Isaac Asimov on Immanuel Velikovsky:
'What does one do with a heretic? We know the answer if the "one" referred to is a powerful religious othodoxy: the heretic can be burned at the stake. If the "one" is a powerful political orthodoxy, the heretic can be sent to a concentration camp. If the "one" is a powerful socioeconomic orthodoxy, the heretic can be prevented from earning a living.
'But what if the "one" is a powerful scientific orthodoxy? In that case, very little can be done, because even the most powerful scientific orthodoxy is not very powerful.
'[T]he religious, political, and socioeconomic orthodoxies can be universal in their power. A religious orthodoxy in full flight visits its punishments not on priests alone; nor a political one on politicians alone; nor a socioeconomic one on society leaders alone. No one is immune to their displeasure. The scientific orthodoxy, however, is completely helpless if the heretic is not himself a professional scientist - if he does not depend on grants or appointments, and if he places his views before the world through some medium other than the learned journals. Therefore, if we are to consider scientific heretics, we must understand that there are two varieties with different powers and different immunities.
'Let us consider the two kinds of scientific heretics. (1) There are those who arise from within the professional world of science and who are subject to punishment by the orthodoxy. We might call these heretics from within "endoheretics." (2) There are those who arise form outside the professional world of science and who are immune to direct punishment by the orthodoxy. These heretics are the "exoheretics."
'Of the two, the endoheretics are far less known to the general public. The endoheretic speaks in the same language as does the orthodoxy, and both views, the endoheretical and the orthodox, are equally obscure to the nonscientist, who can, generally speaking, understand neither the one nor the other nor the nature of the conflict between them.
'It follows that if we consider the great endoheresies of the past, we find that the general public was not ordinarily involved. In the few cases where the public was involved, it was almost invariably on the side of orthodoxy. The patron saint of all scientific heresies, Galileo, was, of course, an endoheretic. He was as deeply versed in Aristotelian physics and Ptolemaic astronomy , which he dethroned, as were any of his Aristotelian/Ptolemaic opponents. And since in those days and in his particular society, the scientific and religious orthodoxies were the same, Galileo had to run far greater risks than later endoheretics did. Facing the Inquisition, he had to consider the possibility, not of a cancelled grant, but of physical torture. Yet we cannot suppose that there was any great popular outcry on behalf of the rebel. The general public was not concerned, nor even aware, of the dispute. Had it been made aware, it would certainly sided with orthodoxy.
'Next to Galileo, the greatest of the endoheretics was Charles Darwin (...) Here, the general public did know of the controversy and did, in a very general and rough way, have a dim view of what it was about. And the public was definitely on the side of the orthodoxy. (...)
'Galileo and Darwin won out. Along the way, a number of endoheretics did win. But never by public pressure. And never by a majority vote of the general public. They won out because science is a self-correcting structure, and because observation, experimentation, and reasoning eventually support those heresies which represent a more accurate view of the Universe and bury those orthodoxies which are outpaced. In the process, orthodoxy gets a bad press. Looking back on the history of science, we might suppose that every endoheretic was right - that each wore the white hat of heroism against an evil and short-sighted orthodoxy. But that is only because the history science is naturally selective. Only the endoheretic who was, in tge end, shown to be right makes his mark. For each of those, there may have been perhaps fifty endoheretics who were quite wrong, whose views are therefore scarcely remembered, and who are not recorded even as a footnote in the history books - or, if they are, it is for other, nonheretical, work.
'What, then, would you have the orthodox do? Is it better to reject everything and be wrong once in fifty times - or accept everything and be wrong 49out of 50 times and, in the meantime, send science down endless blind allies. The best strategy, of course, would be neither, but to reject the 49 wrong out of hand and to accept and cherish the one right. Unfortunately, the day that the endoheretical pearl shines out so obviously amid the endoheretical garbage as to be easily plucked is the day of the millennium. There is, alas, no easy way of distinguishing the stroke of genius from the stroke of folly. In fact, many an utterly nonsensical suggestion has seemed to carry much more the mark of turth than the cleverly insightful stroke of genius.
'There is no way, then, of dealing with the endoheresies other than by a firm (but not blind or spiteful) opposition. Each must run the gauntlet that alone can test it.
'For the self-correcting structure works. There is delay and heartbreak often enough, but it works.
'The problem of endoheresy, then, is not a truly serious one for science (though it may be, we all know, for the individual endoheretic); and the questioning process is not one which must be carried out in public.
'But what of exoheresy?
We had better first be sure of what we mean by an exoheretic. Science is split into endless specialties, and a specialist who is narrow-minded and insecure may see anyone who is not bull's-eye on target within the specialty as an "outsider".
'But this kind of attitude won't do. If we wish to be fine enough and narrow enough, then all scientific heretics are exoheretics in the eyes of the sufficiently orthodox, and the term becomes meaningless. Nor should we label as exoheretics those who are not formally educated but who, through self-education, have reached the peak of professional excellence. Let us, instead, understand the word exoheretic to refer only to someone ho is a real outsider, one who does not understand the painstaking structure built up by science, and who therefore attacks it without understanding.
'The typical exoheretic is so unaware of the intimate structure of science, of the methods and philosophy of science, of the very language of science, that his views are virtually unintelligible from the scientific standpoint. As a consequence, he is generally ignored by scientists. If exoheretical views are forced upon scientists, the reaction is bound to be puzzlement or amusement or contempt. In any case, it would be exceptional if the exoheresy were deemed worthy of any sort of comment.
'In frustration, the exoheretic is very likely to appeal over the heads of scientists to teh general public. He may even be successful in this, since his inability to speak the language of science does not necessarily prevent him form speaking the language of the public. The appeal to the public is, of course, valueless from the scientific standpoint. The findings of science cannot be cancelled or reversed by majority vote, or by the higest legislative or executive fiat.
'Nevertheless, the appeal to the public has other rewards than that of establishing scientific proof. (1) A favorable public response is soul-satisfying. The exoheretic can easily convince himself that his position at the center of a cult demonstrates the value of his views. He can easily argue himself into believing that people would not flock to nonsense, though all history shows otherwise. (2) A favorable public response can be lucrative. It is well known that books and lectures dealing favorably with a popular cult do far better than do books and lectures debunking it, even when the books in favor may be poorly written and reasoned, whereas the books against may be models of lucidity and rationality. (3) A favorable public response may hound scientists into open opposition, and they may express, with injudicious force, their opinion of the obvious nonsense of the exoheretical views. This very opposition, casting the exoheretic into teh role of the martyr, works to accentuate the first two advantages.
'Public support or no, the exoheretic virtually never proves to be right. (How can he be right when he, quite literally, doesn't know what he's talking about?) Of course, he may prove to have said something somewhere in his flood of words that bears some resemblance to something that later proves to be so, and his coincidental concurrence of word and fact may be hailed by his followers as proving all the rest of the corpusof his work right. This outcome, however, has only cultic value.
'We see, then, the vast difference between the effects of the views of endoheretics and exoheretics. First, the public is generally not interested in the endoheretic, or, if aware of him at all, is hostile to him. The endoheretic therefore rarely profits from his heresy in a material way. The public, on the other hand, can be very interested in the exoheretic and can support him with a partisan and even religious fervor, so that the exoheretic may, in a material way, profit very considerably by his heresy.
'Second, the endoheretic is sometimes right, and since startling scientific advances usually begin as heresies, some of the greatest names in science have been endoheretics. The exoheretic, on the other hand, is virtually never right, and the history of science contains no great advance, to my knowledge, initiated by an exoheretic.
'One might combine these generalizations and, working backward (not always a safe procedure), state that when a view denounced by scientists as false is, nevertheless, popular with the general public, the mere fact of that popularity is strong evidence in favor of its worthlessness. It is on the basis of public popularity of particular beliefs, for instance, that I, even without personal investigation of such matters, feel it safe to be extremely skeptical about ancient astronauts, or about modern astronauts in UFO's, or about the value of talking to plants, or about psi phenomena, or about spiritualism, or about astrology.'
'And this bring me to Velikovskianism at last. (And me to Ian Wilson and his supporters.)
'Of all the exoheretics, Velikovsky has come closest to discomfiting the science he has attacked, and has most successfully forced science to take him seriously. (Wilson has not exactly discomfited the world of Late Antique and Byzantine studies, but his heresy has been accepted by a number of scholars - Pierluigi Baima Bollone, Daniel Raffard de Brienne, Werner Bulst, Massimo Centini, Linda Cooper, Karlheimer Dietz, Maurus Green, Mark Guscin, Robert Drews, Andre-Marie Dubarle, Barbara Frale, Emanuela Marinelli, Heinrich Pfeiffer, Ilaria Ramelli, Daniel Scavone, Maria Grazia Siliato, Eugene Csocsan de Várallja, Gino Zaninotto, Thomas de Wesselow. And, as opposed to the largely forgotten Velikovskianism, this is still alive and kicking.) Why is that? Well -
(1) Velikovsky has been a psychiatrist, so that he has training in a scientific specialty of sorts and is not an utter exoheretic. What's more, he has the faculty of sounding as though he knows what he is talking about when he invades the precincts of astronomy. He doesn't make very many elementary mistakes, and he is able to use the language of science sufficiently well to impress a layman. (Wilson has even more going for him. He actually holds a Bachelor's degree in Modern History from the University of Oxford. (And, to boot, the aforementioned supporters of his theory are educated to no less than doctoral level.) So, even though his interpretation of history is certainly that of an exoheretic, he could actually claim his place among the endoheretical lot.)
(2) He is an interesting writer. It's fun to read his books. I have read every book he has published and hope to read any he writes in the future. Although he doesn't lure me into accepting his views, I can well see where those less knowledgeable in the fields Velikovsky deals with would succumb. (When I first read Wilson's The Shroud of Turin, I must confess that I have felt he presented a very strong case. I did find certain bits unconvincing, like the part about the new iconography of Jesus' face being invented based on close examination of the image in the Shroud, but, on the Image of Edessa a;nd the Turin Shroud being one and the same object, I thought he could be right. Then, of course, I went and examined the evidence for myself, and saw that he wasn't. But not everyone has the education, time, and (library) resources required for such an undertaking.)
(3) Velikovsky's views in Worlds in Collision are designed to demonstrate that the Bible has a great deal of literal truth in it, that the miraculous events described in the Old Testament really happened as described. (Wilson is one of those who choose to believe that the undeniably enigmatic Turin Shroud bears a miraculously created image of Jesus Christ. And this may very well be right. But there is no evidence for it. To begin with, the relic has no known history prior to the 14th century. And there is no mention of an image-bearing cloth anywhere in the New Testament, the Early Christian (whether orthodox or heretical) writings, or any other source before the appearance of the highly unreliable Abgar legends. And even in the latter the cloth is not a 14-foot burial shroud, bearing an image with the marks of the Passion. But what if...? What if this is the image of Our Lord Jesus Christ? How can one not wonder? Herein lies the major difference between every other scientific heresy and what we have here. We are not dealing with just a scientific heresy - a veritable pseudoscience has been created. Sindonology. The study of one single relic, isolated from everything else, conducted outside the world of orthodox academia, and often with deep disrespect and distrust for what the orthodox scientists have to say. And when any orthodox scientist reads the endless on-line discussions of these 'sindonologists', the papers presented at their conferences, and the occasional publications that they produce, he will invariably notice one thing: these people veritably despise the academic world. And this warrants some attention and an attempt to understand why this is so. I propose this answer: The average 'sindonologist' has come to the (accurate) conclusion that the image in the Shroud
is like no other in the history of human art, and that it, at least for
the time being, escapes scientific explanation; he has, through various
experiences in his life, become fed up (and rightly so) with the
skepticism, rationalism, agnosticism, and the general disbelief that
permeate the academic world today; he has done some research and has
found a number of things in various scientific disciplines (in at least
some of which he has no expertise of his own) that could conceivably be
used to prove that the relic is authentic; he has most probably always
had a healthy passion for mysteries; and he is, more often than not,
passionate about his religion as well. Through a combination of these
factors, he continues to been drawn to this enigmatic object. He is often aware that experts have refuted some of his claims,
but refuses to change his mind – because these experts are generally not
very inspiring to him. Their skepticism, rationalism, and agnosticism,
mentioned above, is in fact repulsive to him, and, to a great degree in
deliberate opposition to them, he chooses to believe. He chooses a
wonderfully mysterious fantasy over the dreary, cheerless reality. And
who can possibly blame him? I certainly don’t. But it is a heresy nevertheless. And, as such, it can teach us a lot.)