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FORUM

Velikovsky's Critics and Catastrophism
Ian Maclver, Assistant professor of geography, University of Alberta

The May issue of Pensée came to me as quite a surprise.  In Canada we were prepared for a renewed interest in Velikovsky's work because of the CBC hour-long special TV program in February 1972, but the sane and scholarly stance that was taken by Pensée was both unexpected and refreshing.  The type of discussion engaged in by York and Velikovsky on pages 18-21 is what we really need to see more of if these revolutionary ideas are to receive a fair evaluation.

The quotation from the 1952 edition of Martin Gardner's book that you give prominence to on page 12 is still rather interesting.  He states "Velikovsky.... invents electromagnetic forces capable of doing precisely what he wants them to do.  There is no scientific evidence whatever for the powers of these forces." In 1957 Dover publications put out a second edition entitled Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science and as recently as 1971 copies could still be obtained with these statements on electromagnetic forces unaltered (1).

Time has obviously caught up with some of Velikovsky's critics, but their outdated diatribes still appear in the marketplace.  Daniel Cohen in a book that, although dated 1967, is still fairly prominent on the book stands, has a chapter on Velikovsky that relies strongly on Gardner's work.  A lot of the criticism is updated except for a statement such as "...If one does not look too closely, his theories seem satisfyingly complete; this is quite easy since he allows himself the luxury of inventing forces that do what he wants them to do." (2) The slur here is a painful reflection on Cohen's standing as a scholarly author.  He can no longer quote the specific content of Gardner's comment since it is incorrect but he finds it tempting to use the words in a more general and ambivalent manner.

In looking at Mullen's article, "The Center Holds," in the May issue it will be rather interesting to see what meanings may be given to geological epochs say 20 years from now if the revolution in thought that Velikovsky's work seems to require actually takes place.  I am reminded here of a section in Melvin Cook's book, Prehistory and Earth Models, where he discusses fossil wood samples that had been recovered from the iron ore mine at Schefferville at a depth of several hundred feet below the surface (3).  This material, found in a preCambrian deposit, he says was subsequently described as late Cretaceous rubble(4), but two independent and consistent radiocarbon analyses produced ages in the vicinity of four thousand years.  Which of these time datings should be accepted?  Or is something wrong with our present scheme of epoch construction that a stronger orientation toward catastrophism might eliminate?

When dealing with earth surface features, too, it is being recognized that landforms such as deltas, for example, may, certainly on the small scale, be produced in a matter of days(5).  Since many sedimentary deposits consist of gravels or coarse conglomerates over considerable areas and depths, again a more catastrophic than uniformitarian approach is needed in interpreting conditions at the time of their formation.  This might also be considered true for paleostriata fossil trees in coal deposits (i.e. tree trunks or casts cutting across several strata) indicating a rapid rate of sedimentation (6).

REFERENCES

[1]  M. Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (Dover Publications, New York, 1957), 33. The book as a matter of interest is subtitled-- "The curious theories of modern pseudoscientists and the strange, amusing and alarming cults that surround them.  A study in human gullibility."

[2]  D. Cohen, Myths of the Space Age (Tower Publications, New York, 1967), 179-180, paperback edition.  This is subtitled-- "A skeptic's inquiry into the pseudo-scientific world of today."

[3]  M.A. Cook, Prehistory and Earth Models (Max Parrish, London, 1966), 332-333.

[4]  E. Dorf, "Cretaceous Flora from Beds Associated with Rubble Iron-Ore Deposit in the Labrador Trough", Geological Society of America, Bulletin, 70 (1959), 1591 (Abstract).

[5]  A.V. Jopling, "Some Principles and Techniques Used in Reconstructing the Hydrological Parameters of a Paleo-Flow Regime", Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, 36 (1966), 34.

[6]  F.M. Broadhurst, "Some Aspects of the Paleoecology of Non-Marine Faunas and Rates of Sedimentation in the Lancashire Coal Measures", American Journal of Science, 262 (1964), 865-867.

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