| Style over substance|
Hanns Hörbiger (1860-1931) started his career well, as an engineer in 19th-century Austria. He invented an improved kind of valve and he helped work on the Budapest subway system, and the engineering firm that he founded still exists today (Compression Technology, Drive Technology, Hydraulics by HOERBIGER).
He was also the inventor of the pseudoscientific Welteislehre (WEL: "World Ice Theory" or "Cosmic Ice Theory"), a very elaborate alternative cosmology.
He got started with it when he noticed how bright the Moon looks when one looks at it through a small telescope. He had his first "recognition", that the Moon is covered with ice. Some time later, he dreamed that he was suspended in space and that he watched a silvery pendulum swing and get longer and longer until it broke. "I knew that Newton had been wrong and that the sun's gravitational pull ceases to exist at three times the distance of Neptune," he concluded in his second "recognition". He got together with schoolteacher Philipp Fauth in 1898, and he published in 1912 Glazial-Kosmogonie (Glacial Cosmogony), a 790-page tome with numerous photographs and diagrams.
The WEL starts with a supergiant star that a water-soaked dead star fell into. The water got heated and spewed out, condensing as ice blocks. They then formed some solar systems and the Milky Way, a ring of these blocks. The Solar System formed with more planets than what it has today. These planets and leftover ice blocks get dragged by interplanetary hydrogen, and spiral inward. The outer planets got big from numerous ice blocks, the inner planets not so many. Sunlight glinting off of passing ice blocks gets seen as meteors, and when an ice block collides with the Earth, it makes big hailstorms. When an ice block hits the Sun, it makes a sunspot, and its ice condenses as "fine ice" which then dusts the inner planets.
The Earth has captured several small planets, and they have all spiraled into the Earth except for the most recent one. The Earth's previous moon, the Tertiary or Cenozoic moon, fell in recently enough to be remembered in numerous myths and legends, like dragons, battles of gods in the sky, the Devil, Germanic Götterdämmerung (twilight of the gods), and the Book of Revelation. The Tertiary Moon had pulled up a "girdle tide" at the Earth's equator, and when it fell in, this tide sloshed back and inspired numerous flood legends, like Noah's Flood. Later events were were remembered in places like the Book of Genesis. But then the Earth captured its present-day moon, with that capture sinking Atlantis, and that moon is also spiraling inward.
Hörbiger did not take criticism very well. When someone pointed out to him that this or that of his assertions did not work out numerically, he responded "Calculation can only lead you astray." About pictures of the Milky Way that showed that it is composed of an enormous number of stars, he responded that those pictures were faked by "reactionary" astronomers. He even once wrote "Either you believe in me and learn, or you will be treated as the enemy."
The theory got little attention at first, since World War I got in the way, but after that war, Hörbiger and his followers decided to promote their theory to the general public. They were successful at that, with their followers publishing books, posters, pamphlets, and even a newsletter, The Key to World Events. They put pressure on people to accept the theory, with one employer only hiring people who accepted it. Some of them even heckled astronomers' meetings with "Out with astronomical orthodoxy! Give us Hörbiger!"
Along the way, they changed the name of their theory from the Greco-Roman Glazial-Kosmogonie to the Germanic Welteislehre.
In 1931, the WEL organization associated itself with Nazism, and its supporters started saying things like
- “Our Nordic ancestors grew strong in ice and snow; belief in the World Ice is consequently the natural heritage of Nordic Man.”
- “Just as it needed a child of Austrian culture—Hitler!—to put the Jewish politicians in their place, so it needed an Austrian to cleanse the world of Jewish science.”
- “The Führer, by his very life, has proved how much a so-called ‘amateur’ can be superior to self-styled professionals; it needed another ‘amateur’ to give us complete understanding of the universe.”
WEL supporters associated themselves strongly enough with Nazism for the Nazis' Propaganda Ministry to once state that "one can be a good National Socialist without believing in the WEL."
After World War II, the WEL organization dropped out of sight, though successor organizations appeared in the 1950's. But they seem to have dropped out of sight again, because they seem to have no discoverable Internet presence.
(Main sources: Gardner Fads and Fallacies, Ley Watchers of the Skies)
- See the Wikipedia article on Welteislehre.
- See the Wikipedia article on Hanns Hörbiger.
- See the Wikipedia article on Hans Schindler Bellamy.
- Cosmic Ice Theory | Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
- The Story of Hanns Hoerbiger's Cosmic Ice Theory
- Hans Schindler Bellamy: Moons, Myths and Man (1936), The Book of Revelation is History (1942), In the Beginning God (1945)
- Martin Gardner: "Monsters of Doom" in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952, 1957)
- Willy Ley: "Astronomical Fantasies" in Watchers of the Skies (1963)
- Patrick Moore: " Ice, Ice, Everywhere!" in Can You Speak Venusian? (1972)