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Open letter to science editors


 VELIKOVSKIAN                                                                                                       Vol. I, No.3

The Cornell Lecture: Sagan on a Wednesday [1]
Lynn E. Rosc

In order to feel the dcpths of antagonism that some astronomers feel toward Velikovsky, let us examine a lecture by Carl Sagan, one of the leading expositors and popularizers of current astronomical dogma.  Sagan's lecture was given just a little less than a year before the Symposium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (A.A.A.S.) in San Francisco, at which he was billed as Velikovsky's principal opponent.  We will examine this lecture in some detail, since it presents many of the same themes and claims that resurfaced at the A.A.A.S. Symposium in February of 1974--and on other days as well.

 On Wednesday, March 28, 1973, the much-traveled Dr. Sagan stopped off at Cornell University, where he spends some of his time, and gave a lecture on "Venus and Velikovsky." Although the lecture was part of a freshman course on General Astronomy taught by Frank Drake, it was publicized in advance and persons not connected with the course attended.  The following quotes and comments are based on a transcript of the taped lecture.  In subsequent years, Sagan has repeated his lecture, for the "enlightenment"--or at least entertainment--of college-student audiences.

 In this lecture, as we shall see, Sagan demonstrated his complete lack of understanding of even the main points of Velikovsky's theory and displayed his irresponsible penchant for spreading false statements about Velikovsky, about Velikovsky's theory and sources, and about the reactions of the scientific establish­ment to Velikovsky's ideas.  These false statements constitute a basic Sagan line, to which he has loosely adhered in all the days since.  On certain points, however, he has changed his stand, usually without being willing to acknowledge that there has been any change or that his earlier, abandoned pronouncements were wrong.

 Sagan begins his lecture saying that he wants to examine a "curious but not atypical situation in recent science," namely, the Vclikovsky Affair.  If Sagan had studied it more closely, perhaps he would have realized that the Velikovsky Affair is not only "atypical," but unique.  Sagan will not find any case such as the Velikovsky Affair in either recent science or the science of the past.  There is no other instance in which the intense, united efforts of the scientific and scholarly community have forced the publisher of a book to abandon that book at a time when it was number one on the best seller lists.  The book burning, the boycotting, the censorship, the firings and all the rest of the things that went on helped to make the Velikovsky Affair something without precedent or parallel.

Sagan says that Worlds in Collision "is serialized in Harper's." But it has never been serialized anywhere.  Sagan is confusing Worlds in Collision with an eight-page article by Eric Larrabee.

He admits that there was "prior censorship," but seems to think that it was the work of "some senior members of the astronomical community," who threatened to "withdraw their astronomical textbooks, which are a pretty good moneyrnaker." He fails to realize that many fields were represented in these efforts and that the censorship was a united front operation by the entire academic community.  Orders were canceled, textbook shipments and samples were returned unopened and the Macmillan Publishing Company offices were inundated with letters of protest not only from reigning astronomers but from many other scientists and academicians as well.  Sagan is also mistaken in thinking that all of this was done prior to the publication of the book:

Well, the publisher capitulated, and so "Worlds in Collision" [when referring to Velikovsky's books, Sagan prefers quotation marks to italics] was not published by that original publisher and instead picked up by another publisher who made millions.  So the financial argument that was convincing to that first publisher turns out to not have worked and he would have made a lot more money having stuck to Velikovsky and surrendering the astronomical textbooks, which don't sell very much, as all of us know.

Notice that Sagan says of "astronomical textbooks" that they "don't sell very much" even though a moment earlier he had said that they "are a pretty good moneymaker." At the A.A.A.S. Symposium in San Francisco, Velikovsky described Sagan as having "six days of the week for six opinions." [2]  In this case, Sagan has two contradictory opinions almost in the same breath!

Sagan seems to think that Macmillan transferred the rights to Doubleday & Company before the book was actually published.  In fact, Macmillan not only published the book, but continued to publish it for more than two months--by which time Worlds in Collision had been the number one best seller for about five weeks and was to remain on the best seller lists for several months.  Contrary to Sagan's version, Macmillan was well aware that Worlds in Collision was a best seller.  The "financial argument" did work.  It is curious that Sagan is so sure that Doubleday "made millions"; no one else, specially Doubleday, is aware of this alleged fact.

What the people in the publishing business do know is that there is far more return from the steady sale of cookbooks, astronomy texts and Bibles than from an occasional best seller.  Macmillan found itself losing its textbook business and had to either capitulate or go broke.  Macmillan knew this.  Harvard's Professor Harlow Shapley and the other book cookers knew it.  Sagan surely knows it, too.

Sagan says "the conclusion can only be" that "some" senior astronomers became "very upset" only because they were "confronted with an argument that has major components outside their field." (He also calls the astronomers' behavior "understandable.")  But why have they not ever become equally upset regarding other interdisciplinary projects?  Why was their response to Velikovsky unique?

One of Sagan's favorite moves is to state some sweeping concusion that he is going to prove, then never prove it or--in some cases--even try to prove it.  That is what he does here when he says that "my conclusion will be that the astronomers were entirely right and that the theory makes no sense at all."  I will leave it to the readers to judge whether any of Sagan's subsequent remarks support this conclusion.

So far, we have only looked at Sagan's introductory comments.  At this point,he digresses into a long explanation of what comets are.  This includes his account of a telephone conversation with a caller to the Yerkes Observatory, held during his graduate school days in Chicago.  Sagan does both voices, his own and that of his inebriated caller:

And the guy at the other end said, "Lemme talk to [an] ashtrono­mer." And I said, "Can I help you?" And he said, "Well, we've got this here garden party in Wilmette, see, and there's shompthin up in the sky...... [Sagan knew that the comet Arend-Roland was visible at the time.] So I said, "What you're probably looking at is the comet." There was a big pause.  And he said, "Whash a comet?" "A comet is a big snowball a mile across." [3]  Then there was an immense pause, and then he said, "Lemme talk to a real ashtronomer." [4]  So the reason I've mentioned that is because what a comet is is not, you know, greatly appreciated.

Of course, the real reason Sagan tells this story is because he is preparing to argue that Velikovsky does not appreciate what a comet is.  We shall see.

Even when talking about conventional astronomical theories, Sagan manages to make a mess of things.  Trying to set the stage for some later shots at Velikovsky, Sagan says:

A typical mass of a comet is 1018 grams.  The highest suspected mass of a comet ever--and this is a rather uncertain estimate based on the brightness of a comet seen [in] 1744, when there wasn't a very good set of scientific instruments--is 1022 [grams].  That's quite uncertain.  The mass of the Earth or [ofl Venus is about 1028 grams.  That is more than a million times more than the largest suspected comet.  Okay.

But it is not quite okay.  The mass of the Earth is about 5.977 x 1027 grams and the mass of Venus is about 4.87 x 1027 grams.  Such values are not "more than a million times" greater than 1022 grams, but are, respectively, somewhat more than, and slightly less than, half a million times greater than 1022.  Sagan is fond of large powers of ten, but does not handle them very well.

Setting the stage for another argument against Velikovsky, Sagan says that certain 18th century astronomers noticed that the far points in the orbits of short-period comets were near Jupiter and all they could think of as an explanation was that Jupiter spat out the comets, that the comets arose in some huge volcanic eruption or something like that.  It's a view quite thoroughly discredited--no such event has ever been seen on Jupiter.

It may be that some 18th century views are no longer in favor among astronomers, but does that mean that "no such event has ever been seen on Jupiter?"  Velikovsky upholds that such an event was seen on Jupiter within human memory; namely, the birth of the comet Venus.

Sagan now resumes his rapid-fire delivery of false statements about Velikovsky.  He is like a Gatling gun: noisy, inaccurate, clumsy, obsolete.

According to Sagan, Velikovsky supposes that "a large comet gets spat out of Jupiter, okay, because he'd been reading 18th century textbooks rather than 20th century textbooks."  Velikovsky's conclusions about the birth of the comet Venus, from Jupiter, arc based on ancient sources, not on modern textbooks of any century.  Sagan was to learn in San Francisco, however, that Velikovsky's familiarity with 20th century astronomical literature far exceeded his own.

Sagan says that "Pharoah hardened his heart" [when quoting Sagan, I will spell such words as Pharaoh the way Sagan thinks they are spelled] "and the result was a bunch of plagues, like frogs falling from the sky."  But there is no reason to suppose that the Plague of Frogs was anything more than an unusual proliferation of terrestrial frogs.  Exodus 8:3 simply says that "the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly," and there is no indication of their "failing from the sky."  Nevertheless, Sagan continues:

Well, Velikovsky thinks, my goodness, there's a comet coming close to the earth and at just the same time there is frogs falling from the sky.  That's easy to explain--there's frogs in the comet and they just fall out of the sky on Egypt.[5]  And that explains what's happening.  And then, likewise, there's locusts, so they fall out of the comet, and then there's flies and mice, and they fall out of the comet, and this is thought to be a perfectly reasonable idea.

Neither frogs nor locusts, nor flies, nor mice, nor any other life forms are asserted, by Velikovsky, to have fallen out of the comet.  No Plague of Mice is mentioned in the story of the Exodus; this seems to be one of Sagan's many fabrications, possibly inspired by Herodotus' later story of mice eating the bowstrings of Sennacherib's army!

The Bible treats the frogs, locusts and flies as if they were of terrestrial origin and Velikovsky, after considering the testimonies of others, concludes that it "must be" that "the internal heat developed by the Earth and the scorching gases of the comet" made some terrestrial organisms "propagate at a very feverish rate."  He briefly discusses the idea of certain modern biologists--that some microorganisms, or even larvae, might be of extraterrestrial origin--but does not endorse this idea: "Whether there is truth in this supposition of larval contamination of the Earth is anyone's guess."[6]

According to Sagan:

Now the Pharoah eventually relents, the Israelites are permitted to leave--there's, according to Exodus, a few hundred thousand of them, they approach the Red Sea, the host of the Pharoah follows them, the Pharoah hardens his heart again, and Moses has a rod and taps it on a rock and the Red Sea opens.  Okay, the Israelites go across, not getting even slightly damp, and then the host of Pharoah follows them and, about halfway across the Red Sea, the Red Sea comes washing back and everybody drowns, but the Israelites get away.

But Pharaoh does not "eventually relent" and Moses struck his staff on a rock in the wilderness, not at the Red Sea.  Velikovsky argues that there were many Israelites who perished in the "Sea of Passage"[7] and that there also were earlier Israelite casualties resulting from the various plagues; on page 59 of Worlds in Collision, be cites rabbinical sources that, for example, 49 out of every 50 Israelites died in the Plague of Darkness.  Even if those figures are exaggerated, they still reflect a rabbinical tradition that there were heavy Israelite casualties. (Velikovsky also denies any cause-and-effect relationship between alleged action by Moses or Joshua and interplanetary near-collisions themselves.[8])

Sagan says that the waters were "up in the air" and that there was "this river hanging over the heads of the Israelites--remarkable that nobody noticed it of course."[9]  But the waters were not levitated into the atmosphere; they continued to rest on terra infirtna, even though they were heaped up to either side of the Israelites.  Similar disturbances in bodies of water around the world were indeed "noticed."[10]

Sagan says that "Velikovsky explains this in terms of the gravitational influence of the comet." But in the section of Worlds in Collision entitled "The Spark," Velikovsky attributes "the fall of the double wall of water" to an electrical discharge, hardly something that is reducible to a "gravitational influence."[11]

He says that the Israelites had "no food" except manna.  But, for example, they had their own livestock to eat and also caught wild animals.  Sagan would do well to look up some of the sources cited on page 138 of Worlds in Collision.

He says that Velikovsky traces the manna to the comet Venus "because he read in elementary astronomy textbooks that there were hydrocarbons in the tails of comets." But Velikovsky's reasons are to be found in the ancient sources discussed in Worlds in Collision.  It is Sagan, not Velikovsky, who keeps talking about the contents of elementary astronomy textbooks and disparaging them.  Besides, Velikovsky thinks that manna was probably composed of carbohydrates, certainly not hydrocarbons.

Sagan tells his audience that what Velikovsky has done "is confused hydrocarbons with carbohydrates,"[12] and that Velikovsky "actually has the Israelites eating fusel oil in the desert." (Fusel oils arc alcohols, which Sagan is confusing here with carbohydrates.)  No one has ever been able to produce any evidence indicating that Velikovsky has confused hydrocarbons and carbohydrates.  Does Sagan really think that Velikovsky, a physician, does not know gasoline from bread?  Such a charge is groundless.  The students listening to Sagan were never informed, throughout his lecture, that Velikovsky is a physician and a psychoanalyst; at no point did Sagan ever refer to him as Doctor Velikovsky.  To do so would have been to undermine his own argument and to raise the spectre of some brave student questioning the likelihood that physicians would sweeten their coffee with kerosene instead of sugar.  That would never do.  The crowd might shift its ridicule and laughter from the strawman to the man of straw.

Sagan says that "nobody else noticed all this food falling from the sky." But it was both noticed and reported all around the world as manna, ambrosia and "bread of Heaven."[13]  He says "that the amount of carbohydrates in the comet [Sagan here confuses hydrocarbons with carbohydrates!] turns out to be larger than the mass of any conceivable comet by a very large factor," but does not, in this lecture, give any calculations.  When he did state them, all his "proofs" were duly refuted.[14]

Continuing, Sagan says that Joshua needed "two miracles": The walls of Jericho had to fall down so that Joshua could win the battle of Jericho and the Sun had to stand still so that Joshua would have enough daylight to defeat his enemies. (Sagan never names the battle of Beth Horon--where the Sun stood still--and seems to regard the standing still of the Sun as part of the Jericho story, as if one visit by the comet Venus produced both "miracles.")

Sagan says that "the number of years between leaving Egypt and these two events is specified."  But none of our surviving sources gives the number here.  It can be estimated that the battle of Beth Horon took place roughly half-a-century or so after the Exodus, but the exact number of years is not known.  Also, the battle of Jericho preceded the battle of Beth Horon by an unspecified interval, perhaps a year or two.

He says that "one can also calculate when the comet has to come back again from what [Velikovsky has] already said." But what Velikovsky has already said--that is, what the sources have already indicated about the pre-Exodus behavior of the comet Venus--allows considerable latitude as far as subsequent orbits of Venus are concerned.  There arc no known data that permit the calculation of a definitive and singular orbit.  These matters have been explored by Raymond C. Vaughan and me in our paper on "Velikovsky and the Sequence of Planetary Orbits."[15]  The best that we, or any other investigators, can come up with is a variety of possible alternative orbits, any one of which would satisfy the given conditions; that is, any one of which would be compatible with the very general limits that Velikovsky's sources seem to impose on the orbits.  But there is no unique solution that can be calculated: The data are insufficient.

Sagan says that the biblically-specificd interval and the astronomically­calculated interval "don't square at all." But there is no "specified" interval and there is no "calculated" interval: both are irresponsible fabrications on Sagan's part.  Upon those two misrepresentations, Sagan is now erecting another: this claim that "the two don't square at all."

But Sagan's deviousness is still not exhausted; he now spreads a new layer of misrepresentation upon the previous layers.  He makes up a non-existent response by Velikovsky to this non-existent discrepancy between the two non-existent intervals: "Velikovsky said, 'Well, that's because you guys are just calculating on the basis of gravity, but there are other things which make comets move in different orbits, namely magnetic forces.  But don't ask me,' said Velikovsky, 'to give you any details about this, suffice it to say that there is something."'

Velikovsky does indeed hold that comets are subject to influences other than gravity; so do many other investigators.  But Velikovsky has never made this or any other "response" regarding the alleged discrepancy.  How could he?  He had never heard about it.  Sagan seems to have manufactured it on the spot, out of whole cloth.

Layer upon layer, tier upon tier, Sagan continues to erect his own Tower of Babble.  The strategy is to spread so many fabricated charges that no one will have the time, or the energy, to try to clean up such an Augean array.  But Sagan, for all his output, is not really in the same league as Augeas, and we shall need no Heracies to divert the river Alpheus for us.  It will suffice to take these pearls of nonwisdom one by one and expose them to the harsh light of reality.  So let us persevere and not be discouraged.

Sagan says that, according to the biblical story, Joshua "blows his horn"; that "at that moment the comet comes screaming by"[16]; that the comet Venus "lifts up the walls and shatters them." But Joshua himself did not do any horn-blowing: The seven horns were blown by seven priests; the comet Venus was nowhere around at the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down, not up.  Besides, Velikovsky attributes their fall to an earthquake, not to a near-collision between the Earth and Venus.  Archeological studies have shown that Jericho, a city with massive walls, was violently destroyed near the end of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, or shortly thereafter.[17]

Barely pausing for breath, Sagan then misquotes another passage of scripture, saying, "The other thing is the famous statement, you know, 'Sun, stand thou still in Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the plain of Agalon.'  The point is that the Israelites are getting beat, and they figure if they get a little more time in daylight they can defeat the Canaanites that they're fighting."

If Sagan turns to the book of Joshua, he will find no report that "the Israelites are getting beat." What he will find is that the Israelites fought and defeated the Amorites, and that "Agalon" should be "Aijalon." But when quoting from Sagan, let us use the Revised Saganian Version (RSV).

Sagan says that "obligingly the Sun and Moon stop." It is not Velikovsky's view, however, that the cosmos convulsed just for the sake of some local squabble, whether at Jericho or at Beth Horon.  Remember that these are different places, different battles, different enemies and radically different cosmic circumstances--a localized earthquake versus a near-collision between the Earth and Venus.

Continuing, Sagan says that the comet "brakes the Earth to a halt" in such a way that "everything that isn't nailed down" flies off into the sky.  Here is this curious passage in its entirely:

Now, obviously, Velikovsky proposes that that's due to a very close passage by the comet so that it brakes the Earth to a halt.  Now, you can just imagine what happens in such a case.  The Earth stops, let's say, but of course everything that isn't nailed down doesn't.[18]  You remember the Earth is rotating at several thousand miles an hour.  So, you must imagine that everybody got just washed up into the atmosphere that's traveling several thousand miles an hour, and of course it would be difficult to continue a battle.[19]  So, you can see it might have had some influence on the outcome of that fight.  Again, it's rather remarkable that nowhere in human records is there any story of everybody flying up into the sky.[20]

A few quick observations.  The entire line of argument here is, of course, nonsense.  Velikovsky never said the Earth stopped rotating at the time of the battle of Beth Horon.  He did not know whether the rotation stopped or the axis of rotation tilted.  If the rotation stopped, the deceleration was slow and may have taken several hours.  If the axis tilted, that would, likewise, have been a gradual process.  Either way, nothing flew off into space or up into the sky.

It is curious, and perhaps worth noting, that many of Sagan's fabrications seem to involve the same theme: People, animals, objects and even rivers are raised up into the air.  Thus, Sagan places terrestrial frogs, locusts, flies and mice not only in the Earth's upper atmosphere, but also in Venus' atmosphere, from where they are to "fall out of the sky on Egypt."[21]  Sagan puts the waters of the "Sea of Passage" (Sagan says that it is the Red Sea) "up in the air" so that there was "this river hanging over the heads of the Israelites--remarkable that nobody noticed it of course."[22]  What is remarkable is that Sagan would dream up such a thing.  Sagan also believes that something "lifts up the walls" of Jericho.  Why is Sagan so concerned that such things should be raised up?  His crowning accomplishment is established along these lines: to have the Earth suddenly stop its rotation of "several thousand miles an hour" with the result that everything "that isn't nailed down" was "just washed up into the atmosphere"!  All of this preocupation with "flying up into the sky" pertains only to some dream-world, not to reality.

Sagan's belief that "the Earth is rotating at several thousand miles an hour"--a figure that he gives twice--will be enlightening to Sagan's colleagues, who have long been under the impression that the Earth's rotational speed at the equator is just over 1,000 miles per hour and that the speed at the latitude of Israel is less than 900 miles per hour! (More precisely, the equatorial speed is 1,040 miles per hour, while the speed at the latitude of Beth Horon is 883 miles per hour.  But these figures are based on the present length of the day; they should not be applied to the situation of 34 centuries ago, when the day was of a different length.)

Sagan says that "the comet comes back a few more times, scores a few more miracles and then eventually goes into orbit around the Sun and becomes the planet Venus."[23]  But the comet Venus, even before it became the planet Venus, was already in orbit around the Sun.  Furthermore, Venus and the Earth (with or without "miracles") never again encountered each other even one more time, let alone "a few more times."

According to Sagan, Velikovsky identifies the comet as Venus on the basis of "a few astronomical records, in ancient times, which did not mention Venus."  There are such records, which either may reflect an earlier time when Venus was not yet in existence or may reflect the practice of classing Venus with the Sun and the Moon rather than with the planets.  But these records play only a relatively minor role in Velikovsky's decision that the comet was Venus.  Velikovsky's many additional reasons for this identification are presented at length in Worlds in Collision, specially in pages 156 through 203.

Sagan says that the mass of Venus is several times 1027 grams," which is true.  But this is difficult to reconcile with his earlier statement that it is "about 1028 grams (which is more than double the correct figure of 4.87 x 1027) . He says that "the mass of the largest comet on record is 1022 grams," but forgets that the comet Venus, whose mass may originally have been almost 1028 grams, is also "on record."

He claims that "[t]here's a bit of a discrepancy between having a comet become Venus."  But the only discrepancy here is Sagan's ridiculous presumption that the comet Venus was comparable in mass to the comets that we see today.

Sagan says that "Venus is not composed of ices .... not even ... of volatilized ices."  But that hardly constitutes an argument against Vclikovsky, who argues that Venus is very hot and that Venus is, therefore, not at all comparable in temperature to the comets that we see today.  Sagan's comments about temperature are as irrelevant as his comments about mass.

He says that Venus may be "mostly composed of rock," but conveniently neglects to mention that much of that "rock" may be molten.

He says that such material, as is found on Venus, is "not what gets spat out of Jupiter."  One of the oldest of the anti-Velikovsky canards is this claim that, since the overall densities of Venus and Jupiter are different, since there are some other differences between them--such as the proportions of the various materials making them up, Venus cannot have been born from Jupiter.  But Juergens has pointed out that even Rupert Wildt (Sagan's hero on other days) once concluded that Jupiter would have a rocky core that, in Juergens' words, "would contain enough material of more-than-sufficient mean density to yield 100 planets the size of Venus."[24]  In the last few decades, it has become fashionable to deny much of a rocky core to Jupiter, solely on the grounds that Jupiter must have condensed from a nebula or cloud of materials like those in the Sun; that is, mostly hydrogen and helium.  But this nebular hypothesis is indeed only a hypothesis and one cannot argue against Velikovsky on the speculative assumption that the planets were formed where they are now unless one begs the very question at issue.[25]  This subject has also been discussed by Eric W. Crew.[26]  Sagan's argument is completely non sequitur: One might as well say that no lead or iron can be found on the planet Earth, because the mean density of Earth is much less than that of lead or iron.

Like the true scientist that he pretends to be, Sagan professes his willingness to test a theory by a fair and dispassionate examination of its logical consequences.  What, then, are the predictions that follow from Velikovsky's theory?

One is, obviously, that the clouds of Venus should be loaded with frogs.[27]  Right, that follows in a straightforward way from the rest of the argument, and also mice, flies and locusts.  One wonders what they're eating up there, but--[a member of the audience provides the solution: "They're eating manna."]--They're eating manna, right,[28] and each other.

As Irving Michelson was to say of a similar performance, "I'll let that go."

A real consequence of Velikovsky's theory is that 34 centuries ago, when Venus and the Earth were involved in several near-collisions, Venus was incandes­cently hot and contained hydrocarbons. it is not yet clear whether, and, if so, to what extent any of those hydrocarbons have been chemically modified over the centuries.  It depends upon how much oxygen is or was available for their combustion, how many other chemical processes have been taking place, and so on.  Nevertheless, the theory does require that either hydrocarbons or their derivatives should be present on Venus in rich amounts.  Velikovsky's own view is that hydrocarbons themselves are still present, that some of them have been chemically altered.  Indeed, methane and ethane (both hydrocarbons) have now been discovered on Venus.

Sagan never does, in this lecture, get around to arguing against hydrocarbons on Venus.  Instead, he tells a long, elaborate story insinuating that reports about the 1962 Mariner 2 probe's evidence of hydrocarbons on Venus are false, based on a "fatal mistake" made by a scientist at a press conference.  Sagan's view emerges: that one should not speak "on the level" to the press, that when reporters ask for "the real poop"--as Sagan phrased it--scientists should be very careful not to give a frank answer, since reporters are notoriously unreliable.

His position is that everyone who ever said that the Mariner 2 findings suggested hydrocarbons was wrong.  Even if we were to concede that--and we need not concede it--this would still not settle the matter because no honest scientists (even if they accepted Sagan's story about the press conference) would ever say that Mariner 2 showed no hydrocarbons on Venus.  Velikovsky discusses the issue of hydrocarbons on Venus in Worlds in Collision.

Next, Sagan paints what he sees as a humorous picture of Velikovsky misleading "a few scientists at Princeton" (Bargmann was from Princeton, but Motz was from Columbia) into writing a letter to Science calling attention to how Velikovsky's prediction of hydrocarbons on Venus had been confirmed by Mariner 2.  It is difficult to imagine Bargmann and Motz, both of whom disagreed with Velikovsky's theory, being misled into making any excessive claims for it.  They did not.  All they acknowledged was that several of Velikovsky's claims had been true, even though they ran counter to prevailing scientific opinion and had not been expected by anyone else.  It is clear that Sagan, aside from not knowing that Motz was from Columbia, does not know much about the Bargmann-Motz letter.  That letter does not mention either hydrocarbons or Mariner 2!  And for good reason: Their letter was written before Mariner 2 reached Venus and was already published in Science, on December 21, 1962, some two months before the Mariner 2 results were analyzed and announced!  The letter did emphasize Jupiter's non-thermal radio noises and Venus' very high temperature.  It also mentioned the extensive magnetosphere of the Earth.

Sagan is nearly finished now.  It is time to sum up:

I think you will see more of the Velikovsky phenomenon.  It appeals to a lot of interesting things.  It says that the Bible is true.  A lot of people want to believe that.  It says that scientists are a stuffy and unreliable lot.  A lot of people want to believe that that's true, or partly true.  It has a great cosmic sweep to it and it's marvelously interdisciplin­ary.

One might agree that we will see more of what Sagan calls "the Velikovsky phenomenon." But Sagan's reasons for its appeal are wrong.  Velikovsky does not say that the Bible is true; he, in fact, disagrees with much of what is said in the Bible.  Nor does Velikovsky call scientists "stuffy" or "unreliable"; to do so would be, among other things, to insult the many scientists who are Velikovsky's supporters.  What Velikovsky says is that the uniformitarian theories now accepted by the scientific establishment have an unsound foundation: the reasons for their acceptance are more psychological than logical or evidentiary.  And while the Velikovsky theory does have a sweeping and interdisciplinary character, that is hardly enough to account for the enduring and growing interest in the Velikovsky theory.  That interest is due to the fact that the Velikovsky theory has received massive confirmation.  It alone has passed the "Test of Time," while other "cosmic" and "interdisciplinary" theories, including those once favored by Sagan and his colleagues, have but passed into oblivion.

The "great cosmic sweep" of the Velikovsky theory should not be exaggerated, either by Sagan or by anyone else.  Velikovsky's work is focused upon the relatively recent history of the planetary system to which our Earth belongs.  While others are speaking of what happened some 5, 10, or 15 billion years ago, Velikovsky has had his hands full trying to reconstruct what happened just a few thousand years ago.  And while others are reporting on the nature of objects that are billions of light years away from us, Velikovsky's attention has been focused on an arena whose total volume is much less than one billionth of 1 cubic light year.  It clearly is not Velikovsky who claims to have the entire universe within his sweep!  We would do well to figure out what happened 5,000 years ago before declaring what happened 5 billion years ago and would do well to understand the nature and recent history of our own planetary system before making any definitive pronouncements about the status and evolution of stars and galaxies.  This spatial and temporal restraint that is a feature of the Velikovsky theory needs greater recognition and appreciation.

Nevertheless, Velikovsky's work is interdisciplinary.  Sagan tries to twist this into another slur, saying that "there are very few people who are competent in all those fields, so in debates with Velikovsky, whatever your field is, the argument then switches to the one that you're not in."

The absurdity and gross unfairness of this charge are well illustrated by the actions of Sagan himself.  Even in this Wednesday lecture, Sagan has talked almost as much about the Bible as about astronomy.  He need not have done that.  He could have tried to attack the idea of interplanetary near-collisions within historical times just on astronomical grounds, if he had wished.  Instead, he plunged into biblical exegesis entirely of his own choosing.  This Wednesday approach of Sagan's was repeated on other days.  During the San Francisco debate, Velikovsky was the one who had to keep pressing Sagan to discuss astronomy, while Sagan was the one who persisted in talking about the Bible.  Thus, Sagan's complaints about Velikovsky are contradictory and dishonest.

Sagan says that "there are a number of things like this which have the same, more or less the same, kinds of appeals and which are equally, logically, invalid."  But we have seen that Sagan not only fails to understand the reasons for the deep and growing interest in the Velikovsky theory, he also fails to produce one legitimate criticism of that theory.

Sagan concludes his lecture as follows: "Well, there's a lot of other things: astrology, palmistry, food faddism and so on.[29]  I just thought it would be good for you to have one contact with such a thing."[30]

Sagan's lecture has not brought his listeners into contact with the Velikovsky theory.  Indeed, Sagan himself seems to have had very little contact with the Velikovsky theory.  Sagan's reports about Velikovsky, like his reports about the Bible, are but caricatures and misrepresentations.  Some of them seem to be products of his own imagination; others may be second- or third-hand borrowings.  The sources of such misinformation about Velikovsky are usually obscure, but once in a while a specific source can be spotted.  Thus, the remark about "astrology, palmistry, food faddism and so on" is suspiciously similar to a remark by Murray Gell-Mann,[31] the Nobel Prize winner who wrote of "astrology, palmistry and Velikovsky."

This Wednesday lecture by Sagan reveals him as one who readily voices sweeping and highly derogatory conclusions concerning matters of which he knows nothing.  What is even worse, he displays not the slightest interest in alleviating his ignorance about these matters and their true scientific relevance.  When it comes to Velikovsky, there is nothing of the scientist in Sagan, who has but a passing acquaintanceship with Velikovsky's theory and evidence.  When it comes to Velikovsky, he lacks the basic curiosity that leads others to seek the truth, the openness that allows them to acknowledge it, the awe that they feel in its presence and the responsibility that prevents them from betraying it.

When it comes to Velikovsky, Sagan is not a scientist.  He is something else.  A Svengali of the tube?  No doubt.  But mainly he is a moneychanger of ideas who passes counterfeit currency.

We have come to the end of today's session with Sagan.  But we will hear from him again on another day.  Now that this Wednesday performance has been scrutinized in detail, perhaps the coming ones can be reviewed with greater brevity.


[1]   Originally written for inclusion in the book The Sins of the Sons.- A Critique of Velikovsky's A.A,A.S. Critics, by Immanuel Velikovsky and Lynn E. Rose, which was never published.

[2]   Immanuel Velikovsky, Rebuttal to Carl Sagan, Symposium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, February, 1974.

[3]   According to the transcript of the taped lecture, the audience laughs at this point.

[4]   More laughter.

[5]   Laughter.

[6]   Immanuel Velikovsky (A), Worlds in Collision (New York, 1950), pp. 184.

[7]   See the sources cited in Worlds in Collision, p. 88.

[8]   Velikovsky (A), op. cit., pp. 306-307.

[9]   Laughter.

[10]  Ibid, pp. 73-74.

[11]  Ibid., p. 85.

[12]  Laugbter.

[13]  Ibid., pp. 134-138.

[14]  Ralph E. Juergens, Velikovsky and Establishment Science (New York, 1977), pp. 93-94.  Velikovsky refuted Sagan's proofs in an unpublished work: Immanuel Velikovsky and Lynn E. Rose, The Sins of the Sons: A Critique of Velikovsky's A.A.A.S. Critics.

[15]  Raymond C. Vaughan and Lynn E. Rose, "Velikovsky and the Sequence of Planetary Orbits," PENSEE VIII (Summer 1974): 27-34.

[16]  Laughter.

[17]  Immanuel Velikovsky (B), "Jericho," KRONOS II:4 (Summer 1977): 64-69.

[18]  Laughter.

[19]  Laughter.

[20]  More Laughter.

[21]  Laughter.

[22]  More Laughter.

[23]  Laughter.

[24]  Ralph E. Juergens, "The 'Bulk Chemistries' of Venus and Jupiter," KRONOS II: 1 (August, 1976):12.

[25]  Ibid., pp. 11-15.

[26]  Eric W. Crew, "Stability of Solid Cores in Gaseous Planets," KRONOS III: 1 (Fall 1977): 18-26.

[27]  Laughter.

[28]  More Laughter.

[29]  Laughter

[30]  And, finally, applause.

[31]  Murray Gell-Mann, Physics Today (May, 1971): 23.

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