This article introduces a subject which is both fascinating and ridiculous. Theories of how aliens have started our societies or life on earth abound, and some people base their ‘religions’ on such concepts. Do they stand up to scrutiny? Welcome back skepticism. Aaron Adair, who has written some excellent posts here before, introduces the subject and his video presentation debunking the such theories from various angles. Check the video out. Thanks again to Aaron for this.
So there has been a lot of stuff in the media about a subject that’s a bit out of this world (and I don’t mean Paul Ryan’s policies). Whether it’s in blockbuster movies or the “History” Channel, there has been a return of the idea of extraterrestrials coming to Earth in the past and either starting or promoting civilization. It’s really a resurrection of what had been said back in the late 1960s and 70s, and some of the same people are involved.
Lots of interesting claims are made about the past amongst those that promote the ancient astronaut hypothesis, most of it being about megalithic structures, strange artifacts, or the fantastic stories of antiquity. Perhaps that flying chariot from Indian myth was a flying saucer; maybe this map shows knowledge of the continents from the past when the world was largely unknown to antique mapmakers; could it be that the pyramids were constructed by a super-civilization with amazing technology?
Going by the ratings of the show “Ancient Aliens”, it seems that this idea is rather popular again, including its most famous proponent, Erich von Daniken. And the claims being made are similar or identical to what was argued decades earlier. Do they actually stand up to criticism?
Well, they didn’t seem to back in the 1970s. A number of books by scholars deconstructed the claims made, and there was even a BBC Horizon/PBS Documentary on the subject from 1977/78. (I haven’t found a good digital copy, but here is a VHS rip which is not in great shape).
But old documentaries won’t help combat the tide stimulated by a professional-looking, apparently sophisticated History Channel TV series. All the more-so when our knowledge has significantly advanced about the nature of the ancient world in the 35 years since it was produced. We know even better how ancient monuments were crafted, how ancient stories were made, and what our ancestors used to believe. (But at least in that time we have figured out ways to make the trip from the stars more plausible, such as with warp drive.)
There is also a religious aspect that the ancient alien idea has behind it. Von Daniken, for example, is actually a Christian (he had a Catholic upbringing), and his re-invention of the stories of the Bible to fit alien visitations of various sorts is not to debunk the Bible but to save it. Now the miracles of the Good Book can be explained naturally. In reality, this is the same strategy used to save the Bible back in the early 19th century, making all the supernatural tales fit a world of Newtonian physics. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising if people cling to these beliefs much the same way people continue to hold on to ancient faiths.
So skeptics and atheists ought to know what the claims are, even if they cannot tolerate what has happened to the previously respectable History Channel (the only thing history on that channel now is its credibility). Moreover, there are lots of things that are actually interesting about the ancient world but get mucked-over because the layer of ancient alien Kuhscheiße. It also makes more legitimate ways of searching for potential advanced civilizations, namely the SETI program, look ridiculous.
So it was great that I was able to put together a presentation on the subject for my local Secular Student Alliance group at Ohio State .
(I had an earlier version of this video up, but because I used a bit from Battlestar Galactica I had a copyright issue with NBC; I’m trying to resolve that now.)
I later throw up one bit about alleged close encounters of the 3rd and 4th kinds.
Now, it’s a big, BIG universe, so it seems likely that another civilization exists out there among the stars, but proving it so won’t be done the ways ancient astronaut folks think. There are much better ways, and the SETI institute has the best chance right now. Check them out, and keep watching the skies!