Rens Van Der Sluijs: Velikovskian Chaff and Wheat: Venus
Science progresses in a variety of ways.
One way that science progresses is through a careful evaluation of arguments advanced by earlier scholars in the field. For the sake of academic honesty, this has to be done in a completely dispassionate manner. The work of pioneers, Nobel-prize winners and other prestigious people cannot be judged by different standards than that of the least noticed postgraduate student.
The maverick Russian-American polymath, Immanuel Velikovsky (1895-1979), deserves recognition for his pioneering statements about the role of electromagnetic activity in space and the importance of catastrophic events even in historically recent periods. Yet science has no place for worship and it is incumbent on modern researchers to scrupulously evaluate each of Velikovsky’s many claims in the light of current knowledge.
One of Velikovsky’s boldest ideas was that the planet Venus is a relative newcomer in the solar system: during the mid-2nd millennium BCE, it would have been erupted from the interior of the planet Jupiter and have inflicted damage to the earth’s atmosphere and biosphere with its conspicuous cometary tail before settling in its present orbit and shedding its appendage. How does this analysis fare when approached today with an open but a sternly critical mind? ...
First, Velikovsky’s citation of the Roman intellectual, Varro, to the effect that Venus “changed its color, size, form, course, which never happened before nor since,” presents a genuine puzzle to modern historians of the solar system. The citation itself is unambiguous and not suspicious, but it needs to be resolved exactly how and when Venus’ colour, appearance and movement were modified.
In addition, the so-called Venus Tablet of Ammiṣaduqa (7th century BCE?), which presents the oldest known set of Venus observations, remains a mystery. Specialists are urged to investigate whether the data given in the tablet could consistently describe not the present orbit of Venus, but any other course the planet might have followed.
Second, Velikovsky’s argument that Venus once sported a cometary tail stands up to close scrutiny and can be buttressed with a mass of additional evidence. In modern terms, a plausible explanation for the ancient testimony would be the assumption that Venus’ large magnetosphere had acquired a visible glow in historical times, at a time when the inner solar system was brimming with electrical activity.
Third, Velikovsky rightly drew attention to the voluminous body of mythical traditions concerning the birth of the morning star. The spectacular ascent to heaven of the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl, in Aztec mythology, is a textbook example for this motif.