Predestination and the Problem of Historical Catastrophism

Abstract of talk by Victor Clube

Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Keble Road, Oxford OX1 3RH, and Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh BT 61 9DG
Presented at the SIS Conference: Natural Catastrophes during Bronze Age Civilisations (11th-13th July 1997)

Comets passing through the Solar System from the Oort cloud which have lost angular momentum due to planetary close encounters include a significant proportion of sungrazers. Continuously near the ecliptic such bodies are also especially prone to orbital energy loss thereby enhancing the prograde cometary population under Jovian control. Such control extends to "Jupiter avoiding" resonances and an expectation on this account of tidally weakened, giant sungrazers which remain long enough in cis-Jovian space to be physically destroyed. We therefore expect particularly massive disintegration streams containing a high proportion of sub-kilometre meteoroids such as are required to explain the zodiacal cloud and nodal intersection with the terrestrial orbit arising in near-contemporary pairs such as are bound to impose a cyclic bombardment and global cooling of the Earth. Thus individual impactors produced this way are expected to produce mini-ice age, (bio)-chemical pollution or "super-Tunguska" events depending on their cohesive strength and level of break-up in or above the atmosphere. A ~2.5kyr Late Holocene cycle of this kind with an apparent pre-Sub-boreal value of ~2.1 kyr which extends into the Late Pleistocene is consistent with a previously named comet ("Chronos") which was instrumental in producing the last major glaciation ~50-10 kyr BP and which subsequently experienced a significant cis-Jovian planetary encounter ~5 kyr BP, the latter reducing its orbital eccentricity whilst at the same time enhancing and broadening its meteoroidal stream. Perceived initially as a central "tree of or life", such a system was to evolve and become the present Taurid Stream. It follows that the remnant of proto--Encke core of the Taurids is then associated with predictable "dark age" catastrophes. These last for several centuries and occur around 2000 - 250On BC; n = 0, 1, 2... being naturally combined with a less frequent, more random, lower incidence of such phenomena at intervening epochs. Such a sequence of events imposed upon the historical record and repeated down the ages very naturally give rise to the awesome sense of destiny amongst humankind which has pervaded to post-glacial rise of civilisation and sustained the discipline of both cosmology and theology. Astrologers and soothsayers (astronomers and priests) belonging to the last "dark age" eras are therefore foremost both in upholding the knowledge and experience of the predominant pre-"dark age" civilisation [using cuneiform (n=0) and Latin (n+1) respectively] and in underwriting the inevitable revival of "predestination" from time to time. The doctrine of predestination may of course be no more than an intellectual fudge designed to make the best of a bad situation: prearranged human bonding in relation to a supposed omnipotent yet benevolent divinity may meet a very immediate need for reassurance in respect of salvation from a predicted cosmic threat. But if sophistry fails, the human condition seems to be one in which secularists and hedonists in the name of condition seems to be one in which secularists and hedonists in the name of truth, beauty and freedom will commonly respond by pursuing such as millenarianism, utopianism and uniformitarianism, even as a recipe for revolution. With the "establishment' of such "enlightenment" it is a moot point of course whether English (n=2) will be the vehicle through which the knowledge and experience of western civilisation are transmitted beyond the next dark age.


VICTOR CLUBE is currently funded by the Leverhulme Trust in catastrophism/climate studies at Oxford University and Armagh Observatory (in collaboration with Bill Napier) having previously held a succession of career posts at Greenwich, Cape and Edinburgh Royal Observatories. These studies have the same bearing to astrophysics as Newton's historical/eschatological investigations had to dynamical astronomy. As such, they represent a still comparatively rare academic recognition of the highly erratic socio-political response to cosmic phenomena (mostly to do with giant comet debris) which commonly puts civilisation seriously at risk Publications include (as co-author) The Cosmic Serpent, The Origins of Comets and The Cosmic Winter.