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KRONOS Vol II, No. 4

THE DOMINATION OF ASTRONOMY
OVER OTHER DISCIPLINES
LYNN E. ROSE


First published in PSA 1974; R. S. Cohen et al. (eds.), PSA 1974, 469-476. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 1976 by D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht-Holland. Reprinted with permission.

Nature is one. Science should be one. But we see that contemporary 'science' is fragmented into disciplines, departments, and specialties in an arbitrary and artificial manner. Our 'science' has fallen to these present depths under the sheer weight of its accumulated data and literature. Since no one of us can any longer hope to sift through all of the paper that has been accumulated, we face a choice: we can admit how little we know about nature as a whole – or we can restrict our areas of knowledgeability to fit our capacities, and thus continue to appear knowledgeable. Most scholars choose the course that is more self-flattering: since we cannot be experts on the panorama of nature, we instead become experts on solar prominences, or on Homeric epic, or on Bristlecone pines, or on Mayan sculpture, just so that there remains at least something on which we can be experts.

This surrender to a short term temptation has become a long term tragedy. For departmentalized 'science' is pseudo-science: instead of being geared for discovery, it is programmed to self-destruction – for it is guaranteed not to discover the truth. Only an interdisciplinary approach, seeking one unified and coherent theory to describe our one universe, has much prospect of finding the truth. The mere summation of isolated special theories will be a disconnected jumble, inevitably lacking coherence and probably lacking mutual consistency as well.(1) And where the theories developed within the various isolated disciplines or departments do lack mutual consistency, the resolution of the inconsistencies is essentially a political rather than a scientific process, with the more passive departments designing their own theories in such a way as to conform to the theories that have been favored within the stronger departments.

The phrase, 'politics of science', has many levels of applicability. It could refer to the manoeverings of an individual seeking increased status and success within the scientific community (such as the way astronomers need to be 'team players' in order to gain access to the telescopes or other instruments required for their research). Or it could refer to the manoeverings of one group against another. Often these groups are nationalistic (2) (such as when the Germans claim that Copernicus was German rather than Polish; or when the English write histories of science crediting Harvey with the discovery of the circulation of the blood and ignoring the prior work of da Vinci, Columbo, and Cesalpino – or stressing the role of Dalton in modern atomism while neglecting Avogadro). But the political arrangements that will be emphasized here are those in which the units are the departments or disciplines themselves. The political form that we find here is doctrinal monarchy: Urania, or astronomy, has long been enthroned as 'the queen of the sciences'. This monarchical rule by astronomy is not restricted to the so-called 'natural sciences', but extends also to such departments of knowledge as folk lore, linguistics, art history, Egyptology, psychoanalysis, and even philosophy. (All of these, for purposes of this paper, will arbitrarily be called 'sciences', since they are included in the domain over which astronomy is said to be queen.) Let us take a closer look at the background of this monarchical structure within science, this long-established pecking order of the disciplines.

Once upon a time there was a young Macedonian named Aristotle who believed that Earth and the objects on it were radically different both in composition and in behavior from the objects in the heavens. Aristotle worked out a very complex, purely speculative theory that objects on Earth are composed of one sort of material and obey one set of laws of motion and that objects in the heavens are composed of an entirely different sort of material and obey an entirely different set of laws of motion. Furthermore, objects in the terrestrial realm are subject to all sorts of changes - such as coming-into-being and passing-away, or generation and corruption – whereas in the celestial realm nothing ever changes: the heavenly bodies move along forever in perfect circles on perfect spheres, with perfectly uniform speeds. By their very nature, substance, and laws of motion, the unchanging heavens are completely divorced from the terrestrial world of change and corruption. The precise and uniform speeds and geometrically perfect paths make it possible to calculate the past and future positions of the heavenly bodies with absolute precision, for none of the variation or indefiniteness of the terrestrial realm interferes with such calculations.

The Aristotelian view is that the heavens are made of a nobler substance than are the humble objects on Earth, and that the science that studies the heavens is therefore a nobler science than the mundane sciences of biology, geology, chemistry, physics, history, and psychology. Thus we have the view that astronomy is 'the queen of the sciences'. This view that astronomy is the queen of the sciences has been with us for more than two thousand years; its popularity remains high, especially among astronomers.

Aristotle's pupil, Alexander the Great, conquered a large part of the known geographical world, but his conquest endured for only a few years. On the other hand, Aristotle's circle-happy view of the unchanging heavens has conquered the intellectual world, and has endured right down to the present day. It is no wonder that Aristotle has been called–it is usually intended as a compliment–'the master of those who know'.

The most vigorous and most successful of the critics of this circle-happy view was Giordano Bruno. It was Bruno who singlehandedly demolished the astronomy of the circle and the sphere, and who thoroughly under-mined the Aristotelian distinction between the celestial and the terrestrial.(3) After reading Bruno, no rationally thinking person could continue to defend the Aristotelian position. But there are problems here: (1) not enough people have read Bruno; and (2) not all of our behavior is rational. The result is that even today the Aristotelian view of an unchanging heaven is very difficult to eradicate from our minds and our thinking, its untenability notwithstanding.

But has not the Aristotelian viewpoint been abandoned by modern astronomy? Not really. Astronomy has changed its tools and some of its terms, but not its stripes. It has only superficially emancipated itself from the circle-happy thinking of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Copernicus. The circular has been replaced by the cyclical and the periodic, but the effect is the same; just as a combination of perfect and uniform circular motions once permitted backwards and forwards calculation of planetary positions without effective limit, so today it is claimed that a combination of precise cyclical or periodic components (with some secular ones taken into account also) permits calculation of planetary positions for any time in the future or in the past.(4)

The sort of argument used by the astronomers is this. If a body such as Earth is on a well-defined orbit around a central body such as the Sun, we can extrapolate from the present movements of that orbiting body and determine its orbital position for some given time in either the past or the future. Thus the orbital period of Earth is 365.256 days, and that means that every 365.256 days Earth will come back to the sector of its orbit in which it is located today. Exactly five, or fifty, or five hundred, or even five thousand sidereal years ago today, Earth must have been in the same sector of its orbit that it is passing through today. The same applies to all the other planets. To many astronomers, all this seems to be merely a matter of definitions) And yet any calculation of the past or future positions of an orbiting body from the characteristics of the orbit being followed at present is fallacious, unless that argument is supplemented by an extra assumption that begs the question that is at issue between Velikovsky and most of the astronomers: namely, whether catastrophic events caused such planets as Earth, Venus, and Mars to be thrown onto their present orbits as recently as within historical times. If you know that there were no such events, then retro calculation may be one way to determine the approximate positions of the planets at some point in time. But if you do not make that extra assumption or have that extra knowledge, then there is no way to tell if the calculation is correct. If nothing changed the orbits, then we can integrate the orbits back far enough to show that Velikovsky is wrong and that there were no near-collisions. But the integration is informative only if no substantial orbital changes are involved.

The considerable success that modern astronomers have enjoyed in predicting planetary positions years in advance has eroded their caution. They forget that such predictions work out only if the present factors affecting the orbits are unchanged. If a black hole or other massive body passes through the solar system and near Earth, then – to say the very least – those calculations and predictions will have to be done over. And while retro calculation may be effective back some twenty-six centuries, whether it is effective farther back depends upon whether it is or is not the case that Earth's orbit was changed in the year 687 before the present era, which is the very point at issue. Whether there was or was not an Earth-Mars near-collision in 687 cannot be settled by retro calculation. It must be settled on the basis of historical evidence. In such cases as this, history should set guidelines for astronomical theory, rather than having astronomical theory dictate what shall be admissible as historical fact.

As many have already pointed out, one does not have to be an astronomer to refute the argument of the astronomers. Retro calculation of the position of some artificial satellite now on a highly stable orbit would show where that satellite was located three decades ago. But of course the artificial satellites did not even exist three decades ago! Calculating where a planet was three millennia ago is no more valid than calculating where an artificial satellite was three decades ago. In order to make such arguments valid, you have to know that the orbits were not subject to any disturbing or perturbing factors other than those operative at present. In order to use such a calculation to prove that there were no near-collisions of planets within historical times, you must assume as a premise of your argument that there were no near-collisions of planets within historical times; to prove Velikovsky wrong you must assume Velikovsky wrong – a classic case of petitio principii.

This procedure has repeatedly been shown to be fallacious, but it remains extremely popular among astronomers. One of its attractions is that it permits astronomy to continue to be the queen of the sciences, and to exercise a rule over other disciplines, such as history. Thus the retro calculation of past planetary and lunar positions permits astronomers to engage in arm-chair historiography – the writing of history without having to bother with data, records, documents, archeological finds, or other irrelevancies. Modern historiography concerning the ancient world has been constructed(6) on a framework of astronomical calculation, and is not a mere summary of the recorded facts. The result is that Velikovsky finds that modern writings about antiquity have left those ancient Ages in Chaos,(7) and he insists that both the history of the solar system and the history of ancient civilizations need to be reconstructed on the basis of historical evidence rather than on the basis of astronomical question-begging.

Representatives of those disciplines upon which Velikovsky's work has had repercussions frequently say that they need not look into Velikovsky's radical proposals because the astronomers have already shown that Velikovsky cannot be correct in claiming the occurrence of near-collisions of planets within historical times. Thus one of the reasons that Velikovsky has been denied an adequate hearing within the various relevant disciplines is that those disciplines have accepted the question-begging arguments offered by the astronomers. For example, certain historians have refused to look at Velikovsky's historical evidence because the astronomers have said that the historical evidence cannot show the near-collisions suggested by Velikovsky, since those near-collisions cannot have taken place.

Thus it is that historians and others have allowed their disciplines to remain subalternate and subordinate to queen astronomy. But monarchies, like totalitarian relationships generally, are unlikely to endure for as long as two thousand years unless there is a passivity or a willingness to be ruled and to be led on the part of the subjects. And that is the case here. The geologists, the biologists, and especially the historians have passively accepted the thesis that the astronomers can tell them what has been going on on this Earth, and they have then sketched in those details permitted by the astronomers' general outline. The astronomers inform these other disciplines that Earth has been substantially undisturbed on its orbit for billions of years, and that whatever changes may have taken place on Earth are traceable exclusively to causes of the sort that we see operating today. This is uniformitarianism: the unproved assumption that the only factors that could have operated in the past are the factors that we see operating today. The other disciplines have meekly accepted this uniformitarian thesis, and have done so without seriously examining the evidence or the lack of evidence. It has become standard operating procedure to divert one's critical eye from everything but one's own specialty. Thus it is that even though the students of the other sciences have spent several millennia kneeling at the feet of queen astronomy. and accepting retrocalculated 'history', the habit of diverting the eyes (and the mind) has caused most of those students to remain unaware that these feet at which they have been kneeling are nothing but clay; and the uniformitarian pronouncements of queen astronomy thus remain unchallenged by the other sciences.

Item: Since we do not see new species suddenly appealing all around us today, biologists assume that the evolution that occurred in the past must have occurred so slowly that an observer at some point in the past would have been unaware - just as we today are unaware - of the new species slowly evolving all around.

Item: Since we do not see new mountain ranges or new oceans suddenly coming into being today, geologists assume that the formation of mountains and oceans that occurred in the past must have occurred so slowly that observers back then would have been unaware that they were watching new mountains and new oceans develop, just as we today are unaware of these developments.

Thus neither the biologists nor the geologists have given adequate consideration to the possibility of cataclysmic evolution of new biological and geological forms and cataclysmic extinction of older forms. The astronomers have prohibited the biologists and geologists from invoking a solar system that has intermittently had its Worlds in Collision and that has at times put Earth in Upheaval; and yet these are the very prospects that make cataclysmic evolution a workable and a successful theory.(8)

The historians, too – whether they are historians of art, or historians of languages, or historians of politics and wars – are guided by the astronomers. For the astronomers tell us that our safe haven, Earth, has been moving on its same basic orbit for billions of years, accompanied by its faithful and steady Moon, and that it is therefore possible to calculate, with pencil and paper, or with a computer (the fallacy is the same), all the past and future positions of Earth and Moon, including the dates of all past and future eclipses of the Sun and eclipses of the Moon, without effective limit.(9) If the historians find an ancient record that seems to describe an eclipse, the astronomers have laid out the possible dates to which that report might be assigned. The historians, without putting up any argument, meekly agree that they must either reject their ancient record as inaccurate or else rig their sequences of historical events in such a way that the ancient record of the eclipse comes out at one of the dates that the astronomers will allow.

This subalternation or subordination of the various disciplines to the discipline of astronomy has by now become sacrosanct. To quarrel with this state of affairs means rejecting some of the most sacred beliefs and most cherished habits of at least a score of different disciplines at once. It means telling the established leaders in those disciplines that the labor of decades that they have invested and the professional status that they have acquired may all have to be set aside because of the claims of an outsider. It means tackling both the astronomical queen and her geological, biological, and historical handmaidens. It takes a person of exceptional courage and of exceptional breadth and competence to dare to do this.

Such a person is Immanuel Velikovsky ....

NOTES

1. See Rose (1972).
2. For discussion of nationalism in science, see Paterson (1973).
3. See Paterson (1970, especially pp. 9-49).
4. Examples are legion: see Oppolzer (1887 and 1962); Lockyer (1894); van den Bergh (1954); Tuckerman (1962); Hawkins (1965); and Hawkins and Rosenthal (1967). For criticism of such procedures, see Bass (1974a and 1974b).
5. It should be pointed out that those astronomers who make the most sweeping claims for retro calculation are usually not the leading specialists in "mathematically rigorous celestial mechanics" and that the loose sort of retro calculation that is so widely used is ,'more an art' based upon 'hope,' than a strict science based upon strict logic". Bass (1974b, pp. 22, 26).
6. See Velikovsky(1973). [Also see Velikovsky(1977).]
7. See Velikovsky (1945) and Velikovsky (1952).
8. See Velikovsky (1955).
9. See, in particular, Oppolzer (1887 and 1962) and van den Bergh (1954). Lockyer (1894, p. 129) speaks of carrying retro calculations "as far back as we choose".

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Bass, Robert W.: 1974a,'Did Worlds Collide?', Pensee (Summer, 1974), 8-20.
  • Bass, Robert W.: 1974b, ' "Proofs" of the Stability of the Solar System', Pensee (Summer, 1974), 21-26. [KRONOS II, 2 (November, 1976), 27-45.]
  • Hawkins, Gerald S.: 1965, Stonehenge Decoded, Doubleday, Garden City, New York.
  • Hawkins, Gerald S. and Rosenthal, Shoshana K.: 1967, 5,000- and 10,000-Year Star Catalogs, Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics, Volume 10, Number 2, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.
  • Lockyer, J. Norman: 1894, The Dawn of Astronomy, Cassell, London.
  • Oppolzer, Theodor Ritter von: 1887, Canon der Finsternisse, Karl Gerold's Sohn, Wien.
  • Oppolzer, Theodor Ritter von: 1962, Canon of Eclipses (Canon der Finsternisse), translated by Owen Gingerich, Dover, New York.
  • Paterson, Antoinette Mann: 1970, The Infinite Worlds of Giordano Bruno, Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, Springfield, Illinois.
  • Paterson, Antoinette Mann: 1973, Francis Bacon and Socialized Science, Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, Springfield, Illinois.
  • Rose, Lynn E.: 1972, 'The Censorship of Velikovsky's Interdisciplinary Synthesis', Pensee (May, 1972), 21-31.
  • Tuckerman, Bryant: 1962, Planetary, Lunar, and Solar Positions 601 B.C. to 1 A.D. at Five-Day and Ten-Day Intervals, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia.
  • van den Bergh, G.: 1954, Eclipses in the Second Millennium B.C. ( - 1600 to - 1207) and How to Compute Them in a Few Minutes, H. D. Tieenk Willink & Zoon N. V., Haarlem.
  • Velikovsky, Immanuel: 1945, Theses for the Reconstruction of Ancient History From the End of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt to the Advent of Alexander the Great, Scripta Academica Hierosolymitana, Simon Velikovsky Foundation, New York.
  • Velikovsky, Immanuel: 1950, Worlds in Collision, Macmillan, New York.
  • Velikovsky, Immanuel: 1952, Ages in Chaos, Doubleday, Garden City, New York.
  • Velikovsky, Immanuel: 1955, Earth in Upheaval, Doubleday, Garden City, New York.
  • Velikovsky, Immanuel: 1973, 'Astronomy and Chronology', Pensee (Spring-Summer,
  • 1973), 38-49. [Velikovsky, Immanuel: 1977, Peoples of the Sea, Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 204-244.1.

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