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The Logic of Historical Evidence
By David Talbott

In my previous article I noted that "in certain situations a simple comparison of human testimony can achieve exceptional reliability, even though the witnesses are not inherently trustworthy." Though the principle is not generally acknowledged, it can easily be verified through an example such as that of "The Unfortunate Peter Smith," presented in that article.

With respect to the use of evidence based on human testimony, I recently received the following comment from Maurice Gilroy:

I believe that if you want to claim that you are going to provide a scientific explanation of past events, your explanation must be a "bottom up" one, not "top down." Your explanation must be evolutionary in the sense that it must start with sound physics, and proceed up through whatever chemistry, biology, psychology, and sociology is necessary to explain the mythic description. To make Greek rationalist judgments about Oriental myths, and then try to figure out some plausible chemistry and physics, is working "top down," (and backwards). This may be necessary in the very early "searching for some logical explanation" phase. However, if sound physics will not support some appealing vision of the past, then that vision is in some way flawed. This appears to be the status of Velikovsky's and Dave's visions of biblical and mythic events. This judgment may seem arrogant to someone with a humanistic background, but the foundation of science is the physics and planetary geology that make the carbon chemistry of biology possible. I am convinced that there is no sound physics that will support the Velikovskian of Saturnist vision of ancient catastrophes.

To Mr. Gilroy's credit, his posture has been one of complete fairness and open-mindedness. So I am happy to include him in our "Critic's Corner", in the hope of stimulating constructive discussion.

Also, in fairness to Mr. Gilroy, I must mention that he proceeds to outline several objections to the Saturnian model based on physical considerations. These objections are, in fact, those we most frequently encounter, and there is no likelihood of our gaining broad support from the scientific community unless the challenges are fully addressed. Though various parties working on physical models HAVE addressed Mr. Gilroy's objections at one time or another, a unified model has yet to be proposed. Certain vital principles, however, have been illuminated, including that of collinear equilibrium and tidal friction, balanced by the more far-reaching electrical considerations overlooked in conventional models of planetary history.

It should go without saying that an immense amount of work on models is needed. And the compelling reason for proceeding is a vast field of evidence which science has ignored. Neither the recent history of our Earth, nor the geological history of our planetary neighbors, nor the cultural history of humankind will be comprehended until we confront the great celestial spectacles witnessed by our ancestors. And that investigation will require much more than the usual scant attention to methodology. Because these spectacles involved well-defined forms in the sky, it is essential that critical principles of reasoning be appreciated.

Nothing is more fundamental to the reconsideration of planetary history than a rigorously-developed comparative approach to human testimony. For many years I have continually looked for the clearest ways to convey the reasoning process without which the extraordinary value of ancient testimony will not be recognized. But always I have found myself returning to a bedrock principle. In any theoretical exploration involving a new hypothesis, one question must be asked relentlessly.


That question is at the heart of the scientific method, whatever the field of inquiry. And the investigation must address the entire range of data bearing on the answer.

When it comes to our own subject - ancient planetary catastrophe--excluding the value of human testimony would be a potentially fatal mistake, since, in advance of an investigation, it is impossible to know which sources of data will provide the most telling insights. To see why this is the case, just imagine how researchers might reconstruct ancient events if huge planetary forms DID once hang above the world, fueling veneration, terror, and an explosion of human imagination. If such planetary drama did occur, and included catastrophic interactions of the planets, how much do you think that the planets today could tell us about what the ancient SAW, or about the specific sequence of events? Whatever the nature of the catastrophes, we would certainly expect to find scars and telltale indicators of past upheaval on the planets. But it would be absurd to deny in advance the potential for vastly more specific details from those who witnessed the events. And we would quickly see the absolute necessity of honing our investigative skills and critical judgment in order to gain the full value of that testimony.

It is not a matter of taking myths or symbols or ritual practices LITERALLY, of course. It is a matter of analyzing worldwide patterns, to see if they point to a coherent experience, one that could only be explained by the presence of certain external forms or globally-experienced events. For example, the flaming, long-haired or feathered celestial serpent is a global mythical image. Its power over human imagination was immense, but it was clearly a PRODUCT of human imagination as well. So the investigation must rely on principles of logic and probability. On every habitable continent stargazers celebrated a remarkably similar, biologically absurd monster. Is it reasonable to assume that imagination, even though working in a vacuum, continually hit upon the same highly specific idea, in flagrant contradiction of all natural experience? Or were the stargazers responding imaginatively to something APPEARING IN THE SKY and inspiring the great terror consistently evident in the ancient accounts? The key will be found in the symbolic language, the natural hieroglyphs (serpent, flowing hair, feathers, streams of fire). Once it is realized that, among all of the great cultures, the most common glyphs attached to the cosmic serpent--not to mention the serpent itself--were hieroglyphs for the COMET, the door is opened to stunning discovery.

Suddenly one sees a vital principle almost uniformly ignored in comparative cultural studies. When an entire complex of symbols points to a singular celestial form, it is only reasonable to presume the presence of that form, and to look for corroborating references. If a unique form or celestial object WAS present, we should expect all manner of corroborating evidence; and if it was NOT present, it is inconceivable that one would consistently find widely varying words and symbols pointing to that very celestial form.

But to this general and quite obvious point, Wayne Throop responded--

Uh... no, not at all. You are saying "if the sky were so-and-so, then human myths would be thus-and-such; human myths ARE thus-and-such, therefore the sky was so-and-so".

This is the same syllogism as "if a being is a human, that being is a biped; my parrot is indeed a biped; therefore my parrot is a human".

This reasoning is not correct. The issue has nothing to do with syllogisms. We are dealing with probabilities, in this case the kind of astronomical IMPROBABILITIES which we illustrated in "The Unfortunate Peter Smith" analogy. If Peter Smith had been dressed "normally", it would be astronomically improbable that the police would have received INDEPENDENT testimony suggesting the man wore two different running shoes and a shirt inside out. Therefore the reasoning of the police was virtually ironclad, despite the fact that the witnesses were not even dependable under the standard tests.

Needless to say, this issue of probability is not affected by the dating of the memories, though it is amazing how little attention scholars have given to the principles involved here. When independent testimony points to the same HIGHLY SPECIFIC, BUT HIGHLY UNUSUAL EVENTS, that testimony is of huge evidential value.

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