The year 1987 was a banner year in the New York Times for letters dealing with Velikovsky, which appeared on at least six occasions. Robert Gallo in Auburn, NY, started off with two letters pointing out parallels between various news item and Velikovsky's work. Gallo was a physics professor at an Upstate New York Community College who had hosted Velikovsky on his campus in ca. 1965. The following treatment is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to focus on two letters in particular, one spreading "confusion" and the other attempting to clear up the "Unordnung".
My reply to Gallo's second letter was printed May 16, 1987, along with another from a Mr. Hearn. My second letter appeared August 29th, with another, pointing out how the ice core dating of the Minoan eruption of Thera to 1645 B.C. "repudiated both Velikovsky's catastrophes [an implicit reference to my first letter May 16] and his chronology" since in Velikovsky's revision the eruption of Thera occurred in the 10th century B.C. which produced no large acidity signal in Greenland, as every other known major eruption has done. Clark Whelton's letter in rebuttal was printed Sept. 29th and was contaminated with massive quantities of "confusion". I submitted a surrebuttal on Oct. 3rd countering Whelton's "Unordnung" point-by-point, but it was not printed. Instead a letter by a New Jersey geology professor appeared commenting on Whelton's erroneous comments on geology.
The text of the this Whelton-Ellenberger exchange was distributed to all attendees to the August 1990 "Reconsidering Velikovsky" Conference in Toronto. Despite the passage of time, the issues raised erroneously by Whelton continue to burden the discussion of catastrophism. Therefore, the letters are reproduced here, with recent additions placed in brackets.
Catastrophes Can Still Explain Earth's Changes
To the Editor:
C. Leroy Ellenberger thinks the catastrophist theories of Immanual Velikovsky have been refuted (letter, Aug. 29). I've lost count of how many times such statements have been made over the last 37 years. The debate will continue for the next 37 years and beyond, because the central dispute is ancient. Adherents of uniformitarianism and catastrophism have been at one another's throats for thousands of years. Uniformitarianism is an over-view of science and history that holds that past changes on the earth were produces slowly and calmly by processes still active today. Catastrophism points to abundant evidence that global changes also occur rapidly and violently.
Aristotle was a uniformitarian. Plato was a catastrophist. Cicero was a uniformitarian. Ovid was a catastrophist. Isaac Newton was a uniformitarian. His assistant, William Whiston, was a catastrophist. Today, uniformitarianism rules the academic roost. Immanuel Velikovsky, the best-known catastrophist of the 20th century, is in official disfavor. If Mr. Ellenberger believes that Greenland ice cores will put Velikovsky to rest he is sadly mistaken. He writes that there is an "absence of copious cometary debris in the cores." However, inn Science Watch (Science Times, Sept. 1) you report that a "surprisingly high abundance" of black dust "extraterrestrial in origin" has been found in the Greenland ice. The same issue of Science Times also reports that "mysterious meteorites" from Mars have been found on earth and offers a catastrophist explanation. The front page of the section also carries a story about the widespread sacrificing of children in ancient Carthage to appease their planetary gods.
Immanuel Velikovsky's work sheds light on all these findings. He wasn't always right. Neither was Columbus. But Velikovsky's day is coming, too.
New York, Sept. 7, 1987
[In the moment here I am reminded of a bit of hypocrisy regarding Whelton's aggressive and militant phrase "...at one another's throats...". This is significant because in August 1992 at Haliburton, he objected to my martial impersonation of Huwawa (from the Gilgamesh Epic) and various references and allusions to Clint Eastwood movies with respect to the opposition between various Velikovskian factions collectively and the Clube and Napier paradigm as being unnecessarily militant and not suited to a scholarly setting. The fact that my charade had been worked out with encouragement and participation of the sponsors of the meeting made no impression on the indignant, intransigent and bellicose Whelton.]
Muddled Thinking on Velikovsky's Catastrophes
Clark Whelton's defense of Immanual Velikovsky's work (letter, Sept. 29) against my refutation (letter, Aug. 29) is nothing more than an exercise in Velikovskian cant and rhetoric and an excursion into muddled thinking.
Despite rejection by scientists for the past 37 years, Velikovsky and his defenders marshalled support for his ideas because they were very good at intellectual hand-waving and smoke blowing. However, after one wades through all the sleight of hand and the smoke clears, one discovers, as I did, that the critics were right all along and Velikovsky belongs with the flat earthers and hollow earthers.
In honest scientific discussions, the data swamp prior beliefs. But for Velikovsky, no amount of data is sufficient to do this because the actuality of the events in "Worlds in Collision" is taken as established fact. Those who persist in supporting Velikovsky have to ignore or deny an overwhelming amount of negative evidence. They do this either because of a profound depth of ignorance or because they are motivated by some hidden agenda. Allow me to clarify matters.
Contrary to Mr. Whelton's implication, to debunk Velikovsky's catastrophes, as I did, is not to deny catastrophism in general, just Velikovsky's specific catastrophes. The uniformitarianism/catastrophism dichotomy discussed by Mr. Whelton is a red herring, both simplistic and obsolete as S.J. Gould explains in his book "Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle." The issue is not uniformity vs. catastrophism, as Mr. Whelton pleads. The issue, as Carl Sagan once put it, is "the adequacy of the purported evidence." Scientists today readily accept catastrophes when credible [physical] evidence for them exists. In contrast, as my earlier May 16 letter argued, Velikovsky is rejected because there is simply no physical evidence to support the catastrophes described by Velikovsky in "Worlds in Collision." It is quite disingenuous for Mr. Whelton to ignore this more detailed discussion. Mr. Whelton is wrong in saying that "uniformitarianism rules the academic roost" because the fact is academia accepts the Alvarez theory that the impact of a large cosmic body 65 million years ago was associated with the extinction of the dinosaurs. This acceptance is based upon the recognition of many kinds of physical evidence indicating an impact, such as the world-wide layer of clay containing anomalous iridium, soot and shocked quartz. Scientists also agree that the most likely explanation for the formation of the Moon is the collision of a Mars-sized body with the Earth about 4.4 billion years ago. None of the three findings mentioned by Mr. Whelton is necessarily tied to Velikovsky's work, as he would have us believe. In particular, the concentration of black dust recently discovered in Greenland is just ordinary cosmic dust that falls continuously on earth. It happens to be collected in pools of water formed _on_ the ice by melt water. The fact remains that this black dust is so sparce when it falls that it does not form a visible layer _in_ the ice as Velikovsky's work would lead us to expect, [i.e., the debris from Venus that caused 40 years of darkness at the Exodus]. Such concentrations have nothing to do with Velikovsky's scenario in "Worlds in Collision" in which Venus and later Mars nearly collided with earth in biblical times. [Charles Ginenthal also mangled the provenance of these grains while ignoring the ice fields of Peru and Tibet where the annual accumulation of dust in the summers going back many thousands of years is naked eye visible, with no gross confrontation unconformities apparent.] [Meteorites from Mars can make it to earth without a Velikovskian close passage between the two planets. If the ancient child sacrifices at Carthage are due to an astronomical impetus, the energetic interaction between Earth and the Taurid meteor stream described by the British astronomers Victor Clube and Bill Napier in The Cosmic Serpent (1982) would serve even better since it is astronomically feasible, whereas Velikovsky's planetary scenario is not.]
Mr. Whelton is wrong to conclude that "Velikovsky's day is coming." He is wrong because although catastrophism is being revived, Velikovsky was more a Velikovskian than a scientist who embraced catastrophism [a point hammered home to me by Al DeGrazia in early 1980 over cocktails at the Washington Capitol Hilton]. Mr. Whelton mentions William Whiston, the late 17th century philosopher whose ideas were mimicked by Velikovsky. Unlike Whiston, whose catastrophist ideas fit into the Newtonian world of his time (see S.J. Gould in "Natural History," Sept. 1987), Velikovsky's beliefs [about careening planets] are inimical to modern science.
In addition, Velikovsky was preceded by others with every major tenet of his theories except identifying Venus as the agent of destruction in the book of Exodus and in this lone instance of originality Velikovsky was as wrong as one can be. [Update: Velikovsky was not even original regarding Venus, although he probably made this identification independently, since J.G. Radlof preceded Velikovsky on this in Hesperus und Phaethon (Berlin, 1823), as revealed by Clube and Napier in The Cosmic Winter (1990). Although this book of Radlof's is NOT listed in The National Union Catalog (and therefore probably not accessible to Velikovsky), fortunately it IS held by Northwestern University, as Pib Burns discovered, much to Cochrane's embarrassment on talk.origins several years ago.] Scientific immortality requires a record better than Velikovsky's and the readers of the Times deserve discussion more clearly formulated than the propaganda crafted by Mr. Whelton [then a speech writer for Mayor Koch]. For an antidote to Velikovsky's persistent brand of pseudoscience, the book "Beyond Velikovsky" by Henry Bauer is must reading.
C. LEROY ELLENBERGER
St. Louis, Oct. 3, 1987
At Toronto in 1990, Whelton spoke after me on Sunday afternoon, reminiscing on his interactions with Velikovsky. He possesses a very tenacious memory that I am reminded of every time he tells his version of the problems with Sagan's infamous probability calculation exactly as I explained it to him on the drive back from Velikovsky's house at Seaside Heights, New Jersey, in July 1978. Unfortunately, I am not aware of his ever relaxing enough in order to revise his beliefs in the face of new information. And he had the audacity at Toronto to criticize me for being too uniformitarian in thinking that the laws of physics are the same today as they were during Velikovsky's collisions! How more "confused" can one be? This was a charge that the session chairman, Roger Wescott, did not permit me to rebut.
One of my other favorite memories from the Toronto conference, where Victor Clube was the Keynote Speaker, was walking between sessions with Birgit Liesching of Brussels who in all sincerity professed to me: "You know, Leroy, it is only catastrophism if planets collide." She probably believes this to this day.
Two years later, Alice Miller and I debated Velikovskian issues in letters to Fate between April 1989 and June 1990. Perhaps these might provide entertainment on another occasion.
Leroy Ellenberger, "Per Veritatem Vis"
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