Worlds in Collision and the Road to Nowhere kiwiconnexion practical theology

Posted By on August 25, 2019


Welcome along to Live on Air this evening
– very pleased to have with me Peter Lane and Max and Julie Thompson. Tonight we’re
going to look at worlds in collision and the road that leads to nowhere. What’s going on
here is that it’s a very brief introduction to Immanuel Velikovsky who basically is a
20th Century figure, and Samuel Butler who lives between both the 19th and a little bit
into the 20th Century. Both of them are highly controversial figures. I want to start with
Emmanuel Velikovsky who was a Russian Jew, came from a well off family and received very
high levels of education, and by the 1920s had qualified in medicine and was practicing
as a psychiatrist, and well and truly au fait with the works of Sigmund Freud. He also had
a lot of interest in what we might call harder core science, and he was one of the key figures
that set up the University of Jerusalem. Velikovsky is a very influential figure in some ways,
and is almost a hated figure in other ways. What happened was that he wrote a book in
1950 called Worlds in Collision; in essence Worlds in Collision is about the catastrophes
that occurred to planet Earth. We’re used to thinking in terms of client change as being
the chief catastrophe, but Velikovsky belonged to that school of biologists who believed
that there were massive interventions that forced evolution along its inevitable path;
things like comets hitting the earth and so on and so forth. He had a series of catastrophic
interventions that in essence he derived, I think from his Jewish understanding of the
reading of the creation stories. Now, to show what his main idea was in terms of geological
catastrophe, just think of the beautiful planets. We’re used to the images that come from NASA,
and here’s the solar system, beginning with Mercury and going all the way out to Pluto.
I don’t know what the current state of the debate on whether Pluto’s still regarded as
a planet or not a planet, but that’s the solar system as Velikovsky understood it. What he
proposed was really extremely interesting; he believed that Venus was originally a moon
of Jupiter. So, there’s Jupiter – the gaseous giant in the middle – what we call Venus orbiting
round, and he said, okay something occurred around about 3500BC, and Venus flew out of
its orbit and that caused geological catastrophe back on Earth; catastrophic planetary intervention
caused massive cultural changes on planet Earth. He proposed this thesis in the 1950s
and there was an immediate kind of outcry about the publication of the book.
The reason was that he proposed that McMillan, who were a highly respected academic press,
publish the work, and various people had got wind of Velikovsky’s ideas, and they objected
so strongly that McMillan actually withdrew publication of the book, which had already
sort of escaped out as a kind of a popular science book, and they moved it over – I can’t
remember; it may have gone to Doubleday to do the publishing – in other words to a non-academic
press. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, and people like the astronomer
Shapley, and Carl Sagan; they conducted the equivalent of a trial that would have made
– a heresy trial that would have made Galileo blanch.
So you’ve got this highly influential Jewish psychiatrist who extended the reach of his
science into the fields of geology and astronomy and came up, I think with a not unreasonable
reading of catastrophic events as being the main cause of evolutionary change on earth,
and sort of micromanaged that into the Biblical pattern of disasters. Well, the scientific
establishment turned Velikovsky into the archetypal anti-science – I suppose in popular opinion
he was a kind of folk hero, because his works took off, particularly the Reader’s Digest
which was slanted towards a sort of a creationist stance, really went to town with Velikovsky,
but lots of other popular science reviewers thought it was a great work. So, there was
this figure who became hated in a sense by the scientific establishment, and at the same
time was instrumental in setting up the University of Jerusalem, and it would not be true to
say that all the scientific establishment hated him.
There’s a long and voluminous correspondence I think with Einstein, that was only published
decades after Velikovsky died. So, we’ve got Worlds in Collision. He also wrote another
popular book that put him on the outer, and very much on the outer. The scientific press
would not give Velikovsky a forum during the rest of his life to further explain his ideas,
and had to remain in the realm of popular – maybe not all that academic kind of science.
So having said that, I’m just wondering; are there any comments that you would like to
make at this point – any point of clarification about Velikovsky, Peter Lane or anything come
up on the chat pod? M: I think it’s interesting that Velikovsky’s
basic thesis has been picked up by a whole variety of science fiction writers.
Yeah, I could be wrong, but I suspect that Velikovsky is so steeped in Jewish tradition
that he needed to read out of the early Biblical books – a kind of scientific understanding
of what happened. In that sense I don’t know that he’s so different from Einstein, but
Einstein’s god wouldn’t intervene like in the book of Exodus or with any of the miracle
stories, whereas I have the feeling that Velikovsky’s God, though it operates through catastrophe,
there’s still some kind of guiding hand there. For Einstein the idea of miraculous intervention
like you’d find in Exodus is just not feasible. Max and Julie say they find it interesting
how popular thinking can go at a tangent to science. Well, science as far as I can see
is basically popular thinking amongst a certain group of people. Scientific revolutions happen
when all of a sudden the popular model collapses. The great example is of course whether the
Earth is at the centre of everything, or whether the sun is at the centre.
It was popular science, well established and with a theory of epicycles, they really did
have that down to a very fine art. So the popular scientific view actually had to give
rise to something that was very unpopular. So; excellent question, Max. Okay, let’s move
on and have a look at a century back with Samuel Butler. Samuel Butler came to New Zealand
in the 1850s, and his life in the Upper Rangitata for four years gave rise to a series of four
books; Life and Habit, Evolution Old and New, God the Known and God the Unknown, Unconscious
Memory, Luck or Cunning. That’s five books, actually. These books; absolute examples of
a blending of science, theology, an attempt to unpack Biblical meanings – it’s a kind
of Velikovsky a century before. In the same way Butler suffered the same fate as Velikovsky.
When I was doing research for my doctorate, I stumbled onto an example – really Butler
came here in 1859 to make his fortune, and I stumbled on this example from the Christchurch
Press that there’s little series of articles about Samuel Butler writing about the reception
of Charles Darwin’s evolution of species in the province of Canterbury. Here we are in
the upper reaches of the Rangitata, which is as far away from Darwin in England as you
can possibly imagine, and Butler does the sort of Velikovsky thing; he tries to unpack
Darwin and re-write science. Just by way of background; Butler left England because he
failed to please his father who was a Church of England clergyman who wanted his son Samuel
to also be a clergyman, but he failed because he started to have doubts about whether infant
baptism was true – whether it was efficacious. Eventually, because Samuel Butler hankered
to be an artist and his father couldn’t really stand that, his father basically gave him
an allowance and sent him out into the colonies so that he wouldn’t have to put up with him.
Well, out there in the Upper Rangitata, Butler started to study in a very deep kind of way
what Darwin was on about. Thought it was a really difficult life up there, he had some
help from a shepherd. He brought some books in for his spiritual sustenance, if you like
– his intellectual sustenance. He even had a little harmonium brought in so he could
play music. He was not a gifted composer, but he was a composer of sorts. He just had
the artist’s eye for everything. He was a very skilled photographer, and in fact some
of Butler’s photographs, when he eventually went back to England having made his fame
and fortune here, he went on tours of Italy, and some of his photographs are absolutely
superb. He had some of his paintings hanging in the Royal Academy.
So, though his father had hated the idea of him being an artist, Butler actually succeeded
in that. He also succeeded in being a successful sheep farmer in the Upper Rangitata, which
must have been an extremely difficult environment in which to operate. Butler’s great thesis,
if you like, is – it’s not in that title what is revelation – this is a kind of where he
eventually gets to over the next 30 years of writing, but he believes that essentially
Darwin’s theory of natural selection was not the chief mechanism of evolution. The French
scientist Lamarck had a better explanation, and Butler also argued very strongly that
Charles Darwin had stolen the evolutionary concepts from his grandfather Erasmus. He
wrote about this in all of these books and a series of papers, and once again the scientific
establishment rapidly turned against this young up-start who had made his fortune in
New Zealand; how could he possibly foot it, if you like, with Darwin?
The accusations that Butler levelled at Darwin having stolen the ideas et cetera, really
rankled with Darwin supporters. Butler found himself on the outside of the scientific establishment
just like Velikovsky. So, essentially they were both subjected to �trial’ by their
peers. Their peers didn’t want to admit that these unorthodox opinions might contain some
elements of truth, and both rejected the strict fundamentalist Judeo-Christian truth claims,
but both of them remained enmeshed in the myths and legends, the Biblical images, the
Biblical facts in history et cetera. They couldn’t leave it behind. Velikovsky couldn’t
leave behind Exodus, and once we were slaves but now we are free, and that led to the establishment
of the University of Jerusalem. Butler could not leave behind – not the efficacy of infant
baptism, but the question of, is there a God and if there is a God, how is this God revealed?
Butler argued in such a way that it in some ways laid the framework of Ian Whitehead’s
evolutionary idea of God. The revelation that we’re talking about here is that it comes
through the observation of nature; whatever we understand by the term God and how God
acts – whether we believe that there’s catastrophe that causes evolutionary change – whether
we believe Lamarckian evolution or natural selection – we know the scientific world has
moved on because it now is really enmeshed in questions about genetics, but all of these
things continue to reveal something underlying the world of nature. That last photograph,
just looking back towards Mesopotamia, and Butler’s Erewhon is on this side of the Rangitata
River and Erewhon is almost nowhere spelt backwards – not quite.
So, here’s the great truth I think that both of these scientific renegades proclaimed;
I believe they’re both saying that somehow the universe and the natural processes of
the universe affect the human mind. Equally, particularly for Butler the human mind affects
the way the universe is. It’s not dissimilar to Shakespeare; all the world’s a stage. The
stage of the universe – the only stage that we can know about is the human mind. The human
mind is revelation. The universe is revelation, and evolution is simply seeing the revelation
through the lens of the time we create for ourselves. Okay, Max and Julie are saying
human perception obviously influences how we see the universe, but does it really influence
the absolute state of the universe other than causing mankind to do things to make change?
Max, that’s a very erudite question, and I think it takes us deep into the science of
quantum physics. In some ways Butler – I wouldn’t want to say
that he anticipated the results of quantum physics – not at all, but he anticipated that
human will and intention can change things quite profoundly. Your question is; does perception
really influence the absolute state of the universe? Now, the quantum physicists, if
I’ve understood them correctly, would say, yes absolutely – the observer always effects
the outcome of the experiment. Thank you for the question; this is what Neils Bohr was
on about when he said that the way in which quantum physics has to be understood that
our volition has an effect. I don’t know whether he said, we’ve moved mankind back to the centre
of the universe – I suspect that was a line of a lay about Niels Bohr and Heisenberg,
but if he didn’t say it he would have certainly meant it that somehow or other our direct
observation of the universe changes the way the universe is.
This comes up not just in quantum physics, but started to emerge in the science of epigenetics,
which I think is the next phase after genetics. The epigeneticists would say genes have a
profound influence, obviously – environment has a profound influence – obviously, but
volition also – that is human intention – human will, also has a profound influence on our
own bodies. I think we’ve probably come to the end of our recording, and I just really
want to thank Max and Julie for coming in and helping me just to go through this. It
will appear inside the Genesis and Science group. So, thank you very much indeed for
watching. Worlds in Collision and the Road to Nowhere

Posted by Lewis Heart

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