I was never one of those people who saw science as the natural enemy of religion. Science can be incompatible with some religions of course, but that's just a sign that either the religion is faulty or that science is being disingenuously applied. Parley P. Pratt correctly asserted that theology was the ultimate science, since the aim of theology was to arrive at the truth about God and the universe.
Many of Joseph Smith's closest companions were accomplished academics, more than capable of expounding on the scientific theories of the day. As Ardis Parshall has noted, Parley's brother Orson kept an observatory on the Salt Lake temple grounds, and he and others like him might have dedicated their lives to scientific study had they not been spent in the hardships of the frontier and the needs of a missionary church.
Later LDS scholars such as John Widtsoe, James Talmage, and B.H. Roberts had no trouble harmonizing science and religion because, unlike the professors of religion of other faiths, they were not tethered to a set of fixed beliefs that flew in the face of common sense. As Daniel Brooks reminds us in his new book The Metaphysics and Science of Mormonism, we Mormons tend not to separate science (the how of the universe) from our religion (the why of the universe), because the two are considered complementary. "We feel they are two sides of the same coin," writes Brooks, "because to us, truth is truth and it has but one source." 1
Since the source of all truth has not yet revealed Himself on every possible question, we latter-day Saints are less inclined than others to dig in our heals and insist things happened one particular way over another. Because we rely for our doctrine only upon direct revelation, and God has not yet told us everything He knows, we recognize that although we are free to speculate to our heart's content, there is little reason to get worked up over matters that God has not yet seen fit to reveal.
This willingness to keep an open mind is one of the things that put us at odds with a lot of other Christians at the dawn of the 20th century. As Phillip Barlow points out in his book Mormons and the Bible, unlike others, we don't hold to the bible as the final authority on everything. We recognize it has only some of the answers, not all of them. We do not assert, as some do, that "every single word in the bible is literally true."
We recognize instead that this particular set of 66 books and letters has not come down to us in pristine condition. Much is either missing or corrupted. It has been my experience that when someone insists that every single word of the bible is literally true, that person has probably never read every single word of the bible.
By the beginning of the 20th century, some religionists were declaring war on science, because science was challenging some of their sacred cows, such as the one about God creating the heavens and the earth in just seven days. Of course it's possible for God to have divided the sea from the dry land in one 24 hour period, but latter-day Saints like Mormon scientist John A. Widtsoe felt it was also reasonable to assume the word "day" in the book of Genesis referred to a broader period of time (as it had elsewhere in the scriptures). But the Sectarians said no: the bible says seven days, so seven days it had to be.
Another commonly held belief was that God was some nebulous cosmic magician who, with the wave of his hand, created the universe ex nihilo. Mormon doctrine taught instead that God is an advanced being of superior intelligence who directed the creation by organizing matter that had always been in existence. This method of creation, though more reasonable and scientific, is rejected by many Christians as absurd.
If science and religion are to harmonize, both must approach the search for truth honestly, with respect for reason, logic, and common sense. But it is not just religionists who hold tightly to their fixed beliefs in the face of all evidence to the contrary. You should see how disingenuous some scientists can be when someone comes along with evidence that calls into question their own tightly held assumptions. Sometimes the scientific community itself has demonstrated a propensity for protecting its own sacred cow dogmas that no one is permitted to question.
The Science Of Suppression
The late James P. Hogan once observed that "science really doesn't exist. Scientific beliefs are either proved wrong, or else they quickly become engineering. Everything else is untested speculation."
Hogan was a science fiction writer of considerable renown who specialized in a branch of the genre known as hard science fiction, which meant he favored stories based on plausible science and technology, featuring probabilities that could feasibly occur, as opposed to, say, stories where the protagonist battled Bug-eyed Monsters from outer space.
Before turning to writing full time, Hogan had been an electronic engineer, and as a scientist himself, was acutely aware that quite a bit of what passed as scientific method in modern times is often blatantly unscientific. In some ways, we have not progressed much since the days of Gallileo, except that now instead of the Catholic Church persecuting and suppressing legitimate inquiry, it is the scientific establishment that combines to guard its turf from upstarts and outsiders. Hogan claimed that it was not unusual for these gatekeepers to refuse to even consider evidence that might challenge their dearly held assumptions. Hogan resisted this trend. He believed that "evidence must always take precedence over theory."
Yet hard evidence was something many in the entrenched scientific establishment sometimes wish to avoid looking at. In an interview Hogan gave in 2004, he gave away the secrets of the lodge:
"In the idealized science that textbooks tell us how science works, and the apologists for science, we have this vision of researchers performing experiments, perusing the pure knowledge; forming, collecting facts, then devising hypotheses to test predictions or theories to explain the facts and then devising experiments to test the theories. And if the predicted results are obtained, the theory is strengthened; and if the predicted results fail to happen then the theory is changed without bias, modified, or abandoned.
"It's a nice ideal. Sometimes I look at it and say well, it's kind of in the same league as in many cases what some people have said about Christianity and Socialism: a nice idea, and somebody should try it sometime.
"Disturbingly often, when prestige, experience, the natural human reluctance to admit one was wrong -rather than the theory being based on the fact, what's permissible to accept as fact can be dictated by the theory. Anomalous observations are suppressed, rejected, and ignored because they conflict with the theory."That same year, with the assistance of others in the scientific community who also opposed the decline of honest inquiry, James Hogan published a book, Kicking The Sacred Cow: Questioning the Unquestionable and Thinking the Unthinkable. What particularly caught my eye when I picked up this book was that one of the case studies Hogan featured involved the work of one Immanuel Velikovsky, and how the scientific community ganged up to kick sand in Velikovsky's face for daring to publish evidence that contradicted long standing assumptions about the Earth and our solar system.
In his day, Velikovsky had managed to step on the toes of those in a multitude of disciplines as varied as astronomy, geology, and ancient history. But what makes his findings of interest to latter-day Saints is that they tend to confirm things Joseph Smith taught a hundred years earlier, teachings which really only start to make sense to us when illuminated by Velikovsky's research.
Ironically, after Velikovsky's first major book was published, many latter-day Saints, thinking they had found in him a kindred spirit, began sending Velikovsky copies of the Book of Mormon. Velikovsky threw them away in disgust. He was not a religious man, and resented his theories being used to bolster anyone's religious faith. Velikovsky was not interested religion; he was interested in evidence, and in following that evidence wherever it led.
A brilliant Russian Jew (non practicing) who emigrated to America in 1939, Velikovsky had been co-founder of the Hebrew University and friend of Albert Einstein (Velikovsky had, in fact, enlisted Einstein in preparing one of the University's textbooks). 2
Velikovsky's academic pedigree was second to none. Then in mid century he made the mistake of challenging the prevailing dogma by proposing that our solar system might not always have looked and operated as it does now; that at various points in ancient history, both Venus and Mars had come perilously close to earth and that a near collision with Venus in particular had been responsible for the cataclysms recorded in myth and legend throughout the ancient world, including many of the bible.
Velikovsky's great sin was in suggesting that the ancient texts that spoke of angry gods in the sky might been more than mere myth. He presented volumes of evidence to suggest maybe the reason the ancients spoke of seeing Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Saturn at very close range in the sky overhead was because it was more than likely they actually had.
When I was a budding young astronomer at twelve years of age, I saved up my paper route money and bought a new Gilbert 40 Power Reflecting Telescope so that I could see Mars for myself, the angry red planet with those famous canals criss-crossing the surface. Imagine my dismay when even with a fairly strong telescope I could scarcely locate that planet out there among the stars. I could see it, barely, but I certainly couldn't tell if it was red. So, I wondered, if I can't see Mars at 40 power, how was it the Greeks and Romans told about observing Mars clearly in the sky many centuries before telescopes had ever been invented? No grownup I asked was ever able to give me an answer.
Velikovsky proposed that at various times in the distant past, the nearby planets, usually Mars or Venus -and often both together- were quite visible to the ancients, frequently appearing bigger and brighter than the moon. Velikovsky presented scrolls, clay tablets, hieroglyphs, and legends passed down from from every ancient society that told of seeing those two planets duking it out like angry dragons in the sky above. These were the gods the ancients feared and worshiped. After the planets would fade back into distant space, kings and emperors kept wise men employed to watch the skies for the return of these gods, because every fifty years one of them would show up again, and when it did it always seemed to be accompanied by violence and devastation. 3
Velikovsky's first book, Worlds In Collision, was spurred by his curiosity about the plagues of Egypt as described in the Hebrew Book of Exodus. Scholars had long dismissed those biblical stories as fairy tales, since there were no corresponding descriptions in the Egyptian records from the time the exodus was supposed to have taken place. There simply was no evidence to confirm those events as described in the bible.
But Velikovsky had come across a set of ancient Egyptian scrolls in the British Museum known as The Admonitions of Ipuwer, which described catastrophic events in such detail and so identical to those in Exodus that he felt these scrolls had to be describing the same incident. The problem was that the Ipuwer papyri were presumed to represent an era some 500 years earlier than the time of the Exodus. Then Velikovsky discovered numerous instances of similar catastrophes occurring at the same time as the Ipuwer scrolls recorded, but in the ancient records of Assyria, Persia, Babylon, India, China, and Meso-America; all describing catastrophes identical to those in the Hebrew book of Exodus, and happening in the same order as the bible describes them. Even more incredible, these legends told of a gigantic comet or planet passing close to the earth which the ancients believed was responsible for the cataclysms they experienced, its tail spewing red dust into earth's atmosphere which polluted every lake and river and rendering the water of every nation undrinkable.
Velikovsky concluded that the reason the plagues of Egypt had been unknown to scholars at the time they should have taken place was because the scholars had erred significantly in their understanding of Egyptian chronology, and that was why it did not line up with that of the biblical record. The recent conclusions of Archaeologist David Rohl have since vindicated Velikovsky by confirming the true timeline, but in 1950 scholars of ancient history would not even entertain the idea they could have been so far off. 4
Velikovsky also put forth the novel idea that the comet responsible for all that devastation was actually what we know today as the planet Venus, which had not always been locked into the regular orbit familiar to us now. Venus, the stories said, had actually begun life as a giant comet, birthed according to legend from the body of Jupiter, and that she had only finally settled into her familiar planetary orbit some 3500-5,000 years ago. He also described how the plagues of Egypt, as with those described in the legends of other ancient civilizations, were consistent with what would happen if earth passed through the end of a comet's tail a million miles long, as that of a body the size of Venus would have been, and he demonstrated how those plagues, and the order they occurred in, would be consistent with what would happen if our planets came close to colliding with one another.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word which the bible translates as "hail" is barad, which actually means "hot stones." But the King James translators felt that was ridiculous -hot stones don't fall from the sky, ice does. So the bible tells of hailstones that magically turned to flame after hitting the ground, destroying everything. And apparently it was not just the wicked Egyptians who were killed by this devastating meteor shower. Despite God's warning to His people to stay indoors, The Midrashic texts record that 49 out of 50 Israelites were killed during the plagues of Egypt because they failed to heed the warnings of Moses. As was reported in every corner of the ancient world, no society escaped the global devastation unscathed.
Orthodoxy In Collision
Worlds In Collision really took off with the public when it appeared in 1950, and quickly became a bestseller. But almost immediately suspicion was cast on this immigrant with a thick Russian accent who threatened to turn the scientific world upside down with his revolutionary ideas. The Dallas News suggested Worlds In Collision was a communist propaganda ploy. One British intellectual felt the book was a move by U.S. warmongers to soften the world up for the atomic war they were preparing to launch.
Reviews of the book from the scientific community were almost uniformly negative. But what strikes the reader looking back on this controversy is the observation that, almost to a man, no one who gave Velikovsky's book an unfavorable review seems to have ever bothered to read it. Several reviewers actually boasted of not going near it, as if the very act of touching the book might contaminate their brains. One astronomer in particular insisted in his review that the book was nothing but lies, on the same page declaring he had not read it and never would read it. Most reviews echoed an early reviewer who misquoted Velikovsky and misrepresented his thesis, clear evidence they themselves had not read the book, but relied instead on some other person's review of it and then passing judgment based on that one flawed analysis. This was not just bad science, this was irresponsible journalism.
Among most of the scientists and scholars who had actually read Worlds In Collision, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, but their accolades were drowned out by all the negative press. Although the furor was largely focused on the person of Velikovsky the Russian Jew, ignoring his arguments, this systematic disinformation campaign left the majority of scientists with the impression that Velikovsky had been demolished by those who knew better.
If, as Hogan insists, evidence must take precedence over theory, the problem the entrenched scientific community faced was that Velikovsky had buckets full of evidence, if anyone cared to look. For any who cared to delve into the sources, the geological evidence alone supported Velikovsky's thesis. Now, 60 years later, space missions and probes have confirmed much of what Velikovsky had concluded regarding the make up and movements of the planets, including the presence of argon and neon gasses on the surface of Venus and radio waves emitting from Jupiter, which Velikovsky insisted would have had to be present. Even as early as 1963 he was beginning to be vindicated, at least in some quarters. "Science itself," wrote Eric Larrabee in Harper's Magazine, "even while most scientists have considered his case to be closed, has been headed in Velikovsky's direction...There is scarcely one of Velikovsky's ideas which has not since been propounded in all seriousness by a scientist of repute." 5
Weird, Wacky, And Off The Wall
The problem with attempting to summarize Velikovsky's theories is that it isn't easy to present them in any succinct manner that doesn't make them appear too incredible to believe. Velilovsky himself tired of people trying to condense his findings into a few paragraphs, because without the exacting explanations and documentation he provided in his books, his theories were rarely accurately conveyed. Hugh Nibley has said that Velikovsky was right, while acknowledging the difficulty in trying to accurately summarize his work. 6
Even Anthony Larson, the man most responsible for introducing Velikovsky to thousands of latter-day Saint readers, initially thought Velikovsky's ideas were bizarre. That was because he himself first heard it second hand. But after picking up Worlds In Collision and reading it for himself, he recognized something that rang a bell. Didn't Joseph Smith speak of a planet or a comet coming near to the earth?
Larson set out to compare the prophet's more obscure and obtuse statements with what Velikovsky had discovered and realized that a basic understanding of Velikovsky's research could be a very valuable key in understanding those teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith that have bewildered modern Mormons. Many of these teachings are not even well known to most of us, as they ceased to be openly taught because, well, they don't really make a lot of sense.
Larson asserts that no study of the Restored Gospel can be complete without a thoroughgoing understanding of ancient cosmology. It is the very foundation of all prophetic imagery, employed in the scriptures and in our latter-day temples. Without that knowledge, we simply cannot fully comprehend either the scriptures or the meaning of the temple. Says Larson:
"We are as children trying to read a book when they have learned only the alphabet. The letters on the page are familiar to them, but they make no sense of the words. Yet they pride themselves on recognizing the letters, saying that they 'understand,' when they know nothing of the real message contained therein."Though many of the prophet's esoteric teachings were widely understood among the membership of the church 150 years ago, today we tend, on those rare occasions when we stumble across them at all, to dismiss these statements as mere metaphor or poetic descriptions, since they appear unlikely on their face. But Larson shows that the Prophet had a clear understanding of the way our solar system looked in ancient times, and of the dynamic changes we can expect to see both in the heavens and on the earth just prior to Christ's return. After Velikovsky's death, many other competent academics, chief among them David Talbott and Walter Thornhill, have continued to compile recent scientific discoveries that build upon Velikovky's research. These discoveries can further assist us in understanding early LDS teachings.
|What the ancients thought was the Eye of God.|
The apostle Peter said that after the flood, there was not only a new earth, but a new sky appeared as well. Ancient legends passed down from every known civilization bear him out. Many legends tell of a devastating flood accompanied by great cataclysmic destruction, and after it was all over, the stars in the sky were no longer where they had been before. The poles had shifted and the world had gone cattywampus. The sky looked completely different.
But it wasn't the sky that had changed, it was the earth's position. When God tells us we live in a fallen world, perhaps we should interpret that on more than one level. The earth seems to have "fallen" into its present orbit.
Joseph Smith once drew a sketch for his friend and bodyguard Philo Dibble to show him how the sky above the earth had originally looked. The prophet told Dibble that in ancient times Saturn, Venus, and Mars had been aligned above the earth in a straight polar configuration. 7 The way the two smaller planets sat in front of the larger one, it seemed to the superstitious ancients as though the eye of God was watching them from the sky. Anthony Larson explains:
I can think of no better visual representation that the ones presented in this short excerpt from Talbott's own documentary Symbols Of An Alien Sky; 8 The pertinent graphics begin at about the 2:52 mark.
"The solar system we know today is a recent development. Earth was once part of a grouping of orbs that shared a common axis of rotation, the defining element of the Earth’s condition anciently. This proposition, purportedly offered by none other than Joseph Smith himself, was so unique, so peculiar, that there was nothing in modern experience to explain it.
The Dibble Facsimile. (Not drawn to scale.)
"With only one or two exceptions, Mormon scholars ignored — even avoided — the claims of Dibble and his facsimile. They believed there was no evidence that anything remotely like the configuration of orbs Joseph Smith proposed in his illustration once truly existed. It was simply too unbelievable to accept—until David Talbott’s research into ancient myth and tradition led him to proffer a similar configuration for the ancient solar system."
The way our sky looks today is the way it has ever since the great upheaval. Modern revelation tells us that sometime in the future the sky will change dramatically again, and when it does we will definitely feel it here on earth. Joseph Smith's understanding of the stars and planets in our solar system mirrored what Velikovsky found in the legends of ancient civilizations. Therefore, a basic overview of what Velikovsky discovered can go a long way in helping us to unlock the secrets of our own doctrines.
Though completely foreign to us, the prophets of old often spoke in a language that referenced symbols familiar to the people living in those days. Latter-day revelation follows the same rules and uses the same imagery of the old testament prophets. Master the imagery of the ancients, and you will have mastered the meaning of many latter-day revelations that have long been closed to our understanding.
When Prophecy Reads Like Gibberish
Probably the only time I ever disagreed with Joseph Smith was when I read his statement that "the Book of Revelation is one of the plainest books God had ever caused to be written."
Was he nuts? I had to wonder: had Joseph Smith actually ever read the Book of Revelation? I had. Or at least I had tried to back in Seminary. The Revelation of John couldn't have been less plain to me if it was written in Aramaic. I had no idea what John was talking about, and if Joseph Smith said it was the plainest book, I wasn't sure he knew what he was talking about either.
But then I read Anthony Larson's chapter on John's Revelation in his book "And the Moon Shall Turn To Blood." Seen in the light of Velikovsky's findings regarding how the ancients understood the symbols in the sky, John's revelation made perfect sense, as John is telling us we will be seeing much the same types of disruptions in the last days. Much of what we find incomprehensible in scripture would not have been confusing at all to John's contemporaries to whom his letter was addressed. Once we are taught to see this prophecy with their eyes, it opens right up. The nonbeliever Velikovsky, of all people, enables our understanding.
Anthony Larson's first book on the subject, And The Moon Shall Turn To Blood, was first published in 1983, followed by two subsequent volumes which introduced thousands of latter-day Saints to an interpretation of both ancient and modern prophecies that became crystal clear when held up to Velikovsky's research on ancient symbolism. These books sold steadily for years, then for more than a decade they became more difficult to find. I was happy to discover that Deseret Book is again carrying all three volumes, so an understanding of the mysteries is much more accessible to those who take the advice of the Prophet when he taught that the mysteries are unfolded only to those willing to put forth the effort.
When I re-read Larson's fascinating treatise for the second time recently, I started with the appendix in the back, which contains a brief overview of Velikovsky's thesis. Here Larson provides a concise overview of Velikovsky's research into the ancient world. The remainder of the book demonstrates applications of these findings to some of Joseph Smith's more esoteric teachings, enabling us to more fully understand what it was the prophet was talking about. On more than one occasion the Prophet spoke of the upheavals to watch for just prior to Christ's return:
"There will be wars and rumors of wars, signs in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, the sun turned into darkness and the moon to blood, earthquakes in divers places, the seas heaving beyond their bounds; then will appear one great sign of the Son of Man in heaven. But what will the world do? They will say it is a planet, a comet, &c. But the Son of man will come as the sign of the coming of the Son of Man, which will be as the light of the morning cometh out of the east." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 286-287)Often some of the most revealing statements Joseph Smith made were delivered in an off-handed way, and it's an easy thing to overlook the profundities within. When the Prophet states in Doctrine & Covenants 121:12 that "God hath set his hand and seal to change the times and seasons," we don't think anything like the altering of time is going to literally take place. After all, things have pretty much remained in the order we know them for the past two thousand years, so they must have always been so.
Had we lived anciently and experienced "the day of the Lord's wrath," we might have seen the kinds of changes that would convince us to take God's word more literally. It is well to consider that God does not engage in empty rhetoric. Velikovsky cites many ancient sources that tell how drastically the world had changed after the appearance of the great comet. "The winter is come as summer, the months are reversed and the hours are disordered," states the Papyrus Anastasi IV, while the Tao records that "the breath of heaven is out of harmony...The four seasons do not observe their proper times." 9 An ancient Mayan text states that "the order of the seasons was altered at that epoch." Plutarch's Morals relates how
"The thickened air concealed the heaven from view, and the stars were confused with a disorderly huddle of fire and moisture and violent fluxations of winds. The sun was not fixed to a wandering and certain course, so as to distinguish orient and Occident, nor did he bring back the seasons in order."Velikovsky explains:
"With the fall of the ancient [Egyptian] Middle Kingdom and the Exodus, one of the great world ages came to its end. The four quarters of the world were displaced, and neither the orbit nor the poles nor, probably, the direction of rotation remained anew. The astronomical values of the year and the day could not be the same before and after an upheaval in which, as the quoted Papyrus Anastasi says, the months were reversed and 'the hours disordered.' " 10It's well known that the Assyrians, Aztecs, Babylonians, Carthaginians, Chaldeans, Chinese, Egyptians, Etruscans, Greeks, Hebrews, Hindus, Incas, Mayans, Olmecs, Persians, Phoenicians, Romans, Teutons, and Tebetans all used to observe a 360 day calendar. Later, they were forced to adopt a 365 day year. That certainly suggests a change in the rotation of the earth. Whatever tumultuous catastrophe occurred back then, it was considered the end of an age for a lot of civilizations.
As Anthony Larson suggests, if God sets his hand once again to change the times and seasons in the last days, the beginning of the Millenium will undoubtedly be remembered as the end of one world age and the beginning of another. 11
In light of all this, it seems reasonable to assume that when the Lord tells us the hour will come when "peace will be taken from the earth,"([D&C 1:35) he is not referring simply to endless warfare between nations. Such conflicts have always taken place on the earth throughout recorded history. It's more likely what God is telling us is that peace will be taken from the earth itself, from the planet, which will undergo tectonic and tidal eruptions unknown since ancient times. As God told Joseph Smith, prior to His coming the entire planet will
"tremble and reel to and fro like a drunken man; and the sun shall hide his face, shall refuse to give light, and the moon shall be bathed in blood; and the stars shall become exceedingly angry...For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand."
"And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds. And all things shall be in commotion; and surely men's hearts will fail them, for fear shall come upon all people. And immediately there shall appear a great sign in heaven, and all people shall see it together."I used to hope I might live to see the ushering in of the Millenium, but after reading that, I've changed my mind. I now hope I've shuffled off this mortal coil long before that stuff hits the fan.
I could go on and on describing the fascinating explications of prophecy contained in Larson's trilogy, and heaven knows that longtime readers of this blog can testify how I can ramble on and beat a topic to death. So instead I think I'll stop here and just recommend you read Anthony Larson's books for yourselves. Each volume is priced at only $15.00 each, and they are slender enough that you can finish each one in an afternoon. Far from being stodgy and academic, I found each one filled with astonishing insights, and interesting asides regarding such things as eye witness descriptions of the Great Chicago Fire. 12
That fire was not started, as legend has it, by Mrs. O'leary's cow kicking over a lantern in a barn. Witnesses tell us it bore more of a resemblance to fire raining down from heaven, as various locations in the city erupted in flames virtually all at once. The reason we hear only about this awful conflagration as having occurred in Chicago is because in 1871 Chicago was the only metropolis in the area. That made it newsworthy. But as it turns out, devastating fires were erupting throughout the midwest at the very same moment as that fiery holocaust in Chicago, destroying plains and forests embracing an area of 400 square miles. The devastation covered an area encompassing parts of four Midwestern states, though much of the area was sparsely populated. It occurred as suddenly as a gas explosion. I had heard of the Great Chicago Fire, but I had never heard any of this.
I had also not heard that in Chicago, solid brick buildings standing nowhere near any wooden structures were reduced to ash in seconds, and steel bars stacked in steelyards out in the open away from any burning edifices were afterward found melted into puddles on the ground. Untold numbers of corpses were found in open spaces away from any signs of fire or burning buildings. These bodies bore no signs of having been burned or charred. But when sliced open, these people's lungs were found to have been instantly seared on the inside, as if they had inhaled a flash of lightning. Coins in the pockets of these hapless souls were found fused together as though hit with a sudden electrical charge, yet their bodies showed little outward trauma.
What could have caused such bizarre catastrophes all at once over such a wide area? Astronomers tell of the comet Biela's return that day, and that in a freak occurrence not seen before, Biela had split into two parts, causing it to behave in ways not formerly understood.
But there I go again. I could talk about this stuff forever. There is so much I find intriguing about the stories Larson shares, such as Joseph Smith's teaching regarding the Tower of Babel. In the first place, the people were not trying to build a tower to get to heaven, but to Zion. And secondly, the reason the Babylonians thought they could build a tower to get there was because Zion was not some unseen mythical land far off in the clouds somewhere. What they thought was Zion was clearly visible to all; a large sphere right there directly over their heads. Apparently, the planet looked to be close enough to almost reach out and touch.
Seen in that light, the building of the tower of Babel doesn't seem like such a moronic undertaking. It was foolish, to be sure, but I might have thought it a good idea to participate in the project myself had I been there at the time. I can easily see how it would have made perfect sense to me to stack brick upon brick, and stone upon stone, until I got close enough to just climb on board.
The Key To Prophecy
Velikovsky went on to write additional volumes on the catastrophic view of history, including Ages in Chaos and Earth in Upheaval. In his subsequent books and on his website, Larson presents these later findings and shows how they can assist in illuminating the organic teachings of Joseph Smith and those who knew him. In addition to volume I of Larson's trilogy, "And The Moon Shall Turn To Blood," there is a second volume, "And The Earth Shall Reel To And Fro," and a third, "And There Shall Be A New Heaven And A New Earth." All are available through Deseret Book or on Amazon.
Complementing these books, Larson provides a series of recorded webinars that examine ancient cosmology and its relationship to the scriptures. If you really want to experience a paradigm shift, that's where I'd recommend you go first. Larson takes the student whole dimensions beyond the books. After taking this 16 hour course, you will have mastered the imagery of the scriptures and the prophets along with having a clearer understanding of the meaning of temple architecture and rituals. Larson says,
"The key to all prophetic symbolism lies in the knowledge of ancient cosmic imagery. Without those vital keys, all scripture is to us as a sealed book, including the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Savior himself."You can find those seminars on Larson's website, MormonProphecy.com, along with several interesting articles.
In mentioning to some of my friends my plans to write on this topic, I was encouraged to find so many who were already familiar with Anthony Larson's work. Now that his books are again available, there seems to be a resurgence of interest, as just last week Tim Malone posted on his blog, Latter-day Commentary, a review of Larson's initial book that was so thorough I considered scrapping my own plans to address the topic here. If you'd like an excellent summary of what I've been trying to put across here, check out Tim's assessment on Latter-day Commentary.
Of course, you can't beat hearing directly from the source, and quite recently Anthony Larson was the subject of an audio interview on The Good Word podcast. My only problem with that interview was that at only 27 minutes, it ended just as it was really getting going. I especially liked hearing how Anthony compared the TV show CSI with the way historical analysis had been commonly performed prior to Velikovsky. "No self respecting investigator would go out and examine a crime scene and collect evidence without also interrogating the eye witnesses," says Larson. "But science decided that the eyewitnesses [in the ancient world] were untrustworthy, and so they refused to consider their testimony. They just collected what they considered to be evidence, and that's given us a perverse view of ancient history."
Or to paraphrase Hugh Nibley, anyone can slice open the side of a hill, look at the layers of sediment there, and guess about how long it took to get there and how it got there. What they fail to do is consult the records, because mankind saw all this happen and they reported it. But science throws the records out because they consider them to be untrustworthy. They were thought to be nothing but myths, legends, and fables.
Velikovsky believed honest scientific inquiry required that the testimony of the witnesses on the scene be included in any analysis. When he did so, it changed the verdict of history, and left many astronomers, geologists, classical historians, and others looking negligent. They didn't like that.
All these years after his death, Velikovsky still has his detractors, but I find those who are dismissive of Velikovsky have either not bothered to thoroughly investigate his claims, or they are being dishonest, as was the American Association for the Advancement of Science, whose leadership vigorously combined to exclude Velikovsky's views from being given a fair hearing at a 1974 conference ostensibly set up for that very purpose. 13
What few detractors remain today either misrepresent the evidence, or they engage in ad hominem attacks and straw man arguments rather than addressing Velikovsky's actual research and refuting it head on. I find them about as convincing as those who tried for years to get the world to ignore Nicolai Tesla, whose experiments and discoveries in electricity threatened to leave Thomas Edison in the dust. During both men's lifetimes, Edison got all the positive press while Tesla got an undeserved reputation for being a disturbed mad scientist. But today Tesla is beginning to get the credit due him, and new generations of scientists are coming around to recognizing the genius of Immanuel Velikovsky.
Something I found noteworthy occurred recently when the Curiosity Rover revealed that the surface of the planet Mars was not red after all, but just covered in a layer of red dust. It would seem that whatever Venus did to the earth to turn our rivers to blood, she may have given Mars a rougher go of it. (It should also be noted that in 1950, when Velikovsky published his book, there was still vigorous debate in the scientific community about whether or not Mars had intelligent life on it. Velikovsky's assertions that Mars was a dead planet threw cold water on those assumptions, which some saw as a further affront.)
Credit should be given to those in the scientific community who, though disagreeing with Velikovsky in some areas, chastised their collegues who chose to mock Velikovsky and dismiss him outright. One such level-headed academic was astronomer J. Derrol Mulholland, who reminded his collegues:
"If it is the function of science to explain man's relation to his universe, then these are questions of serious significance and should be dealt with seriously. Velikovsky's challenge is not one to be decided on a basis of belief or unbelief. He does not say, 'Trust me'; he says 'This conclusion is suggested by the observations.' It is not sufficient to reply that his ideas are absurd; there are too many examples of absurd ideas come true.When science is thought of as the source of ultimate knowledge, its purpose and function are misrepresented. Pure science is ever in flux as mankind continues to learn new things. Science is not supposed to have all the answers, it is supposed to be a process for questioning. The same is true of religion, and those zealous Religionists who stubbornly lock themselves out of the world of discoveries taking place around them are as closed-minded as those who refuse to acknowledge the existence of unseen worlds in the spiritual realm. The search for truth requires us to step outside of the dogmas of our fixed beliefs and go exploring in areas we might not feel comfortable.
"Are the explanations plausible? From at least one vantage point, yes indeed. If a planet sized object were to pass close by the Earth, then giant tides would be raised; there would be global earthquakes; the north pole would change direction; the day, the month, the seasons, the year would all change. Faith is not involved here; these are unavoidable consequences of the laws of motion as we presently know them. We must accept that the dynamical aspects of Velikovsky's visions of hell on Earth are largely acceptable. This is not to accept that the events he described ever happened, for there are questions that need to be resolved." 14
Velikovsky resented the efforts of Mormons to convert him because he wasn't interested in validating anyone's faith, or even in proving the Exodus story of the bible. If Velikovsky had a religion, it was an obsession for discovery, and the belief that pure science requires that evidence take precedence over theory.
It is just a little ironic then, that Velikovsky was embraced by people of faith more readily than those whose job it was to examine the evidence. What intrigues me about the juxtaposition of Mormon prophecy with Velikovsky's research is that with the passage of time, the weird science of the visionary Velikovsky is being vindicated at the same time as the stranger teachings of Joseph Smith are being rediscovered. Both have come to meet at a place where science and religion intersect; where evidence conjoins with faith.
Writing in The Velikovsky Heresies: Worlds In Collision and Ancient Catastrophes Revisited, author Laird Scranton had this to say:
"In some ways, Velikovsky became to traditional scientists in the 1950s what Groucho Marx had been to the social elite of the 1930s -the irrepressible outsider who, while steadfastly refusing to play by traditional rules, still threatened to beat an entrenched elite at their own game, with the potential to make them look ridiculous in the process." 15I think you could say something similar about the religious visionary Joseph Smith.
(But first, a footnote about the footnotes: I felt this particular piece warranted the inclusion of footnotes, something I have not ventured to include in any of my previous posts because this platform does not provide a built-in program for that. So I spent all day attempting to insert the necessary code by hand. The idea was that readers would be able to click on a number in the text, which would immediately jump them to the corresponding footnote here at the bottom of the page. A simple click on an arrow provided would send you right back to the place in the text where you left off.
Well, apparently my tiny dinosaur brain was not up to the task, because the end result was that when a reader clicked on a number, he or she was sent off-site entirely and wound up on a page that invited them to start their own blog. I have no idea why or how that happened. Meanwhile here on my end, the text of the article kept getting more and more messed up. So ultimately I decided to tear that new code out to save us all a lot of frustration. Where I could, I went back to the old fashioned method of embedding links in the text, but I still kept some of the footnotes intact here, as you can see. Unfortunately, you cannot easily jump back and forth as I had intended you could, so for that I apologize. And if indeed you are interested in starting your own blog, I suggest you consider the Wordpress platform which I am told enables the use of footnotes.)
1 The Metaphysics and Science of Mormonism is the first and only book I know of that mentions me by name, so on that basis alone it deserves to become a bestseller. My name is on page 18. Tell everyone you know.
2 At the time of Einstein's death, Velikovsy's book, Worlds in Collision was found open on his desk.
3 Our modern term for "Wise Man" derives from the Middle English "wys hard," or Wizard. When Disney animators drew the pointy hat Mickey Mouse borrowed from his sorcerer boss in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the stars, planets, and comets they drew onto the hat were based on the garb of Druidic wizards, whose hats and robes were said to be embroidered with celestial bodies to denote the field of knowledge passed down to them from the ancients.
4 Rohl is a historian and archaeologist specializing in ancient Egyptology, and was the catalyst behind the groundbreaking Discovery Channel series Pharoahs and Kings which addressed the revisions in the Egyptian timeline, which clarified and validated many persons and events mentioned in the bible.
5 Harper's Magazine August 1963.
6 Nibley Acknowledges Velikovsky's three major works in his comprehensive manual on The Old Testament.
7 Dibble was also in possession of the Jupiter talisman once belonging to Joseph Smith, and which is now in the archives of the Church. Photographs of Jupiter talismans can be found on pages 346-347 of D. Michael Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. In light of the discoveries of Anthony Larson, Joseph's use of planetary imagery seems less motivated by backwoods superstition as by his appreciation for ancient prophetic imagery. It is worth noting that stars and planets adorn the exterior of the Nauvoo and Salt Lake temples, and that above the veil of the Salt Lake celestial room is a rendition of the goddess Venus emerging from her "shell." to those with an understanding of the symbolism, that rendering represents something entirely different than the Greco-Roman fresco would imply.
8 The full documentary is available on Youtube here.
9 Worlds In Collision, pg 135.
11 And The Moon Shall Turn To Blood, pg 73.
12 And The Earth Shall Reel To And Fro, volume II appendix A, pg 155.
13 The A.A.A.S might have more accurately be represented by the acronym A.S.S. -the Association for the Supression of Science. For a detailed summary of the cheating shenanigans the association orchestrated to make sure Velikovksy's findings would not receive a fair hearing, see Hogan, Pg 188-192. For the antidote to Velikovsky's critics, and to locate scientific findings that tend to vindicate his work, see the collection of essays contained in Velikovsky Reconsidered, (by the editors of Pensees) and more recently The Velikovsky Heresies: Worlds in Collision and Ancient Catastrophes Revisited by Laird Scranton. Also of note is a book written by Ruth Velikovsky Sharon, Immanuel Velikovsky's daughter: Immanuel Velikovsky - The Truth Behind The Torment. According to the description at Amazon: Ruth "publishes original letters in their entirety, shedding a revealing light on the defamatory campaign Velikovsky and his scientific work have been subjected to by the scientific establishment down to the present day. In a second part, plasma physicist C.J. Ransom undertakes a reevaluation of Velikovsky's research from the point of view of recent scientific developments."
14 From Scientists Confront Velikovsky, ed. Donald Goldsmith; quoted in Scranton, The Velikovsky Heresies pg 14.
15 Scranton, pg 2 ibid
Again, the pertinent links to Anthony Larson's work:
For the Webinars, click here.
To listen to the recent audio podcast interview, click here.
(Next: Training Day)