Catastrophism and Alternative Cosmologies
"Worlds in Collision": Reviews and Reviewers
From the publication of Worlds in Collision in 1950 until his death in 1979, Immanuel Velikovsky was in an unusual position. His financial future was assured -- all of his books remained in print through his lifetime, and some of them went through dozens of hardcover and softcover reprintings -- but his reputation was permanently tarnished. Whenever establishment figures wished to make a statement about pseudoscience or the occult, or later to castigate the Scientific Creationists, they usually deemed it necessary to include Velikovsky in their denunciations -- even though Velikovsky shared their abhorrence for religious fundamentalism. In fact, in the 1960s, when a new, more restive, generation of Americans began taking his ideas seriously and accepting the man himself as a sort of underground cult figure, Velikovsky was embarrassed rather than pleased: the mystics and hippies and academic outsiders were no substitute for legitimate recognition.
In 1973, Velikovsky told a Nassau Community College audience that Worlds in Collision "caused an excitement that no other book in the history of science did cause," provoking more than 4,000 articles in response. The book also stirred the scientific community into somewhat uncharacteristic censoring activities. As a psychoanalyst, Velikovsky was willing to ascribe the scientists' reaction to an underlying unconscious motivation "caused by a hidden fear of knowing the events of the past, more than by an aversion to challenging the conventional notions."(1) Like "the projection of fear of atomic disaster not toward its source in our mental heritage, but toward the disclosure of that source," the behavior of the anti-catastrophists from Aristotle onwards is "a negative reaction...a combination of not wishing to become aware of hidden springs, and an emotional reaction against that which may bring awareness of the cause of the mental disturbance."
This conclusion was echoed by one of the few psychiatrists who has seriously looked at Velikovsky's later work -- Harold Graff -- who compared the "Velikovsky Affair" with the case of Freud's struggle for acceptance.
[A]nalysts claim that Freud's theories were rejected because of their disturbing content, i.e., the fears of learning about id, primary process, infantile sexuality, and other things about a person's own nature. While this may be so, it could also be a secondary elaboration or an adequate defense against more primary reasons for the need to reject psychoanalytic ideas, that is, ideas that carried a much more dangerous threat to the psyche(2) [ -- i.e., ideas concerning human powerlessness in the face of the essential instability of our planetary home.]
Copernicus and his neo-Platonic disciples, Kepler and Galileo, were attacked by Christian Aristotelians because of their proof that the Earth is not the center of existence; Darwin for his demonstration that man is not a unique special creation but merely a specialized extension of the animal kingdom; Freud for postulating that men are not in conscious control of their most basic behaviors; and Velikovsky for pointing out that even life itself is a precarious state of affairs that can be snuffed out at any time. In addition to intellectual inertia, social stratification, archaic unconscious motivation, historical circumstance, shared cultural response to social change, individual enmity and/or ambition, the alleged worthlessness of the Velikovskian concepts themselves, or some other explanations for the ill treatment accorded Velikovsky by man, Velikovsky also believed that there was a racial dimension as well. According to Theodor Reik's student, Bronson Feldman (in an unpublished paper), Velikovsky had told him, "that the mental derangement (stupidly labeled by German journalism long ago 'Anti-Semitism') certainly accounted for much of the ferocity they had exhibited in the first encounter with his contributions to learning."
The events of the "Velikovsky Affair" need not be thoroughly described here. In brief, Velikovsky's ideas were first nationally presented in a precis by journalist Eric Larrabee in the January, 1950, issue of Harper's. Almost immediately, it seems, Harlow Shapley began organizing a movement to prevent the publication of Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision. Pre-publication attacks against the ideas contained therein failed to dissuade the Macmillan Company to cancel its commitments to Velikovsky, although company president Brett did take the precaution of having it submitted to one more round of expert previewers before giving the final go-ahead. Nevertheless, some two months after the book first appeared in April, 1950, an academic boycott of the company's textbooks forced Brett to transfer the title to rival Doubleday, which had no textbook division and so was not vulnerable to the same pressures. Over the next decades, even as establishment figures such as Nobel Prize winners, Harold Urey and Walter Alvarez, moved toward quasi-Velikovskian explanations for past events, they and other scientists almost uniformly either failed to acknowledge Velikovsky's precedence, or denigrated his methods and hence his conclusions as spurious and his correct prognostications as accidental, or else they claimed that Velikovsky had merely picked up on and sensationalized the correct conclusions of earlier, "legitimate," scholars.
Velikovsky's ideas were presented in detail to the public for the first time in "The Day the Sun Stood Still," Eric Larrabee's article in the January, 1950, Harper's. Hard on its heels, Newsweek (Jan. 9, pp. 16-19) called Velikovsky "a broad gauge savant with an incredible field of competence in the sciences" and even claimed that he "arrives at ideas hypothesized this month by Albert Einstein in his new and untested theory of gravitation." The Larrabee article also inspired The 0regonian editors to note on Jan. 9 that:
[a] "high percentage of those whose fields are invaded and their facts questioned" by Velikovsky "may be expected to rise to the challenge. The minds that will be stimulated by this book are the world's best. Who knows what may come of that?"
But, in retrospect, it may be that the chief importance of the Harper's and Newsweek articles is that they notified Harold Shapley and his colleagues that Macmillan was preparing to publish Worlds in Collision.
On Feb. 9 Shapley enclosed a seven-page mimeograph of an article being prepared by his close associate Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who is credited with demonstrating the largely-hydrogen nature of stars. Her diatribe, "A Thing Imagination Boggles At," was rather widely distributed at Harvard's expense; Velikovsky's allies John J. 0'Neill, Ted 0. Thackrey, and Vasili I. Komarewsky all received copies. In it she noted ironically that the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 -- a deliberate fraud purporting to be Sir John Herschel's description of newly-discovered Lunarians -- had been exposed by Macmillan's Magazine. She conceded, however, that "The Day the Sun Stood Still" was neither hoax nor science fiction: it was "confused and ponderous balderdash."
Amazement, incredulity, derision -- these we can experience and forget. But the feeling of consternation remains. Is it for this that the scholar patiently unravels and analyzes his problems? Is this scientific age so uncritical, so devoid of a perception of the nature of evidence, and of ordinary common sense that any considerable number of people will be fooled by this indiscriminate parade of the jargon of a dozen fields of learning? Evidently a great national magazine, and a publisher who has in the past handled great works of science, believe that they will. At a time when the work of scholars cannot be published for lack of funds,will the sale of "Worlds in Collision" exceed that of the "Great Moon Hoax"? If this is so -- and I fear that it is -- we are in an age of intellectual catastrophe, a real cause for consternation.(3)
In February, James Putnam showed Shapley's letters to Velikovsky. Nevertheless, despite the pugnacity he had shown in his Observer columns only a couple of years earlier, Velikovsky remained aloof from the fray. But the growing boycott campaign against Macmillan and "the most savage reviews a book of non-fiction has received for a long time" (as Doubleday's west coast editor Howard Cady told Berkeley Gazette columnist Ken Carnahan on June 25) caused him to begin counterpunching. Gone was his Observer truculence, however; despite a great deal of provocation, over the coming decades Velikovsky almost always managed to keep the moral high ground, arguing issues rather than personalities. His opponents were not always so canny or so gracious.
The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune (Feb. 12) gave prominence to a letter by two University of Minnesota scientists, astronomer William Luyton and aeronautical engineer Jean Picard, protesting the paper's reprint of "The Day the Sun Stood Still." Larrabee's article was "a mixture of divination, studied ignorance, haruspices' palaver, and pseudoscientific half-truths, in other words...just plain hokum." Luyton and Picard took the newspaper to task for having "refrained from asking the comments of real scientists such as Einstein, Shapley, Urey and of competent archeologists and biblical scholars."
At this juncture, Fulton Oursler, a senior editor at Reader's Digest, chose to interpret part of Velikovsky's thesis as a defense against Clarence Darrow's famous cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan at the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial." Darrow had used Bryan's Biblical literalism regarding Joshua's stopping the sun and the moon in the sky to belittle the fundamentalists' opposition to Darwinian evolution; but now Velikovsky, "[like] a detective among the sciences...has put together by deductive reasoning a chain of circumstantial evidence that may deeply affect the world of thinking men."
On Feb. 19 the New York Times and the Herald Tribune each ran full-page ads announcing the appearance of "The Heavens Burst," the first installment of a projected three-part summary of Worlds in Collision that chief nonfiction editor John Lear was preparing for Collier's. The Feb. 25 issue of that magazine appeared that same day, featuring not only the Lear piece but also a brief note of approval by the most popular religious writer of the day, Norman Vincent Peale. Also on Feb. 19, Thackrey's The Compass appeared on the news stands featuring a reprint of "The Day the Sun Stood Still" and an editorial comment extolling the revolutionary nature of Velikovsky's theory.
The following day, Shapley wrote to Thackrey: "Dear Ted: Somebody has done you dirt. They got you to republish Larrabee's article....
In my rather long experience in the field of science this is the most successful fraud that has been perpetrated on leading American publications. To me the article seems so transparent that I am surprised that Harper's and Macmillan would handle it. I am not quite sure that Macmillan is going through with the publication, because that firm has perhaps the highest reputation in the world for the handling of scientific books
You know, of course, that I personally am a sympathetic friend of the thwarted and demented, and have no high respect for formalism, and none at all for orthodoxy. But this "Sun stood still" stuff is pure rubbish, of the level of the astrological hocus-pocus, except that Dr. V. has read widely as well as superficially and can parade a lot of technical terms which apparently he has not mastered.(4)
Shapley's Feb. 25 Science News Letter ran an article ("Theories Denounced") that made the establishment's opposition to Velikovsky public for the first time. Speaking for "his fellow astronomers," Shapley was quoted as saying that the theories in question were "rubbish and nonsense." The director of the American Geological Institute, David Delo, said that Velikovsky "appears to be bypassing all the sound, scientific observations of a multitude of geologists made during the past 100 years." Carl Kraeling, director of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute, called Worlds in Collision an "example of the apologetic procedure," looking for evidence to fit a preconceived theory: "There is nothing we as historians can do...other than smile and go about our business." And the president of Hebrew Union College, Nelson Glueck, maintained that "biblical material...lends itself to too many kinds of interpretations...[I]f you want to, you can prove almost anything by the Bible."
The object of interest, Worlds in Collision, had not even been published yet. Nonetheless, Franklin D. Roosevelt's former "brain-truster" , Harold L. Ickes, wrote in the March 6 New Republic that his old New York Post colleague, Velikovsky, "has inspired a terror so beyond imagination that we may be able to shake off such trivial fears as those of the A bomb and the H bomb..."
If the hussy Venus is making eyes at us, either with or without honorable intentions, the result could be beyond calculation. Both Venus and Earth would be chaff in the hands of cosmic forces that are uncontrollable. It might chance that Venus would be nostalgic for those places on Earth which she formerly visited. Or, she might have studied her guidebook to discover what might be most worth visiting -- the North American continent or the Soviet Republics. To drop in on either would be a smash hit which neither would enjoy, despite its being a new experience. Or the same visit might strain to the utmost the hospitality of both.
The March 13 Time joined the fray with a rehash of quotes from Shapley's Science News Letter experts and a bogus biography of Velikovsky, who had studied "a little zoology and botany" at Edinburgh before getting a medical degree and whose "only other employment has been a job as editor of...a Palestinian magazine subsidized by his father. His knowledge of many sciences is self-taught."
Then, on March 14, heralded by large ads in the New York Times, "A Thing Imagination Boggles At" resurfaced in the Reporter with a new title: "Nonsense, Dr. Velikovsky!" Payne-Gaposchkin minced no words:
The most insidious part of the argument is the appeal to Biblical sources. There always have been, and always will be, well-meaning people who defend the literal interpretation of Scripture. But there can seldom have been a writer who did so by a more complete abrogation of the findings and principles of science...
The road to fame and fortune for the twentieth-century scholar is clear. Never mind logic; never mind the precise meaning of words or the results of exact research. Employ the vocabulary of a dozen fields of learning. Use a liberal sprinkling of Biblical phrases.
And on March 29, Christian Science Monitor science editor Herbert B. Nichols entered the lists with a scathing review of a still-unpublished book [paragraphing altered]:
Experience cannot wither, nor education stale, the puckishness which makes even the most recondite among mankind embrace outrageous improbability...Not since Capt. Heinie Hasenpfeffer was reported sailing into New York harbor with a cargo of subways and artesian wells has there been a better candidate for P. T. Barnum's Hall of Fame...Baron Von Munchausen, Paul Bunyan, fairy stories and legends of Santa Claus are as entertaining as Velikovsky, but they are seldom accepted by adults as factual.
The role of critic of existing theories born of wishful thinking is arduous, time consuming, and thankless. It seems some people believe what they want to believe regardless of logic. But if any reputable scientist comes forth publicly to back Velikovsky -- I for one promise to stake out real estate on the moon, build a perpetual motion machine, or equip a safari to search for the sidehill wampus, tripodero, Lochness Monster, or the whirling whimpus.
Worlds in Collision went on sale on Monday, April 3, 1950, the first working day after April Fool's Day. The inauguration was set to begin with a highly touted review by Gordon Atwater in the nationally syndicated Sunday supplement, This Week. There had been nothing secret about his plans to conduct a Velikovskian skyshow; it had been openly listed as a future Hayden attraction in 1948 and 1949. But when his colleagues learned that Atwater planned to plug the book, "There was sheer terror and panic at the Hayden...A member of the staff even walked into my office and spit in my face," Atwater recalled years later .(5) On April 1, 1950, the day before his article was set to appear, he was given a fifteen-minute notice of his dismissal as chairman of the American Museum of Natural History's astronomy department and curator of its Hayden Planetarium; he was not even given enough time to remove personal effects from his office. Although he continued to receive his salary for another six months, he was afterwards blacklisted from the science education profession. And, needless to say, the scheduled presentation of "Our Battle-Scarred Earth" was canceled.(6) It is noteworthy but not surprising that Harlow Shapley was a member of the museum's board of directors.
Atwater's review, however, was anything but inflammatory:
You may have heard that Dr. Velikovsky's astronomy is rubbish, his geology nonsense and his history ridiculous. You will be hearing those things again and again. I do not intend to say that all Dr. Velikovsky's findings are correct -- in fact, I disagree with many of them. But I do contend that...the author has done a tremendous job....The greatest value of "Worlds in Collision" is this: it sets up an unusual approach to some of the world's great problems...In assembling these proofs Dr. Velikovsky has plunged headlong into a dozen different sciences and has dug deeply into the roots of many. Frequently he has ignored modern authorities and conventional procedures and by-passed the work of years to get at the originals...(7)
Otto Struve, the chairman/honorary director of the Yerkes Observatory who had challenged Atwater's stance a few days earlier,(8) had also been in contact with O'Neill and the New York Herald Tribune, which owned This Week, but O'Neill was able to persuade the paper not to jettison Atwater's piece. However, O'Neill's own projected series of Velikovsky articles were replaced by Struve's review of Worlds in Collision -- "Copernicus? Who Is He?": "This is the first time I have been called on to review a book of this character. It is not a book of science and it cannot be dealt with in scientific terms," Struve averred. "It would be futile to argue or to explain to the author" why his theories were wrong.
We live in an era of mental stress and uncertainty, when minds are tempted to short-circuit the laborious and often dreary process of logical thinking and turn to supernatural phenomena, mysticism and wishful thinking.... The amazing acceptance of the ideas set forth in this book is a consequence of this trend.
Eventually, though, in the Book-of-the-Month Club News, O'Neill was able to rebut:
This is not just a wonder book. It is a serious presentation by a sincere scholar, and there is a deep philosophic significance underlying it.... Science and history have been standing Fat for entirely too long on a theory of man and nature that excludes the possibility of events outside a dull, safe routine. They have achieved this static program by hanging velvet curtains of taboo around embarrassing situations. They are ripe for a jolt. Dr. Velikovsky has pulled some of the curtains aside.
The full-scale public offensive aimed directly against Velikovsky himself rather than his surrogate Larrabee began with astronomer Paul Herget's review in the April 1 issue of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which sarcastically claimed that Velikovsky "might equally well insist that the State of Washington somehow rose up and threw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River" as to attribute the activities of the ancient gods to the planets we have named after them.
New York Times science editor Waldemar Kaempffert, in his April 2 review, called Worlds in Collision "one of the most remarkable farragoes ever concocted." Kaempffert had already discussed the issue with Lloyd Motz of Columbia; as a consultant for Velikovsky, Motz had read part of the book's epilogue, and he told Kaempffert that he could not find any methodological errors in it. Through O'Neill, Kaempffert had also consulted with critic Otto Neugebauer, an authority on ancient astronomy whom American Oriental Society secretary-treasurer Ferris J. Stephens imposed as one of Brett's last-minute readers.(9) Kaempffert chose to side with Neugebauer rather than Motz, and drafted a blistering attack. And his colleague, Orville Prescott, in the New York Times Review of Books for the same date, opined that it "would be hard to find anyone as learned as Dr. Velikovsky who is at the same time so blissfully unaware of the nature of scientific evidence." However, to balance the paper's presentation to some extent, the same issue of the Times also carried Harvey Breit's interview with Velikovsky. In it there was very little discussion of Velikovsky's "revolutionary (or quixotic) astrohistorical findings," but much was made of Velikovsky's reactions to the critical astronomers' fault-finding. Breit quoted Velikovsky as saying:
Science today, as religion in the past, has become dogmatic -- in the East as in the West. A scientist must swear loyalty to the established dogmas. The first rule of the scientific attitude is to study, then to think and then to express an opinion. A reverse of this is not a scientific approach, and this is exactly what has been done by a group of scientists who have expressed opinions about my work....
What I require from my reader...is courage. Courage in what? Courage to trust in his own ability to think. He should read the book and look into the references and make his own conclusions. He must remember that science is not licensed.
Initial reactions by nonscientists away from the great eastern metropolitan centers tended to be rather favorable. For example, W. J. Mahoney, Jr., in the April 2 issue of the Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser admitted that the book might not be taken seriously by "those who are supposed to know, but that "no reading layman will be bored by it." William Asger, a preacher in Oxford, Mississippi, wrote in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that it was "a foregone conclusion" that the book would at the very least "call for renewed investigation for others of the facts so long accepted. If it does no more, the author has rendered a noble service to his profession and to his fellow man." And "F. L.," the reviewer for the Fort Worth News-Sentinel, pointed out that "our collisionist" "has studied in just about all the places there are on this globe and his book is as liberally sprinkled with footnotes as salt on cinema house popcorn;" in a more serious vein, F. L. thought that the book offered one of the most original solutions he had seen for the mystery of the fresh mammoth carcasses that were occasionally unearthed. Joseph Landau (Louisville Courier-Journal, April 2) discussed the book in relation to a fundamentalist perspective, admitting that a superficial reading would provide "wonderful ammunition to those who...have battled modern interpretation of the Bible." But in actuality, the book treated the scriptures as "human history, as history on a plane of man and not of God. It seems to this reviewer that the book deals a decisive blow to the idea of divine intervention into human affairs." Maximillian Berners in the Los Angeles Times complained that "this strange volume is not easy to read" and that "it is far too long," but that it "still has an exciting pull to it, and it will become a best seller." Back East, Kenneth B. Roberts took a thoughtful look at the book for the Providence Sunday Journal and concluded that a "persuasive savant offers an incredibly simple and utterly hideous solution of scores of baffling problems of antiquity...[R]ight or wrong, rational or ridiculous, this is fascinating fare."
In the San Francisco Chronicle, reviewer George R. Stewart wondered how "such a scientifically worthless and at the same time boring book" could have such mass appeal: "We should expect better scholarship of a senior at the university." Stewart also alluded to "Nonsense, Dr. Velikovsky!," Gaposchkin's old piece in the Reporter: "My only suggestion would be to insert the words 'utter and boring' just before 'nonsense.'" As an afterthought, however, he addressed the issue that he had raised in the first place, the reason for the book's phenomenal success, and decided that the blame rested squarely on the shoulders of the scientists themselves, who
have discovered so much, and...have had to take much of it on faith! For, as they write so often, This cannot be explained in ordinary terms. Too often, probably, this means that the scientists don't want to take the trouble to try. And when someone does, many of them are quick to beat him over the head as a popularizer. So since most people have to accept Einstein and Oppenheimer on faith, why should we be surprised when they accept Velikovsky too?
Lewis Gannett of the New York Herald Tribune (April 3) also tried to make some sense of the Velikovsky event:
And now, in this year of hydrogen hysteria, comes Immanuel Velikovsky...with a bewildering mist of near erudition in dozens of tongues and sciences....
In an age when the equations of the physicists, more mysterious than any cosmogonic folktale, can destroy a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants in an instant, anything may seem believable. Perhaps it is not, after all, strange that Dr. Velikovsky's weird tapestry of science, near-science and sheer superstition should have been read in manuscript with respect by so odd a congeries of believers as Dr. Horace M. Kallen, John J. O'Neill, Clifton P. Fadiman, and Gordon Atwater...
Dr. Velikovsky's polyphonal researches seem...to be generating havoc and faith...Yet to the lay reader the great heap of detached bits of lore which Dr. Velikovsky has excavated from hither and yon and his immense confidence that he has discovered hosts of clues to the prehistoric past which had eluded every previous investigator has a cumulative and almost opiate effect...
We live with unpoetic headlines of fragmented catastrophes, and Dr. Velikovsky soothes us, weaving all the world's legends of catastrophe into a kind of cosmic poetry which sounds like science and so appeals to a generation which has been abandoned by its poets...
I doubt that he is hoaxing; I doubt that he is insane. His long, repetitive, fundamentally absurd scrapbook is a document in man's will to believe.
Readers of the recent Time article responded with a spectrum of views in the magazine's April 3 letter column. Arthur Kohlenberg of Cambridge, Massachusetts, applauded Time for performing a "real public service" by countering the pro-Velikovsky articles in Harper's, Collier's, and Readers Digest -- not to mention the one in the rival Newsweek. But George R. Ludwig of the University of Colorado, Boulder, criticized the magazine's anti-Velikovsky bias, particularly since Worlds in Collision had not yet even been published. And according to John S. Nollen, "The preposterous Dr. Velikovsky" needed no interplanetary cataclysm to explain the sun and moon stopping in the sky. O sun, stop at Gibeon, And thou, moon, at the valley of Ajalon was "a fine poetic hyperbole expressing Joshua's eagerness in the pursuit of the Amorites" which the prosaic chronicler had quoted from the no longer extant Book of Jasher; unfortunately, however, the chronicler had then added his own commentary: So the sun came to stop, and the moon stood still, until the nation took vengeance on their foes. The effect of this was as if a British chronicler, writing about King Henry V, came upon Shakespeare's Henry IV and Bedford's outcry: Hung be the Heavens with black! and added, in his prose, "The heavens were hung with black when Henry died." Or, as if a dull reader quoted: Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wirt, and commented: "Shelley says the skylark never was a bird."
Emmett Dedman of the Chicago Sun-Times could not praise Worlds in Collision enough in his April 4 review: the book was "a massive compilation of citations from the records of peoples in all the different sections of the populated area of the earth" and "well-enough buttressed with data to startle any reader into a re-examination of his ideas about the world."
There had been more advance orders for Worlds in Collision placed with Houston bookstores than for any book since the Kinsey Report, according to Houston Press reviewer Carl Victor Little on April 6:
It has scared the living daylights out of the common man and has caused the outstanding members of that sacred cult, the Scientist, to develop the screaming meanies and to yell imprecations, and call down a curse on Dr. Velikovsky, whose crime seems to [be] unorthodoxy, an unfettered mind, brilliance, and the ability not only to read but to write.
University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Wilton M. Krogman wrote in the Chicago Sunday Tribune (April 9) that the book "is an ingenious and at times ingenuous piecing together of data of uneven value. It makes for stimulating rather than convincing reading." Wadsworth Likely of the Science News Service (the company that published Shapley's Science News Letter) took a stronger stand in the April issue of the Knoxville News-Sentinel:
Scientists see in the publication of this book a well publicized attack upon the knowledge that they have built up over hundreds of years by the slow process of experimentation and thought. They see WORLDS IN COLLISION as a part of the retreat from scientific progress as part of the fear of what science has wrought. They may be expected to marshal their knowledge and their brains in an assault upon what they consider a distortion of knowledge and history.
One of the erstwhile leaders of this assault, Indiana University's Goethe Link Observatory director, Frank K. Edmondson, began his media attack in the April 9 issue of the Indianapolis Star -- four days after he had sent a harsh private communication to Macmillan. In fact, he had specifically asked the paper in advance if he could review Worlds in Collision in its pages, and he also asked the Louisville Courier-Journal for space to rebut Joseph Landau's review of the book.(10) For the public record, Edmondson called Velikovsky's book
unquestionably the most outrageous collection of nonsense since the invention of the printing press. It has the outward appearance of scholarship (scads of footnotes), but none of the substance (critical judgment and intelligent thinking). It is annotated clap-trap.
Unlike most other critics, however, Edmondson also used his forum to attack the unfortunate Atwater: "of the 'authorities,' whose praise of the book is printed on the jacket and whose 'open-minded' (or empty-headed!!!) discussion was given wide circulation...is just as big a screwball as Velikovsky."
Edmondson's father-in-law, Princeton's Henry Norris Russell (one of the authors of the theory that the planets were composed of debris from the sun's hypothetical companion star), was only a little more circumspect in his own critique, which appeared in the Spring 1950 issue of World Affairs Interpreter:
The evidence presented by Dr. Velikovsky is largely obscure and ambiguous; much of it is allegorical and apochryphal. The conclusions that are reached through these biased interpretations are at variance with some of the most thoroughly tested and established laws of science...
I can not refrain from a conjecture as to the worthwhile results that might have accrued had Dr. Velikovsky attacked a problem in his own field with the admirable tenacity and vigor that he employed in the writing of Worlds in Collision.
It was at this point that the Zolaesque defenders of Velikovsky began to marshal their forces. First, on April 10, Thackrey replied to Shapley's March 8 letter; first, he discounted Shapley's citation of Time and Science News Letter as validating Shapley's opposition since "unless I mistake certain reasonably clear indications the chief inspiration for these adverse views stems from Dr. Harlow Shapley of the Harvard College Observatory!" Furthermore, Thackrey noted that "Mrs. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin's article [in The Reporter] was directly inspired by you" and that Atwater had told him that Macmillan had received two letters from Shapley that were "so sizzling that your letter to me might seem tepid by comparison!" And Thackrey also agreed that many people "hold views which coincide with your own; but I should be astonished to find that they had reached their conclusions completely independently of discussion with you." So how could Shapley honestly maintain that he had only sent a single "hot communication" -- only to Thackrey himself -- on the subject of Velikovsky? How could he maintain that, in the interests of the freedom to publish, he was trying to dissuade his colleagues from taking intemperate action?
And second, Thackrey pointed to:
a further elementary factor which continues to perplex and dismay me; at the time your views were expressed...not you, nor Dr. Gaposchkin, nor the professors you cite -- not one -- had read the manuscript or the book. At most, they have read comment upon it, or digests of sections of it, without benefit of reference notes or complete treatment.(11)
In the letters section of the April 11 issue of The Reporter, Eric Larrabee responded to Dr. Gaposchkin's criticisms, which he found to be "either irrelevant or inexact," while her insistence on the conflict between Velikovsky and Newton was "less an attack than a redundancy, especially since she has neither read [Velikovsky's] discussion of gravitational theory nor...consulted the physicists and astronomers who have read it." In reply (printed in the same issue), Gaposchkin stated that she had just spent the weekend reading Worlds in Collision (thus indirectly admitting that Larrabee's main point was valid) and that her "opinion of the 'theory' is in no way modified by having done so." And she also wrote that she had read Velikovsky's sketchy abstract, his hapless Cosmos without Gravitation, and that she found it "completely unconvincing."
Two days later (April 13), at a Smith College lecture on the scientific method, Gaposchkin stated part of her reasons for taking a stand against Worlds in Collision:
What I criticize is this: the book purports to be science; the publisher classified it as science. But it was not introduced to the world as science. Scientific work is given to the world in a scientific journal, and expressed in scientific terms, with numerical facts and discussions. In Worlds in Collision, there are no numbers, no calculations, everything is expressed so vaguely that criticism is impossible...And it was not presented to any reputable scientists before being given to the public...
The public reaction isn't funny. It is rather terrifying, a sort of intellectual mass-hysteria.(12)
The April 15 issue of Science News Letter again reviewed the book. The reviewer repeated Likely's views that the book was a conscious attack upon the slow gains scientists have made over many centuries but hoped that:
the people will follow Dr. Velikovsky's advice to judge whether Worlds in Collision is science or science fiction. And [scientists] are confident the people will decide that this is a book of science fiction.
The Christian Science Monitor for the same date carried readers' responses to Herbert Nichols' earlier critique, plus a new attack by another staff writer. Robert Dolling Wells, one of the correspondents, insisted that "writers and theorists who call attention to flaws in the reasoning of natural scientists -- their 'void places,' and their occasionally untenable hypotheses" have a valuable place in society: "There is room for an honest criticism of Dr. Velikovsky's strange story, but no room...for ridicule of an honest point of view laboriously arrived at." Mary Lib Woodin took a more fundamentalist position: "To speak of confirming the so-called miracles of the Old Testament, with whatever theories, as 'embracing outrageous improbability'...leaves the Christian believer slightly aghast." The editors responded to her objection to Nichols by wondering rhetorically if Worlds in Collision really did support the veracity of the Bible:
Or does it follow the line of those who have tried to "explain away" Jesus' miracles or make them acceptable to modern Thomases by attributing them to material causes? Does Dr. Velikovsky present Moses and Joshua as inspired leaders, understanding divine power and supported by it, or as charlatans...attributing to spiritual causes phenomena that the doctor strains credulity to explain...?
The Monitor's editorial position, trying to maintain a skeptical balance against Velikovsky on both Christian and scientific grounds, was further exemplified by R. C. Cowen's column in the same issue, which criticized Velikovsky, "who is claiming to write, not as a metaphysician, but as a natural scientist," for not adhering to scientific methodologies; Velikovsky's approach was "argument by implication, invoking a conglomeration of old legends and chronicles picked, it would seem, for their fitness in the light of the author's preconceived theory."
In the April 22 issue of the Toronto Globe and Mail, Frank S. Hogg, director of the David Dunlop Observatory, noted with some chagrin that, due to the "high pressure magazine publicity," even his review copy of Worlds in Collision was a second printing despite the book's high price. He claimed that among "a fairly wide circle of acquaintances" which included archeologists, Biblical scholars, geologists, physicists, and astronomers, he had "yet to find one who feels that the book is consistent or acceptable even in one of these fields, let alone in interrelating all of them." After discussing Velikovsky's thesis and methodology, Hogg concluded by professing surprise that Velikovsky "has not accompanied the Ute legend of Cottontail by tales of Henny-penny, Humpty-dumpty, or even Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe."
Another scientist, Harrison Brown, expressed his views on Velikovsky and Macmillan in the April 22 Saturday Review of Literature:
It is difficult to condemn a man who is obviously seeking truth...But when the truth-seeker goes to the public for approval of his ideas before he submits his viewpoints to men expert in his field for the ruthless criticism and cross-checking that is the very life-blood of science, abstinence from criticism becomes difficult. Dr. Velikovsky...has attempted to create a world history (and for that matter a solar-system history) that makes sense. The fact that what he says makes little sense is not important. The fact that many persons not versed in science are now hailing Dr. Velikovsky as the twentieth-century Newton is important and should be addressed...
Had I the energy I might have written a letter to Dr. Velikovsky outlining, from the point of view of the physical sciences, the errors both in fact and theory which I believe he has committed. However, such a letter would have been at least thirty pages in length, a fact which in itself explains my reasons for not writing it. It further explains why no attempt will be made in this review even to list the errors in fact and conclusion contained in this book...
This book will be, for years to come, a shining example of book and magazine-publishing irresponsibility. I do not object to publication of this book -- or for that matter any book. But the reader may rightly be offended...by the irresponsible publicity...The publisher, who in this case is usually most meticulous in the publication of scientific treatises, should have sought the advice of reputable scientists before launching its sensational fireworks...
And thus, the book was launched by a wind which bodes good only to those on the receiving end of the cash line. Ten years from now it will probably be forgotten by all except those unfortunate scientists who will have had to answer questions about the book in every public lecture.
John M. McCullough, in his April 23 Philadelphia Inquirer review, thought that few other books "have so stirred the world of thoughtful men;" discussion would surely lead to a reassessment of some conclusions about modern views, since "if any part of Velikovsky's thesis is true, then some scientific assumptions must, of necessity, be untrue." For his own part, McCullough "would like to hear a jury composed of -- let us say, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Professor Arnold Toynbee, Dr. Harlow Shapley, Dr. James B. Conant and Dr. Arthur C. Compton -- argue the merits and demerits" of the theory.
David Dempsey, whose "In and Out of Books" column was a regular feature in the New York Times Review of Books, in his April 23 piece quoted a review from the Boston Sunday Globe that Velikovsky's book was probably "the most stimulating horror story that has ever been written." Based on his own examination of thirty-two reviews, Dempsey decided that sixteen of them "are inclined to go along with the dedicated scholar", ten "gave him a wide variety of Bronx and six are sitting tight."
According to the director of the National Bureau of Standards, Edward U. Condon (New Republic, April 24), Velikovsky had "studied nearly all of the sciences except astronomy." Because of his reliance upon the religious literature of many peoples in his attempt to "de-supernaturalize" their myths, people "may expect that quite a number of gods will be seriously displeased if his book comes to their attention"; but for Condon himself, "it is much easier to believe that the events in question really were caused by the direct intervention of these various gods than that they happened in the circumstances which Velikovsky invents for their correlation." Unlike many scientist reviewers, who had bitterly criticized Velikovsky's book before it was published (by basing their arguments on its popularization by Larrabee, Oursler, or Lear), Condon preferred to criticize the popularizations even after the publication of the book itself:
Oursler's reader's digestion is so adequate that none but the specialist will need to go to the book itself. It starts off with a dictum by that noted authority on celestial mechanics and genetics, Clifton Fadiman, in which the opinion is ventured that this book "may be as epochal as the Origin of Species of Darwin or the Principia of Newton."
Condon, a political progressive, had been one of the notable victims of McCarthyism; in fact, his story had been given wide currency in the same issue of Harper's which introduced Velikovskianism.
Noted literary critic Alfred Kazin was scarcely less vociferous in his New Yorker denunciations than were the scientists. The book, "which is preposterous and intellectually primitive to an extreme, is plainly not a hoax" but, rather, "a pathetic, ominous, and superstitious piece of work by a man whose thinking is completely dominated by cataclysms, catastrophes, and global disturbances." Kazin seemed to think that Velikovsky's ultimate motive in writing the book was to legitimize "the physicists' irresponsible scare warnings" about the potential of a universal nuclear holocaust as part of their efforts to promote a single world state: for, "how shall we ever create a world order except by first threatening everyone with world destruction?"
Dempsey, in his survey of public reactions to Worlds in Collision, had noted that scientists were critical of the work but that ministers were trying to ignore it. However, America, the National Catholic Weekly Review, featured commentary in its April 29 issue by Louis W. Tordella, the scientific research administrator for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. He expected Velikovsky's performance to gain his book "prominence in some lists of science fiction." To Tordella, the book was "an unusual conglomeration of scientific fact and fiction, interspersed with extraordinarily numerous references to ancient and modern writings which range all the way from obscure legends of folklore to the latest treatise on the physical sciences." And in the June issue of the nondenominational Christian Century, W. E. Garrison wondered why "a collection of such errant nonsense gets such a wide reading." Among some half dozen possible solutions to his question, Garrison suggested that an "age that is weak in faith is strong in gullibility. The loss of a sane and reasonable faith leaves a hunger that mere facts cannot feed, and produces a morbid appetite for fantasies and superstitions." Garrison advised "religious conservatives" to weep rather than go
into spasms of delight over this reinforcement of their position...What good does it do to prove that [the biblical miracles] were purely natural occurrences? According to this book's line of argument, Jehovah goes out of the picture as Venus and Mars come in...If anybody gets any confirmation of his position from this line, it is the naturalist, not the supernaturalist.
The supposed support given to the book by "religious conservatives" was even more roundly denounced by "Erasmus," a spokesman for the National Liberal League's organ, Truth Seeker, the "Oldest Freethought Paper in the World". Velikovsky was a "learned zany" and his volume "full of preposterous prevarication." Like Garrison and Stewart, Erasmus also wondered why "all this hysterical acclaim for a book so far below the standard expected hitherto of all historical and scientific books?"
The answer is very simple -- and very distressing. The book claims to prove scientifically and historically some of the more preposterous of the Old Testament miracles...To "prove" them, [Velikovsky] deliberately rejects or readates or rearranges many facts of history and astronomy, and what he does to and with etymology, anthropology and folklore is sheer prostitution of these sciences...
"Worlds in Collision" is a natural for today. It is Buck Rogers out of Fundamentalism. It "proves" the Bible miracles "scientifically." Well, it is certainly a big enough lie to stretch even the already distended gullets of the credulous Science-Fiction thrill seekers and miracle swallowers. I hope they choke.
Seriously, and hopefully, however, this book's publication may be a good thing, after all. It has emetic value [Paragraphing altered].
In Engineering and Science (May 1950), H. P. Robertson blasted Worlds in Collision: "The scientific pretensions of this jejune essay at cosmology are too ludicrous to merit serious rebuttal."
But let us turn from the inanities of the book itself to the truly remarkable manner in which it has been promoted...Well in advance of publication a little band of literary apostles spread its message...[N]one among them is a scientist -- only one, a science writer, is listed in the standard reference work American Men of Science, which includes some 50,000 names...
It is sincerely to be hoped that the prospective publisher of [Velikovsky's future volumes] will seek competent editorial advice, which will enable him realistically to weigh the value of his firm's reputation against the monetary rewards to be reaped by catering to those with a taste for sleazy pseudo-science.
By May 21, Worlds in Collision -- "a soggily written, heavily annotated, 'scientific' explanation of Old Testament miracles" according to David Dempsey in his "In and Out of Books" column for that day -- was number one on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Only four days later, the book's author was told that its publisher was going to dump it; on June 8, it was transferred to Doubleday. From June 18, the story of the academics' boycott of Macmillan began leaking into the press. As Bob Considine put it in his June 23 column, "Shaking a best-seller loose from a publisher roughly approximates the task of persuading a bulldog to let loose of a bull's schnozzola or a Broadway hat check girl to give back the ring."
The Bergen Evening Record for June 23 declared:
Pressing an aptitude of the intelligentsia for treating academic freedom as an award and not a due, a small group of influential scientists has lately been busy burning one of the more unorthodox members of their craft. The alleged witch today is Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky...[His] somewhat Jules Verne treatment of accepted dogma apparently stirred the academicians unto their innermost equation...Sic transit gloria Mother Goose, Buck Rogers, et al., including freedom of the press and of the mind [Paragraphing altered].
On June 25, the New Haven Register ran a longish polemic entitled "4 Yale Scholars 'Expose' Non-Fiction Best-Seller": R. S. Latourette, professor of missions and Oriental history; George Kubler, professor of art history; Rupert Wildt of the Yale Observatory (who in 1940 had first postulated a "hot" Venus, but as a result of a "greenhouse effect" in the planet's atmosphere); and geologist Chester A. Longwell, American Journal of Science editor, conducted a sort of multidisciplinary inquest into the merits of Worlds in Collision. Latourette admitted that Velikovsky had "combed an amazing range of historical records for evidence to corroborate his thesis" but had failed to apply modern historical methods to evaluate his sources: "he is quite unaware of the finds of recent scholarship and depends chiefly upon ...authors who...have now been largely superseded." According to Latourette, Velikovsky also collated statements from ancient writers from "a number of different centuries, usually with no effort to determine whether the events they are said to describe can be shown to belong to the same period, and with no apparent attempt to evaluate the writers' accuracy."
Kubler preferred to quarrel with specific details in Velikovsky's reconstruction, noting in particular that the old Mexican and Mayan days for the New Year ranged over a wide span of individual dates, so that Velikovsky was being quite arbitrary in selecting one of them (February 26) just because it corresponded with an Old World date.
Wildt, in common with his brother astronomers, chose to pursue the path of invective rather than that of rational investigation: "By a merciful ordination of the economic system under which we live, the host of amateur cosmologists seldom command the means of bringing their speculations before the eyes and ears of the world," he pontificated; but Velikovsky "has scored over his brethren...He has found a publisher eager to promote the sale of his opus by the sort of publicity commonly reserved for the more florid contemporary fiction."
Longwell followed the same path, insisting that Velikovsky presented his case:
either in complete ignorance or with cavalier disregard of all evidence...Without hesitation he sweeps in to discard the results of critical research...and then, unhampered by any embarrassing facts, he rushes in with his own grandiose speculations. All but Velikovsky are out of step!
When Longwell reprinted the article in his American Journal of Science (August 1950) he posed the question: "why...should a scientific journal give the least attention to such patent nonsense? Frankly, our chief concern is to focus attention on the publisher." In one of its catalogues, under the "Science" heading, Macmillan had dared list Worlds in Collision together with four other books "whose titles suggest that they may be properly classified. The four authors must feel much flattered at finding themselves in company so distinguished!"
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin resumed her crusade with an eight-page book review in the June Popular Astronomy: "A work can scarcely be dignified by the name of science that displays ignorance of the scientific method and inability to handle the scientific vocabulary." And as a work of history, Worlds in Collision fared scarcely better. While Latourette had complained that Velikovsky had ignored the latest experts, Gaposchkin chastised Velikovsky for neglecting the oldest ones. Instead of relying on the Old Testament, Homer and Hesiod, Velikovsky preferred to employ rabbinical and patristic sources, and Ovid and Apollonius Rhodius. "One might as well turn to 'Paradise Lost' for a factual account of the Creation. The more primitive sources lend his ideas little weight."
Gaposchkin's Harvard colleague, Donald Menzel, published in Physics Today (July) an addendum to Velikovsky's scholarship, pointing to evidence that Velikovsky had somehow missed. For example, Menzel recalled the famous "year of the hot winter" when Paul Bunyan was logging in Utah. It was so hot that Babe, the Blue Ox, drank the river dry every fifteen minutes, and the sweat from Paul and Babe was so great that it collected together to form the Great Salt Lake. The presence of Babe in the tale was obviously another representation of the bull motif that Velikovsky associated with Venus worship, "the pure bull that was undoubtedly the comet (or vice versa)." According to Menzel, even the "Hey Diddle-Diddle" nursery rhyme becomes an important historical document if analyzed in a proper Velikovskian manner. The cow that jumped over the moon was the comet of course; the "cat and the fiddle" are the constellations Lynx and Lyre.
The fact that both names begin with "Ly" is also significant of something or other. The "little dog" is the constellation Canis Minor. The dish that ran away with the spoon was the original flying saucer. And the spoon, clearly the Little Dipper, was used as a paddle to propel the unusual vehicle through the sky. The Milky Way marks the trail left by the cow in its magnificent leap...Anyway the milk was probably not pasteurized. Velikovsky indicates that vermin and germs inhabited the comet's tail.
Harvard geologist Kirtley Mather's remarks appeared in the July issue of American Scientist:
If [Worlds in Collision's] publishers had announced it as a "science-fiction thriller" under the title Forever Venus, there would have been no basis for adverse criticism of the whole performance. But to publicize it as the sober report of scholarly research, worthy of serious consideration by intelligent readers, is quite another story. There could be no better argument for the great necessity of helping a considerable number of supposedly literate persons gain a little proficiency in the fine art of distinguishing the "plausible but false" from the "astonishing but true."
The populist New York Sunday News refrained from endorsing Velikovsky's particular views, but took the occasion in a July 2 editorial to applaud his pugnacity.
We think it is a healthy thing all around when a man like Velikovsky, himself armed with wide scientific knowledge, stands up and bawls that the orthodox scientists are wrong in their basic ideas about the universe and challenges them to prove him mistaken.
If we might presume to offer the scientific brotherhood a tip, it would be to get busy trying to disprove Velikovsky with facts and figures and lay off trying to promote boycotts aimed at his book as some of them are alleged to have done.
In April the Catholic America had already panned the book itself. But in July the boycott disturbed the journal's editors:
Suppose Worlds in Collision were a book that distorted the teachings of the Catholic faith. Suppose a flood of protests from Catholic teachers had said, "Stop publishing this book or we won't buy any more of your textbooks." What a cry of "censorship" would rend the welkin! But there will be no such cry in the present circumstances. Why? Because the strange idea roams about these days...that science has its truths that just cannot be tampered with or distorted...This type of contradiction is bringing our world into a collision with the world of truth which is much more frightening than the one Mr. Velikovsky imagines.
The Jewish News, however, in its July 21 issue, was more blase about the matter of press freedom. The issue was merely an "East versus West 'Publishers' Collision" from which Doubleday would profit since Worlds in Collision was still atop the nonfiction best sellers list, but "Velikovsky's book -- which reads like a fairy tale -- should be given rating both in the fiction and non-fiction lists."
St. Louis University philosopher Thomas P. McTighe insisted in the August 15 issue of Best Sellers that "it is a conservative estimate to remark that the American publishing enterprise has been set back at least twenty-five years with one publication of a senseless piece of work." The reputable astronomers were easily able to reject the book's "astronomical bosh," but the "extreme danger of this pernicious book" lay in its "entirely new exegesis of one of the treasured fonts of divine revelation...[I]t is a sly and cunningly contrived attack against the entire Judeo-Christian heritage of God and the truth that He has revealed...The 'Higher Criticism' has finally reached the best-seller list!" McTighe advocated placing Worlds in Collision on the Index of Prohibited Books.
Ben Hunt, in the September Catholic World, agreed that Velikovsky was "as high-handed with the Scriptures as the most stratospheric higher critics," but placed him
among the poets and the moralists, not among the speculative philosophers and the scientists. His appreciation of the mystery "deep-down things" is spoiled by all the "scientific" and mythological apparatus that surrounds it. Certainly the religion of Israel and the Gospels would be rash to call on him as a witness.
Otto Neugebauer, who had missed the chance to influence the fate of Worlds in Collision in February, finally got his chance to review it in Isis, George Sarton's journal on the history of science:
In its pitiful ignorance of the most elementary physics it is on a level far below science fiction. In its attempt to explain Biblical narratives rationally, it shares all the characteristics of a wide-spread type of crackpot publication. It attains, however an exceptionally high degree of distortion of scientific literature...
...The Macmillan Company can congratulate itself on having found a very effective method for extracting money from a wide public which will not be able to check the factual basis of these "works in confusion."
The November 18 Saturday Evening Post pointed to a long list of "silly" McCarthyist events from the summer suppressions: boycotts, dismissals, and the like. The scientists, unfortunately, had succumbed to the pressures of the season and had "acted like the authoritarians with whom they are continually in conflict." It was, however, fortunate for the publishing industry that "specialists in other fields are less easily hexed than astronomers are. Otherwise professors of history might take an attitude toward the publishers of Forever Amber [also Macmillan] as stuffy as that of the scientists..."
It was in response to these volleys and others like them that Velikovsky finally went public. On May 7, 1950, the New York Times carried Velikovsky's rather lengthy response to science editor Waldemar Kaempffert's critical April 2 book review, followed by Kaempffert's equally lengthy reply. The disputation was conducted in a gentlemanly manner by both parties, with Kaempffert even conceding that he had erroneously claimed that in 3000 B.C. Egyptian astronomers had described a modern Venusian orbit. Otherwise, however, Kaempffert remained adamant in his criticism.
Two days later, the debate resumed as an unplanned component of Velikovsky's Graduate English Society-sponsored lecture at Columbia. The venue was fitting, since Velikovsky had earlier told journalist Harvey Breit that he had "opened and closed the library at Columbia for eight or nine years (certainly I was the greatest exploiter of that institution)" during the decade of the 1940s. At the lecture, Velikovsky spotted Kaempffert, who, according to student journalist Hal Levine,(13) "had come armed with reams of challenging data." Guessing Kaempffert's identity on the basis of the points he raised, Velikovsky graciously gave him the floor. "Relying heavily on wit and an amazing memory for minute, historical details, the doctor beat back all comers." Velikovsky(14) later recalled that on this occasion he was able to cite "from memory the issue, the sources, book, year, and page." This episode marked the real beginning of Velikovsky's career as charismatic orator; on such public occasions he rarely failed to gain his audience's sympathy and respect. And often he converted them to his cosmic cause.
A month after the Columbia confrontation, on June 8, Velikovsky signed a contract with Doubleday, which launched a $10,000 national advertising campaign for a so-called "fifth edition" of Worlds in Collision (actually the fifth printing). Ten days later, on June 18, David Dempsey of the New York Times broke the story, calling the Doubleday takeover the "greatest bombshell dropped on Publishers' Row in many a year." A publishing official (perhaps Velikovsky's editor James Putnam, who had been forced to resign on June 16) had privately admitted "that a flood of protests from educators and others had hit [Macmillan] in its vulnerable underbelly -- the textbook division."
Holding a press conference on June 21, Velikovsky denied the report of a "flood" of protests and claimed instead that his former publisher had been "subjected to pressure on the part of a little and seemingly organized group of scientists." Asked who the conspirators were, Velikovsky replied rather cryptically by quoting from Freud and Isaiah. (The next day, however, Leonard Lyons of the New York Post, Observer's old paper, named Shapley, "the leftwinger who in other cases screams against censorship of any kind," as the ringleader. It is certainly possible that Velikovsky leaked Shapley's identity.) "It's as if the Dodgers had been forced to trade Jackie Robinson to some other club," Velikovsky pointed out; but Jackie was only batting second in the National League and Velikovsky was number one on the best seller list. He also broke the story that Putnam had been ousted and that Atwater, who had been fired from the Hayden because of his support for Velikovsky, had received an order not to proceed with his plans for a Velikovskian skyshow on March 10, the same day that the first review copy of Worlds in Collision had come off the press. Velikovsky also used the press conference to launch a counter attack against his oppressors:
Scientific thought of our time is dominated by dogma, preconceived ideas, man-made laws, and intolerance...[S]cientists would like to believe that they have built on firm foundations and what is left is only to investigate and to fill in details. They would not agree to any questioning of the basic truths of science.(15)
On July 30, at a University of Bridgeport's University Club luncheon, Velikovsky repeated his charges that, like religious thought in the past, scientific thought in the present is dominated by the intolerance of dogmatics. "The first rule of the scientific attitude is to study, then to think, and then to express an opinion," Velikovsky proclaimed. "A reverse of this is not a scientific approach, and this is exactly what has been done about my work."
The same May 7, 1950, issue of the New York Times that had featured the exchange between Velikovsky and Kaempffert also ran a letter by Ronald Heymanson pointing out the similarities between the cosmographies of Velikovsky and cosmic iceman Hoerbiger. Velikovsky's reply, denying any similarity, was printed on June 25. Lambert Fairchild, in the June 4 New York Times, had pointed to Velikovsky's appropriation of Ignatius Donnelly's "cometic theory," but Velikovsky seems to have ignored this charge. Several commentators, including Henry H. Bauer, have made much of "the great and many similarities...the similar use of the same legends and references" by Velikovsky and Donnelly.(16) Certainly the central concept of cometary collisions being at the root of historic catastrophes is identical, as is the methodology and reliance on myths as legitimate sources of information. A close comparison of citations, however, reveals only a small overlap in sources. Like Bauer, though, Velikovsky seems to have been inordinately sensitive to the Donnelly connection. Any hint that "his" hypotheses had been foreshadowed by others was deeply disturbing to his ego.
In November, Doubleday and Velikovsky signed a book contract for Ages in Chaos. Some days later, there was more good news for celebration. On December 1, Abraham Tulin, the lawyer who had handled the transfer from Macmillan, wrote what must have been a particularly gratifying letter to the beleaguered author. Tulin told him that within the last three or four days, Sigmund Janas (the president of Colonial Airlines, the forerunner of El Al) and Moshe Sharett (the Israeli foreign minister) had both expressed great enthusiasm for Worlds in Collision.(17)
The good news may have tasted all the sweeter in the midst of the continuing controversy. In the December 1950 Antioch Review, Martin Gardner wrote a sweeping condemnation of "hermit scientists" such as Reich, Hubbard, Donnelly, and Fundamentalist geographer George McCready Price, who had been William Jennings Bryan's primary source at the Scopes "monkey trial" only a quarter century earlier (and would later be one of Velikovsky's consultants for Earth in Upheaval). Worlds in Collision took its share of criticism; Gardner called it "a tissue of absurdities" which "throws together a jumbled mass of data to support [its] preposterous theory."(18) Gardner's disdain for Velikovsky in particular and for pseudo-science in general would be a long-lived affair; in the late 1970s he co-founded (with other notable anti-Velikovskians such as Carl Sagan) the debunking Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
Similarly, another long-term critic, Gardner's SCICOP colleague, science fiction writer L. Sprague de Camp, also linked Velikovsky with Donnelly, Hoerbiger, and other discredited catastrophists.(19) Worlds in Collision, which he alluded to alliteratively as a "farcical farrago of preposterous amphigory," was "just one more head of this particular Hydra, save that the author's errors are even more flagrant and his nonsense even more transparent." (Somewhat curiously, his review, in Astounding Science Fiction, was followed by an advertisement for the next issue of the magazine, promising that L. Ron Hubbard's article would be "of major interest"; Dianetics "is not simply a system of therapy, it is a science of the whole process of human thought," the editor pontificated.)
Harvard University president James Conant gave a press conference on February 16, 1951, to plug his new book, Science and Common Sense. According to the Feb. 17 New York Herald Tribune, Conant stated his hope that his tome's sales would "give at least a small run of competition" to Velikovsky's, "which he made clear he regards as pseudoscience of a kind that is befuddling the public." Conant, at least according to Shapley, had been implicated in the 1950 suppression of the rival book, which he called "a distressing phenomenon," "a grotesque account," and "a fantasia which is neither history nor science."(20) (It is ironic that in 1950 Conant had been denied the presidency of the National Academy of Sciences because of an informal coalition of opposition chemists.)(21)
The AAAS publication Science, which is arguably the most influential scientific journal in America, finally got around to mentioning Velikovsky in its April 13, 1951, issue (p. 418), almost exactly one year after Worlds in Collision first appeared. Chester Longwell, who had already attacked Velikovsky's ideas in the August 1950 American Journal of Science, had some sharp words to say in reply to the pro-Velikovsky editorial in the November 18, 1950, Saturday Evening Post. Later, the July 13 issue of Science, distributed more than a year after Macmillan had been pressured to abandon the book, disclaimed (p. 471) any "dignity" for their long silence on the matter; they had only refrained from entering the fray because they had "been only too mindful" of the financial success which often accompanied some well-meaning denunciation of unworthy literary works.
Despite the meticulous care he took in getting Ages in Chaos to press, Velikovsky continued to spend a great deal of time defending his published theories. On May 27, 1951, he spoke at the Young Israel Institute and, on November 3, the Jewish Club, Inc. But more importantly, he tried to address "all" of the criticisms leveled against his work in a paper debate with Princeton astronomer, John Q. Stewart, who had co-authored a textbook with H. N. Russell(22) and R. S. Dugan.
In 1950, Velikovsky had been scheduled to present his own theory in Harper's after the formal publication of his book, and he thus decided to use the opportunity to answer his critics, but Frederick Lewis Allen told him that the article would only be used if it were accompanied by a rebuttal from qualified specialists. Velikovsky agreed on condition that he be given the final word. But it took months for Harper's to find a suitable establishment figure. The magazine invited Shapley, who suggested Otto Neugebauer instead; Neugebauer apparently encouraged Stewart to enter the lists since Stewart had debated Velikovsky early in 1951 at a regular Princeton Presbyterian discussion. So Stewart received Velikovsky's general "Answer to My Critics" and drafted his reply, using arguments provided by Neugebauer, Payne-Gaposchkin, and Shapley, and citing Conant's recent definition of science to support his position. Then Velikovsky answered Stewart's charges.(23) The triptych was presented in its entirety in the June 1951 Harper's. Although Velikovsky maintained that no argument "was left unanswered, and no new one has been presented since then,"(24) and that "I answered for the first and only time all my critics on every point that merited an answer,"(25) he (perhaps significantly) ignored Neugebauer's charge that he had completely mistranslated from the German a passage vital to his overall presentation regarding ancient Venusian orbits. On the whole, however, Velikovsky (with some technical assistance from his old schoolmate Komarewski) presented his case, as usual, in a convincing manner. It was beguiling enough for Julius Sumner Miller, a Dillard University professor of mathematics and physics who had earlier written in praise of Larrabee's 1950 article, to write for the August Harper's letters column that he had become "the first of my profession" to join Velikovsky's ranks:
The glaring paucity and the barren weakness of explicit criticism...have impressed me. There have been vitriolic and abusive utterances filled with fever but amazingly bare of fact.
Many readers undoubtedly agreed with Tulin, who wrote to Velikovsky again on June 25 concerning a series of articles by Fred Hoyle that appeared in Harper's during the winter and spring of 1950-51:
The thing that struck me most...was the ephemeral character of the theories which successive generations of astronomers have been pontifically propounding to the world as "discoveries" of absolute truth. I could not forget that [James] Jeans and [Arthur] Eddington thoroughly discredited [Pierre-Simon] Laplace...with their new theories as to the origin of the solar system. Now come Hoyle and Nettleton only ten or twenty short years after Jeans and Eddington, and thoroughly discredit their theories as well. It therefore occurs to me that if the holy script of orthodox astronomy is of so temporary and ephemeral a nature and if directly contradictory theories and beliefs are the fashion among them every ten years or so, what right have they got to question your hypotheses with such conviction?(26)
It is perhaps worth noting that in 1955 Hoyle suggested, as Velikovsky already had, that Venus is covered with oceans of petroleum and its atmosphere is clouded by hydrocarbon droplets; and that in the late 1970s he would begin propagating his theory that micro-organic life was brought to Earth by comets -- a proposition that closely resembled Velikovsky's assertion that the Venus comet had brought disease-bearing micro-organisms in its wake.
Kallen re-entered the lists as Velikovsky's public defender and as a foe of the "religionism of scientists" in the July 28, 1951, issue of Saturday Review of Literature.(27) He complained that the modern tendency to consider "science as in some sense holy" was both "widespread and dangerous," particularly when the dogmatists "insist on their own orthodoxies, exercise their own Index, and impose their own imprimatur."
The scientists, while continuing to seek sanctions, did little to improve their public image. In the July 13, 1951, Science, John Pfeiffer ranked Velikovsky's book with "Grimm's fairy tales and the Rubaiyat," and queried why the astronomers, linguists, geologists, and anthropologists had not "come out with their feelings about Worlds in Collision. Or should that be the function of AAAS? If no, is there an organization that represents the body of American science in such matters?" In the November 23 issue, Samuel A. Miles, a technical writer for the Hagstrom Company, advocated an "Operation Knowledge" to be launched at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; its purpose would be to create a new organization to combat Velikovsky. And in the November 1951 Scientific Monthly, the popular journal put out by the AAAS to complement its more technical Science, Florida State University philosopher Lawrence Lafleur tried to draw a clear distinction between an innovative scientist and a crank -- with Velikovsky portrayed as the perfect paradigm of crankism.
Until Lafleur's article appeared, Kallen and O'Neill had urged patience; but now Kallen advised Velikovsky to sue for libel. O'Neill suggested that he refer his complaints to Warren Weaver of the Rockefeller Foundation, a prominent critic of the AAAS. Velikovsky met with Weaver but no action was taken, so in December he consulted with Arthur Garfield Hayes, a lawyer who had represented John Scopes and Sacco and Vanzetti; Hayes advised Velikovsky not to seek legal action but suggested that it may be appropriate to publish the letters that Shapley and others had sent to various parties. Velikovsky began compiling the files which later were published as Stargazers and Gravediggers, but (deferring to the wishes of his wife) he did not publish the material during his lifetime. In fact, the first public presentation of the material did not occur until Kallen broke silence in 1972.(28) Meanwhile, however, over the years Velikovsky showed the files to potentially influential allies such as Einstein, Walter Kaufmann, and Freeman Dyson.
On February 24, 1952, in the San Francisco Chronicle, Joseph Henry Jackson announced that on March 27 and May 8 Doubleday would publish Velikovsky's Ages in Chaos in two volumes; he also informed his readers that Velikovsky was working on a catastrophic re-examination of geological history. Volume one of Ages in Chaos, dealing with the six century span from the Exodus to the reign of Akhnaton, was published a few weeks late, and volume two, although typeset, was never published. It was to have dealt with the five centuries between Akhnaton and Alexander the Great, but soon became a projected multi-volume work comprising In the Time of Isaiah and Homer (further subdivided into works dealing with The Dark Age of Greece and The Assyrian Conquest, both unpublished), Ramses II and His Time , and Peoples of the Sea .
In the April 20, 1952, New York Times, Kaempffert reviewed Ages in Chaos with scarcely less truculence than he had Worlds in Collision. Velikovsky had written the first book "[k]nowing virtually nothing about mathematical physics or celestial mechanics," while the second was "an exasperating mixture of fact and fancy, presented with great solemnity and a show of specious erudition." Another old foe, W. E. Garrison of Christian Century, wrote that Velikovsky's new book, while disturbing to historians, would probably not produce as much "popular excitement" as the other: "There are thousands of otherwise intelligent readers who could lose 600 years of Egyptian history and never notice the difference."(29) Harry Orlinsky of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati contrasted Velikovsky's approach with that of a "reasonable person...who is interested in the truth rather than in a fantastic form of science fiction..."(30)
The April 20 New York Herald Tribune featured a devastating review by William Albright, one of the most renowned Orientalists of the day and already a long-time correspondent of Velikovsky. He would continue to be a Velikovsky critic,(31) even though in 1965 he would be one of the first recognized authorities to move the Ipuwer papyrus up to the end of the Middle Kingdom, in accidental accordance with Velikovsky's dating. In his influential 1952 review, Albright listed what he viewed as Velikovsky's methodological sins: "a completely eclectic use of evidence," "unjustified inference from sources of unequal value," "total neglect of fundamentals and a penchant for dealing with the bizarre and incredible," and "total neglect of the laws of evidence as carefully worked out by linguists, philologians and critical historians of every specialty."
Even as Albright was writing, his colleague and former pupil, Nelson Glueck (who in 1950 had inveighed against Velikovsky in collaboration with Shapley), was busy conducting an archeological survey of the Negev. Applying Albright's pioneer shard-dating techniques to the numerous Iron II sites there, Glueck assigned them to Solomonic times. But later, supported by Yohanan Aharoni, Glueck's photographer Beno Rothenberg disputed Glueck's findings, assigning the sites to an earlier period. In March, 1969, Rothenburg would clinch his argument by excavating, at Timna, a Hathor temple that contained inscriptions definitely assigned to the Nineteenth and Twentieth Egyptian dynasties. The Glueck-Albright/Aharoni-Rothenberg dispute was but one of many puzzling cases Velikovsky could point to where rival dating methods indicated large discrepancies which disappeared entirely under his revised chronology. It may have been no accident that, while not embracing Velikovsky's scheme, after the discovery of the Hathor temple Albright began attending Velikovsky's lectures, even praising him for his "extreme brilliancy".(32) Whether Albright would have moved closer to Velikovsky's revisionism, however, cannot be known since he died in September, 1971, some nine months after Glueck.
Almost simultaneously with the appearance of Ages in Chaos, O'Neill told Velikovsky that the American Philosophical Society was going to hold a symposium on "Some Unorthodoxies of Modern Science" (including Velikovskianism) at its annual meeting in Philadelphia on April 24. Velikovsky, his daughter Shulamit, and O'Neill traveled there together by train. Albright was also there, although he played no significant role in the proceedings. The session was introduced by Harvard science historian, I. Bernard Cohen, Isis editor and a sometime collaborator with Conant. The first two papers concerned Joseph Banks Rhine's ESP experiments at Duke University and dowser, Henry Gross. The third paper was a new attack against Velikovsky by Payne-Gaposchkin.(33) In Europe at the time, and thus unable to read the paper herself, Gaposchkin had asked Donald Menzel to read it in her stead; but Menzel was too busy and so it was read by someone from the Bell Telephone Laboratories. Her newest paper was no less venomous than her earlier ones: she endorsed Velikovsky's claim that his work was a heresy -- "in the original sense of the word. He has not only chosen his sources; he has even chosen what they shall mean." The fifth paper was on "The Validation of Scientific Belief"; in it Harvard psychologist Edwin G. Boring(34) characterized Velikovsky as "nearer to crankiness than unorthodoxy."
He has...no university laboratory, no special scientific journal running through the years, no great following. He is probably a nova and will soon fade to the dim status of an historical instance of the instability of an intense implausible conviction.
Although Velikovsky was an uninvited guest, symposium chairman George W. Corner graciously gave him a half hour to reply to Gaposchkin's charges. Velikovsky only needed fourteen minutes to challenge the astronomers, physicists, and archeologists to examine his theses with more objectivity than they had shown so far. After the session was over, Velikovsky chatted with Albright and got into a row with paleobotanist, Ralph W. Chaney, who claimed that he had declined a Harper's invitation to rebut Velikovsky because he did not want to help publicize Worlds in Collision.(35)
Some months later, the American Philosophical Society published the symposium papers in its Proceedings. On the train to Philadelphia, Velikovsky had read O'Neill's advance summary of Cohen's remarks,(36) and thought that Cohen had written "sympathetically, almost enthusiastically"(37) about Velikovsky's role. Cohen had discussed Velikovsky in a historical perspective and (at least by implication) classed his ideas with "the great revolutionary scientific theories" of Ptolemy, Galileo, Kepler, Mesmer, and Einstein. But the actual remarks Cohen made in Philadelphia were "less favorable" in "the general tone and content" than his abstract. In the Proceedings, Cohen was even less favorable, claiming that the "utter rejection" of Velikovsky's theories "is not based on their unorthodoxy, but only on the palpable fact that they are unsupported by a body of reliable data such as is demanded of every new conceptual scheme."(38) In addition, Velikovsky had written to the Proceedings editor to protest against Payne-Gaposchkin's misquotations of his own words and misrepresentation of his ideas, but the journal's editorial board rejected the letter. Instead, a short piece by Menzel(39) (who was not even at the symposium) was added as an appendix to Gaposchkin's paper: "If Velikovsky wants quantitative discussion, let us give him one." Then Menzel demonstrated that the sun would have to have a voltage charge equal to 10 to the nineteenth power in order for its electrical attraction to equal only ten percent of its gravitational strength, "as much energy as the entire sun radiates in 1,000 years." (In 1960, in Nature, V. A. Bailey related solar voltage to eighteen astronomical phenomena; he also calculated the sun's voltage to be ten to the nineteenth power, but suggested that that amount of energy would be sufficient.)
1. I. Velikovsky, Stargazers and Gravediggers (New York, 1983), pp. 85, 88.
2. H. Graff, "Scientific Prejudice: The Velikovsky Incident," Bulletin of the Philadelphia Association of Psychoanalysts (1973), p. 293.
3. Macmillan Company Records, E. Velikovsky File [hereafter MMP].
4. I. Velikovsky, op. cit., pp. 96-98.
5. C. Whelton, "The Gordon Atwater Affair." S.I.S. Review 4:4 (Spring 1980), pp. 75-76.
6. I. Velikovsky, op. cit, pp. 113-119; H. Bauer, Beyond Velikovsky: the History of a Public Controversy (Urbana, 1984), p. 25.
7. G. Atwater, "Explosion in Science," This Week (1950). Paragraphing altered.
8. I. Velikovsky, Stargazers and Gravediggers (New York, 1983), p. 114.
9. I. Velikovsky, op. cit., pp. 121, 176.
10. Edmondson to Ellenberger, June 23, 1983.
11. I.Velikovsky, op. cit., pp. 108-110.
12. J. Fox, "Immanuel Velikovsky and the Scientific Method," Synthesis (1980), pp. 52-53.
13. Hal Levine, "Dr. Velikovsky Reiterates New Theories Here: 300 Hear Him Blame Bible Miracles on Venus," Columbia Spectator (1980, May 10).
14. I. Velikovsky, op. cit., p. 126.
15. Publishers' Weekly, June 24, 1950, p. 2739. See also New York Herald Tribune, June 22, 1950, and Frederick Babcock's syndicated "Among the Authors" column.
16. H. Bauer, op. cit., pp. 218-223.
17. Immanuel Velikovsky Papers; Manuscript Division, Princeton University (hereafter IVP).
18. M. Gardner, Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus (Buffalo, 1950), pp. 447-448.
19. L. de Camp, "Worlds in Collision," Astounding Science Fiction (Sept., 1950), p. 139.
20. J. Conant, Science and Common Sense (New Haven, 1951), p. 278.
21. M. Goran, Science and Anti-Science (Ann Arbor, 1974), p. 109.
22. One of Velikovsky's critics, in World Affairs Interpreter 21:1 (Spring 1950), 108-10.
23. I. Velikovsky, "Answer to My Critics," Harper's 202 (June, 1951), pp. 63-66. Repr. in Pensee 3:3 (1973).
24. I. Velikovsky, Ages in Chaos (Garden City, 1952), p. viii.
25. I. Velikovsky, Stargazers and Gravediggers (New York, 1983), p. 210.
27. H. Kallen, Creativity, Imagination, Logic: Meditations for the Eleventh Hour (New York, 1973), p. 7.
28. I. Velikovsky, op. cit., pp. 112, 232-234.
29. W.E. Garrison, "Chaos in the Cosmos," Christian Century (1950); "Review of Ages in Chaos," Christian Century (1952).
30. Harry Orlinsky, "Chaos in Ages," In Jewish Bookland (Sept., 1952), p. 5.
31. W. Albright, "Velikovsky's Tour de Force of Legend, History and Psychoanalysis," New York Herald Tribune Book Review (May 29, 1960).
32. E. Danelius, "The Identification of the Biblical 'Queen of Sheba' with Hatshepsut, Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia as Proclaimed by Immanuel Velikovsky -- in the Light of New Archaeological Discoveries," Kronos I:3 (Fall, 1975), pp. 9-17.
33. C. Payne-Gaposchkin, "Worlds in Collision," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (Oct. 1952), pp. 519.
34. Edwin G. Boring, "The Validation of Scientific Belief: A Conspectus of the Symposium," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 96 (Oct. 5, 1952), pp. 536.
35. I. Velkovsky, op. cit., pp. 246-58, 268-76.
36. reproduced in Velikovsky, op. cit., pp. 247-48.
37. A. de Grazia, "The Scientific Reception System and Dr. Velikovsky," American Behavioral Scientist 7:1 (1963), p. 4a.
38. B. Cohen, "Orthodoxy and Scientific Progress," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 96 (Oct. 5, 1952), pp. 505-12.
39. D. Menzel, "The Celestial Mechanics of Electrically Charged Planets," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 96: 5 (Oct., 1952), pp. 524-25.
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