In order to be properly educated on any controversy it is necessary to view the subject from both angles. In order to consider oneself properly read up on the Velikovsky affair “Worlds in Collision” alone will not suffice. The ideas put forth by Velikovsky are radical and ground-breaking, and have been the subject of controversy since his first book was published in 1950. There have been many, many books written about his theories, about himself, and about the controversy itself. There are books defending his views, books attacking them, and books attacking those who attack him. Many of these books bear his name in the title. “The Velikovsky Affair,” “The Velikovsky Controversy,” “Velikovsky Reconsidered,” etc.
In 1974, almost a quarter of a century after “Worlds in Collision” was first published, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held a symposium on the subject of Velikovsky’s views. Five speakers were invited in addition to the man himself, foremost among them was the reknown cosmologist and astronomer Carl Sagan. After the symposium a book was published containing the papers on which the four opposing speeches were based. This is the book I’m about to talk about: “Scientists Confront Velikovsky.” (Among the many other publications defending Velikovsky against the ‘conclusions’ of these scientists there is a book entitled: “Scientists Confront Scientists who Confront Velikovsky.”) Velikovsky’s paper isn’t included due to missing the deadline for publication. It appears in print elsewhere and I have sadly not had a chance to read it yet.
“Scientists Confront Velikovsky” is out of print and very hard to obtain. I first heard about it when I stumbled across a quote in another book from the forward; a forward by reknowned science fiction author Isaac Asimov. “The Role of the Heretic.” There is no ebook version of the publication, and there is no preview; no way to read just the foreword. Eventually I was able to get the book through interlibrary loan.
I am trying to be fair to the scientists scorn of Velikovsky’s lack of high terminology. Another quarter of a century has passed since they made their opinions known to the world, and much of the evidence that we have now to support recent catastrophism was lacking then. Much of what we have today we owe to recent work done by Walt Thornhill in the field of plasma physics. And yet, it seems to me, that if they had been gentler, more open and understanding, more welcoming of new ideas; if scientists put half the effort into seeing if it was possible, rather than semi-proving that it was now, then we would have had a more fair view of the issue. You will never prove anything is true by hunting down evidence that it’s not.
Isaac Asimov, in his forward, essentially states that if science is popular, then it’s wrong. He upholds that Velikovsky is popular because ordinary people can understand him, and that ordinary people understand him because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If he did know what he was talking about then “Worlds in Collision” wouldn’t be understood by most ordinary human beings, since it would be a proper scientific text. Then it could be dealt with by the scientific community in their own way and none of the rest of us would have ever even known what was going on.
I’ll leave my fiery retort for a moment to continue on to Donald Goldsmith’s Introduction. Condescending fails to sum up his attitude towards Velikovsky, the symopisum, Velikovsky’s supporters, and the reporters who write about science. He gently ridicules any suggestion that the symposium was “Velikovsky vs Sagan” but one has only to read Sagan’s paper (and compare its length to the other four!) to see how accurate that actually is! Secondly, as the organizer of the panel speakers, he is responsible for who was invited. There was Velikovsky himself, of course, and then four people against him. And then Goldsmith goes on to point out how they had trouble even finding a scientist sympathetic to Velikovsky’s views to help present the other side! Talk about unbalanced. Four against two: one of those the author and the other merely “sympathetic.”
And then there’s Carl Sagan. Immensely popular as a result of his show “Cosmos” which ran on PBS for many, many years. It’s not a children’s show, and yet Sagan treats his viewers gently, condescendingly. Let the great genius show you the marvels of a universe you can never comprehend. He even devoted five minutes of his show to Velikovskianism that demonstrates my point quite nicely.
Anyway. Onto his presentation at the symposium. He made ten objections that supposedly squashed any chance of “Worlds in Collision” ever being remotely correct. But like any good debater he chose his arguments carefully; attacking the overall theory in places where it was weakest, and ignoring the parts that were sound. He dismissed the entire idea on the grounds of a few scientific inaccuracies, and some inconsistencies that deserved to be overlooked. One of his longest sections was devoted to poking fun at the idea of manna; something Velikovsky only mentioned in passing as a possible side effect of his theory.
I could not help but think, the whole time I was reading his paper, was that there he was, so sure of himself, so arrogant; demanding proof confident that none could be found. Only there was. There’s considerable proof now; both scientific and archaeological thanks to the work of the good folks over at thunderbolts.info. What do you have to say now, Sagan?
Another comment by Goldsmith in the introduction referred to the stuffy and snobbish attitude of the scientific community. As though this was a sad misconception. Asimov referred to the “scientific orthodoxy”. As though science is a secret rite reserved only for the elect! If you didn’t go to school for ten years, if you can’t write an obscure nitpicky paper with all the proper documentation, encoded in a language known only to other members of the secret society, then you’re not allowed to have an opinion. You have no right to challenge the accepted theories. Originality is forbidden in every case. They criticize Velikovsky for challenging the very foundation of geology, physics, archaeology and cosmology, and yet why take on only one small part of one science when you can shake them all? Why satisfy yourself with a small portion of the truth?
This is more of a rant, I’m afraid, then an actual point. The question I want to leave you with is this: Does Velikovsky need more defenders after such a rebuttal from the scientific community? In a world full of books bearing his name does one more blog post with a similar title make a difference? Is there any point in even expressing your allegiance to such heretical views if you’re not a member of the scientific elite?
I believe the answer is yes. Yes there is. There will always be a need for more voices. If enough of us speak up then maybe, someday, science will belong to the people again.