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Open letter to science editors

 

KRONOS Vol X, No. 2

Vox Populi

JONATHAN SWIFT, THE MOONS OF MARS, AND CHARLES McDOWELL

To the Editor of KRONOS:

William Douglas would have us consider Charles McDowell before laying the matter of Jonathan Swift and the moons of Mars to rest.(1) In my opinion, however, McDowell has written nothing about the subject that is worth considering.

McDowell's hypothesis concerning the manner in which Swift might have obtained his information on the Martian satellites amounts to nothing more than a house of cards where surmise is precariously balanced upon conjecture. His hypothesis consists of the following: (2)

1) That the ancient Chinese might have had knowledge of the moons of Mars; 2) that Gottfried Leibniz might have obtained this knowledge through the Jesuit missionaries in China; 3) that Abate Conti might have stolen Leibniz' notes; 4) that Conti might have donated these notes to Isaac Newton; 5) that Newton might have confided in John Arbuthnot; and 6) that Arbuthnot might have passed on the information to Swift.

If this is not a rice-paper pagoda, what is it? One would be hard pressed to uncover a more blatant example of illusory speculation.

Douglas' own critique is just as flimsily constructed - and how could it be otherwise when it's just a brown-paper copy of the original cardboard model? Allow me to quote:

". . . some of Leibniz' data may have been filched after his death, and possibly found their way into Newton's files.'' Arbuthnot "could have had knowledge of the contents of Leibniz' data" (emphasis added).

Apart from the fact that this long chain of posited dissemination of information is nothing more than a forced exercise in wishful thinking, it is based on the additional surmise that Leibniz did possess such information. What is worse, this surmise is made to rest on the premise, itself nothing but speculation, that the Chinese did retain such knowledge. Nothing we know of Leibniz or ancient Chinese astronomical lore can even begin to justify such idle day-dreaming. It was, in fact, my desire to bring such fruitless theorizing to an end that prompted me to pen my article in the first place.

In my own paper on the subject(3) I did not go out collecting arguments "against" Swift's figures but merely indicated, as others had before me, that these figures were reasonably arrived at in face of the time and environment in which Swift thrived and worked.

Despite his suggestion that Swift might have obtained his information from some now-forgotten ancient manuscript,(4) and despite the fact that he never quite relinquished this fond notion of his,(5) Velikovsky himself later conceded that Swift would have known enough about contemporary astronomy to enable him to predict the existence of the Martian moons and to formulate the near correct calculations he set down regarding their size, distance, and revolution.(6) The editorial footnote that was added, therefore, is not quite correct when it states that this addenda of Velikovsky "serves to answer Ken Moss's main criticism regarding the link between Swift's prediction, Kepler, and ancient knowledge".(7) It is obvious that, in the end, Velikovsky reached the very same conclusions that I and others have.

I do agree that speculation can be stimulating but, more often than not, what we really need is a cold shower and a judicious use of Occam's razor.

Ken D. Moss
Vancouver, B. C.

REFERENCES

1. W. J. Douglas, "More on Jonathan Swift and the Moons of Mars," KRONOS IX: 3
(Summer 1984), pp. 107-108.
2. C. McDowell, "Catastrophism and Puritan Thought: The Newton Era," A Symposium on Creation VI, ed. D. W. Patten (Seattle, 1977), pp. 57-90.
3. K. D. Moss, "Jonathan Swift and the Moons of Mars," KRONOS VIII:4 (Summer 1983), pp. 17-28.
4. Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (N. Y.,1950), pp. 279-280.
5. Idem, "On Prediction in Science," KRONOS IX:3 (Summer 1984), p. 111.
6. Ibid., pp. 111-112.
7. L. M. Greenberg, editorial note to Ibid, p. 109.

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