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by Livio C. Stecchini


The modern system of astronomy is now so much received by all inquirers, and has become so essential a part even of our earliest education, that we are not commonly very scrupulous in examining the reasons upon which it is founded. It is now become a matter of mere curiosity to study the first writers on that subject.

David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), Part II.

Only a few years ago astronomers were unanimous in dismissing as preposterous Velikovsky's contention that the movement of the heavenly bodies is affected by electromagnetic fields. Today creative astronomers are immersed in the study of electromagnetism. The historian finds difficulty in explaining how radical is this change that has challenged three hundred years of cosmological thought and has brought us back to the arguments of William Gilbert (1544- 1603) and Johann Kepler (1571-1630) [1] . The newness of the revolution is evinced by the Einstein-Velikovsky correspondence wherein the former soon accepted as tenable the hypothesis of global catastrophes and, though originally quite opposed, at last became sympathetic even to the hypothesis of a recent origin of Venus as a planet. However, he persistently rebutted to the end of his life all argument that electricity and magnetism affect the motions of heavenly bodies.

Whereas astronomers are perplexed at the implication of the new picture of the universe as derived from the space probes, Velikovsky has been clear from the very beginning. In one of the first conversations I had with him ten years ago, he summed up this thinking by stating that one of the implications of his work is to reinstate Descartes as a rightful contestant of Newton in the understanding of the texture of the universe. Velikovsky quoted the following summation by Herbert Butterfield of the results of the famous contest between the two views of celestial mechanics: 'The clean and comparatively empty Newtonian skies ultimately carried the day against a Cartesian universe packed with matter and agitated with whirlpools, for the existence of which scientific observations provided no evidence. ' [2] . Velikovsky was confident that this evidence would be found, and it has been found. There is reasonable ground to hope that the new investigation which takes electric charges and magnetic fields into account will, first of all, succeed in explaining the behaviour of comets especially in the proximity of the Sun. The current explanation, according to which the pressure of solar light drives a cometary tail as a rigid rod at enormous velocities when the head is close to the perihelium, is not much more satisfactory than the one proposed by Newton when he said that the tails of comets turn away from the Sun for the same reason that the smoke from a fire ascends perpendicularly, or in the case of a moving body obliquely, in the atmosphere [3] . Thereafter, the case of planets like Earth or Jupiter, which are surrounded by a magnetosphere and move through the magnetic field permeating the solar system and the plasma winds that sweep through it, will come to quantitative analysis, too.

With new claimants to participation in the mechanism of the solar system, the problem of its stability is brought into new light.


Because of his psychoanalytic training and experience Velikovsky was able to realize that men tend to shunt off as fables the accumulated memories and records of cosmic cataclysms. Even biblical fundamentalists do not accept at face value what is told in plain language in a book that they purportedly interpret to the letter.

A few hundred years after the last upheaval, as dated by Velikovsky's thesis, Aristotle struggled to refute the cosmology of Heraclitus; and Cicero, when other writers of his century such as Lucretius or Ovid were describing in detail what had happened, proclaimed ita stabilis mundus est atque ita cohaeret ad permanendum, ut nihil ne excogitari quidem aptius possit - ' the world is so stable and it holds together so well for the sake of permanence that it is impossible even to imagine anything more fitted to the purpose' [4] . Planets are gods, and because of their divine nature they keep a perfect and immutable order. In another passage Cicero expounds the same view in terms that became a creed both for medieval scholastic natural philosophers and, as I shall indicate, for the followers of Newton:

In the firmament, therefore, there is no accident, no chance, no aimless wandering, nothing untrustworthy; on the contrary, all things display perfect order, reliability, purpose, constancy... Wherefore, that man who holds that the astounding orderliness and the incredible precision of movement of these celestial bodies, upon which the support and safety of all things are wholly dependent, are not directed by reason must himself be considered to be utterly devoid of the rational faculty [5] .

But this was a reversal of the older beliefs in the Theomachy, or the struggle among the planetary gods. Critias, the cousin of Plato's mother, in his drama 'Sisyphus, ' stressed the opposite view, defended by Democritus and his followers, that the belief in the planetary gods was linked with the worst of all human terrors. The following quotation illuminates also the question, with which I shall deal below, that the organization of the heavenly bodies came to be considered the foundation of ethics:

He [Sisyphus] said the gods resided in that place Which men would dread the most, that place from which, As he well knew, mortals have been beset With fears or blest with that which brings relief To their tormented lives - there, high above, In that great circuit where the lightnings flash, Where thunder's baleful tumult may be heard, And heaven's starry countenance is seen (That lovely work of Time's skilled joinery), Where molten stones of stars descend ablaze, And wet rain starts it journey to the earth. Such were the consternating fears he sent To men, and such the means by which the gods Were settled in their proper dwelling-place (A pretty trick, accomplished with a word); And thus he quenched out lawlessness with laws [6] .

Modern writers have suspected as much. John Dewey opens The Quest for Certainty (1929) with a chapter titled 'Escape from Peril. ' He points out that fear is the spring of the search for immutable perfect entities, for the glorification of regularity and invariance at the expense of diversity and change. By rationalizing the beliefs in the heavenly bodies as gods and making them the expression of a higher realm (higher physically and morally) which is rational, regular, and unalterable, Aristotle set up the foundations of classical science.

In a similar vein, Freud [7] asks on what foundation does 'man build the feeling of security with which he armours himself against the dangers both of the external world and of human environment. ' In answering he declares: 'Think of the famous dictum of Kant that mentions in one breath the starry heavens and the moral law in our heart. This combination sounds odd - for, what could the heavenly bodies have to do with the question whether a human being loves or murders another - but it touches a profound psychological truth. '

The passage of Kant (1724-1804) to which Freud refers is the conclusion of the Critique of Practical Reason:

Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

But does the starry heaven inspire us rightfully with the feeling of stability, while it inspired the ancients with an all-pervading fear?


Nicolas of Cusa (1401-64), in his De docta ignorantia, denied the qualitative difference between heaven and earth. He also rejected the rest of the related propositions of Aristotelian metaphysics and revived the heliocentric theory, and he stated that the earth is not perfectly spherical and that the orbits of the planets are not perfectly circular [8] . He claimed that heavenly motions do not have stability as an inherent quality, and formulated the hypothesis that some statements of ancient writers may be explained by their having seen a sky different from what was seen in his time. He defined science as 'learned ignorance, ' because it is impossible to formulate an exact, eternal, and absolute description of the physical universe.

The position of Copernicus (1475-1543) was relatively conservative in that he combined heliocentrism with the traditional conception of circular movements (around the sun) and of a limited universe bounded by the sphere of the fixed stars. The opposition to Copernicus was determined by the realization that by giving mathematical structure to the heliocentric theory he lent support to the subversion of metaphysics that had been associated with it by Nicholas of Cusa.

Questioning of the text of Genesis began as a result of the Copernican theory: if the Earth is nothing but a planet revolving around the Sun, one may doubt that its creation was the result of a providential dispensation. A son-in-law of Osiander, the editor of Copernicus, uttered the first frank challenge to the divine authority of the biblical narrative: neque mihi quisquam Judaeorum fabulas objiciat [9] . Scholars began to doubt the notion that the universe had been created once and forever. They started to investigate ancient chronology, and laid down the foundations of geology and paleontology.

In the age of Reformation some religious apologists argued that a distinction must be made between the creation of the universe as a whole and the creation of the Earth: the biblical text referred to the latter creation.

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), in his last and greatest work, De immenso et innumerabilibus, published just after his imprisonment, made clear the meaning of the assertion of the principle of indifferenza della natura. He denied the existence of a providential order in nature and hence of the stability of the solar system which is linked with the doctrine of circular movements; declared that only their imperfect astronomical observations permitted earlier scholars to believe that the heavenly bodies move in circles and in the long run return to their original position (de vanitate circulorum et anni illius mundani phantasia platonica et aliorum) [10] ; and pointed out that astronomical movements are bound to be infinitely complex (differentias et singularum differentiarum irregularitatem) [11] . The belief in the simple and regular motion of the planets, he continued, is a delusory product of astrological thinking sub fide vel spe geometricantis naturae; it is necessary to free mathematical astronomy from Platonic and Pythagorean metaphysical accretions. From the relativity of motion follows the relativity of time; since no completely regular motion can be discovered, and since we possess no records which can prove that all the heavenly bodies have taken up exactly the same positions with regard to the Earth as those previously occupied by them and that their motions are rigidly regular, no absolute measure of time can be found [12] .

The new conception of nature is epitomized in John Donne's poem, An Anatomy of the World (1611):

And new Philosophy calls all in doubt... And freely men confess that this world's spent, When in the Planets, and the Firmament They seek so many new; then see that this Is crumbled out again to his Atomies. 'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone... So, of the Stars, which boast that they do run In Circle still, none ends where he begun. All their proportions lame, it sinks, it swells.

Velikovsky has been scorned for blending the study of astronomy with that of geology, ancient traditions, ancient chronology, and ancient science. But in so doing he has followed the path of Renaissance scholars, since such a course is inevitable once the dogmatic belief in the incorruptibility of the solar system has been questioned. The new astronomy brought forth a series of studies on ancient traditions and chronology, and effected the birth of interest in Egyptian and Mesopotamian science. For instance, Father Athanasius Kircher (1601-80) founded the study of geology with his Mundus Subterraneus, while he initiated the study of Egyptian science with his Oedypus Aegyptiacus. In Vicissitudo Rerum (1600) John Norden refers to these speculations that have been revived by Velikovsky:

The antique Poets in their Poems telled Under their fondest Fables, Mysteries: By Phaeton, how heaven's Powers rebelled In Fire's force, and by the histories Of Phyrrha and Deucalian there lies, The like of water's impetuity, In part concurring with divinity - The Priests of Egypt gazing on the stars, Are said to see the World's sad ruins past, That had betide by Fire and Water's jars: And how the World inconstant and unchaste, Assailed by these, cannot alike stand fast. Earthquakes and Wars, Famine, Hate, and Pest, Bring perils to the Earth, and Man's unrest.

Sir Walter Raleigh in his History of the World (1616) wondered how it could happen that the phases of Venus just discovered by Galileo seem to have been known to ancient authors. He listed the authorities who state that at the time of the flood of Ogyges 'so great a miracle happened in the star of Venus, as never was seen before nor in after-times: for the colour, the size, the figure, and the course of it were changed. ' The catastrophe associated with the name of Ogyges, a time mark for ancient Greeks, took place simultaneously with Venus' complete metamorphosis. This statement made by Varro, 'the most learned of all the Romans, ' on the authority of earlier scientists should have provoked interest in the time of Newton, when the working of the solar system was elevated to the state of a most exact science. But, whereas the gleaning of information from ancient authors contributed to more than one discovery of the new age of astronomy (the very heliocentric theory had been advanced on the authority of Greek and Roman writers), Newton pulled down the curtain on the use of ancient sources as an inspiration for astronomical research. The notion that the solar system may have a history, became (in the name of the new religion of science) as sacrilegious as it had been for the scholastics (Saint Augustine, A. D. 354-430, had taken a different position on the authority of classical authors).

On the eve of the establishment of Newtonian cosmology, the speculation on cosmic cataclysms had become so commonplace that in 1672 Molière, in his satire on the ladies who, captured by the new passion for science, studied astronomy, could make a joke of it (Les femmes savantes, Act IV, Scene III):

Je viens vous annoncer une grande nouvelle: Nous l'avons en dormant, madame, échappé belle, Un monde près de nous a passé tout du long; Est chu tout au travers de notre tourbillon, Et s'il eût en chemin rencontré notre terre, Elle eût été brisée en morceaux comme verre.

(' I have come to tell you a great piece of news. We have, Madam, while sleeping, had a narrow escape. A world has passed by us, has fallen across our vortex, and if it had on its way met our Earth, it would have broken it into pieces like glass. ')


The Renaissance view of life and of the world, which can be summed up by the word mutability, was created by personalities of heroic stamina and required the leadership of such personalities for its preservation, for indeed, it is not easy to live in a world where the only divinity is Fortuna and nothing is certain beyond measurement and probability. As Freud contends, neuroses originate from the failure, due to inferior biological endowment combined with stunted psychic growth, to face the burden of the human condition in a world that owes us nothing.

Some contemporary thinkers were frightened, for the relativism and decentralization of the Renaissance found expression not only in astronomy but in political theory; furthermore, the impact of thinkers such as Machiavelli was compounded by the geographical discoveries that gave birth to the doctrine of ethical relativism. In England the herald of reaction against Renaissance thought was the theologian Richard Hooker who imagined that a new conservative position could be justified by appealing to nature's laws linked with an absolute reason and an obedience of man to absolute ethics. In the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1593-97), he examined the views current at his time:

Now if nature should intermit her course, and leave altogether, thought it were but for a while the observation of her own laws; if those principal and mother elements of the world, whereof all things in this lower world are made, should lose the qualities which now they have; if the frame of that heavenly arch erected over our heads should loosen and dissolve itself; if celestial spheres should forget their wonted motions, and by irregular volubility turn themselves any way as it might happen; if the prince of the lights of heaven, which now as a giant doth run his unwearied course, should as it were through a languishing faintness begin to stand and to rest himself; if the moon should wander from her beaten way, the times and seasons of the year blend themselves by disordered and confused mixture, the winds breathe out their last gasp, the clouds yield no rain, the earth be defeated of heavenly influence, the fruits of the earth pine away as children at the withered breasts of their mother no longer able to yield them relief: what would become of man himself, whom these things now do all serve? See we not plainly that obedience of creatures unto the law of nature is the stay of the whole world?

He proposed the comforting solution that was accepted by Newton and the scientists who followed him:

But howsoever these swervings are now and then incident into the course of nature, nevertheless so constantly the laws of nature are by natural agents observed, that no man denieth but those things which nature worketh are wrought, either always or for the most part, after one and the same manner.

Helène Metzger has shown that Newton developed his theory under the influence of this spirit of reaction. She is certainly right when she judges the overall effect of Newton's work which devait vite devenir une aliée de cette piétJ bienséante et bien pensante [13] ; but she has not analyzed in detail what caused Newton to arrive at his conservative conclusions nor what is their technical significance for science. Her pacemaking investigations were cut short by the gas chamber at Auschwitz.

One of the precursors of Velikovsky as to the general thesis of the catastrophic past of the earth, to whom he refers in his work, was William Whiston (1667-1752). In 1964, seven years after the first edition of Principia, Whiston, then a fellow of Cambridge University, became a devoted pupil of Newton, and two years later submitted to his master the manuscript of a book entitled New Theory of the Earth. The book was intended to replace the then popular Theory of the Earth (1681) by Thomas Burnet, and dealt with a theme with which Newton had been concerned for more than a score of years. This book contended that the cataclysm described in the Old Testament as universal Deluge was caused by the impact of a comet at the end of the third millennium B. C., and that up to the Deluge the solar year had the duration of 360 days only, yet the new calendar of 365 days had to wait to be introduced by Nabonassar (in 747 B. C.). These contentions were based mainly on historical evidence, whereas astronomical considerations were the main ground for suggesting that comets may become planets:

Yet comets by passing through the planetary regions in all planets and directions... seem fit to cause vast mutations in the planets, particularly in bringing on them deluges and conflagrations, according as the planets pass through the atmosphere... Tho'indeed they do withal seem at present chaos or worlds in confusion, but capable of change to orbits nearer circular, and then settling into a state of order and of becoming fit for habitation like the planets; but these conjectures are left to further enquiry, when it pleases the divine providence to afford us more light about them [14] .

Newton was so impressed by Whiston's work that from that moment he established a close scientific relation with him. The book was highly praised also by other contemporaries, John Locke among them. Two years later the Savillian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford, John Keill (1671-1721), dedicated a book to the evaluation of Whiston's hypotheses in comparison to those of Burnet, in which he expressed the following judgments:

... Yet I cannot but acknowledge that Mr Whiston, the ingenious author of the new Theory of the Earth, has made great discoveries and proceeded on more philosophical principles than all the theorists before him have done. In his theory there are some coincidents which make it indeed probable, that a comet at the time of the Deluge passed by the Earth [15] .

Keill approved also of the contention that before this upheaval the solar year consisted of 360 days, divided into 12 lunar months of 30 days.

In 1701 Whiston was appointed as a temporary substitute for Newton at Cambridge, and in 1703, when Newton resigned permanently from the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics, he recommended Whiston as uniquely worthy to be his successor. By 1713, when the second edition of the Principia was published, Newton's feelings towards Whiston had changed radically. When in 1720 the astronomer Edmond Halley (1656- 1742) and others proposed Whiston as a member of the Royal Society, Newton threatened that, should the members vote for Whiston's admission, he would resign from the presidency of the Society. Whiston, who was deeply devoted to Newton, suggested that his candidacy not be pressed; he felt that the aging Newton was so violently disturbed by the issue that he might die [16] . Halley who one year and a half before the publication of Whiston's New Theory of the Earth had read a paper before the Royal Society in which he had explained the Deluge by the impact of a comet, but had not printed it 'lest by some unguarded expression he might incur the censure of the sacred order, ' reacted to Newton's gesture by publishing with thirty years of delay a memoir in the acts of the society [17] . Historians of science gloss over this incident, which is vital for the understanding of the evolution of Newton's thought. After 1710, when Whiston was dismissed from his teaching position because of heresy and then formally brought to trial before the body of bishops of the Church of England, he assumed more radical positions and came to disagree with Newton who was becoming more and more conservative.

Whiston's contention was that the creation story told in Genesis should not be interpreted literally, but as referring to a process of progressive creation through several cosmic stages. Newton, who was at first sympathetic to Whiston's religious and scientific views, came to be shocked by his radicalism, and turned towards a fundamentalist position. The concluding words of Opticks indicate that Newton, like others of his contemporaries felt that, if the traditional views of cosmic order were abandoned, the foundations of morality would be undermined [18] . Furthermore, Newton felt that Whiston's hypotheses would end by eliminating what he considered the chief argument for the existence of God, the argument from design, namely, the wise adaptation of the present frame of nature to the needs of living creatures, especially man. In Opticks he rebutted Whiston in these terms:

For it became who created them [the celestial bodies] to set them in order. And if he did so, it's unphilosophical to seem for any other origin of the world, or to pretend that it might arise out of a chaos by the mere laws of nature; though being once formed, it may continue by those laws for many ages. For while comets move in very excentrick orbs in all manner of positions, blind fate could never make all the planets move one and the same way in orbs, concentrick, some inconsiderable irregularities excepted, which may have arisen from the mutual actions of comets and planets upon one another, and which will be apt to increase, till this system wants a reformation. Such a wonderful uniformity in the planetary system must be allowed the effect of choice [19] .

Whereas the first edition of the Principia (1687) is essentially rationalistic in spirit and follows a positivistic method, theological preoccupations dominate the second edition (1713). Newton is bent on proving that the machinery of the world is such a perfectly contrived system that it cannot be the result of 'mechanical cause, ' but must be the result of an intelligent and consistent plan. In order to support further the story of Genesis that the world was created by a single act, he argued also that the world is stable and has remained unchanged since creation. But he could not prove this point, since he admitted that, according to his own theory, the gravitational pull among the several members of the solar system would tend to modify their orbits; hence, he begged the question and claimed that God in his providence must intervene from time to time to reset the clockwork of the heavens to its original state. This point of Newton's doctrine is well known, for it was the object of sarcastic comments by Newton's great rival in the mathematical field, Leibniz (1646-1716). As the letter observed, Newton cast God not only as a clockmaker, and a poor one at that, but also as a clock-repairman [20] .

Jean-Baptiste Biot (1774-1862), the chosen pupil of Laplace, agreed with his teacher in considering the second edition of the Principia as highly objectionable. He argued that Newton had ceased to be a creative thinker in 1695 and suggested that this was the result of his mental illness of eighteen months duration [21] . But in truth Newton was hampered by religious preoccupations and not by mental deterioration. The only external evidence that Biot submits for a psychic collapse is Newton's 'infantile' antics in his dealings with Whiston in 1714. In my opinion, the proof that Newton had become fixated on the religious problem, but had not lost any of his intellectual flexibility, is that the few additions that appear in the third edition of the Principia (1726), disclose that he came to believe that God reveals himself not in the appearance of things but in the ways of mankind [22] .

Scholars have failed to notice that the refutation of Whiston's doctrine was of major concern to Newton. In the Principia, he maintained that comets, far from being a disruptive element, contribute to the providential preservation of the original order: since a certain amount of the water of the Earth is steadily consumed by chemical combinations, the seas would not be preserved in their original state unless new water was provided by the exhalations of comets. The notion of the providential purpose of comets was further expanded in Newton's time: the comets exist also for the purpose of supplying new fuel to the Sun which otherwise would gradually consume itself. One of the important popularizers of Newton's ideas stresses that comets can perform these providential functions, but at the same time are providentially prevented from striking the Earth:

In the next place, the reason why the planes of their [comets'] motions are not in the plane of the ecliptic, or any of the planetary orbits, is extremely evident; for had this been the case, it would have been impossible for the Earth to be out of the way of the comets' tails. Nay, the possibility of an immediate encounter or shock of the body, of a comet would have been too frequent; and considering how great is the velocity of a comet at such a time, the collision of two such bodies must necessarily be destructive of each other; nor perhaps could the inhabitants of planets long survive frequent immersions in the tails of comets, as they would be liable to in such a situation. Not to mention anything of the irregularities and confusion that must happen in the motion of planets and comets, if their orbits were all disposed in the same plane [23] .

The writer follows here the reasoning of Newton, who argued that the providential order of the universe required that the comets have beneficial characteristics. In reality, the planes of the orbits of some comets are at a small angle with the plane of the ecliptic, and the chance of collision exists.

Biographies of Newton usually dismiss in a few lines his book The Chronology of the Ancient Kingdoms Amended (1728), to which he dedicated the last years of his life. They consider it the product of an irrelevant side activity; yet its purpose is clearly that of refuting Whiston's hypotheses. Newton argues that evidence for the years of 365 days is as old as the year 887 B. C., and that even though this year was 'scarcely brought into common use' before this date, it was as old as the first astronomical observation of the Egyptians. However, these would have started only quite late, in 1034 B. C. The main purpose of the book is to contend that there was hardly any reliable history before the First Olympic Games in 776 B. C. In the first page the point is made that the ancient legends and traditions (the basis of Whiston's argument for a cataclysm caused by a comet) are not a reliable source of information.

Newton believed that his cosmology, which he had summed up in the famous General Scholium of the second edition of the Principia, could not be accepted unless Whiston was refuted. For this reason, about three months after the appearance of the second edition, he wrote an essay (that lies unpublished at the British Museum) in which he answered the criticism advanced by William Lloyd (1627-1717), an intimate friend of Whiston, on the ground that the oldest calendars of the ancients are based on a solar year of 360 days. From what is known about this document it can be said that Newton gave a lame answer [24] . He argued that if a calendar of 360 days had been in use without a system of intercalation for the five extra days, the official beginning of the seasons would have moved around the full year in a period of 70 years; since there is no trace of this 70 year cycle, this calendar cannot have existed. But the argument of Whiston and Lloyd was exactly that the solar year was about 360 days long and that therefore no intercalation was needed. Newton was begging the question by assuming that the solar year must have always consisted of 365 days.

In the works of Newton the doctrine of the eternal stability of the solar system is clearly presented as an assumption based not on scientific data but on faith in a providential order. But the flood of popularizations that made Newtonianism the basic doctrine of the eighteenth century claimed that Newton had provided scientific mathematical proof of the marvellous order that he accepted on faith. Carl L. Backer, who has examined this development in The Heavenly City of Eighteenth Century Philosophers (1932), concludes that the thinkers of the Enlightenment, while they believed themselves to be anti-Christian or even irreligious, were, in the name of Newton's mechanics (though not his religion), returning to the tenets of medieval theology along with Newton. Not since the thirteenth century had there been such as alliance between faith and reason. It was again possible to lift up one's eyes to the changeless movements of the sky - signs of divine perfection and eternal laws. As Becker remarks, Newtonianism was an immediate success with the educated public, because 'the desire to correspond with the general harmony springs perennial in the human breast' [25] .

Every good textbook of history points out that Newton's astronomy precipitated a religious revolution. Newton was perfectly aware that he had expounded the religious view that was called 'natural religion agreeing with revealed. ' The new religion was called theism and its Nicene Creed was the General Scholium of the Principia:

The six primary planets are revolved about the Sun in circles concentric with the Sun, and with motions directed towards the same parts, and almost in the same place. Ten moons are revolved about the Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, in circles concentric with them, with the same direction of motion, and nearly in the planes of the orbits of those planets; but it is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give birth to so many regular motions, since the comets range over all parts of the heavens in very eccentric orbits; for by that kind of motion they pass easily through the orbs of the planets, and with great rapidity; and in their aphelions, where they move the slowest, and are detained the longest, they recede to the greatest distances from each other, and hence suffer the least disturbance from their mutual attractions. This most beautiful system of the Sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.

In the popularizations of Newton theism became deism, and the letter evolved into the mechanistic atheism of La Mettrie (1709- 51) and D'Holbach (1723-89). All these views of religion had in common the belief in the perfect regularity of the universe, expressed by the analogy of the mechanical clock. 'The ideal of a clockwork universe was the great contribution of the seventeenth century to the eighteenth-century age of reason. ' [26]

There is no doubt that several of our contemporary natural scientists would object that these are metaphysical preoccupations that do not concern an observational science like modern astronomy. But there are no more hardened metaphysicians than those who believe that they do not have any metaphysics, and this can be proved by a timely example.

Venus is the planet closest to the Earth and has a size very similar to that of the Earth, so that it is a sort of twin sister of the Earth. Hence, those who agreed with Newton in believing in the regularity of nature presumed that Venus must rotate in about 24 hours and must be encircled by a moon similar to our Moon. In the eighteenth century a number of astronomers claimed to have seen and tracked this moon; after the solar transit of 1769 Lambert (one of those who advanced the nebular hypotheses) computed the orbit of this moon and its size (28/ 27 that of our Moon). The subsequent progress in the construction of telescopes made it impossible for astronomers of following generations to see what was not there. According to Newton, Venus has a period of rotation similar to that of Earth, 23 hours [27] . Jacques Cassini revised the figure to 23 hours 20, ' and by the end of the eighteenth century the accepted figure was 23 hrs. 21' 20". One more century of observations made the figure of 23 hrs. 21' acceptable, but in 1877 G. V. Schiaparelli concluded that Venus rotates very slowly, probably once in a Cytherean year. Still, many astronomers published reports of decades of observation that proved the correctness of the Newtonian view that Venus rotates in about 24 hours. In spite of the further support provided by the absence of Doppler effect and of polar flattening, Schiaparelli's view that if Venus rotates, it rotates very slowly, was not accepted by many astronomers until 1963.

Whereas it took two and a half centuries for astronomers to realize that they had been looking into the telescope with the eyes of their mind, the philosopher David Hume (1711-76) recognized the epistemological problem involved in the study of Venus. He presents a Newtonian who declares 'Is not Venus another Earth, where we observe the same phenomena? ' And to this Hume in his imaginary dialogue counterposes, by appealing to the authority of Galileo, 'When nature has so extremely diversified her manner of operation in this small globe, can we imagine that she incessantly copies herself throughout so immense a universe? ' [28]

The case of the rotation of Venus is a minor example of the intellectual confusion that results when scientists accept all the astronomical doctrines of Newton without discriminating between what is mystical and what is scientific in the modern sense of the term.

In a brilliant and penetrating essay on 'Newton the Man, ' written for the Royal Society Newton Tercentenary Celebrations (Cambridge, 1947), Lord Keynes declared:

In the eighteenth century and since, Newton came to be thought of as the first and the greatest of modern-age scientists, a rationalist, one who taught us to think on the lines of cold and untutored reason. I do not see him in this light.

The main contention of the essay is that Newton had 'a foot in the Middle Ages and a foot treading a path for modern science. ' This contention had been advanced earlier by other scholars, but this time it met with the approval of outstanding historians of science, because Keynes had gained access to the unpublished manuscripts of Newton.

In the case of Newton we meet with the unique occurrence that for three centuries his admirers have fought battle after battle in order to prevent the publication of about nine-tenths of his scholarly work. Whiston was one of the first to clamour for the publication of Newton's manuscripts, since he wanted to have an opportunity to refute his historical theories. Only recently have the efforts to lift the curtain begun to be successful.

If all the manuscripts were published, what had been claimed by some scholars and was granted by Newton himself in some of his letters, would become evident: that science was not his main interest and that he conceived of it as an auxiliary to theology, as ancilla theologiae. That he was unusually successful in his scientific endeavours does not disprove that his main aim was to reconcile astronomy with religion. Newton believed that the astronomical revolution linked with the names of Copernicus and Galileo had destroyed the foundations of religious belief and that it was necessary to return to the medieval world view. He was a biblical fundamentalist who tried to prove, among other points, that the Bible contains prophecies of future history. His interest in science was a by-product of his effort to prove that even science does not conflict with biblical religion, conceived by him as the medieval synthesis of biblical religion with Platonic-Aristotelian cosmology.

The voluminous unpublished works of Newton deal with many topics from alchemy to politics, but theology has the lion's share, followed next by ancient history. These unpublished works cannot be dismissed as occasional efforts. To them he dedicated more time than to his scientific writings. They are just as accurately argued and well finished. All his writings constitute a unified stream of thought of which the scientific production was only one aspect.

Recently, Frank E. Manuel in Isaac Newton, Historian (Cambridge, 1963), has informed us of the contents of Newton's unpublished historical manuscripts. Manuel has made clear that at the time they were written they dealt with topics that were intensely debated among scholars. But he has not grasped that their purpose was to refute the historical researches of the Renaissance and those of Whiston in particular. Their main object was to discredit all the historical evidence presented for changes in the solar system. For instance, he tried to prove that in Mesopotamia astronomical science did not begin before the era of Nabonassar (747 N. C.).

In substance, Newton was trying to refute the kind of historical evidence that has been brought again to public attention by Velikovsky. It is rather amusing that in the effort to prove that the observation of the heavenly bodies began only at a very late date, he argued that accepted chronology must be lowered and anticipated the conclusions reached by Velikovsky in Ages in Chaos. Like Velikovsky, he claimed that Greek chronology must be shortened by four hundred years, eliminating what today we call the Dark Ages of Greece. Like Velikovsky, he claimed that some dynasties of Egypt have been duplicated in chronological schemes. A main contention of Velikovsky is that the Pharaoh Shishak of the Book of Kings, a contemporary of the successor of King Solomon of Israel, is the same person as Thutmosis III of the XVIII Dynasty. Newton, using a similar line of argument, identifies Shishak with the Pharaoh called Sesostris by the Greek. In giving an account of Sesostris, Greek historian confused the deeds of Thutmosis III with those of Sesostris III of the XII Dynasty. It may be noted that Velikovsky, after a ten year struggle with the committees that administer the carbon 14 tests of archaeological material, has finally succeeded in obtaining at least some tests to prove or disprove his theory and Newton's. These few tests support the contention that the currently accepted dates of Egyptian history must be substantially lowered.

All the pursuits of Newton in theology, history, and science had one purpose. I. Bernard Cohen, the foremost authority on Newton in the United States, concludes (Franklin and Newton, Philadelphia, 1956, p. 66): 'Of course, Newton had one real secret, and concerning it he did his best to keep the world in ignorance. ' The secret is that he intended to uphold the theology and the cosmology of Maimonides. Cohen agrees with Keynes that this medieval synthesis of biblical religion with the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, constituted the ideal of Newton. He kept it a secret because he wanted to influence scientific thought without putting the admirers of the new scientific method on the alert. Velikovsky, too, has recognized in Worlds in Collision that through Newton he is fighting Maimonides. Maimonides expressly declares that in accepting the story of creation he disagrees with Aristotle, but that he agrees with Aristotle that the cosmos, once created, is permanent and indestructible.

In order to reconcile the cosmology of Aristotle with the text of the Old Testament, Maimonides asserted that all the passages that have been understood as referring to cosmic upheavals and to changes in planetary motions, must be understood as metaphors, not as factual accounts. Velikovsky reports that Maimonides re-examined a long series of biblical texts, establishing thereby a new trend in exegesis. Newton pursued the same line of argument as Maimonides in his exegesis of Greek texts and of what was then known of Oriental documents. In his scientific writings Newton tried to prove that natural science does not contradict this exegesis and corresponding theology.


Among those few who had more keenly critical minds than Voltaire and the other so-called philosophes, the metaphysics of Newton created an opposite reaction. By questioning it, his contemporaries, Berkeley (1685-1753) and Hume, established scientific empiricism and laid the foundations for our contemporary scientific method. Just as the leading philosophers of England (soon followed by Hegel, 1770-1831) pierced Newton's metaphysical fog, so the leading scientists of France refused to climb the bandwagon of popular Newtonianism and kept in mind the distinction between what Newton had proved and what he had not proved. Historians usually ascribe the reserve of the Academie des Sciences towards Newton to an obscurantist clinging to Cartesian tradition; but these strictures of the French scientists gave the impetus to the studies of Laplace, the greatest genius in mathematical astronomy since Newton. With the emergence of Laplace, gravitational celestial mechanics was more firmly established and the role of providence in sustaining the immutable order was abrogated.

Laplace (1749-1827) was cited throughout the nineteenth century and also has been quoted by opponents of Velikovsky as having provided the mathematical proof that the solar system, and hence nature, is built like a mechanical clock. But this is only one side of his total view. In the Exposition du système du monde he uses two pages to argue that mankind should learn to accept without obsessive fear the likelihood that a comet may strike the Earth [29] . In his other major work, Theorie analytique des probabilités, he insists that the motions of the Earth are not unalterable, being subject to several unpredictable forces, among which is the impact of meteorites [30] . He realized that the resistance to accepting the alterability of the sky springs also from the fear that thereby moral law may be destroyed. For this reason he continues the discussion of this topic by delving into psychology and arguing along lines similar to those of Hume's ethics, that a feeling of sympathy among men can exist without traditional metaphysics [31] . It is worth noting that his treatment of psychology touches upon the importance of childhood memories and upon the role of unconscious thinking [32] .

Laplace observed that from his mathematical formulas it was possible to draw the conclusion that 'nature has arranged everything in the sky to insure the permanence of the planetary system, with the same purpose that it seems to have adopted on Earth for the preservation of individuals and the perpetuation of species' [33] , but added that such a conclusion was wrong, even though 'we are naturally inclined to believe that the order by which things seem to renew themselves on Earth has existed at all times and will exist forever' [34] . In reality, the stability of the present order 'is disturbed by various causes that can be ascertained by careful analysis, but which are impossible to frame within a calculation' [35] . He summed up his views in the words: Le ciel même, malgré l'ordre de ses mouvements, n'est pas inaltérable [36] . He warned specifically that in his mathematical formulas about the solar system he had not taken comets into account, stating just as specifically, that the motion of the Earth might be affected by meteorites, and one should therefore study the historical evidence, even though this evidence covers only a few millennia.

Laplace stressed that the human race is beset by a great fear that a comet may upset the Earth, a fear that manifested itself dramatically after Lexell's comet in 1770 had passed at only 2,400,000 km from the Earth. Shortly thereafter Lalande published a list of the comets that had passed closest to the Earth [37] . Men should be free from this fear, Laplace argued, for the probability of one striking the Earth within the span of a human life is slim, even though the probability of such an impact occurring in the course of centuries is very great (très grande) [38] . He proceeded to describe the possible effects of a collision with a comet, painting a picture that is in close agreement with that outlined by Velikovsky. Much in the geology of the Earth and in human history could be explained by assuming that such an impact had taken place. However, if this is true, it must also be assumed that the colliding comet had a mass similar to that of the Earth [39] . Velikovsky conjectures that this comet was Venus, which had the required mass.

Laplace summed up his hypothesis in these words:

The axis and the movement of rotation would be changed. The seas would abandon their ancient positions, in order to precipitate themselves toward the new equator; a great portion of the human race and the animals would be drowned in the universal deluge, or destroyed by the violent shock imparted to the terrestrial globe; entire species would be annihilated; all monuments of human industry overthrown; such are the disasters which the shock of a comet would produce, if its mass were comparable to that of the earth.
We see then, in effect, why the ocean has receded from the high mountains, upon which it has left incontestable marks of its sojourn. We see how the animals and plants of the south have been able to exist in the climate of the north, where their remains and imprints have been discovered; finally, it explains the newness of the human civilization, certain monuments of which do not go further back than five thousand years. The human race reduced to a small number of individuals, and to the most deplorable state, solely occupied for a length of time with the care of its own preservation, must have lost entirely the remembrance of the sciences and the arts; and when progress of civilization made these wants felt anew, it was necessary to begin again, as if man had been newly placed upon the earth.

Laplace also wondered whether heavenly bodies might not be affected by forces other than gravitation, such as electric and magnetic forces [40] . He did not exclude such a possibility, even though according to available calculations their effect was not noticeable. Yet, when Velikovsky stated that the members of the solar system have strong electric charges and that these affect their motions, some astronomers objected that this had been proved impossible by Laplace. The first empirical evidence of the present effect of electromagnetic forces on the motion of the Earth is now available.

Scientific literature never mentions the Laplace statements listed above. He won immediate fame for having provided the mathematical proof of the stability of the solar system that was missing in Newton, despite the fact that he had emphatically warned against such an interpretation of his conclusions.

The interpretation of Laplace's theories was influenced by a minor point he made. He felt the need to refute Newton's argument that the fact that all the planets and their satellites rotate counterclockwise is proof of divine providence [41] . After calculating the statistical near-impossibility that such rotation may be a chance arrangement, he concluded that it must be the result of a common mechanical phenomenon [42] . Hence, he proposed the nebular hypothesis which had already occurred independently to the theologian Emanuel Swedenborg( 1688-1772), to the philosopher Kant, and to the astronomer Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728-77). But Laplace did not yet know of the satellites that revolve clockwise. He would have been pleased by the evidence submitted in 1963 which suggests that Venus rotates clockwise. The uniform direction of the rotation and revolution of the planets and their satellites, far from being a key point of his view, was considered by him to be a stumbling block to his probabilistic view of the universe.

The following quotation indicates to what distortions Laplace's theories were subjected by the interpreters:

We are naturally led to ponder on the great truth of the stability and permanence of the solar system as demonstrated by the discoveries of Lagrange and Laplace... The arrangement, therefore, upon which the stability of the solar system depends, must have been the result of design, the contrivance of that infinite skill which knew how to provide for the permanence of His work. How the comets, whose motions are not regulated by such laws, and which move in so many different directions, may in the future interfere with the order of the system, can only be conjectured. They have not interfered with it in the past, owing no doubt to the smallness of their density; and we cannot doubt that the same wisdom which has established so great a harmony in the movement of the planetary system, that the inequalities which necessarily arise from their mutual action arrive at a maximum, and then disappear, will also have made provision for the future stability of the system [43] .

Since Laplace was concerned with eliminating providential order, he proved (within the limits of the formal rigour that was considered sufficient by mathematicians of his age) that the mutual gravitational influence of the planets cannot disrupt the system [44] . But this is an empirical, not a metaphysical, conclusion which is valid only if other factors are excluded, that is, if it is assumed that the solar system is isolated in the universe, that the Sun does not suffer alteration, and that no other matter and no other forces beside gravitation and inertia are present in the space where the Sun and the planets move.

Interpreting Laplace as supporting the theological assumptions of Newton has destroyed the scientific achievements of the Renaissance. We are back at scholasticism, and Aristotle is again il maestro di color che sanno on an issue that Galileo considered central to the new thought. In the First Day in the Dialogue on the Great World Systems, which is concerned with the refutation of the concept of the immutability of the heavens, the great astronomer formulated his creed in these unequivocal terms:

I cannot without great wonder, nay more, disbelief, hear it being attributed to natural bodies as a great honour and perfection that they are impassible, immutable, inalterable, etc.: as, conversely, I hear it esteemed a great imperfection to be alterable, generable, mutable, etc. It is my opinion that the Earth is very noble and admirable by reason of the many and different alterations, mutations, generations, etc., which incessantly occur in it... I say the same concerning the Moon, Jupiter, and all the other globes of the Universe... These men who so extol incorruptibility, inalterability, etc., speak thus, I believe, out of the great desire they have to live long and for fear of death... [45] .

Galileo is in precise agreement with Dewey's argument and with Velikovsky's psychological assumption.

Laplace was interpreted to meet the psychological need to believe in the eternal stability of the solar system. The following quotations from An Analytical View of Sir Isaac Newton's Principia by H. P. Brougham and E. J. Routh are a good example of a general tendency.

The other changes which take place in the orbits and motions of the heavenly bodies, were found by these great geometricians [Laplace and Legendre] to follow a law of periodicity which assures the eternal stability of the system.
These changes in the heavenly paths and motions oscillate, as it were, round a middle point, from which they never depart on either hand, beyond a certain distance; so that at the end of thousands of years the whole system in each separate case (each body having its own secular period) returns to the exact position in which it was when these vast successions of ages began to roll [46] .

The religious tone of the presentation is obvious. Laplace is construed to be saying that heavenly bodies can have only two types of movements: cyclical movements and uniform rectilinear movements; that is, movements that are equivalent with a state of rest. It is a full return, with some added sophistication, to the Aristotelian doctrine that the heavenly bodies can have only circular motions, motions reconcilable with immobility.


When one examines the reviews of Worlds in Collision written by some one hundred luminaries of our age, he observes that the civil liberty aspects of the affair (the effort to prevent the printing, the academic pressure exercised to keep reviewers in line, and the refusals to publish corrections of misstatements) recede in the face of the frightening realization that the experts to whom is entrusted the human inheritance of scientific thought, our most precious possession, can be the victims of collective hysteria. Scientist after scientist declared that the edifice of science was threatened with destruction by a book which, to hear a number of them, is full of transparent contradictions, written by a 'complete ignoramus' who ranks with the proponents of the flat-earth hypothesis. The atmosphere of panic was somewhat better justified by the opposite contention advanced by a minority of reviewers, that Velikovsky is a hoaxer so unusually well-informed in all technical details and so deft in the subtleties of scientific thinking, that the normal professional expert cannot detect the flaws of his arguments, although these must exist.

The emotional upheaval was such that the New York Times Book Review ten years later, in reviewing the literary events of a decade, dwelt upon the fate of 'a book which most contemporary scientists regarded as a publishing catastrophe. It stirred up all sorts of vituperation, especially among astronomers who, it may be recalled, behaved as though they had been stung by a hornet from outer space. ' [47] . One should peruse the literature of the hundred years that followed Copernicus's work, to assemble an equivalent collection of bizarre and ridiculous arguments used in the refutation of a theory. To cite one of the best publicized instances: a popular argument against Copernicus was that if the Earth moved, human beings would be thrown into space; similarly, the mimeographed memorandum distributed by the Harvard Observatory, and later several other astronomers, contended that if the Earth's rotation had been arrested, as Velikovsky suggested, human beings would have been projected into space along with all objects not anchored to the Earth [48] . This argument completely ignores the possibility of gentle deceleration and attributes gravitational effect, apparently, to the constancy of the Earth's rotation. The natural scientists who gave Velikovsky's evidence the benefit of objective examination were few. Some reviewers, after boasting that they had not read the book, delivered themselves of Catilinarian orations against the crime of Velikovsky.

In spite of the variety of emotional expressions, the greatest number of reviews written by natural scientists, when reduced to the scientifically significant points, repeat monotonously the same general arguments. They appeal to the 'laws of nature' without any further specifications, and keep iterating the names of Newton and Laplace, as if they were an incantation, without referring to any specific passage or section of their works. The stereotype is varied only by the late President of the American Astronomical Society, Otto Struve, who in a review entitled 'Copernicus, Who Was He ?' (New York Herald Tribune Book Review, April 2, 1950), declared that the trouble was that Velikovsky had never heard of Copernicus and was refuted by the Copernican doctrine.

The psychological assumption that gave Velikovsky his original subjective stimulus to investigate ancient traditions, namely that mankind lives in subconscious fear of cosmic cataclysms, could explain the panic and the emotional irrationality of many reviewers. A valuable clue to the cause of such a reaction is given by the professor of philosophy at St Louis University [49] who, while associating himself with the efforts of the scientists to suppress the book, complained that they did not fully realize the enormity of the crime committed by the publishing industry, for the book destroyed the foundation of Judeo-Christian beliefs. The article concluded that the Catholic Church should come to the rescue by placing the book on the Index. But, after the painful experience with Galileo, the Catholic Church has accumulated more wisdom in scientific epistemology than that revealed by our scientific community.

The Cardinal Bellarmine of this case was Professor Harlow Shapley who was indefatigable in his campaign, started before the publication of the book, to alarm the scientific world of the impending catastrophe. How similar are the two personalities! Cardinal Bellarmine was the epitome of the bureaucratic personality and Shapley has devoted his life to the new Leviathan of scientific bureaucracy. The spirit of the new bureaucracy was revealed by the A. A. A. S. meeting (Dec. 30, 1950) held in response to Velikovsky's book. At that meeting it was proposed that henceforth any publication that presents new scientific hypotheses should not be allowed to be printed without the Imprimatur of a proper professional body [50] .

Every bureaucratic organization that wants to be accountable only to itself attempts to base its power on a transcendental absolute, and Velikovsky was threatening the transcendental absolute of the church of scientism. The reaction against Velikovsky's book confirms once more the common observation that the great mass of natural scientists has not yet assimilated the implications of the great scientific transformation that started at the end of the last century (on the foundations laid by Berkeley, Hume, and Hegel), and clings to scientism, the crude mechanical determinism of the eighteenth century, with insufficient awareness of all the knowledge that has been accumulated in two hundred years on the problem of human perception [51] . What has happened is that when science was still operating on scholastic premises, there were developed mechanical clocks. Since early clocks were connected with astronomy and often took the form of orreries, they influenced the interpretation of the cosmological revolution brought about by Copernicus, Bruno, and Galileo. The recent book, The Myth of Metaphor (New Haven, 1962), by the philosopher Colin Murray Turbayne, who explicitly appeals to the arguments of Berkeley and Hume, examines the pervading influence of the metaphor of the mechanical clock and observes, in the Introduction, that as a result of it there has been 'founded a church, more powerful than that founded by Peter and Paul, whose dogmas are now so entrenched that anyone who tries to re-allocate the facts is guilty of more than heresy; he is opposing scientific truth. '

In the Velikovsky-Shapley correpondence of 1946, when Velikovsky offered to submit to crucial tests before publishing his book, Shapley took a position similar to that of Bellarmine: one should not test Velikovsky's hypotheses about the physical characteristics of Venus, such as high temperature and atmosphere of hydrocarbon gases, unless he first agreed to frame them within the proper scheme of metaphysical presuppositions. What Shapley had in mind was the dogma of the absolute stability of the solar system [52] . Velikovsky forced the scientists to become well aware that proof of this postulate does not exist.

Scores of reviews were remarkable for the violence of expression and the jejune poverty of the contents. Often columns of denunciation were not followed by a single argument. The case of Harrison Brown is a good example of those who proclaimed that they had peremptory arguments galore, but did not submit a single one. Only a few scientists of note showed a spirit of scholarly cooperation by providing friendly criticism and additional information. Among them were W. S. Adams, G. Atwater, V. A. Bailey, V. Bargmann, A. Einstein, A. Goldsmith, H. H. Hess, H. S. Jones, J. S. Miller, P. L. Mercanton, C. W. van der Merwe, L. Motz, and S. K. Vsekhsviatsky. In contrast with the rational attitude of these men, several other great names affixed their signatures to statements that competent scholars know to be incorrect.

In order to prove the eternal stability of the solar system, scholar after scholar insisted that records document that planetary motions and eclipses have conformed to the present pattern from the origin of writing at the beginning of the third millennium B. C. But this is known not to be so: records proving such assertions do not exist for the period preceding the year 747 B. C. The aforementioned claim is so manifestly incorrect that, when it appeared for the first time in the New York Times Book Review (April 2, 1950), Velikovsky for once obtained the satisfaction of a retraction, but the assertion continued to appear in scholarly publications. The most serious effort to prove the basic postulate of Velikovsky's opponents was that of the astronomer John Q. Stewart of Princeton University, who debating with Velikovsky in the pages of Harper's Magazine (June, 1951), argued that Venus could not have entered into orbit after the creation of the solar system because this would contradict Bode's Law. What this so-called law amounts to is a mnemonic formula which gives with rough approximation the planets' distances from the Sun, and which has no basis in gravitational theory.

The almost childish misrepresentations of the available scientific evidence can be explained by the circumstance that many scholars associated Velikovsky's book with their worst personal fears. Astronomers saw the book as a defence of astrology; professors linked it with the McCarthy investigations; a professor at Southern Methodist University declared that it would subvert our traditional way of life more radically than would communism and prostitution combined; and J. B. S. Haldane saw it as fitting into the plans of the American warmongers to start an atomic war [53] .

Leaders in science accused Velikovsky of encouraging belief in sorcery, witchcraft, and demonic possession. Since, however, a good number of his postulates, especially those listed as crucial in the final pages of Worlds in Collision, have been confirmed by subsequent discoveries, the new strategy of retreat is the assertion, heard with increasing frequency, that these predictions were lucky guesses: it follows that Velikovsky has gambled and won the longest shot in history. It could therefore be argued that the accusation of witchcraft stands.

On the issue of what constitutes or does not constitute superstitious thinking, natural scientists have had their signals crossed for a long time. 'A true son of the Enlightenment, ' the great naturalist Buffon (1707-88), in 1749 opened his monumental Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, the most comprehensive effort since Aristotle to gather in one body all scientific knowledge, with a condemnation of Whiston [54] . This ferocious onslaught put the tombstone on Whiston's reputation, whereas up to that point it had been Newton's view of the history of the solar system that had been on the defensive among scholars [55] . Since he believed that the mechanism of planetary motions is so well contrived that its origin could not be ascribed to a series of accidental events, Buffon suggested that it came into existence as the result of the impact of a comet on the Sun; for this reason he could not object to Whiston on mechanical grounds, but resorted to theological arguments. After having presented a mocking summary of his hypotheses, Buffon declared:

I shall make only one remark upon this system, of which I have given a faithful abridgement. Whenever men are so presumptuous as to attempt a physical explanation of theological truths, whenever they allow themselves to interpret the sacred text by views that are purely human;... they must necessarily involve themselves in obscurity, and tumble into a chaos of confusion like the author of this whimsical system, which notwithstanding all its absurdities has been received with great applause [56] .

Whiston was ridiculed for quoting the Old Testament in matters of astronomy and at the same time, condemned for not having taken literally the story of creation in Genesis: 'He says that the common notion of the work of six days is absolutely false, and that Moses' description is not an exact and philosophical account of the origin of the universe. ' On the first point Buffon declared that the true naturalist must leave the interpretation of the Scriptures to the theologians, and on the second point he agreed with Newton that the solar system is so exquisitely designed to operate 'in the most perfect manner' that it cannot have changed since its creation. Modern interpreters of the thought of Buffon are perplexed because he appears to be a rank mechanical materialist, whereas he put at the head of the fourth volume a letter to the Faculty of Theology of Paris that begins with this profession: 'I declare that I do not have any intention of contradicting the text of the Scriptures, that I firmly believe all that they report about creation, both in relation to time sequence and to factual circumstances' [57] . In his writings he delved at great length into problems of scientific method in order to maintain that hypotheses must be built solely on the painstaking gathering of facts, monuments, experiences: but apparently, the narratives of mankind's history do not fit into any of these categories, whereas Newton's adaptation of the creation story of Genesis does.

Buffon's intellectual confusion persists among our contemporary scientists: Kirtley F. Mather [58] , Edward U. Condon [59] , and J. B. S. Haldane [60] alleged Velikovsky was a rationalist and an enemy of religious faith; many, among them Otto Struve, accused him of trying to subvert science for the sake of religious superstition and biblical fundamentalism. Obviously, odium theologale is not a monopoly of the so-called dark ages.

Frank Manuel came close to the truth in his book, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods (Cambridge, 1959), where he acknowledged that Newton was deeply involved in controversies about the significance of ancient mythology (pp. 85-128). Newton championed euhemerism, the theory that myths were based upon the lives of historical personages, for by this doctrine he hoped to discredit the references to astronomical and other natural events in myths - aspects of mythology so frequently cited by his opponents. Manuel has elegantly summarized (pp. 210-27) the ideas of a prominent antagonist of Newton whose views Velikovsky has revived: Nicolas-Antoine Boulanger (1722-59). Author of the entry 'Deluge' for the Encyclopédie, Boulanger also wrote L'Antiquité dévoilée par ses usages, ou examen critique des principales opinions, cérémonies et institutions religieuses et politiques des différents peuples de la terre (Amsterdam, 1766). In this work he analyzed the cosmogonies and mythologies of several farspread peoples of the Earth, such as Germans, Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, Peruvians, Mexicans, and Caribs, concluding that rites, ceremonials, and myths reflect the fact that the human race was subjected to a series of cosmic convulsions for which he also considered the geological and paleontological evidence. He argued that these catastrophes shaped the human mind, causing among other things a deepseated psychological trauma:

We still tremble today as a consequence of the deluge and our institutions still pass on to us the fears and the apocalyptic ideas of our first fathers. Terror survives from race to race... The child will dread in perpetuity what frightens his ancestors. (III, 316)

Boulanger explained by these fears the human tendency to ideological intolerance, and his hypothesis seems to be confirmed by the reactions of the academy to Velikovsky's work:

We shall there see the origin of the terrors which throughout the ages have alarmed the minds of men always possessed by ideas of the devastation of the world. There we shall see generated the destructive fanaticism, the enthusiasm which leads men to commit the greatest excesses against themselves and against their fellows, the spirit of persecution and intolerance which under the name of zeal makes man believe that he has the right to torment those who do not adore with him the same celestial monarch, or who do not have the same opinion as he does about His essence or His cult. (III, 348-49)

When the 'Velikovsky affair' is considered in the light of the history of science it loses its puzzling qualities. Velikovsky saw what other scholars were not able to see because he relied on pieces of evidence that they had chosen to neglect, namely the accumulated records of human experience. Natural scientists who scorn these records put themselves in the position of the early astronomers who held that no truly respectable scholar should resort to the telescope. In only thirteen years a number of fundamental discoveries, predicted by Velikovsky, have demonstrated the value of his method. And one could have predicted that the academic world would react to his thesis with a most unscholarly fury, even with personal vindictiveness: the record shows that astronomers hold to a peculiar dogma akin to the biblical story of Creation, that the solar system has remained unchanged since it was created eons ago, and their assumption has of necessity determined the views of geologists and historical biologists. This dogma, being basically of theological and not scientific nature, is grounded itself on fear, as Galileo and Laplace have pointed out. The evidence is that the dogma is groundless but the fear real. This was the principal reason for the prolonged emotional outburst in which almost the entire scientific community of the 1950's took part, an outburst of what Soren Kierkegaard termed 'fear and trembling. '

It is now time for a sober and factual reconsideration; William James properly called 'tough minded' those who can face reality and who do not believe a priori in uniformity and regularity. The scholars, the learned societies, the professional journals which violated, in some cases quite outrageously, the canons of proper scholarly procedure in evaluating Velikovsky's hypotheses, should undo the foolishness of the past by promoting a systematic study of what the records of antiquity can contribute to the natural sciences. Newton himself, by his extensive investigations of ancient accounts and records, recognized that his contention that the solar system has no history stands or falls on the historical record. The crux of the matter is not the validity of Velikovsky's particular historical interpretations, but whether an entire body of scientific evidence can be rejected on dogmatic premises.

Notes (References cited in "The Inconstant Heavens")

1. The position of Galileo on the question of magnetism is summarized in the following way by Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science (New York, 1960), 142: 'Galileo at one time was prepared to adopt the more general theories of Gilbert in a vague kind of way, though he did not pretend that he had understood magnetism or the mode of its operation in the universe. He regretted that Gilbert had been so much a mere experimenter and had failed to mathematize magnetic phenomena in which we have seen to be the Galileian manner. '

2. Op. cit., 158.

3. Principia, Ed. by Florian Cajori (Berkeley, 1946), 525. This peculiar explanation is already presented in the first edition of the Principia, 505: Ascendit fumus in camino impulsu aeris cui innatat.

4. De natura deorum II, 45, 115. The source of this passage is Posidonius. Whereas the cosmology of Cicero has received great attention and its sources have been traced, the cosmology of Ovid, which is an even richer source of information on ancient scientific theories, has been neglected; but the gap has now been partly filled by Walter Spöerri, Späthellenistische Berichte uber die Welt (Basel, 1959).

5. Op. cit., II, 21, 56 (Transl. Hubert M. Poteat).

6. Hermann Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th ed. (Berlin, 1952), II, 387-88 (Transl, Edward S. Robinson in Werner Jaeger, The Theology of Early Greek Philosophers (Oxford, 1947), 187.)

7. Freud's essay has the untranslatable title 'Uber die Weltanschaung, ' Gesammelte Werke (London, 1946), 176. It is Lecture XXXV in New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.

8. Of Learned Ignorance, Transl. by Germain Heron (New Haven, 1954), Bk. II ch. XI-XII, 107-118.

9. Johannes Funck, Chronologia cum commentariis chronologicis ab initio mundi (Nuernberg, 1545).

10. Opera latine conscripta, Ed. by F. Fiorentino (Napoli, 1879), I, 1, 367.

11. Op cit., I, 1, 372.

12. Cf. A. Corsano, Il pensiero di Giordano Bruno nel suo svolgimento storico (Firenze, 1940), 249-64.

13. Attraction universelle et religion naturelle chez quelques commentateurs anglais de Newton (Paris, 1938), 4.

14. Quoted from William Whiston, Astronomical Principles of Religion Natural and Reveal'd (London, 1717), 23. John C. Greene, when he was writing The Death of Adam (Ames, 1959) and was my colleague at the University of Chicago, called to my attention, before the publication of Worlds in Collision, the crucial significance of Whiston's writings in the development of scientific thought.

15. An Examination of Dr Burnet's Theory of the Earth with Remarks on Mr Whiston's New Theory of the Earth (Oxford, 1698), 177-224.

16. William Whiston, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Mr William Whiston (London, 1760), I, 293.

17. Philosophical Transactions XXXIII (1724-25), 118-25.

18. 2nd ed. (London, 1718), 381.

19. Op. cit., 4th ed. (London, 1730), 378.

20. Letter to the Princess of Wales, November 1715, in Correspondence Leibnitz-Clarke présentée d'après les manuscrits originaux, Ed. by Andre Robinet (Paris, 1957), 22.

21. 'Newton, Isaac, ' Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne, Published by L. G. Michaud (Paris, 1821), 127-94; cf. Journal des savants, April 1836, 216.

22. Cf. 'An Historical and Explanatory Appendix' by Cajori to his edition of the Principia.

23. Bernard Le Boyier Fontenelle, Conversation on the Plurality of the Worlds, Transl. from French, 2nd ed. (London, 1767), 466.

24. Quoted in Gentleman's Magazine, XXX (1755), January, p. 3.

25. (New Haven, 1932), 63.

26. Butterfield, Op. cit., 118.

27. Principia, 534.

28. Loc. cit.

29. Oeuvres complètes (Paris, 1884), VI, 234.

30. VII, p. cxx.

31. VII, p. cxxiv.

32. VII, p. cxxx.

33. VI, 478.

34. VII, p. cxx.

35. VII, p. 121.

36. Ibid.

37. VI, 235.

38. VI, 234.

39. Ibid. (The following translation by Kenneth Heuer, The End of the World, New York, 1953).

40. VI, 347.

41. VI, 479.

42. A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities, Transl. by F. W. Truscott and F. L. Emory (New York, 1951), Part II Ch. IX, 97.

43. David Brewster, Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton (Edinburgh, 1855), Vol. 1, 359-60.

44. Several reviewers stated or intimated that the Newtonian theory is absolutely confirmed by the ephemerides. But, as every student of astronomy is taught, the Newtonian theory, in spite of the contributions of Laplace, is only nearly confirmed. The discrepancy between the predictions and the events may be explained by the inadequacy of our mathematical equipment in matters of three-body or n-body problems, or by the inadequacy of the theory, or by the possibility (which is extremely rarely mentioned in the texts of celestial mechanics) that a third factor may be at work besides gravitation and inertia.

45. Dialogue on the Great World Systems, Ed. by Giorgio de Santillana (Chicago, 1953), 68-9.

46. (London, 1855), 122, 124.

47. Russell Lyne, 'What are Bestsellers Made of?, ' November 27, 1959.

48. C. Payne-Gaposchkin, The Reporter, March 14, 1950; F. K. Edmondson, Indianapolis Star, April 9, 1950.

49. Thomas P. McTighe, Best Sellers, August 15, 1950.

50. Science, April 30, 1951.

51. Most leaders of science, except for the very top layer, reveal themselves as being naive realists without any knowledge of scientific epistemology. An expression of this is that some of them declared that Velikovsky's earlier activity in neurology and psychiatry disqualifies him from discussing questions of cosmology. However, it was just from an interest in neurology and psychiatry that Kant moved to his investigation of the phenomenology of space and time, which is the foundation of non-Euclidian geometry and Einsteinian physics; Cf. F. S. C. Northrop, 'Natural Science and the Critical Philosophy of Kant, ' The Heritage of Kant, Ed. by G. P. Whitney and David F. Bowers (New York, 1962), 37-62. The fruitfulness of Kant's background is indicated by the circumstance that, in his very first essay published in 1753, he declared: 'A science of all the possible kinds of space would undoubtedly be the highest enterprise which a finite understanding could undertake in the world of geometry, ' and continued by considering the possibility of conceiving a space of more than three dimensions.

52. Shapley, Flights from Chaos (New York, 1930), 56-7, declares that the Earth has 'a quiet predictable behavior' and that 'not many catastrophes happen to the Earth, except those of its own making, like floods, earthquakes, and sudden continental shifts. ' According to him the destruction caused by the impact of a small comet in the Tunguska uninhabited area of Siberia on June 30, 1908, was a unique event in history. On this occurrence, Cf. V. G. Fesenkov, Meteorika, XX( 1961), 27-31.

In the introduction to Of Stars and Men (Boston, 1958), 2, Shapley sums up his philosophy in these terms:

"It is a good world for many of us. Nature is reasonably benign, and good will is a common human trait. There is widespread beauty, pleasing symmetry, collaboration, lawfulness, progress - all qualities that appeal to man-the-thinker if not always to man-the-animal. When not oppressed by hunger or cold or manmade indignities, we are inclined to contentment, sometimes to lightheartedness."

Like other militants, he seems to have identified dialectical materialism with the optimistic mechanical materialism of the eighteenth century, which rehashed the position of the most dogmatic among the scholastics. Such a position would have been too extreme even for the more critical of the scholastics, such as the nominalists. It would have been too extreme even for Plato and Aristotle. It occurs only in the more literary passages of Plato, as Gorgias 508 A:

Friendship, orderliness, harmony, and justice hold together heaven and earth, and Gods and men, and because of this the whole is called an order (kosmos) and not disconnected chaos. Cf. G. P. Maguire, 'Plato's Theory of Natural Law, ' Yale

Classical Studies, X (1947), 178, John Wild, Plato's Modern Enemies and the Theory of Natural Law (Chicago, 1957), 117, observes how these passages of Plato inspired The Laws of Ecclesiastical Policy by the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, a work which, as I have indicated, framed the foundations of the Newtonian ideology of the eighteenth century. But Plato deals at length with the astronomical changes and related physical disasters that have befallen the human race.

53. William A. Irwin, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, April 1952; Haldane, New Statesman and Nation, November 11, 1950.

54. Oeuvres complètes (Paris, 1858), I, 96-100.

55. The last time that Whiston's view was given serious consideration was in 1754 when the Berlin Academy of Science offered a prize for an essay on the question: 'Whether the Earth since its origin has undergone a change in its period of rotation, and whence this fact could be established. ' Kant submitted an essay for this competition (Werke, Ed. by Ernst Cassirer, Berlin, 1912, I, 189-96); but, since he was an ardent Newtonian, he refused to answer the question as it was stated: 'One could investigate the question historically by considering the documents of the most ancient period of the ancient world that concern the length of the year and the intercalations.... But in my proposal I shall not try to gain light with the help of history. I find these documents so obscure and so little trustworthy in the information that they could provide on the question before us that the theory that would have to be built on them in order to make them agree with the foundations of nature, would sound too much like an artificial construction. ' He then proceeded to outline the nebular hypothesis which implies the stability of the solar system.

56. Transl. by William Smellie (London, 1791,) I, 108.

57. Oeuvres philosophiques de Buffon, Ed. by Jean Piveteau (Paris, 1954), p. XVI.

58. American Scientist, Summer, 1950.

59. 'Velikovsky's Catastrophes, ' New Republic, April 24, 1950.

60. Loc. cit.


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