Site Section Links
ON THE SYMPOSIUM TRAIL
• Duquesne History Forum
• Philosophy of Science Association
The "Year of Velikovsky" has finally wound down to its conclusion, with the convening of the last two of the year's five scholarly symposia dealing with his work. Quite appropriately, a year which began with politically charged deliberations of the AAAS, ended with the Philosophy of Science Association examining "Velikovsky and the Politics of Science."
That political considerations have dominated the Velikovsky case throughout its stormy history is universally recognized today. Nor can it be said that those considerations have now largely dissipated. But it is a hopeful sign that three of the symposia this year focused on questions of science and history: "Velikovsky and Cultural Amnesia" (University of Lethbridge); Velikovsky and the Recent History of the Solar System" (McMaster University); and "Velikovsky's Reconstruction of Ancient History." (Duquesne History Forum).
This last, held at one of the nation's most prestigious historical conferences, was an especially noteworthy achievement. Here for the first time at a scholarly gathering Velikovsky's opus magnum, Ages in Chaos, came under discussion by trained ancient historians. Referring to his "battles" with physical scientists, Velikovsky predicted to his Duquesne audience that, with historians, "the task will be even more difficult." Whether this "advance claim" proves as shrewd as some of his others remains to be seen; but, as the account below demonstrates, he received a far more friendly reception from his fellow panelists at Duquesne than he ever experienced among physicists and astronomers in the early years.
Taken together, these five symposia lead one to several conclusions:
1) As a result of processes already underway, Velikovsky's work will be tested and evaluated in light of the evidences. No latter-day efforts at suppression-and these efforts continue with little abatement-will suffice to stifle the intellectual curiosity now aroused and the concrete investigations begun. It is only a matter of time.
2) It is damaging to Velikovsky's own defense and to catastrophist research in general for debate to center on the question, "Velikovsky--right or wrong?"; or for the issue to be Velikovsky's correctness in every detail; or for argument to revolve around what Velikovsky did or did not claim in one of his books; or, in sum, for the hypotheses and evidence assembled by one man to be erected into a monument which must be defended whole for the glory of its creator, or else abandoned altogether.
Velikovsky is the giant among contemporary synthesizing catastrophists, and no one is likely to overshadow his achievements for a long time to come. But the issues he raises stand independent of him, are at least partially separable from each other, and ought not to be considered solely in terms of one man's theoretical construction.
3) The continuing non-publication of major portions of Velikovsky's research--primarily the several sequels to Ages in Chaos, and the evidences dealing with the Deluge--has become, after two decades, a serious damper to all discussion. A panelist at the Duquesne symposium was forced to ask his listeners "to accept as basic premises ... five hypotheses put forth by Velikovsky which I have attempted to apply to my own area of study." These five hypotheses were drawn from the unpublished work. How many scholars will enter such discussions while the detailed evidences remain hidden in galley proofs and dust-gathering manuscripts?
4) The heart of Worlds in Collision comprises the historical and mythological records Velikovsky has there drawn together, and the interpretation he places upon them. Yet, in all the symposia and published discussion so far, only a very small part of this material has come under intensive analysis, and never, for example, has Velikovsky's method of mythological interpretation been thoroughly critiqued. Further, Velikovsky himself has many times stated that Worlds in Collision hardly begins to touch the great variety of ancient evidences which could be brought together by the enterprising researcher. There is a double need today for an evaluation of Velikovsky's methods vis-a-vis historical and mythological records; and for fresh approaches to those records. On this latter score the requirement is for researchers to approach the available sources with the same boldness exercised by Velikovsky, so as to interpret, synthesize and reconstruct with broad and innovative perspectives. It cannot be that we have reached a point where the only need is to fill in the bits and pieces where Velikovsky has gone before. Even for those who accept all of Velikovsky's conclusions, the ancient mythologies, for example, have hardly begun to yield up their many mysteries.
The months ahead are likely to see fewer "events" and more probing research. But many of those carrying on this research will have first come within the Velikovskian orbit through one or another of the symposia marking the Year of Velikovsky.
Duquesne History Forum
Velikovsky's Reconstruction of Ancient History
October 30, 1974
"My paper this morning will neither confirm Velikovsky nor refute him. To attempt to do either would diminish the significance of the Velikovsky challenge. . . . If my thesis were to refute Velikovsky, the scholarly establishment could delude itself into thinking that its historical reconstructions are built on secure foundations, rather than a quicksand. On the other hand, if I were to confirm Velikovsky's revised chronology, there might be the danger that Velikovsky's accent on truth-seeking would be supplanted by the illusion that the truth had once and for all been established."
So Dr. Ellis Rivkin introduced his paper, the first of three following Velikovsky's keynote address. Rivkin, who is Adolph S. Ochs Professor of Hebrew History and Religion at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, stressed the necessary contingency of all reconstructions of ancient history. We have firm knowledge of "islands" of truth, but no firm knowledge concerning the way these islands are linked together. It is vitally important, according to Rivkin, that we make an explicit distinction between what can definitely be inferred from internal analysis of historical sources, and what we propose to be the manner in which these sources are connected.
For example, no historical source tells us that the tale of Ipuwer is a version of the Ten Plagues, that the Hyksos were the Amalekites, that Hatshepsut was the Queen of Sheba, that the Amarna correspondence involved the Kings of Israel and Judah. Short of actual proof, we must rigorously qualify every proposal as tentative, as consisting of a "dotted line," and we must consciously seek to define and evaluate every possible linkage between islands of truth, no matter how implausible:
"When so much is riding on the outcome, the methodological ante has to be raised to demands of such rigor as to appear to some as bordering on the hypercritical. But the game Velikovsky is playing is one where the stakes are inordinately high--and the rules must allow for no deviation by any of the players.... Neither Velikovsky nor his detractors can be allowed to diverge from the source; to overextend its lines of communication; to emend the received text so that it conforms with the postulated schema."
The source with which Rivkin was primarily concerned--the Bible--poses great difficulties. "Scholars have wrestled with the problem of the composite character of the Pentateuch since the 17th century, and they are still blocked from a solution because the sources do not explicitly tell us what we desperately need to know: the process by which this composite work ultimately came to be the Law of Moses."
Rivkin summarized the problem:
"So long as the enigma of the Pentateuch has not been dissolved, we simply do not know the factual status of any item recorded in Genesis, or Exodus, or Numbers. There were no limits, as far as we can determine, which restricted the fictionalizing bent, for example, of the Aaronide priests who transformed the wilderness into a vast cultic arena and the simple tent of meeting into a richly appointed temple. Nor do the authors of Deuteronomy seem to be much concerned with their non-factual rendering of a wilderness past that had no real existence. How, then, in all fairness can one allow Velikovsky or any other scholar the right to select this item as credible and another as not, when what is credible for one scholar is utterly absurd for another."
During the discussion period Rivkin acknowledged that "personally it required a tremendous amount of discipline not to be swept away by the power of Velikovsky's 'dotted lines.' It's not that I'm unsympathetic or don't believe in miracles. It's just that miracles require more proof."
In his keynote address Velikovsky offered a review of his published books, and glimpses of the unpublished sequels to Ages in Chaos--though little beyond what may be gleaned from already published articles and charts. His primary contention, repeatedly emphasized, was that the conventional chronology has the Israelite and Egyptian histories existing side by side for many centuries during which there are virtually no well-attested interconnections between the two. Even the date of the Exodus--an event involving both histories--has never been definitely located on the Egyptian time scale, according to Velikovsky. In contrast, the first volume of Ages in Chaos establishes hundreds of links between the two histories, he said.
The man expected to be Velikovsky's opponent was Dr. Gerald E. Kadish, associate professor of history at State University of New York (Binghamton), and editor, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. Curiously, Kadish restricted himself to voicing agreement with Rivkin, and outlining the means by which a New Kingdom chronology can be constructed, together with their difficulties--an outline with which Velikovsky, in later discussion, offered full agreement.
After reviewing various sources of information--annals, king lists, linguistics, genealogies, reliefs and drawings, radiocarbon dates, etc.--Kadish concluded:
"I do not say these things as ways of presenting to you authorities who must be accepted. I give them to you as attempts to show the kinds of elaborate and detailed study of ancient Egyptian materials which must be gone into.... If Velikovsky's work alerts students and scholars to the need to be hesitant about everything they think they know for sure, then it's a job well done."
If there was any specific commentary on Velikovsky's work buried in Kadish's address, it could only have been the unspoken but apparent contention that Velikovsky has not adequately covered the sources in his chronological efforts. Indeed, when later provoked by Velikovsky, Kadish offered objections to three or four of Velikovsky's claims (including his translation of Hyksos as "shepherd kings" and his linguistical linking of "Hatshepsut" and "Sheba"), concluding:
"I tried to suggest a variety of ways one could go about corroborating what Velikovsky has said. My contention--and I had assumed it would be implicit in what I said--was that it has not been done."
Dr. Robert Hewsen took up the subject, "Eastern Anatolia and Velikovsky's Chronological Revision." Hewsen, who is professor of history at Glassboro State College, applied five premises from Velikovsky's unpublished work to his own area of study:
1) The presently accepted chronology of these regions is in error by some 500600 years, and their early history must be brought down by that period of time. Specifically, the events generally dated to the 14th century B.C. belong properly to the 9th-8th centuries.
2) The so-called neo-Hittite empire, thus brought down, cannot be found in the Middle East at this later period. And as a result of the coincidences in their histories and the lives of their rulers, this state is identified with the neo-Babylonian, or Chaldean, empire, centered first at Hattusas in east central Anatolia, and only later at Babylon.
3) The Mitannians, associated with the Hittites and Egypt in the Amarna age, must similarly be brought down, and are the early Medes.
4) The Hurrians, also associated with the Hittites as well as with Mitanni, must likewise be brought down and be identified as the Carians.
... we should all become accustomed to not knowing all we would
wish to know, and learn to be comfortable with ambiguity. We
should make our peace with discrepant chronologies, fully aware that
they are only mental possibilities. We should help our students to
build their self-esteem on how thoroughly they master the
sources,- on how carefully they discriminate between what the
sources communicate and what they do not,- on how freely they
allow their imaginations to conjure up every conceivable hypothetical
connection so long as the lines are dotted and their ethereal
status affirmed and reaffirmed,- on how eagerly they welcome
every seeker of the truth who studies the sources, sees problems,
suggests possible solutions, imagines fresh and exciting
hypothetical possibilities, goads us into rereading our sources and
rethinking our fixed assumptions, and spins our mental worlds into
collision and reminds us that our sources are in chaos. A generation
of scholars so reared would embrace a Velikovsky as a cherished
colleague, and not brand him with the sign of Cain."
5) The Urartians who flourished on the Armenian Plateau in the 9th-7th century B.C. were also called Khaldu (that is, Chaldeans), were encountered by Xenophon on his journey to Armenia in the winter of 401-400 B.C., and ought to be related in some way with the Anatolian Chaldeans at Hattusas, wrongly called Hittites.
Hewsen generally supported these contentions, taking issue, however, with the fourth premise. He concluded:
"Nothing I have said this afternoon can be categorized as proof of the exactness of Velikovsky's chronological revision. Rather, it has been an application of his theses to a particular part of the ancient East. I have attempted to demonstrate that nothing he has to say presents any undue difficulties for my field, but rather tends to simplify and clarify the history of this area."
The final panelist was Prof. Lynn Rose, who read the same paper he presented three days later to the Philosophy of Science Association (see below).
Unfortunately, the moderator, Prof. Emanuel Levine (department of history, Rider College), showed himself strongly partisan in Velikovsky's favor.
Philosophy of Science Association
Velikovsky and the Politics of Science
November 2, 1974
With Dr. George Grinnell (department of history, McMaster University) moderating a panel discussion, the biennial conference of the Philosophy of Science Association took up the "Velikovsky Affair"--now a quarter century in the making. The panelists included Velikovsky; Dr. A. M. Paterson (associate professor of the history of science, SUNY-College at Buffalo); Dr. Michael Friedlander (professor of physics, Washington University); and Dr. Lynn Rose (professor of philosophy, SUNY- Buffalo). The conference was held at Notre Dame University.
Paterson stressed the extra-scientific, or "tertiary" qualities which are cultural in origin and which determine what data are acceptable and what must be rejected. Thus, from 1650-1850 science was mechanically centered, suppressing all unwanted data. "Expectancy, then, determined their hypotheses, and their hypotheses determined their results. Results that were outside of their expectancy and were due to nature were ignored. No mathematics was developed for [these results] during this time."
After citing several cases in which important discoveries--such as Young's law of interference--were greeted by ridicule and scorn on the part of leading scientists and societies, Paterson noted that "It has taken 250 years for us to get used to the idea that terrestrial phenomena can be explained without the models of practical mechanics. The same job remains to be done now for astronomy."
Paterson stated that uniformity is one of the "metaphysical assumptions" which currently govern data selection and hypothesis formation:
"We have ignored much of Newton. He spent over 15 years writing material not relevant to scientific perspective. We must ignore a lot of Kepler, Bruno, Descartes, Cusanus, Occam, and Archimedes, etc., because not every idea they left behind is relevant to the scientific perspective. And yet, as we sift through their works carefully, we find the clues relevant to our scientific perspective. It is the same for all of the ancient records that report human experience. Scientists decide to accept Chinese records of the sudden appearance of the Crab Nebula because it fits their expectations. They reject some of the historical evidence cited by Velikovsky because it does not fit their expectations."
Terming Velikovsky's predictive record an "overwhelming success," Paterson then claimed that his is a genuine scientific hypothesis, as opposed to an ad hoc hypothesis involving limited risk and narrow applicability.
Friedlander opened his presentation with the remark: "I came here apparently as a sacrificial offering bearing the collective guilt of the scientific community . . . . One of the things I'm not going to do is to attempt to defend the many foolish, and intemperate, and venomous statements that have been made by scientists over the last 25 years."
Defining his viewpoint as that of a "working scientist," Friedlander applied himself to methodological questions. ("Professional scientists are notoriously short on methodology. . . . In a certain sense I'm engaging in what one might call intellectual streaking before a body like this.") Specifically, he dealt with Velikovsky's astronomical model and predictions. Some excerpts:
"It is possible to have models which produce the right predictions for the wrong reasons. Pluto was discovered in this way."
"To be useful a prediction must be derivable logically and unambiguously from the model. If the prediction bears only a tenuous relation to the model, then the validation of that prediction may in fact say nothing about the model."
"I know personally of no claim [by Velikovsky] in physics or astronomy which is precise enough to withstand the test, or if precise enough, has been proven valid."
Friedlander then analyzed three "critical tests"--claimed as such by Velikovsky: 1) Venus must be very hot; 2) Venus must be enveloped in hydrocarbons, and possibly carbohydrate dust and gases; and 3) the motion of Venus has been disrupted.
As to (1), "the prediction is imprecise . . . . Almost anything that is found hotter than we now know [on Earth] could be claimed for validation." Test (2) is "partly open. Hydrocarbons have simply not been found on Venus." And concerning (3), "I don't consider that a prediction." Velikovsky had stated that Venus' rotation "may well be retrograde," but, according to Friedlander, either outcome would have left Velikovsky correct. "There's not a logical link going back to the model.... You have to specify the initial conditions, the velocities, the momenta--otherwise it's not a prediction."
Friedlander also discussed Velikovsky's prediction of radio noises from Jupiter: "In 1950 I'd have interpreted Velikovsky's prediction as claiming thermal radiation. . . . But Jupiter has no thermal spectrum."
After citing several cases where he claimed that Velikovsky misrepresented primary sources, Friedlander concluded: "I think that Velikovsky was due originally a careful, critical survey. I think he has received it over the years....... At this stage, to consider that the astronomical and physical content of his work stands up under scrutiny is to ignore an enormous amount of data."
Queen of the Sciences
In a relatively brief, but pointed, paper Rose underscored the long-standing hegemony of astronomy over other disciplines, tracing back to the Aristotelian view that "the heavens are made of a more noble substance than are the humble objects on Earth." Astronomy became "Queen of the sciences."
"But hasn't the Aristotelian viewpoint been abandoned by modern astronomers?" Rose asked. "Not really. Astronomy . . . has only superficially emancipated itself from the circle-happy thinking of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Copernicus. The circular has been replaced by the cyclical and the periodic, but the effect is the same: just as a combination of perfect and uniform circular motions once permitted backwards and forwards calculation of planetary positions without effective limit, so today it is claimed that a combination of precise cyclical or periodic components (with some secular ones taken into account also) permits calculation of planetary positions for any time in the future or in the past."
If catastrophes have occurred, however, then retrocalculations can be hopelessly wrong. "Calculating where a planet was three millennia ago is no more valid than calculating where an artificial satellite was three decades ago"--not even launched. Despite this fact, "modern historiography concerning the ancient world has been constructed on a framework of astronomical calculation." And not only history, but also biology, geology, and other disciplines. They have "passively accepted the thesis that the astronomers can tell them what has been going on on this Earth, and they have then sketched in those details permitted by the astronomers' general outline."
To quarrel with this monarchical structure means telling the established leaders in at least a score of different disciplines that "the labor of decades that they have invested, and the professional status that they have acquired, may all have to be set aside because of the claims of an outsider."
Velikovsky's address concluded the formal presentations. He remarked on the resistance among scientists that has been encountered by every new idea, and asked why the opposition to his work was so extraordinarily violent. In part, his answer was that scientists do not like outsiders to cross disciplinary lines: "astronomers do not like interference from other sciences, and certainly not from what could be called 'legends and old wives' tales.' "
But more centrally, Velikovsky focused on psychological explanations. "The ancients tried desperately to tell us what was going on. . . . We wish not to know anything of this. We wish to believe we are living in a peaceful world."
Noting that "the major subject of the entire heritage of ancient literature is theomachy, the battle of the gods," he asked his audience: "Why was Jupiter--not the largest body in the sky--the main deity."
Velikovsky also directed commentary at Friedlander's remarks, disputing the claim that his predictions were invalid or imprecise, and stating that "the most despicable of all ways of suppression is denying to me the originality and correctness of my predictions." For example, concerning the heat of Venus he pointed to his earlier claims that a) Venus was incandescent in historical times; and b) the hydrocarbons in that planet's atmosphere would be found in gaseous form, which requires very high temperatures. Also c) when new discoveries led scientists to conclude that the surface temperature was 600° F, he had said that that was still not high enough. He contended that no other scientists expected temperatures approaching those which he had predicted, and which were subsequently discovered.
Discussion from the floor yielded the following observation from one of those present:
"Each side has constructed its own version of what would count as a crucial test, and has constructed its own judgment as to how that test has been passed or failed. This is a singularly sterile manner for resolving disputes. . . . As far as rational dispute is concerned, we have to begin by saying we might be wrong . . . to say what would count against us in our own book."
Of the panelists in the two symposia, Velikovsky, Friedlander, and Kadish produced no written papers. At least some of the other papers will be published in Pensee.
PENSEE Journal X