A review of Carl Sagan and Immanuel Velikovsky by Charles Ginenthal

Reviewed by Maurice A. Williams

Carl Sagan and Immanuel Velikovsky
by Charles Ginenthal
New Falcon Publications
1995, ISBN: 1561840750, 448 pages, $136.54, Science

We have all seen movies depicting collisions of large heavenly bodies with the Earth: Meteor, Asteroid, Deep Impact, the list goes on.  In addition to movies, we have scientists seriously predicting that we have a greater chance of death from such a collision than we have from being struck by lightning.  Observatories search the heavens looking for large bodies headed our way.  Plans are developed to intercept the body in outer space and destroy it or divert its course with nuclear weapons.  Sounds like science fiction, but scientists are serious about this.  Sixty years ago, nobody would predict such things.  The Solar System, at that time, was compared to a perfect watch.  The positions of the planets were stable and secure and would remain that way for a very long time.

In 1950, Immanuel Velikovsky rocked the scientific assumptions of the time with Worlds in Collision.  An extremely intelligent and well-educated man specializing in psychoanalysis but keenly interested and well read in many fields, Velikovsky came to the conclusion that some of the irrational myths of early civilizations might not be irrational after all.  They might be based on first-hand observation of cataclysmic events no longer occurring, especially the almost universal myths among early civilizations that the planets were gods, had battled in the heavens, and had influenced the destinies of these early cultures.

After analyzing and comparing the myths and “gods” of many early civilizations, particularly the myths about gods named after planets, he found that each culture’s myths augmented each other.  These primitive cultures, all of them, formulated mythological explanations of the same events, namely that some of the planets had erratic orbits and nearly collided with each other.

He proposed that Venus was ejected from Jupiter, nearly collided with the Earth, then nearly collided with Mars, thereby causing Mars to nearly collide with the Earth.  I remember reading Worlds in Collision three years after its publication and reading Velikovsky’s Earth in Upheaval, which cited geological evidence of cataclysmic events, Ages in Chaos, arguing that the accepted historical dates for Biblical events and Middle-East events were out of sequence, Oedipus and Akhnaton, claiming that the story of Oedipus Rex was based on the life of Pharaoh Akhnaton, and other titles.  This very knowledgeable man, erudite in history, geology, and astronomy, as well as his chosen field of psychiatry, opened my eyes as a young man and got me interested in these fields also, as well as wondering “what really happened that could serve as an inspiration for all these myths?”

I was surprised and saddened how influential members of the scientific community rejected Velikovsky’s thesis, went out of their way to ostracize him, and refute his claims by any means possible, even dishonesty.  I remember how disillusioned he was trying to defend his position and explain how he came to his conclusions.  Finally, drawing on his professional training, this eminent psychiatrist wrote Mankind in Amnesia, proposing that mankind witnessed traumatic experiences, the meaning of which subsequent generations repressed into their subconscious by redefining them as myths and legends.  At that time, the theories of Carl G. Jung, a disciple of Sigmund Freud, about “Collective Unconscious” were widely accepted.  “Collective Unconscious” is an inherited collective memory containing “forms,” or “symbols,” or what Jung called “Archetypes” that are manifested by all peoples in all cultures.  It appears Velikovsky was not at variance with scientists in his own field.

Velikovsky died in 1979, still vilified and ridiculed by some very prominent members of the scientific community.  I’m amazed how little credit Velikovsky is given even by later scientists who made similar claims, like the Egyptologist David M. Rohl, who proposed that the accepted dating of Egyptian and Biblical history is incorrect in his Pharaohs and Kings: a Biblical Quest, published in 1995 or D.S. Allan and J. B. Delair who proposed in their Cataclysm! Compelling Evidence of a Cosmic Catastrophe in 9500 B.C. that the solar system was disrupted by a huge planet-sized body that entered the solar system from outer space, disrupting the orbits of some of the outer planets, destroying the planet Electra (now the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars), disrupting Mars, Earth, our moon, and Venus, before plunging into the Sun.  These scientists cite many of the documents cited by Velikovsky, plus, as they say, much new evidence that came to light.  Yet they give Velikovsky only minimal mention and no credit for having been the first to propose these theories in his books.

I was a young man when I read Velikovsky’s books, but I always though, in my mature years, that it was sad for Velikovsky to be denied recognition for his contribution to human understanding by so many prominent scientists, even after he was dead.  And I always wondered how justified were his critics in their condemnation of him.  This book by Charles Ginenthal: Carl Sagan and Immanuel Velikovsky clarifies what happened between Velikovsky and his critics, principally Carl Sagan.  In an unbiased way, Ginenthal clarifies much of what Velikovsky proposed and how Sagan and other scientists vilified him.

Ginenthal’s is a much needed book, not only to set the record straight, but also to show how even the best educated people can let their presumptions overshadow their scholarship.  Reading Carl Sagan and Immanuel Velikovsky will be time well spent.

About the reviewer:  Maurice A. Williams is an author of inspirational articles and poems and has published a book: Revelation, Fall of Judea, Rise of the Church.  Prior to his retirement, he was Director of Research and Development for a firm that did business all over the world.  He has traveled to many countries himself.  He is also author of technical articles in scientific journals and chapters in technical books.  He has four children and six grandchildren, and lives at home with his wife.  You can visit his Web Site http://www.mauriceawilliams.com