Astronomers were correct to reject Immanuel Velikovsky’s account of the birth of Venus
but the real explanation went unrecognized.
Immanuel Velikovsky posited that the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt in the second millennium B.C. was connected in some way to a series of natural catastrophes. He investigated the evidence for these, and for catastrophes that had influenced the histories of other civilizations, most of which had no contact with the Israelites. Velikovsky’s conclusions were presented in his book ‘Worlds in Collision’, which was first published in 1950. It ignited a firestorm that has continued even to the present, largely between professional scientists and a part of the general public which has a keen interest in science but no commitment to the defense of professional orthodoxy. Many members of the general public wonder why ancient stories, whether in allegorical form or not, are rejected so readily by scientists, and Velikovsky opined that we are too readily disposed to consider we have solved a problem when we remove it to the remote past.
Our forebears developed an extraordinary interest in the movements of the planets because, during the second and first millennia B.C., Earth experienced close encounters with two other worlds. These resulted in violent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, floods, conflagrations, meteorite bombardments, hurricanes and observed electrical discharges between worlds. Some mountain ranges were lifted up more than a thousand meters. Saharan and Arabian savannah were changed into desert, alpine glaciers developed where none had existed before, and the length of a year was extended by 5 ¼ days as Earth adjusted its orbit.
Certain historical events can be proven; some are widely accepted; others remain plausible. One event that can be proven is that sea level suddenly dropped 20 feet around the world about 3½ thousand years ago, and it is to the discredit of the science of Geology that this fact has been kept hidden. This could be because it threatened to bring the perils of catastrophism into the geological discourse.
The drop in sea level is still clearly evident in the tropics today since it is common for shore-line coral reefs to build up to sea level at low tide. Any ‘raised’ benches 20 feet above sea level at low tide, that are former coral reefs, can be taken as evidence of this event. Look for them on your next holiday in the tropics. They aren’t that hard to find.
Dr. Reginald Daly, a professor at Harvard University, was the author of ‘Our Mobile Earth’ published in 1926. In it, he stated, “A recent world-wide sinking of ocean level of twenty feet took place, probably 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.” This was confirmed in 1950 by the Dutch scientist, P.H. Kuenen, author of ‘Marine Geology’, who estimated an age “…of 3,000 to 3,500 years”. The historian Immanuel Velikovsky, in his book ‘Worlds in Collision’ (1950), calculated a date from historical records for the first of two close encounters between Venus and Earth as occurring about 3,542 years ago (corrected to 2020).
The electromagnetic fields of Venus and Earth bumped together with a tremendous jolt. On Earth, forces that had been built up by mantle currents pushing against tectonic plates over thousands of years were released in an instant. The geometry of every ocean basin was changed, and every city on Earth with its defensive walls, in an era of massive stone-building, was reduced to rubble.
This event could help answer the question of when the pyramids at Giza were built, for if they had existed at that time they could not have escaped unscathed. In fact, this overwhelming event may have been influential in the decision to construct the pyramids. The Sphinx is believed to be considerably older than the pyramids and survived without significant damage, but it is a reworked rock outcrop rather than a structure. Substantial water erosion of the Sphinx is flood damage, and not the result of precipitation.
The incomparable earthquake also dates the key historical event described in “Exodus” of the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, to the Sinai. The crossing was not of the Red Sea, which has a deep rift valley running down its entire length, but north of the Gulf of Suez, across the route of the Suez Canal. Without the earthquake, which destroyed the stone houses of the Egyptians, causing widespread casualties, followed by the drop in sea-level, the Israelites’ crossing at the sea of passage would not have been even contemplated. Parts of the Old Testament can evoke the perception of allegory where none was intended and may lead to reliance upon divine intervention where none is required. Velikovsky wrote in ‘Worlds in Collision’: “….least of all do we place faith in books that demand belief, religious books, though we swear on these.”
It is the survivors of events who chronicle their history, and Velikovsky concluded that Psalm 68:22 in which the Lord says “I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea.” refers to Israelites who perished at the sea of passage when the water suddenly returned.
The physical geography and especially the hydrology of the Red Sea played an essential role in this event. No tectonic forces were released along the Red Sea itself but at Bab el Mandeb, where the Red Sea narrows significantly to meet the Gulf of Aden, which was now 20 feet lower, discharge of water was severely slowed. At the crossing, shallow water drained away quickly, while the level of the Red Sea continued to fall over several days, through temporary violent rapids at Bab el Mandeb.
Eventually, the water level of the Red Sea dropped low enough that it could be affected by the agitated condition of the open ocean. This was the result of tsunamis generated at subduction zones, especially across the Indian Ocean in Indonesia. Tsunamis then progressed along the length of the Red Sea, rising steeply as they reached the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Suez. Traveling rapidly and without warning, huge waves engulfed the site where Israelites, pursued by the Pharaoh’s army, were continuing to cross.
Velikovsky challenged ancient chronology and scientific dogma alike as he sought to establish what transpired in those threatening times. Venus encountered Earth twice in the second millennium B.C., displacing Mars from its orbit so that it passed close to Earth five times in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.
Sophisticated people of the eastern Mediterranean recorded their experiences by every means available to them as every city on Earth with its defensive walls, in an era of massive stone-building, was destroyed and prosperous civilizations instantly collapsed. A new calendar was developed, and major religions commemorate events from those terrible times, while our own astronomers deny they even took place. Earth entered the “comet-tail” of Venus, as Velikovsky described it, encountering its red dust which turned to hot gravel mixed with fire. On the opposite side of the world, American tribes recalled experiences equally abnormal.
Traditions involving a day or night of unusual duration are associated with some of these encounters, indicating that Earth’s axis had temporarily tilted. The first encounter with Venus was about 1522 B.C., as the Israelites crossed from Egypt to Sinai. Blood-red, Venus glowed before them as they fled, while lightning flashed across the sky. The Israelites recall how they were sustained in the Sinai by an enigmatic frost they called “manna”, while Hindus in India, Finns in their homeland, and Maoris in the distant Pacific shared their experience. Manna hasn’t been recognized in ice cores from Greenland or Antarctica, but it probably hasn’t been searched for with much enthusiasm. Tuff from the huge eruption of Mt. Toba hasn’t yet been recognized in ice cores either.
The Second Encounter
Fifty-two years later, Earth again encountered Venus, as Joshua led his people against the Canaanites. Once again the Sun tarried in the heavens while across the world a night refused to end. Seven centuries after that, Venus was to dislodge Mars from its orbit, to repeatedly threaten Earth. Encounters between four worlds (Earth, Venus, Mars and our Moon) are described in allegorical form in Homer’s Iliad, and when Venus and Mars came together, what I have termed ‘cloud comets’ were observed to form out of the tail of Venus. These comets, made of ice crystals, were still common during the time of Julius Caesar after another seven centuries had passed. Numerous accounts of them are available and can be read today.
Rome was being founded when Mars drew near, and Romans elevated Mars to their most powerful deity. Violent earthquakes occurred so frequently that Rome’s first buildings collapsed even before they could be completed. Every fifteen years the planet Mars returned until it had brought misfortune to Earth on five occasions, whereupon it retreated to the orbit that it now follows. Venus had already assumed its present orbit, resulting in a change to the calendar of an additional 5¼ days to a year. Velikovsky wrote about these wondrous events in ‘Worlds in Collision’ and reaped the scorn and fury of scientific orthodoxy. The least temperate response of all came from astronomers.
Beliefs representing a lifetime of dedication and benefit are not readily discarded. The future can appear threatening when convictions stand discredited for it is conviction that keeps anxiety at bay. Anxiety results when that conviction is undermined, for there is no guarantee those who succeeded once would ever see their good fortune repeated. Part of the blame, however, rests with Velikovsky. He recognized the scientists’ mistakes readily enough but assumed because of it that he was always able to instruct them correctly.
He frequently ran into trouble there, for while he was an incomparable historian he lacked a background in science. Scientific training stresses methods and scientists and historians do not speak the same language. Sometimes, Velikovsky proffered more than one suggested explanation, as for the Sun standing still, and his detractors seized upon the less likely with glee, using it as an opportunity for ridicule. Sometimes, Velikovsky was wrong.
Ancient legends relating that Venus had come out of Jupiter were accepted by Velikovsky and denounced by astronomers who could provide any number of reasons to show that it could not have taken place. This time it was the astronomers who were right, but the dispute was unenlightened for it apparently did not occur to either side that Venus could have been a moon of Jupiter. Carl Sagan reported the odds against the planetary encounters described in ‘Worlds in Collision’ having taken place, describing them colorfully as “a trillion quadrillion to one” (‘Scientists Confront Velikovsky’, page 63). That did not enlighten much either, for Sagan had assumed the encounters were random and affected only by gravity, and neither was the case.
What passes for acceptable proof within one paradigm can amount to nonsense within another. Sagan was at least fair to Velikovsky, taking the position that it is wrong to suppress a book. For this, he deserves more credit than he generally received from Velikovsky’s supporters.
‘Paris Match’, quoted in ‘Stargazers & Gravediggers’ (p.160), stated the following:
“…it is wrong to try to suppress a book.
…it is wrong to do so in a clandestine manner.
…it is wrong to do so without even reading the book.
…it is wrong to try to influence its reviewers.
…having done all this, it is wrong not to admit it.”
Public interest in Velikovsky’s ideas has never gone away, while the judgment of professional scientists has continued to be overwhelmingly negative. The journal ‘Pensée’ supported Velikovsky’s ideas from 1972 to 1974, and its authors were responsible for the book ‘Velikovsky Reconsidered’ (1976). In 1974, a meeting of the ‘American Association for the Advancement of Science’ was held to examine the issues again. Velikovsky’s defense of ‘Worlds in Collision’ was published in ‘Pensée’ and the contributions of the scientists were published in the book ‘Scientists Confront Velikovsky’ (1977).
‘Velikovsky Reconsidered’ may have been most valuable for the inclusion of a paper by Ralph E. Juergens entitled ‘Plasma in Interplanetary Space: Reconciling Celestial Mechanics and Velikovskyan Catastrophism’. Recent progress in acquiring data from space makes Juergens’ paper more relevant now than ever (See: #14. The Electric Sun).
When Immanuel Velikovsky wrote in ‘Worlds in Collision’ that the order of our Solar System has changed within the memory of humankind, the science of astronomy was presented with the most serious challenge it has ever faced. With one nervous eye upon the Creationists, a libelous movement developed within the realm of scientific orthodoxy with the sole objective of discrediting Velikovsky and his theories.
Its guiding light was Harlow Shapley, who labeled Velikovsky a charlatan and a fraud. Shapley was one of America’s best-known astronomers and a director, at one time, of Harvard College Observatory. Another was Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, a former student of Shapley and a member of his staff, who attacked Velikovsky’s book before she had read it. Criticized for her lack of professionalism, she later claimed to have read the book but that it hadn’t changed her mind.
“The claim of …universal knowledge is the unmistakable mark of the quack.” Wrote Dean B. McLaughlin, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Michigan, who later admitted he had not read the book either. “Velikovsky claims to be able to dispute the basic principles of several sciences! These are indeed delusions of grandeur!”
James Conant, president of Harvard University, published a book entitled ‘Science and Common Sense’, in which he bemoaned the success of ‘Worlds in Collision’ as “…a distressing phenomenon.” Conant explained how even highly educated and intelligent citizens will usually fail to understand scientists. But, according to Conant, disseminating more scientific information is not the answer. Velikovsky summed up Conant’s main point in this way: “The public’s part in the enterprise is to provide funds…”
Harold C. Urey, a professor of chemistry at the University of California (San Diego) wrote in a letter (March 7, 1969) to student Katherine Lindeman: “Velikovsky is a tragedy. He has misguided people like you in great numbers, and my advice is to shut the book and never look at it again in your lifetime.”
David Stove wrote of the ‘Scientific Mafia’ in a paper appearing in ‘Honi Soit’, a campus publication of the University of Sydney, Australia. This wasn’t the only time the term came up. The Italian scientist De Finetti compared the orthodox scientific complex to “…a despotic and irresponsible Mafia”.
Henry H. Bauer, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute was another who wrote a book to discredit Velikovsky. In ‘Beyond Velikovsky’, Bauer wrote (page 133) “To my own satisfaction, then, I have concluded that Velikovsky’s ideas about matters of natural science are not worth taking seriously.” In his book, Bauer quoted the publisher of the popular science journal ‘Scientific American’ regarding the total boycott on Velikovsky’s views in that publication as saying: “We have not encountered a single scientist working in any of the many fields, from archaeology to astrophysics, on which Velikovsky touches who finds any interest whatever in anything he has to say. That is why you have not seen any account of Velikovsky in our pages…”
Bauer wrote: “Of course Velikovsky probably is wrong. It is impossible to imagine that one man could single-handedly refute most twentieth-century science…” Here, I would like to raise a question: Given sufficient insight, would it be wrong for one to try?
Velikovsky wasn’t some ancient whose pursuit of truth could be regarded with condescension. He was a contemporary of his critics and, they determined, he must be stopped. I have repeated Velikovsky’s transgression of more than half a century ago as my writing provides new knowledge to scientists and to the general public simultaneously, instead of (here I quote Velikovsky) “…couching it in incomprehensible scientific jargon and submitting it to a closed circle in an inner chamber.”
Carl Sagan made an interesting comment in ‘Cosmos’ (p.177): “Whether Thales’ conclusion was correct is not as important as his approach…” If Sagan had applied this attitude to Velikovsky’s works a more rational conclusion might have been the result. I don’t want to hear whether Velikovsky was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. He left us a gift which amounted to a revolution in methodology, and scientists should have had the grace to accept it with gratitude. Instead, they endeavored to destroy him.
Outraged scientists, whose doubts about some of Velikovsky’s claims were probably real enough, demonstrated that they were prepared to go to any lengths to defend their positions. The Macmillan Company was forced to give away publication of ‘Worlds in Collision’, which was listed as a top-ten bestseller on the ‘New York Times’ list for 27 consecutive weeks. This was because across America, Macmillan’s salespeople were being denied access to university campuses as the result of a criminal secondary boycott, and textbook sales represented the main part of the company’s business. Velikovsky was denied access to scientific journals for his replies while continuing to be a target for abuse and derision by members of the orthodox scientific community.
One of the criteria by which a scientific claim is judged is the economy of the theory compared with that of competing theories. A scientific and philosophical rule known as ‘Occam’s razor’ is held to require that the simpler of competing theories should be preferred to the more complex. In ‘The ABC of Relativity’, Bertrand Russell wrote: “Of the possible laws, we choose the simplest one which predicts the actual motion of bodies correctly: logic and experience combine in equal proportions in obtaining this expression.”
The simplest, therefore, or as scientists prefer to describe it, the “most elegant” theory that explains the process should be preferred as the true one. Unfortunately, in common practice, this has come to mean that the simplest process is the true one, and it is on this precise point that the scientists made a major blunder.
The exquisite order of the planets and moons, the almost perfectly circular orbit of Venus, and the completeness with which gravitational theory was able to explain every question of celestial mechanics that had been put to it convinced the scientists that they were right and Velikovsky was wrong. They saw the order of our Solar System as being governed by gravity alone, and if this were so, the disruptions described in ‘Worlds in Collision’ could not have taken place. Gravity alone, however, does not govern our Solar System, and when Velikovsky told us that the Sun and the planets are electrically charged, he was drawing our attention to one of the most important properties of the Cosmos.
A lead scientist at NASA’s JPL told me in 1994 that he doesn’t believe Earth has an electric charge. That it does can be readily demonstrated by one of the simplest geophysical instruments of all, the gold-leaf electroscope. This instrument is so sensitive that after being grounded at ground level, by the time it is raised head-high it is showing an electric charge. Early scientists took an electroscope up in a manned balloon to see if they could get above the charged zone but, of course, they could not. Since NASA has since reported its surprise at recognizing an electric charge on an asteroid, the scientist may have changed his opinion by now.
Unrecognized by scientific orthodoxy, and without obvious effect upon the orbits of the planets, it is the electromagnetic force that enables our Solar System, and our Galaxy, to function. Velikovsky’s claims on the effects of solar and planetary electric fields were ridiculed by the scientists because their gravitational calculations all worked out even though electromagnetic influences had been disregarded. Electromagnetic forces play a dominant role in our Solar System and our Galaxy, however, becoming evident from time to time.
In a paper copyrighted in 1972, Ralph E. Juergens reminded us of a little-known phenomenon that had been given the distinctive name ‘The space-charge sheath’. Investigated in the 1920s and seemingly forgotten after that, it provided the key to a plausible model for the functioning of our Solar System, an outline of which I am pleased to present in ‘martiangrandpa.com’. The space-charge sheath is not personal wear for astronauts but describes how charged particles in a plasma collect within a zone of limited extent about a charged body until the outer edge of the zone carries a charge that is the same as the charge on the surrounding plasma. A sheath of positively charged plasma particles, attracted to a negatively charged body, effectively constitutes a sort of electromagnetic insulation.
The flight of Mariner 2 in 1962 revealed interplanetary space contains positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons, which is to say, a plasma. This discovery changed the rules of the game because while the effective range of influence of an electrically charged body in a vacuum approaches infinity, with its strength reducing as the square of the distance, the effect in a plasma is limited to a finite distance by the space-charge sheath. A practical example is that in a vacuum, Mars and Earth would perturb each other’s orbits by their electrical charge as well as by their mass, while in a plasma only their mass has any effect. The argument put forward by the astronomers that the extent to which their gravitational theories explaining celestial mechanics proved Velikovsky wrong, lost its credibility in 1962.
Planets in their present orbits interact only through the relatively weak force of gravity, but when planets draw close on intersecting paths, much stronger electromagnetic forces come into play. As worlds draw close, their rotational axes may tilt and lightning bolts discharge between them. An isolated body would eventually acquire the same charge as the surrounding plasma, and its space-charge sheath would disappear unless its charge was continually being renewed.
Velikovsky recognized that ray-craters on the Moon are the result of electrical discharges between worlds, and ‘The Iliad’ describes Mars charging at our Moon (both are represented as gods) and hurling spears at her. These ‘spears’, seen from Earth, were lightning bolts which resulted in ray craters. Lunar craters resulting from electrical discharges would be expected to have steep walls, roundish outlines, and glazed surfaces. Later Apollo missions encountered glass covering rounded and steeply walled ray craters, all of which were attributed to asteroid impacts.
It is rare to find any natural glass on Earth that is older than 50 million years old since older glass has crystallized and fragmented by then. Scientists claim that some glass on the Moon is billions of years old and that the devitrification of glass on Earth is due to the presence of water. This explanation is based on their belief, without any proof, that the moon craters being investigated are billions of years old. Water is relevant to their argument only to the extent that rock surfaces on Earth are subject to normal erosional processes.
Pliny, in his ancient book ‘Natural History’, drew attention to a lake in Italy, surrounded by cinders, that was said to have been formed by a “thunderbolt from the heavens”. If this is true there could be other lakes on Earth which formed as a result of interplanetary electrical discharges. I expect they would be roundish and deep and could be surrounded by cinders. Most likely they have been mistaken for volcanic craters or maars.
Maars are typically round craters, surrounded by cinders that have been ejected by repeated gas explosions. One was actually observed forming in Mexico last century, while two geologically Recent maars (the Soda Lakes) occur on the outskirts of Fallon, Nevada. You can easily locate them on GoogleEarth.
Between about 1522 B.C. and 687 B.C. (3540 and 2705 years before 2018), our ancestors experienced seven close encounters with other worlds: two with Venus and later, five with Mars. There were, living at the time, sophisticated people of considerable learning who recorded their observations by every means available to them. Their eye-witness accounts of terrifying personal experiences have come down to us in writings, as well as in oral histories that were written down later. Many of the stories in the ‘Old Testament’ are set against a backdrop of catastrophe, as is ‘The Iliad’ and many others including Chinese books of that same period.
As Velikovsky commented, the later encounters with Mars, which took place from 747 BC to 687 BC “…did not take place in a mist-shrouded past; the period is part of the well-authenticated history of the lands of the eastern Mediterranean.” Numerous records written down at the time can be read today. We cannot simply pretend that none of this took place.
A new age dawned with a new calendar, and with a new planet, Venus, visible in the night sky. Early Roman history records that comets were numerous then, some so bright they could be seen during the day, while earthquakes shook Rome every few days. And a story that was ancient even long before the time of ‘Exodus’ told of a flood that covered the Earth. Stories of such antiquity have been automatically denied by our scientists, who have demonstrated remarkably little interest in considering why similar stories were shared by civilizations around the world that had no contact with one another.
Our history is too important to be denied us by members of a pretentious modern cult which has invented its own version of the past. So much has happened in the last 4,000 years, while the age of the Earth is more than a million times as great, that it is unreasonable to interpret that great expanse of time according to only what we see around us today.
Astronomers have never been noted, as a group, for being knowledgeable about ancient history. Under the cult of ‘uniformism’, however, they feel justified in developing fairy tales about their science, while dismissing a wealth of historical records that are in total disagreement. There is not a shred of evidence, for example, that planets or moons originated in their present orbits, or that they have never moved from them. This is just something that struck someone as a good idea at the time. Our ancestors, who lived only 2,700 years ago, experienced terrors of which modern astronomers have no appreciation.
Immanuel Velikovsky challenged modern astronomy, and for his efforts, he was attacked by what has been described as a “scientific mafia”, which engineered a criminal secondary boycott against his publisher. Velikovsky made mistakes, but one has to wonder about a profession that is so unsure of itself to go to such lengths as preventing publication of a book with which they disagreed. It tends to be the sciences based least upon feedback from reality and most upon conjecture, that offer the less reasoned responses to criticism. As Velikovsky put it “If, in matters of science, the opinion of the majority decides where truth lies, then the Earth was the center of the Universe until about 300 years ago.”
Why is it that ancient myths of civilizations around the world concern themselves with the birth of Venus, but not with the birth of any other planet? A new generation needs to examine Velikovsky’s claims one more time, leaving aside his conclusions about the origin of Venus, which he got wrong, and to consider the valuable heritage that our ancestors left us. This is our history; it belongs to us and we are entitled to it. It involves observations of the terrors and beliefs of generations before ours, which experienced them. Many competent historians have spent their entire careers investigating the history of those times. Astronomers have an obligation to the society that supports them to be less pretentious, and more open to the consideration of ideas that are at variance with their present claims.
At its annual meeting in Cleveland, in December 1950, ‘The American Association for the Advancement of Science’ grappled with the question of how scientists might better exercise control over theories perceived to be to their disadvantage. It was proposed that a “jury of peers” (censorship board?) should be required to consider new theories before they could be published, in order (what else?) “…to protect the public”. Would such a jury have passed the heresies of Aristarchus? Copernicus? Galileo? Newton? Darwin? Pasteur? Fleming? Einstein? The probabilities can hardly be viewed as encouraging.
William A. Irwin, reviewer, of Southern Methodist University in Dallas wrote in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, in April 1952 “Rampant superstition is intolerant; when it gains the power, it decides by its own distorted principles what may and may not be said or published.”
I have respected Velikovsky’s accomplishments while still drawing attention to certain errors appearing in his book ‘Worlds in Collision’. My advantage is that I have the benefit of more than half a century of additional scientific investigation including space exploration, to draw upon. Overall, Velikovsky’s book was a phenomenon.
It reminds me of a quote taken from the movie, ‘Phar Lap’ which is about a fabulous Australian racehorse brought to race at Calienté, near Tijuana. After breaking the course record it was found poisoned. In the movie, the American promoter opined: “When something’s good, that’s fine, but when something’s too good it upsets the whole system.”
To a degree, I have attempted to emulate Velikovsky. I have expressed my own ideas on science, and I have focused attention on where Velikovsky’s writing attracted particular criticism. Time alone will tell the extent to which I have succeeded.