his paper.

Sagan (p. 20): ". . . at the moment that Moses strikes his staff upon the rock, the Red Sea parts . . . . Then, when the Hebrews have successfully crossed, the comet has evidently passed sufficiently further on for the parted waters to flow back and drown the host of Pharoah [sic]."

In addition to making mistakes with regard to Worlds in Collision, Sagan now misquotes the Bible.  According to Exodus 14:16 and 14:2 1, the Lord commanded Moses to "lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it;. . . And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night. . ." It was not until after the many years of desert wandering that Moses smote the rock in Horeb with his rod and water came out of it (Exodus 17:5-6).  Furthermore, the Sea of Passage is not specifically named.  Years of common assumption have made it the Red Sea.

Being more meticulous and cautious than Sagan, Velikovsky re­frains from identifying the Sea of Passage (Cf.  W in C, p. 69).

Yet, almost without exception, Velikovsky's critics (and even many supporters) have erroneously referred to the Sea of Passage as the Red Sea.  Additionally, Velikovsky correctly represented the Biblical account of Moses' rod at the Sea of Passage and, in the section of Worlds in Collision titled "Jericho", puts it in proper perspective:

"The fall of the walls of Jericho at the blast of the trumpets is a well-known episode, but it is not well interpreted.  The horns blown by the priests for seven days played no greater natural role than Moses' rod with which, in the legend, he opened a passage in the sea" (emphasis added).

Sagan (p. 20) continues: "Then, when the Hebrews have suc­cessfully crossed, the comet has evidently passed sufficiently fur­ther on for the parted waters to flow back and drown the host of Pharoah [sic]."

A favorite criticism of Worlds in Collision deals with the supposed miraculous safe-crossing of the Hebrews through the parted Sea of Passage which then recloses upon Pharaoh and his host.  "How could the waters have been so selective?" critics well ask.  Yet, a careful reading of Worlds in Collision discloses that this was not the case; and Velikovsky makes the point quite clear:

"Although the larger part of the Israelite fugitives were already out of the reach of the falling tidal waves, a great number of them perished in this disaster, as in the previous ones of fire and hurri­cane of cinders.  That Israelites perished at the Sea of Passage is implied in Psalm 68 where mention is made of 'my people' that remained in 'the depths of the sea'.

"These tidal waves also overwhelmed entire tribes who inhabited Tehama, the thousand-mile-long coastal region of the Red Sea" (p. 88--emphasis added; also see p. 59).

Sagan (pp. 20-21): Sagan's remark--"At the moment that Joshua says 'Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Agalon [sic]' the Earth ... obligingly ceases its rotation, to permit Joshua victory in battle"--is a cliched echo of 1950 criticism of Worlds in Collision, namely that the Venus comet arrived after the Exodus had begun just in time to help part the waters of the Sea of Passage.

The disingenuity of Sagan's comment, his reversal of cause and effect, and his inability to grasp the interpretative-subjective treat­ment of natural phenomena by scribal hands all reveal the weakness of his approach to Worlds in Collision; and this from an individual who has just authored a best-selling book on the development of human intelligence and the intricate workings of the human mind.

Sagan (p. 2 1): With such a casual attitude, it is not surprising to find that Sagan concludes his sarcastic paragraph with two additional errors in the very last sentence.  "No subsequent aberrant planetary behavior has occurred since about the Sixth [sic] Century B.C. although it might have been common in the Third [sic] Millenium [sic]." As readers of Worlds in Collision know, the last "aberrant planetary behavior" occurred in the Seventh Century B.C. (-687) while the first Venus-Earth encounters did not take place until the middle of the Second Millennium.

Sagan (p. 2 1): Sagan claims that "Velikovsky's hypothesis makes certain predictions: that comets are ejected from planets; that comets are likely to make near or grazing collisions with planets; that vermin live in comets and in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Venus; that carbohydrates can be found in the same places; that enough carbohydrates fell in the Sinai peninsula for nourishment during forty years of wandering in the desert; that eccentric cometary or planetary orbits can be circularized in a period of hundreds of years; that volcanic and tectonic events on the earth and impact events on the Moon were contemporaneous with these catastrophes; and so on."

We shall examine each one of the points Sagan raises in order to judge its accuracy.

1)                Comets are ejected from planets.  This statement requires clarifi­cation.  In Worlds in Collision (pp. 373, 379), Velikovsky twice indicated that the birth of comets was the result of planetary collision.  The cometary eruptive-ejection hypothesis applies to the work of S. K. Vsekhsvyatskii, head of the Kiev Astronomical Observatory, and is independent of the thesis of Worlds in Collision (Cf.  S. K. Vsekhsvyatskii, "The Origin and Evolution of the Comets and Other Small Bodies in the Solar System," KRONOS 11:2 (Nov., 1976), pp. 46-53 and Editor's Postscript, pp. 53-54).  Sagan has repeated an identical earlier mistake made by astronomer Lloyd Motz in 1967 (Cf.  Yale Scientific Magazine, April, 1967, pp. 14ff.; "The Birth of Venus from Jupiter," KRONOS 11: I (August, 1976), pp. 3-10; see also E. Crew, "Stability of Solid Cores in Gaseous Planets," KRONOS III: I (August, 1977), pp. 18-26).  Both Sagan (p. 25) and Motz erroneously equated Velikovsky's cometary origin hypothesis with Vsekhsvyatskii's.

2)                Comets are likely to make near or grazing collisions with planets. In Worlds in Collision (p. 373), Velikovsky alluded to the possibility that "comets may strike the earth, as Venus did when it was a comet [though actual lithospheric collision is def­initely not being proposed--see p. 3721 ; . . . A large comet arriving from interstellar spaces may run into one of the planets and push it from its orbit; then chaos may start anew.  Also some dark star, like Jupiter[7] or Saturn, may be in the path of the sun, and may be attracted to the system and cause havoc in it" (emphasis added).  These are certainly not statements con­taining a hard and fast rule much less a definite "prediction".  As it happens, Velikovsky's discussion of comets on p. 373 of W in C dealt primarily with past cometary (and planetary) collisions; and on the basis of known present orbital configur­ations for various solar system bodies, Velikovsky merely noted the possibilities for future collisions--a most reasonable concept when one considers the massive historical evidence compiled in Worlds in Collision.

That comets can no longer be considered insubstantial bodies was already indicated by N. T. Bobrovnikoff, Director of Per­kins Observatory, in 1951.  "Several comets seen in the 19th century moved in very similar orbits and 'in all probability, are the result of decomposition of one single body.......... If put together' these comets 'would make something like the mass of the moon' " (Cf.  Yale Scientific Magazine, op. cit., p. 9; The Velikovsky Affair, p. 242; N. T. Bobrovnikoff, in Astrophysics, ed. Hyneck, 1951, pp. 310-311).  F. Whipple claimed that Pluto was once a comet (YSM, p. 16; See also F. Dachille, "Interactions of the Earth with Very Large Meteorites," Bulletin of South Carolina Academy of Science, Vol. 24, 1962).

3)                Vermin live in comets and in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Venus.  Velikovsky's use of the word vermin (pp. 187, 369 of W in C) instead of a more neutral term such as "organic life" has served as an excuse for endless flagellation on Sagan's part.  However, the context within which the word "vermin" was first used was speculative and cautious; and even Sagan's favorite device of a double negative was employed by Velikovsky ("not entirely improbable").  ". . . The idea of the arrival of living organisms from interplanetary spaces is not new.  Whether there is truth in this supposition of larval contamination of the earth is anyone's guess.  The ability of many small insects and their larvae to endure great cold and heat and to live in an atmosphere devoid of oxygen renders not entirely improbable the hypothesis that Venus (and also Jupiter, from which Venus sprang) may be populated by vermin" (emphasis added). (Cp.  Science News, I I / 1 7/73, p. 309; Science News, 5/4/74, p. 285.)

Interestingly enough, it was Sagan (as reported in a recent issue of Newsweek--Aug. 15, 1977, p. 47) who "joined a mi­nority clique that raised an 'Andromeda Strain' scare about the moon rocks brought back by the astronauts--the fear that they might contaminate earth organisms."  Furthermore, where Mars is concerned, "Sagan still clings to the hope of finding some form of life on Mars, even the remote possibility that astronauts could one day 'collide with some big galumphing beast' out there" (Newsweek, Ibid., p. 49--emphasis added).

As one who is hoping to encounter "some big galumphing beast" on Mars, Sagan should be more careful in his criticism of the exobiological speculation of others.  Sagan is also very selec­tive as to whose exobiological theories he criticizes.  His good friend, Isaac Asimov, has suggested that life might exist not only on Jupiter, but Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune as well (Cf.  Family Weekly, October 26, 1975; KRONOS I:3, Nov., 1975, p. 86).[8] Yet, Sagan has had no public qualms about Asimov's exobiologi­cal hypotheses.

Space and life hold many mysteries; and repetitious ridicule has no place in serious scientific inquiry.  A new surprise may confront us at any moment.  As an example, an earthly staphylococcus survived for many months in the carcass of a Surveyor that had landed on the Moon.  This was presumed to be "impossible" before it happened.

•4)                Carbohydrates can be found in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Venus.  Sagan is once again deliberately confusing carbohydrates and hydrocarbons in order to ascribe an error to Velikovsky that was never committed.  That Velikovsky was referring to hydro­carbons can be readily ascertained by consulting the section in Worlds in Collision titled "The Gases of Venus". (See also The Velikovsky Affair, p. 237.)

If anyone has attributed carbohydrates to the atmosphere of Jupiter, it is Sagan.  On December 2, 19 73, at a NASA Ames news conference, Sagan said that "organic matter should be falling from the skies of Jupiter like manna from heaven.  And, that is one relevant point for biology in the case of Jupiter" (Cf.  Pensee VI, Winter, 1973-74, p. 57).

Worlds in Collision (p. 55) also anticipated the presence of hydrocarbons on meteorites and "hydrocarbons were subse­quently found on meteorites" (The Velikovsky Affair, p. 237; H. H. Nininger, Out of the Sky, Dover Pub., 1959, pp. 89-90).

•5)                Sufficient carbohydrates fell in the Sinai desert for 40 years of nourishment.  This subject will be discussed by Juergens below, though Velikovsky clearly indicated that carbohydrates precipi­tated throughout the world, not just in the Sinai, during the years following the first Venus-Earth encounter (Cf.  "Ambrosia" in W in C).

"The Maoris in the Pacific, the Jews on the border of Asia and Africa, the Hindus, the Finns, the Icelanders, all describe the honey-food being dropped from the clouds, dreary shades of the shadow of death, that enveloped the earth after a cosmic catastrophe.  All traditions agree also that the source of the heavenly bread falling from the clouds with the morning dew was a celestial body" (W in C, p. 137). [N.  B. this was not a "prediction".]

•6)                Eccentric cometary or planetary orbits can be circularized in a period of hundreds of years.  This problem will also be discussed in greater detail by Juergens below.  For now the following items should be noted: a) In Worlds in Collision, Velikovsky was already well aware of the problem of orbital circularization and devoted a portion of the "Epilogue" to the subject.  His words on this matter have been among the most neglected in Worlds in Collision.

"Comets and planets pushing one another could change their orbits, although it is singular how, for instance, Venus could achieve a circular orbit, or how the moon, also forced from its place, could hold to an almost circular orbit.  Nevertheless, there are precedents for such a concept.  The planetesimal theory postulates innumerable collisions between small planetesimals ­that flew out of the sun, gradually rounded their orbits, and formed planets and satellites; the tidal theory also regards the planets as derivatives of the sun swept by a passing star into a direction and with a force that, together with the gravitational attraction of the sun, created nearly circular orbits, the same having occurred to the moons in relation to their parent planets.  Another precedent for circular orbits formed under extraordinary circumstances can be found in the theory that regards the retro­grade satellites as captured asteroids which succeeded, after being captured, in achieving approximately circular orbits" (pp. 384-385). [N.  B. this was not a "prediction".] b) It is instructive to compare the preceding words with a report in Science News (10/30/76, p. 277) titled "Viking: Polar Dunes and Captured Moons".  "If Phobos and Deimos were indeed formed elsewhere and captured [by Mars], it is likely that they were captured while both were still part of a much larger object which later broke up, with the remaining fragments crashing into the planet or escaping into space.  It would take a large object . . . to produce strong enough tidal interactions with Mars to produce the present circular, equatorial-plane orbits that neither moon would be likely to have achieved on its own.  If the two have different densities, however, it would suggest either two separate captures of larger objects or that circular, equatorial ­plane capture is easier than now believed" (emphasis added).

Evidently, cosmos and chronos still have a few surprises for the astronomical community.

. . . to be continued.


The present reader has been given only a glimpse of Sagan's errors.  What was offered here is only the tip of the iceberg.  Like the mythi­cal giants who piled Mount Pelion atop Mount Ossa in a vain effort to storm Olympus so, too, has Sagan piled error upon error in his awk­ward attempt to discredit Worlds in Collision.  In this respect, he is no different from such predecessors as L. Sprague de Camp, Isaac Asimov, and Howard Margolis.

Having enumerated Sagan's many errors of fact, logic, carelessness, and misrepresentation, I leave the task of answering Sagan's "Ten Plagues" to Ralph Juergens, whose article also complements Velikovsky's own reply to Sagan.

[1].  An Analysis of "Worlds in Collision."

[2].  The criticisms and page numbers that follow pertain to the 1976 version of Sagan's paper--a paper freely circulated among the general public and academic communities by the author's own directive.

[3].  But see the remarks of William Mullen in Pensee IX (Fall, 1974), p. 39, second footnote at bottom of the page.

[4].  Sagan seems to have forgotten the numerous European and Oriental concatenations, amassed by Velikovsky, that cannot be explained by diffusion either.

[5].  See the remarks by Dr. G. Heinsohn in SIS Review II:I (Autumn, 1977), P. 3.

[6].  *With respect to the frogs, it is curiously interesting that "at Mersina, Turkey, frogs rained from the sky on 11 February 1963 during a torrential fall of rain" (E.  Nolton,.  "As Worlds Collide," KRONOS 11:3, Feb., 1977, p. 8). (Cp. with the quote of ref. #1 in the section "Baal Zevuv" in W in C; see also Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned (Ace Books: N.Y., 19 7 2), pp. 1 13-1 22, 34 2.)

[7].  On page 52 of his 1976 paper, Sagan wrote: "Jupiter was suggested by Kuiper (1949) to give off more heat than it receives, and subsequent observations have proved him right.  But of this 'Worlds in Collision' breathes not a word."  Sagan's latter comment is dead wrong ­See W in C, p. 373; 1. Velikovsky, "On the Advance Claim of Jupiter's Radionoises," KRONOS III:l (Aug., 1977), pp. 28 and 30; D. Cardona, "The Sun of Night,"Ibid., p. 31; YSM, P. 15.

[8].  Asimov probably got his idea from Sagan in the first place--Cf. Pensee VI (Winter, 1973-74), p. 57.

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