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Open letter to science editors
Vol. I, No.3
Cornell Lecture: Sagan on a Wednesday
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
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."
In this case, Sagan has two contradictory opinions almost in the same
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
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."
Then there was an immense pause, and then he said, "Lemme talk to a real
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,
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,
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
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
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
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"
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.)
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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."
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.
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
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."
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."
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
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
Sagan says that, according to the biblical story, Joshua "blows his horn"; that "at that
moment the comet comes screaming by";
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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
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
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."
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."
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.
This subject has also been discussed by Eric W. Crew.
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
One is, obviously,
that the clouds of Venus should be loaded with frogs.
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,
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
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.
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.
concludes his lecture as follows: "Well, there's a lot of other things:
astrology, palmistry, food faddism and so on.
I just thought it would be good for you to have one contact with such a
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,
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
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
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.
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.
Velikovsky, Rebuttal to Carl Sagan, Symposium of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, February, 1974.
to the transcript of the taped lecture, the audience laughs at this
Velikovsky (A), Worlds in Collision (New York, 1950), pp.
the sources cited in Worlds in Collision, p. 88.
(A), op. cit., pp. 306-307.
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.
C. Vaughan and Lynn E. Rose, "Velikovsky and the Sequence of
Planetary Orbits," PENSEE VIII (Summer 1974): 27-34.
 Immanuel Velikovsky (B), "Jericho," KRONOS II:4 (Summer 1977): 64-69.
E. Juergens, "The 'Bulk Chemistries' of Venus and Jupiter,"
KRONOS II: 1 (August, 1976):12.
W. Crew, "Stability of Solid Cores in Gaseous Planets," KRONOS
III: 1 (Fall 1977): 18-26.
Gell-Mann, Physics Today (May, 1971): 23.