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Velikovsky In Collision
Editorial Preface: The following article by David Stove originally appeared in the October-November 1964 issue of Quadrant (Sydney, Australia). It is being reprinted because its reasoning and eloquence do not deserve the obscurity it has heretofore enjoyed. Readers familiar with his 1967 article "The Scientific Mafia" (reprinted in Pensée IVR I and Velikovsky Reconsidered) may recognize passages that are derivative of the earlier work presented herein.
Were it not for Ralph Juergens having quoted the Quadrant article at the end of "Aftermath to Exposure " in The Velikovsky Affair, probably few outside Australia would know of its existence. Juergens' excerpts from Stove's evocative last section subsequently appeared in SIS Review III:2 (1978), p. 29 and KRONOS IV:4(1979), p. 67.
Were it not for my having met Eric Larrabee in mid-1978, this article might never have been sought. After identifying it as his favorite commentary on Velikovsky's work, especially the idea expressed in the penultimate paragraph, Larrabee asked if he might be provided a replacement copy of the article. The request was fulfilled by obtaining an n-th generation xerox copy from Dr. Velikovsky's files. Additional copies sent to others from time to time generated such high praise and enthusiasm that reprinting it became inescapable. The article, which Juergens identified as "objective criticism of the evidence advanced by Velikovsky in all his books", appears below in slightly modified form with the permission of its author. – CLE
A book called Worlds in Collision was published in the U.S.A. in 1950. According to it, Venus as a planet is only about 3,500 years old. What afterwards became the planet had been ejected at some earlier time from Jupiter. This thing, which one could only call an enormous comet, moved for centuries on a highly eccentric orbit. About 1500 B.C. it made its two closest approaches to the Earth. Our planet survived these encounters only at the cost of fearful damage. During the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., comet-Venus repeatedly approached Mars, and Mars in turn menaced the Earth. Only after these brushes did Venus finally lose its last cometary characteristics and settle into its present almost circular orbit. The effects on the Earth, of the first encounter especially, were truly catastrophic: oceans displaced, continents drowned, mountains built and demolished, organic populations extinguished or decimated, civilisations overwhelmed, the diurnal motion interrupted, the month and the year lengthened, the axis of rotation changed – and much else besides.
In the evidence offered in Worlds in Collision for the theory, archaeology, geology and palaeontology play a minor part. Velikovsky's survey of the evidence from these fields for his theory is given in Earth in Upheaval, published in 1955. The book which he began first of all [Ages in Chaos], but published only in 1952, appeals to evidence of still another sort. The very starting-point of Worlds in Collision – the synchronisation of the Exodus and the end of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt about 1500 B.C. – is heterodox. It requires a general bringing-forward of Egyptian history by at least 500 years. What Velikovsky attempts to show in Ages in Chaos is that his revised chronology not only can resolve long-standing historical enigmas, but produces uniquely good "fit" among Egyptian, Jewish, and other ancient eastern histories.
This new version of eighteenth-century geological catastrophism has been developed with extraordinary ingenuity by its author. It has led him to novel suggestions on an almost incredible range of subjects: from the identity of the Queen of Sheba to the cause of the last ice-age; from the chemistry of manna to the origin of species; from the original of the "plumed serpent" of Mexican mythology to the temperature of Venus's surface; from the steeds of the god Mars to the importance of electrical and magnetic forces in the solar system – to name but a few.
Worlds in Collision quickly became a best seller. But it also quickly became the target of almost universal abuse. The Dallas News thought it might be the latest Russian dogma. The Daily Worker saw in its popularity a sure sign of the bankruptcy of capitalism. And the professional astronomers raised a gale of derision and denunciation that is blowing intermittently still. I do not know of any such reaction by historians, archaeologists, geologists or palaeontologists to Earth in Upheaval. But it is perfectly safe to assume that if there are no such, it is because these specialists shared the astronomers' estimate of the theory, and accordingly ignored the later book.
The most remarkable circumstances of the case, however, are those surrounding the publication of Worlds in Collision.
Macmillan had accepted the book, on the advice of, among others, Gordon Atwater, then curator of the famous Hayden planetarium and chairman of the astronomy department of the American Museum of Natural History. Warnings to Macmillan, against publishing such a venture into "the Black Arts", were given by one of the most famous American astronomers of this century, Harlow Shapley. These were heeded, but the manuscript got votes for publication from two of a set of three new referees; and it was finally published.
Shapley arranged for the publication of brief denunciations by a distinguished archaeologist, an orientalist, an anthropologist, a geologist, and himself. But this was the merest beginning. The outcry gathered strength from all sides. Atwater was summarily dismissed from his positions at the Museum. So was Putnam, the man responsible for accepting the book for publication, despite his twenty-five years with Macmillan.
The professors were not content, however, and a campaign, instigated by Shapley and others, to boycott the company's textbooks in the universities was so successful that Macmillan came to heel. In order to avert financial disaster for Macmillan, Velikovsky consented to have their best-selling property transferred to Doubleday; a firm which, having no textbook department, would be immune to this particular form of blackmail.
It would be wrong to suggest that the hostility of the learned has been absolutely unanimous. Velikovsky has always had the interest, or at least the toleration, of a few scientists. Some of these, moreover, have been very distinguished indeed. More recently, as we shall see, some scientists have been impressed by some confirmations of Velikovsky's theory that have come along. And – best compliment of all – Velikovsky has lived to see some of his ideas appear in the work of respectable writers; without acknowledgment of course, but also without ruining the reputation of their new sponsors.
* * *
Such are the historical facts. They irresistibly suggest scores of intriguing questions to the mind. For one thing, I would wager that 95 per cent of those learned men who did their best to suppress Worlds in Collision would be scandalised at any attempt to suppress an avant-garde play or novel, however vicious or merely deranged its contents. Which suggests some interesting thoughts on the blessings that the triumph of anti-censorship ideology has brought us; and on the two cultures. For my own experience, C. P. Snow notwithstanding, is that scientists have succumbed scarcely less than other people to the "aesthetic propaganda" (Barzun) of the last half-century.
But the largest and most pressing questions are two. First, how are we to explain the violence of the scientists' reaction? And second, what ought we to think of Velikovsky's theory itself?
* * *
I take for granted that the scientists' reaction can only be explained, not excused. Yet the campaign against Macmillan has been defended in print, by Professor John Stewart, Princeton astrophysicist. As publishers of many reputable authors in astronomy, Macmillan, he wrote, should have remembered that "readers unfamiliar with an author in physical science frequently take a respected publisher's imprint as something of a guarantee". I will not say this is false, but it is certainly news to me; it corresponds to nothing in my experience. But even if it is true, the following remark, given the context, is pure humbug: that "this is particularly important when an expert in search of reliable information steps out of his own professional field into a neighbouring one". One can just see all those innocent non-astronomical experts mistaking Worlds in Collision for a solid astronomical textbook!
Many of Velikovsky's assailants, it is clear, would explain and excuse their words and deeds on the ground that they were dealing with something on a par with the flat-earth theory, or a geocentric theory of the solar system. One hostile review, for example, was headed "Copernicus, who was he?" It should have been evident to the most superficial reader that Velikovsky's theory is not on a par with such things. But the main point is rather that if it were, this would make the scientists' reaction harder to explain, not easier. There would have been no need for the book to be noticed at all.
One fact that I have no doubt played some part in determining the scientists' reaction is that Velikovsky is an amateur, a "downtowner". The importance of this circumstance can be appreciated only by those who know what feelings the university department of ___________ entertains in most cases for the downtown Society for _________, and especially for its more eccentric adherents.
Another, and probably still more important contributory fact, must have been that Velikovsky is a spectacular transgressor of the boundaries between disciplines. He presumes to teach history to historians, geology to geologists – and so on indefinitely – as well as astronomy to the astronomers. Border-jumping, as is well known, is a thing detested in the intellectual world.
Again, we know that there is such a thing as scientific conservatism. Not only theories, but accepted observational results, may have to wait a long time before a change in the intellectual climate allows them their due. A certain conservatism is, in any case, inherent in any enterprise which, as science does, aims at continuous accumulation of something – in this case, natural knowledge. But the astronomy of the solar system in particular has not seen any revolutions since the Copernican was completed by Kepler and Newton. Astronomy in general has seen revolutions in that time of course, and physics proper still more; but our conception of the solar system, until very recently, has not. Now Velikovsky's theory certainly negates something which has been part of the background of the scientific world-view for a remarkably long time, viz., the stability of the solar system. But is that sufficient to explain the tremendous obloquy with which his book was received? Not on its own, it seems clear.
While we are looking for things to help explain the book's reception, it would be wrong to omit mention of the many defects which the book evidently has. Worlds in Collision is very trying reading. Even if the author never tires of the language of catastrophe, the reader soon does. Much of this language must be wildly exaggerated – "the world burned", and the like. It is also extremely vague. Sometimes it is quite unclear how the evidence cited is supposed to be related to the hypothesis under discussion. Velikovsky consistently overestimates the weight of his evidence, speaking with a perfection of assurance totally at odds with the imperfection of his evidence. The tone of the book is one of special pleading throughout: no fragment, however ambiguous or remotely related to his hypothesis, escapes mention if it can conceivably be wrought to his purpose.
There are several ways, rather more subtle than I have mentioned so far, in which the book must have given offence. Velikovsky dared to offer, as evidence for an astronomical hypothesis, not only passages from classical Greek or Roman authors, or Egyptian papyri, but from astrologers, and worst of all, from the Bible. It is interesting to note in connection with the first that some of the derision he met with strikes an anti-humanistic note. But of course to cite astrologers or the Bible to astronomers is to use against them the very afflictions their subject has suffered most from. What an unbearable irony, especially, if that accursed passage of Joshua (10:13) which nearly strangled Copernicanism at its birth, should be even indirectly vindicated!
In the emotional state brought on by the revival of these old wounds, various astronomers were shocked into printing remarks about the history and method of their science which have not often been heard since the age of steam. That, for example, the progress of astronomy is always gradual, unmarked by startling innovations like Velikovsky's theory: which allowed Velikovsky to neatly return on his tormentors their cruel and inept question – Copernicus, who was he?: that "Galileo's reasoning was firmly embedded in observations made with his new telescope. He looked before he drew conclusions. He experimented before he theorised. His approach to science was the reverse of that represented by Velikovsky...." So there is at least one man in the world who still does not know that, when Galileo embraced the Copernican theory, there were no known observational tests in its favour! As for the steam-methodology about looking before leaping, surely it is by now a commonplace that a theory can suggest observations which without it would never have been made, and also that the only vital thing is that leaps be checked by looks – before, or after, is not material. There is nothing wrong with Velikovsky's methodology. He has a historical hypothesis; it has consequences beside those things which first suggested it to his mind; some of these are observationally checkable; and these predictions Velikovsky categorically makes. One cannot ask more.
When I consider all these things together – Velikovsky's offences against professionalism, and against specialism, the conservatism of science and of the astronomy of the solar system in particular, the defects of the book itself, the peculiarly repugnant nature of much of Velikovsky's evidence – I feel that the violence of the reception is still not quite accounted for. What the missing clue might be I will suggest after I have tried to assess the state of the evidence for the theory.
But, whatever the state of the evidence, is there not, as David Hume wrote in another connexion, "Something in the fate of opinions a little extraordinary"? Whether or not Macmillan does so, other equally respectable houses publish works of Christian theology and revealed religion. But no chorus of scientific derision and contumely greets these. Indeed, when Catholic and Anglican meet to agree, or to differ, over "theories" infinitely more ridiculous than Velikovsky's, the world breathes respect for these deliberations. Velikovsky dares to suppose that the Sun did appear to stand still when Joshua slaughtered the Ammonites. Christians – many scientists among them – must believe either that the Bible tells lies or that not only was the diurnal motion of the Earth in fact interrupted, but that God, not Venus, performed this feat, and at Joshua's behest. Yet who has an ill word for the Christians? Again, if Velikovsky had interpreted his folk-lore of catastrophe in terms of some psychoanalytic theory of infantile or prenatal experience, there would have been no outcry. Far from it, it would by now be possible to "major" in such learned folly in universities all over the Western world. Velikovsky made a great mistake, it is clear: he chose to tell a secular, historical story about some buffetings among big lumps of matter in our solar system.
* * *
But is it a likely or even a credible, story?
On the face of it, to assess the evidence for Velikovsky's theory would seem to require the competence of an astronomer, a historian, and a geologist, at least. I possess none of these competences (only an amateur interest in astronomy and its history, and a professional interest in scientific method); and I felt very uneasy about undertaking to assess the evidence. Consequently I was greatly relieved to read the statements of various astronomers that Velikovsky's theory can be excluded on astronomical grounds of an elementary and not at all technical kind. It was not at all obvious to me, I must admit, that Velikovsky had told an impossible story, but I was prepared to be shown that he had; and I looked forward with equanimity to seeing him annihilated.
The "refutations" I have read cannot, I suppose, be more than a small proportion of those printed; and of course it is possible, though for obvious reasons unlikely, that other, better, disproofs have gone unnoticed, or are yet to come. But all that I have seen are as ineffective as they are insulting (and that is plenty).
Let me refer to a few examples.
The first and most obvious thought that suggests itself is this: are there not historical records of Venus moving as she does now, records unambiguously earlier than 1500 B.C.? We cannot go into details here: the answer is no. Are there not, then – since Velikovsky supposes the Moon to have been pulled by Mars on to a remoter orbit, and on a remoter orbit it could never have caused a total solar eclipse – identifiable total solar eclipses earlier than Velikovsky's latest catastrophe (687 B.C.)? The answer is: one, or at most two. But the identifications are so highly conjectural that this line of argument cannot end in anything decisive.
Another line of disproof, by the distinguished Harvard astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, runs as follows. "We are asked to believe that Venus was shot out from Jupiter and practically made a direct hit on the Earth, and scored another bull's-eye after fifty-two years. She then . . . encountered Mars, who (despite his lightweight standing) propelled her into her present orbit, and proceeded to make two hits (or near hits) on the Earth on his own account, before returning to his present orbit . . . We have here an extraordinary achievement in a very difficult type of marksmanship – four (or even five) hits in a couple of thousand years. It is not only impossible. It is ridiculous."*
Evidently, the impossibility here referred to can only be of a statistical kind. How small a probability is to count as an impossibility is, of course, to some extent arbitrary. But I take it that a paradigm of statistical impossibility would be that famous spatial distribution of the particles in a gas which Maxwell's demon is reputed to bring about. To make this our standard, however, is to see at once that Velikovsky's temporal distribution of "hits" is not in the same class. One would like to know exactly what premises Mrs. Payne-Gaposchkin would use to compute the probability in question. (It is not, at any rate, as though planetary orbits are distributed at random angles to the ecliptic! Nor could it be supposed that the events, the "hits", are independent of one another.) One thing is certain, however: whatever the statistical improbability of the encounters in which Velikovsky places the birth of Venus as a planet, it is incomparably greater than the probability of that stellar encounter which sponsors of tidal theories of the birth of the planets demand. (And demand without being told the thing is not only impossible but ridiculous.)
Harlow Shapley is reported to have said that Velikovsky's theory violates the laws of mechanics. If this were true, it would end the matter for most of us. But of course, taken literally, the allegation is quite incredible, and indeed would show a basic misunderstanding of what the laws of mechanics are capable of. It is impossible if, in non-quantitative language, and without generalising, one tells a plain narrative about the vicissitudes of material objects, to say something inconsistent with the laws of mechanics. And this is how Velikovsky speaks. But if any one thinks he can deduce the falsity of Velikovsky's story from the laws of mechanics alone, he has a very easy recourse: produce the deduction. It is no accident that no one has done so.
What must rather be meant, however, is that the falsity of Velikovsky's theory is deducible from the laws of mechanics in conjunction with some particular known facts – e.g. about the masses of comets. This must be the point of Stewart's extended comparison between Velikovsky's theory and a story of a large building being structurally weakened by the close approach of a sparrow. Velikovsky's theory does indeed require a comet a million times more massive than any known. Now it is the normal, and reasonable, inductive assumption, that known comets are a fair sample of comets in general. And with this assumption, one can indeed deduce the falsity of Velikovsky's theory. But to do so we must, evidently, place complete reliance on a generalisation of the crudest natural-history kind. A Velikovsky-size comet would be more of an intellectual shock than Western Australia's black swans were; but it would be a shock of essentially the same kind, not requiring revision of any deeply entrenched law or theory.
But enough of parrying ad hoc proofs of the impossibility of the thing: that the kind of episode Velikovsky relates is possible, is tacitly conceded by astronomers themselves. In the pages of Mrs. Payne-Gaposchkin's textbook for example, we find allowed the possibility that the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter may be the ruins of the planet that Bode's law predicts for that orbit. So a planet can be damaged, even broken up – and how else but by the tidal action of another massive body? And do we not know of showers of meteoritic iron, and of very large meteorites, in the twentieth century?
In order to avoid supposing that astronomers have tried to persuade the public that something is impossible which they know is not, we must, then, distinguish within Velikovsky's theory a number of theses, as follows:
(I) A thesis of general catastrophism: there have been sudden major changes in the physical state of the Earth due to agents not observed to operate at present.
(II) A thesis of extra-terrestrial catastrophism; i.e., thesis I plus the clause that some of these agents have been extra-terrestrial.
(III) A thesis of historical extra-terrestrial catastrophism; i.e., thesis II plus the clause that some of these extra-terrestrial catastrophes have taken place in historical times.
(IV) The thesis of Worlds in Collision: i.e., thesis III plus the clause that one of these catastrophes was mainly due to comet-Venus, around 1500 B.C. – in other words, the theory outlined in the first paragraph of this article.
It will be obvious that each of these theses entails its predecessor, and that thesis IV entails all the others. If – as I have tried to show – the astronomers have failed in their attempts to show that IV is impossible, then a fortiori, I, II, and III are all possible. The possibility of II, as I have said, seems to be to be virtually conceded when it is conjectured that the asteroid belt is the remains of a planet. The question now becomes, then, one of the weight of the positive evidence for these theses, and for IV in particular. (I assume here that historians, archaeologists, geologists, etc. are unable to do better than the astronomers have done against thesis IV. This may well be false, for all I know. I do wish that I could provoke experts in these disciplines to display, for us all to see, the mass of evidence which warrants their complete neglect of Velikovsky's theory. None have done so up till now, that I know of.)
First, then, as to the strength of the evidence for thesis IV assembled in Worlds in Collision.
I must first say that, unless IV is to be quite incredible, the notion of "catastrophe" must be scaled down well below the magnitude that Velikovsky's language constantly suggests. Since "catastrophe" is not a quantitatively definite notion, a good deal of latitude must be allowed its users. But as Velikovsky uses it, the truth of IV would be incompatible with the survival of any vestiges of human life from before 1500 B.C. Since many such vestiges do survive, Velikovsky must have exaggerated the magnitude, if not the global character, of the supposed Venus-catastrophe.
There are many details of thesis IV for which the evidence seems to me to range from the very inconclusive down to the non-existent. Thus, for example, the evidence for Mars's agency in the 8th and 7th century catastrophes is slight. So is that for the violent electrical discharges which Velikovsky supposes to have taken place between the comet and Earth, and between the comet's head and tail, about 1500 B.C. The evidence for supposing that many of the catastrophes reported in other cultures are synchronous with those of the days of Exodus or of Joshua seems to me non-existent.
In other respects, however, the evidence for some parts of IV is very striking indeed. Most particularly, for Venus's having had a cometary appearance at some historical time. There are simply too many references, in ancient cultures all over the globe, to the planet Venus as bearded; or hairy; or smoking; as having fire hanging down from it; as horned, and so on, for me to believe that there is no truth at the bottom of this well.
Thesis IV requires the synchronism – not well attested, as I have said – of a great many alleged historical extra-terrestrial catastrophes. But III does not. And the evidence in this book for thesis III does seem to me to have very considerable weight. I cannot attempt to summarise it here: the prolonged days, the prolonged darkness, the changes of latitude, the 360-day year, and all the rest. The mass of it, the specificity, and the unanimity of the reports, must count for something. But what should most impress us – a feature which a great deal of the evidence possesses – is this: events are constantly reported, as occurring in conjunction, which reports, if they were false, only an advanced scientific knowledge could have suggested. To take but one of hundreds of examples, chosen for its shortness, not because it is one of the best: if it were not true, what knowledge could prompt a primitive Polynesian people to report that a new star was born while the Earth was battered with countless fragments?
It may be said, however, that much of this sort of evidence for III (and for IV) suffers from the defect that we are under no obligation (other than that imposed by III and IV) to believe the evidence (let alone the hypothesis). This is true. But it is connected with what must be regarded as a great merit of thesis III. An historical hypothesis, to account for testimonial evidence, is preferable (other things being equal), because it is the simplest, if it allows the testimony to be taken literally.
Now, all the ancient records, from the oral traditions of primitive tribes, to classical writers, and the Bible, speak repeatedly of tremendous natural disasters. I, for one, have always for this reason found such records intensely depressing. Apparently one must suppose the writers were all raving mad, which is the alternative to which I have always inclined, with depression; or – an alternative which I have always regarded as an insult to the authors of the records and a discredit to its proponents – that all this ancient testimony is not intended literally, but is – "literature". Thesis III, however, offers us a third, and simpler, alternative, which we had taken to be excluded. But if, as is the case as far as I know, thesis III is not excluded – since even IV is not – then this door is open.
Testimony may be intended literally, of course, without being true. But literal intention, apart from mistake or lying, guarantees at least the witness's best effort at truth. Sometimes, again, literal testimony may be self-contradictory, and thus be rejected on logical grounds. Or it may be excluded on metaphysical grounds (if it mentions God showing to Moses his back parts, for example). But most of Velikovsky's evidence satisfies the conditions of consistency and secularity. Consequently I say that thesis III has strong support – since I take it we may with fair confidence exclude universal lying or mistake – from the evidence Velikovsky offers.
I cannot forbear to add that thesis III opens up possibilities, the importance of which could not be over-estimated, for the explanation of man's fear of agencies in the skies; and of religion generally.
In my view then, there is good historical evidence for thesis III, and also for a vital part of thesis IV, a cometary character for Venus. This is not to say that there is good evidence for IV, of course, since, although there is fair evidence connecting them, these two things conjoined fall far short of IV. But IV must at least be regarded as a very live possibility.
Despite the force of the historical evidence, one would prefer to see geological or archaeological evidence for III and IV. So we turn to Earth in Upheaval, where the witness of "stones and bones" was to be called. (Ages in Chaos I omit, since it is connected with Velikovsky's theory only through his chronology.) And this book, I must admit, disappointed me.
In it, as in some shorter published pieces, Velikovsky devotes far too much time to the generalities of his theory. The electrical discharges which IV required led him, for example, to ascribe a novel importance to electrical and magnetic forces in the solar system. This point of view has been widely vindicated since then. But of course this has only a remote bearing on thesis IV, or even on thesis I. Again, while it may be true – I think, is true – that certain features of the evidence which embarrass a Darwinian theory of evolution are well accounted for when natural selection is complemented by extra-terrestrial catastrophism, this is at best an argument for thesis II. Again, Velikovsky involves himself at length with the theory of the quaternary ice-age. But an extra-terrestrial cause of this, or of its end, would at best help thesis II; and on the other hand, all he really requires for IV is one or more shifts of the polar axis in historical times, a phenomenon which, as he himself once observes, would only redistribute the ice, not change the amount.
Where his evidence is intended to bear specifically on thesis IV, however, it suffers from other defects. That a certain river delta was formed, or a certain glacier started its retreat, about 1500 B.C., does not, as far as I can judge, make either an extra-terrestrial, or a catastrophic, cause of these events significantly more likely than it is otherwise.
I am forced to make a somewhat similar comment on the support which Velikovsky prizes most highly (and rightly so). This is the work of the great archaeologist, Claude Schaeffer. Quite independently of Velikovsky's ideas, Schaeffer concluded in his immense Stratigraphie comparée et Chronologie de l'Asie Occidentale (iiie et iie millenaires) (1948) that sites all over the Middle East gave evidence of natural disasters of unknown origin and of a magnitude unparalleled in modern records; the most violent of all coinciding with the end of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt.
Now the details do indicate disasters on a scale which we should not refuse to call catastrophic. But if we allow to Velikovsky a comet of unheard-of-mass, why should we not allow to others earthquakes of unheard-of intensity? In other words, while this is certainly some worthwhile evidence for IV, and a fortiori for III, it is not obvious that to postulate a terrestrial cause here is too improbable.
Two lines of evidence among those given by Velikovsky may seem to point less ambiguously to thesis III. They are the reversed magnetisation of certain pieces of pottery – indicating to him that after humans made them, the direction of the Earth's magnetic poles has changed; and the evidence of human, and even highly civilised, remains at northern latitudes impossibly high – indicating a change in the position of the poles, and presumably, in the direction of the axis of rotation.
On the first, unfortunately, I am altogether incompetent to comment. The second – if latitudes such as 72 really are impossible – really would, as far as I can learn, require an extra-terrestrial agent. But since we know of big climatic changes, in the age of man as well as before, the obvious rejoinder is that such latitudes may not have been impossible for man. An extra-terrestrial cause of such climatic changes I certainly would not want excluded a priori; but such evidence as this can take us little way even towards thesis III, especially when Velikovsky mentions no features of those sites suggestive of catastrophic climatic change.
For theses III and IV, then, as far as I can judge, Velikovsky's harvest of evidence is meagre. It is of course possible that others will do the job better.
I must stress, however, that there seems to me to be worthwhile evidence – from the geological record, from the history of climate, from the direction and intensity of the magnetisation of many rocks – for thesis II. Nor would I want to suggest that II is of anything but the utmost interest and importance. But from the viewpoint of substantiating IV, even a complete substantiation of II would be the merest beginning.
On the basis of his books, then the most striking evidence for Velikovsky's theory remains the historical. The Earth spoke, at least to my ear, very equivocally for him.
What then, of the skies? Well, Velikovsky predicted that Jupiter, despite its coldness, is a radio-source, two years before the astonished astronomers found it so. Less indirect in its bearing on thesis IV is a fact nowhere mentioned by Velikovsky or his supporter Larrabee, discovered by radio-astronomers, but in one case optically identifiable with a dark patch on the disk: that Jupiter suffers explosions of tremendous energy, "the equivalent of several hydrogen bombs . . . the only terrestrial phenomenon known to provide such energies are large volcanic explosions, such as Krakatoa". But it is the Evening Star herself who has responded to two of Velikovsky's antecedently improbable predictions with an audible and astonishing "yes".
Velikovsky anticipated that, because of the circumstances and recency of its birth, and its subsequent hectic career, Venus must still be a great deal hotter than any other known theory allows. Because of wide-spread but especially Biblical references to a rain of pitch, he anticipated, contrary to all prevailing conceptions, that Venus's atmosphere must be very rich in hydrocarbons.
The first prediction was vindicated during the close approach of 1956, and clinched by Mariner II: Venus has an "impossible" surface temperature of above 800 F. The second was confirmed by Mariner II.*
Astronomers are apt to revise even apparently settled observations. But even if they never revise these two, their weight as evidence for thesis IV should not be overestimated. Even if no one else did in fact anticipate a petroleum-gas atmosphere for Venus, such a conjecture, as far as an outsider can judge, would not have been extremely improbable on conventional theories. Likewise, Venus's surface-temperature may be impossible on all known theories of the origin of the planets, but they are all "uniformitarian" theories, supposing all the major members of our system to originate from a common cause at the same time. Once we step outside the circle of such theories, then, evidently, thesis IV is but one of a huge number of possible theories of the birth of Venus which would require it to be hot.
But I do not see how it could be denied that these two confirmations substantially raise the probability of thesis IV – and hence of all the weaker theses – above the value it had in the light of all the previous evidence; and this was by no means negligible. I do not mean to suggest that thesis IV is now an even-money bet: it is nothing like that. But some who staked their reputations on the falsity of IV ought to be feeling some unease. Three cheers, then, for a general education, and for following the argument wherever it leads! Well dug, old mole!
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Even if thesis IV is false, I think we ought to feel grateful to Velikovsky, for reminding us so forcefully that astronomy is not a theoretical science, but a branch of natural history. A branch, moreover, in which, even on matters relating to our immediate spatial and temporal environs, we are still pitifully ignorant.
But, whatever the fate of thesis IV, Velikovsky, I predict, will prove to have given, through thesis II to astronomy and the earth sciences, and through thesis III to humanistic disciplines, a distinctive new orientation. In the last 15 years or so, astronomers have found that our spatial environs are much "dirtier" than they had long thought – inertia and gravitation no longer are anywhere near sufficient to save the phenomena. Analogously, theses I and III assert that our temporal environs are much more turbulent than celestial mechanics has always supposed: I expect this point of view to come to exercise a tremendous influence. In astronomy, indeed, the process began as soon as Worlds in Collision was published. The well known American astronomer Otto Struve has remarked that by a "bizarre coincidence", 1950 produced, as well as Velikovsky's "science-fiction", "a deluge of sound papers on various problems connected with collisions within the solar system". To say that it is a bizarre coincidence is pure cheek.
I think that we now have in our hands the key to the violence of the astronomers' reaction. If I am right in supposing that theses II and III open up immense possibilities, while there is nothing known to exclude them, then the uneventfulness of the history of the solar system is an assumption on which astronomers have placed a tacit reliance it by no means ever deserved. In the house that they knew so well, they had never noticed this door. And Velikovsky did the most infuriating thing in the world: he – a stranger – walked through this open door.
Most people engaged in intellectual work know how extremely few men are lucky enough ever to get a new idea, however small. The man who gets a new idea, and a huge one, rich in implications and new perspectives, and not known to be absolutely impossible, is one of nature's rarest prodigies. Such is Velikovsky. Test his originality this way: suppose thesis IV is true – then with whom would you compare him? And then remember that truth is not in question when we are discussing originality.
Not even the general quality of a man's thought is in question; [and] we should not withhold the highest possible admiration from the first man to suggest that the Earth is not only not the centre, not only not still, but not even safe.