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by Livio C. Stecchini


Jupiter: 'Ah Venus, Venus! Is it possible that you will ever consider our condition even once, and yours in particular? Do you think that what humans imagine about us is true, that he among us who is old is always old, that he who is young is always young, that he who is a boy is always a boy, and thus we eternally continue as we were when first taken into heaven; and that just as paintings and portraits of ourselves on earth are always seen unchanged, so likewise here our vital complexion does not change again and again? '


Spaccio della bestia trionfante,
First Dialogue, first Part. Translation by Arthur D. Imerti. (New Brunswick, 1964), 98.

In the September 1963 issue of the American Behavioral Scientist, my essay, 'The Inconstant Heavens, ' dealt with the Velikovsky controversy only tangentially and intended to limit itself to a mere gathering of its historical antecedents. The substance of what I said was that the doctrine of the eternal stability of the solar system since its creation eons ago is a theological dogma for which there has never been presented scientific evidence and that, hence, it must be concluded that the 'contention that the solar system has no history stands or falls on the historical evidence. ' Yet my essay, in spite of its antiquarian intent and tone, happened to touch a most sensitive point, since it dealt with a controversy about the nature of science that has been fought for more than two thousand years.

In his last treatise, the Laws, Plato declares that the most dangerous and subversive doctrinaires are those who deny the eternal regularity of the heavenly bodies. According to him, no intellectual, political, or moral order can exist unless it is believed that the stars (in Greek the terms refer to the heavenly bodies in general) 'behave always in the same way according to rules of action established long ago, at some distant time beyond human understanding, and that these rules are not altered up and down, so that the stars at times change nature and now and then act in a different way with wandering and change of orbits. ' (Epinomis 982 C.) Although Plato here states his general principle, his choice of words intimates that he had concretely in mind the contention which Aristotle too (Meteor, 1343A) tries to refute, that a planet may become a comet or a comet may become a planet.

On the basis of this view of astronomy Plato states that there are two conceptions of science, one that we may call noumenic and the other that we may call phenomenic. According to the first, the physical order is the manifestation of an ordering mind, a nous; he sums it up in these words (X 903 C): 'the ruler of the universe has ordered all things with a view to the excellence and preservation of the whole. ' The essential proof of this is the system of heavenly motions.

The opposite view, which was represented by Democritus's theory of atoms and celestial bodies in collision, is summed up by Plato in these terms (X 889 B):

They say that fire and water and earth and air, all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies that come next in order - Earth, and Sun, and Moon, and Stars - they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate entities... After this fashion and this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in heaven, as well as all animals and plants, and all the changes of seasons, having had their origin not by mind, not from any god or art, but, as I was saying, by nature and chance.

For those who uphold this second view of science, Plato recommends (X 909 A) that they be imprisoned for five years in a House of Better Judgment to be brainwashed and that, if they do not change their minds within that period, they be put to death.

This recommendation was not lost to history, for, in fact, Giordano Bruno was subjected to such treatment for seven years and, when it was seen that in spite of the repeated tortures he would not agree even to a partial recantation, he was finally put to death. It must be kept in mind that in the famous passage (De immenso, VI, 19; Op. lat. I, 2,229) in which Bruno sums up his cosmology with the motto veritas temporis filia (a motto that was later adopted by Galileo), he refers to the mentioned passage of Aristotle about comets and takes his stand with the opponents of Aristotle. In the work entitled Spaccio della bestia trionfante (which means 'The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, ' that is, Platonic and Aristotelian cosmology) Bruno propounds an interpretation of ancient astromythology that is similar to that followed by Velikovsky.

The reactions to the publication of Velikovsky's books prove that those who agree with Plato are still with us. The case of the curator Gordon Atwater, who was summarily dismissed without trial from his position as Chairman of the Astronomy Department of the American Museum of Natural History and prevented from ever practising his art, indicates that the supporters of the perfection of the solar system went as far as they could in the use of repressive measures and missed only the help of the secular arm of the state.

Animistic thinking will always be with the human race and, therefore, the battle for the defence of phenomenic science will never be ended. This is well documented by a letter that the editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Eugene Rabinowitch, wrote (September 9, 1964) to professor H. H. Hess, in which he tried to justify the attack of his magazine against the contributors to the American Behavioral Scientist. In this letter he condemns Velikovsky, while boasting, as other scientists of his faction have done, of having never studied any of his writings, and dismisses those who advocate a free discussion on the value of Velikovsky's hypotheses as being 'behavioural scientists' who do not understand the nature of science. The fact that Rabinovitch claims a monopoly on the definition of what is an abomination, indicates which kind of science he is upholding.

Behaviouralism is a movement which aims at introducing the scientific method propounded by Galileo, the phenomenic method, in the area of the so-called social sciences, an area infested with dogmatic, theological, metaphysical, and rhetorical thinking. Against the behaviouralists, Rabinowitch resorts to arguments ad hominem, imputing to them malice and obscure ulterior motives; it is a variant on the old Platonic accusation, repeated today even by many social scientists, that the use of the behavioural approach destroys necessary human certainties and subverts moral values. One could have expected from Rabinovitch, at least for the sake of rhetoric, a statement to the effect that, having examined the arguments of his opponents, he found reasons for not accepting them. But he felt the need to state that his condemnation is based on major premises and not on the study of the evidence. The alternative to such medieval scholasticism would have been to accept the method of phenomenic science.

The editors of ABS well know that, by dealing with the attitude of some scientists toward Velikovsky's hypotheses, they were risking the wrath of well-entrenched academic power organizations. What they wondered was whether raising this issue was worth the trouble in relation to their general aims of scientific enlightenment. The results prove that, in publishing the special issue, they made a wise decision, in that they struck at the roots of the opposing position.


Since this year marks the fifth centenary of the death of Nicolas of Cusa and the fourth centenary of the birth of Galileo, it is timely to remind the reader that the preservation of the scientific method established by them requires eternal vigilance. The same need for eternal vigilance has been underlined by an international magazine written in several languages and published in Italy, Civiltá delle Macchine, which is concerned with the problem of the role of science in contemporary society. In celebration of the fourth centenary of Galileo, this magazine came out with a special issue (May-June 1964) dedicated to the problem of scientific method. In presenting the special issue the editors stated on the first page:

Precisely today, because the progress of science seems to shine with particular brilliance, there is a tendency to neglect some obscure forces that affect scientific progress from the inside and the outside. If it is easy to identify, at least historically, the external obstacles to scientific research (the case of Galileo is just an obstreperous example of it), one often forgets that some resistances come from the inside of science itself... To the obstacles that are often set by the closedmind attitude of the humanists there is added, with more harmful consequences, the immobilism resulting from a priori and absolutist tenets held by some of the very people whose task is to cultivate science. This problem is treated with breadth and profundity of analysis in the article by Bruno de Finetti, who reminds us that scientific thought is 'unitary and in perpetual renewal, not fragmentary and final. '

The main article is by Professor Bruno de Finetti of the Instituto Matematico of University of Rome, a specialist in probability theory whose main contribution to scholarship has been the analysis of the interplay of mathematical method with psychological attitudes in the structure of quantitative science.

The editorial of the magazine [1] , under the title 'Truth in Expansion, ' remarks that modern science was born by proclaiming the independence of science from theology and metaphysics, but that this claim of science to be a complete and autonomous source of knowledge 'has two enemies that are never tired and never defeated: on one side, there is dogmatism, which may come from inside science itself, that pretends to give absolute value to what has been already acquired to such a point as to make difficult or even impossible the introduction of new concepts, and on the other side there is scepticism which pretends to limit the cognitive aspect of science to a series of unrelated hypotheses. '

In order to illustrate this point, Professor de Finetti, in his article 'Brakes on the Path of Science' [2] , gives a good deal of attention to the Velikovsky case. In his opinion, the refusal of the large majority of the academic community to discuss objectively how much is acceptable about Velikovsky's hypotheses, in the light of the present state of the empirical evidence, imparts 'one great teaching above all others, ' namely, that the professionalization and departmentalization of the several branches of science have become an obstacle to the necessary continuous renewal of science itself.

Scientists forget that the division of science into disciplines exists for the sake of science and come to think that science exists for the preservation of the boundaries of the several disciplines and the related academic organizational structures. In de Finetti's opinion, the uproar against Velikovsky resulted from his trying to relate the art of interpreting historical memories and documents to astronomical and physical research. What was felt as a threat was the possibility, for instance, that the space probes might help to solve problems in the field of the history of ancient civilizations. Scholars refused to discuss the merits and demerits of Velikovsky's studies, because they were concerned with a larger issue, the fact that he challenged 'the right of their fossilized brains to rest in peace' with the skills and problems already established. The defence of this vested interest in the preservation of disciplinary boundaries may transform 'each clan of specialists and the great clan of scientists in general into a sort of despotic and irresponsible mafia. '

Here we are reminded of one of the distinctive contribution to behavioural science made by Harold D. Lasswell, who has demonstrated that the conflict for money, power, and prestige among different skills, and in particular for the preservation of old skills against new skills, can be as explosive in society as the class struggle is according to Karl Marx.


Professor de Finetti makes us realize that the ideologists who planned the opposition to Velikovsky, even before his first book was published, were successful in their efforts to mobilize the academic community because they were raising what politicians call a bread-and-butter issue, the fear of natural scientists that they might be compelled to learn something about historical evidence. The ideological issue of denying that the solar system has a history becomes intertwined with the issue of denying the significance of historical evidence.

As I demonstrated, the scientific evidence for the non-historicity of the solar system does not exist: if this evidence existed, the opponents of Velikovsky could simply point to it and the debate would be closed. But, since this evidence does not exist, the supporters of the stability of the solar system have been forced to carry the battle into the field of history itself. They are engaged in the strange manoeuvre of denying the historicity of the solar system by denying the value of historical science. This is clearly indicated by the fact that, in the campaign against Velikovsky of fourteen years ago, at the meeting of the American Philosophical Society which was intended to dispose of the issue forever, the performer was the astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who did not discuss astronomy, but made a mockery of historical science.

Rule number one of this discipline is that one must quote the texts correctly and she demonstrated ad abundantiam how this rule can be violated. Similarly, the renewed onslaught by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was concentrated on the field of historical science. In the field of physical science the supporters of the Newtonian theology of the solar system not only cannot find proofs, but find themselves confronted with a steadily increasing number of discoveries (many of them predicted by Velikovsky) which flatly contradict it. The space probes have an effect on this theology that is as devastating as that exercised by the telescope on the similar theology defended by the opponents of Galileo.

Therefore these dogmatists are forced into the position of defending scepticism. As de Finetti observes, they are forced to deny the unitary character of science. In the area of natural science they have to claim that astrophysical data, such as magnetic fields, radio noises, hot temperature and geological data, such as Worzel layer, tektites, the recent origin of at least some oil deposits, the results of paleomagnetic analysis, are isolated phenomena. In the field of historical science they have to prove that this discipline is not science and cannot provide reliable data of any sort. This is the reason why Margolis in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists followed in the footsteps of Madame Payne-Gaposchkin in presenting an outrageous caricature of historical documentation. He showed his contempt by stating that in a few hours of study of Egyptology he could contradict an interpretation laboriously arrived at by Velikovsky and supported by the authority of William F. Albright. Margolis trampled on the most precious tenets of historical research: he misquoted passage after passage, referred to statements that did not exist, submitted erroneous translations, and subverted the most elementary rules of linguistics.

But his quarrel is not with Velikovsky, not with me, not with the American Behavioral Scientists; it is a quarrel with an entire scientific tradition that dates from the revival of scientific learning in the Renaissance. In my essay, having assumed that any person who enters into discussions of scientific method is familiar with at least the main work of Galileo, I limited myself to quoting the complementary opinions expressed in less known works of other major figures of science. But, since there has been an effort to muddy the waters, I am willing to rest my case on this passage in which Galileo expressed, with superb lucidity of thought and expression, the epistemological conflict between his spokesman and his Aristotelian opponent:

Salviatus: But to give Simplicius yet fuller satisfaction, and to reclaim him, if possible, from his errors, I affirm that we have in our age new occurrences and observations and such that I doubt not in the least that, if Aristotle were here today, they would make him change his opinion. This may be easily gathered from the very way he argues, for when he writes that he esteems the heavens unalterable because no new thing was seen to be born there, or any old one to be dissolved, he seems to imply that, if he were to see any such accident, he would then hold the contrary and put observation before natural reason (as indeed is right); for, had he not made any reckoning of the senses, he would not have then argued immutability from not seeing any change.
Simplicius: Aristotle deduced his principal argument a priori, showing the necessity of the unalterability of heaven by natural, manifest, and clear principles, and then established it a posteriori by sense and the traditions of the ancients [3] .

The astronomical question, whether the solar system is unalterable, cannot be settled a priori, but must be settled a posteriori, by examining 'the traditions of the ancients. ' Galileo stated that astronomical theories about the structure of the solar system must stand or fall on the historical record. I have shown that even Newton, although he did not like what he found in the historical records, granted as much. One cannot defend Newton's cosmology without defending also the conclusions of his historical studies. Hence, the astronomer who wants to pronounce himself today on the mechanics of the solar system cannot ignore the historical documentation and must depend on the result of historical scholarship.

The writer of the Bulletin tries to reduce a controversy on the nature of scientific method to arguments ad hominem. He asserts that Velikovsky is a person of dubious morality, a peddler of hokum, and hence those who advocate investigations in the same direction are equally tarnished. Similarly, Eugene Rabinowitch, on the one side, in his letter to Professor Hess explaining the editorial policy of the Bulletin, accuses the 'behavioural scientists' of unconfessed invidious intents, and, on the other side, in his letter (June 23, 1964) to the editor of ABS, asserts that historical evidence is 'inevitably tentative and often controversial matter. '

Indeed, any phenomenic science, any science which is not based on noumenic premises dogmatically accepted, is bound to be 'inevitably tentative and often controversial matter. ' If one reads the record of the trial of Galileo, one sees that this was the main argument against him. This appears to be the reason why he chose to sign a recantation; he granted that to those who were asking for absolute certainty his science was of no avail.

History (unless one believes in a dogmatic and scholastic Marxism which today is outmoded even in the Soviet Union [4] ) is an empirical science, a behavioural science, indeed, cum pace Rabinowitchi. As such it cannot produce the apodictic certainty to which the Bulletin, with Plato, would like to restrict the name of science; but it can be shown that history can produce a body of information that is specific and positively significant, even in the area of celestial phenomena. Historical science, properly used, achieves the same results as any other science. The only limit that is specific to this discipline is that it depends on the records of the past that happen to be preserved and it cannot manufacture them if by chance they have been destroyed. Hence, the problem is the factual one of assessing how many and which kind of documents are available. In the following pages I shall address myself to this problem, relying on the opinion of scholars other than Velikovsky and stressing the significance of documents that do not constitute the major element of his argumentation.

Notes (References cited in "Astronomical Theory and Historical Data")

1. Page 17. The editorial is signed by the Director, Francesco d'Arcais.

2. Pages 19-24.

3. Dialogue on the Great World System, ed. by Giorgio de Santillana (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 59.

4. The likelihood of recent shifts in the structure of the solar system, with resulting catastrophes upon earth, has been discussed over the past three years in the general science magazine, Nauka i Zhizn' (Science and Life). The articles quote both physical and historical evidence, similar in kind to, and at times identical with, material adduced by Velikovsky.


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