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Open letter to science editors
Sagan's Folly Part 1
LEWIS M. GREENBERG
On February 25, 1974, Carl Sagan presented a lengthy criticism
of Worlds in Collision
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.
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
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
"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.
"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).
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 ,
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
2) Since there was more than one cosmic catastrophe,
many "graphic recordings", dating from earlier periods, would have been
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
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,
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
"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).
ERRORS OF CARELESSNESS AND MISREPRESENTATION
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
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
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
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"
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
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
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
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
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. . ."
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
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).
Yet, Sagan has had no public qualms about Asimov's exobiological
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.
•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
"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
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.
An Analysis of "Worlds in Collision."
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
But see the remarks of William Mullen in Pensee IX (Fall,
1974), p. 39, second footnote at bottom of the page.
Sagan seems to have forgotten the numerous European and Oriental
concatenations, amassed by Velikovsky, that cannot be explained by
See the remarks by Dr. G. Heinsohn in SIS Review II:I
(Autumn, 1977), P. 3.
*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.)
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.
Asimov probably got his idea from Sagan in the first place–Cf.
Pensee VI (Winter, 1973-74), p. 57.