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Immanuel Velikovsky

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Immanuel Velikovsky was the writer of Worlds in Collision (1950), a catastrophist theory of the Solar System in recent times, and several other works advocating similar heterodox and castastrophist historical views. According to his book, around 3500 years ago, the planet Jupiter ejected a giant comet which sideswiped the Earth a few times and then sideswiped Mars, which then proceeded to sideswipe the Earth around 2750 years ago. He proposed that these big disasters were remembered in a large volume of mythical and folkloric material, including the story of the Exodus and Joshua's Sun miracle in the Bible, and also the sinking of Atlantis according to Plato. These disasters were so bad that much of the memory of them was blotted out of humanity's awareness, thus the oddball form of their preservation.

He had a rather literal-minded approach to mythology, treating stories of activities of deities as memories of planetary motions. Thus, Venus's origin from Jupiter is remembered as Athena bursting out from Zeus's head. However, the Greek deity usually identified with that planet is Aphrodite, only one example of the numerous errors that Worlds in Collision is riddled with. Another famous example is his being careless about hydrocarbons vs. carbohydrates; he described Venus as having contributed both petroleum and Biblical manna to the Earth.

And despite having a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of mythology and folklore, Velikovsky had given little credit to similar theorizing by the likes of William Whiston and Thomas Burnet (17th cy.), Ignatius Donnelly (19th cy.), and Hanns Hörbiger (early 20th cy.).

But Velikovsky did have a talent for seeming very learned. Carl Sagan recalled a distinguished professor of Semitic literatures dismissing Velikovsky's discussions of Babylonian, Biblical, and rabbinical literatures as rubbish, while being impressed with all the astronomy. Dr. Sagan had had the opposite opinion.

Worlds in Collision was first published by Macmillan, which had a big textbook department. Several scientists got outraged and decided to boycott Macmillan, and the book got transferred to another publisher, Doubleday, which had no textbook department, and was therefore less vulnerable. To his admirers, this has made Velikovsky seem like some latter-day Galileo, but being martyred does not mean that one is right.

In the 1960's and 1970's, spacecraft were successfully sent to Venus and Mars, reporting back on the appearance and atmospheres of those planets. Velikovsky's followers consider him completely vindicated by these discoveries, while mainstream astronomers have preferred to disagree.

Velikovsky had published several other books, including one on catastrophist geology: Earth in Upheaval. This little-known work is essentially a revival of early-19th-cy. catastrophist geology, in which geological formations are laid down by great planet-scale catastrophes. Thus, Ice-Age continental glaciers were produced by sudden heating of and evaporation from the oceans, followed by equally sudden freezeout. And big sediment beds full of fish were deposited all at once, with the fish having looks of "surprise and terror" on their faces.

Someone familiar with present-day geology should have no trouble finding numerous errors in that book; in many cases, modern geology and paleontology have provided comprehensive alternative accounts, like continental drift. Stephen Jay Gould lists Velikovsky's main fallacies as:

Similarity of form reflects simultaneity of occurrence
Events are sudden because their effects are large
Inference of worldwide events from local catastrophes
Exclusive use of outdated sources
Carelessness, inaccuracy, and sleight of hand

One can often find them in the work of present-day Flood Geologists, who believe that Noah's Flood had deposited the sediments that form sedimentary rocks. In fact, Flood Geologists are more retrograde than Velikovsky; they believe that there has only been one big catastrophe that has shaped the rocks, and not several.

And the terrified looks of those fish are most likely an anthropomorphism, either by Velikovsky or his sources, since fish are not noted for their facial expressions, and since fish skulls, like most other skulls, are rigid. Those looks may be compared to the dolphin's smile or the camel's haughtiness, which are also the result of fixed facial features.


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