Friday, January 7, 2011
Ancient Astronaut "Theory"
During my twenty-three years of life I've come across numerous theories and ideas regarding the mysterious origins of man. The question of our origin is one that has fascinated and intrigued likely from the beginning of spoken language and certainly since the advent of written language. There are many stories and ideas, both old and new about how the human race became what it is today. It should come as no surprise that many are set in their ways about such ideas and reject outright the attempts of science to explain our origins via Evolution. Some want to claim that God, using divine power alone, summoned life into existence. Others claim that Evolution IS true but that God created mankind from a lesser form of ape. Today we'll be talking about a similar idea, ancient astronaut theory or AAT for short.
Ancient Astronaut theory is actually not a scientific theory but is a set of pseudoscientific beliefs about the biological and societal evolution of early man. After I left Christianity and Creationism behind this sort of pseudoscience was the first thing I gravitated to because, as we will see, it has its own brand of apologetics and requires faith on the part of the believer. Many ancient astronaut theorists also, like many Creationists, claim that there is a conspiracy of scientists trying to keep the truth from getting out.
The primary idea here is that extraterrestrial beings with superior technology landed on Earth in the distant past and hopped from civilization to civilization passing down knowledge to the ancient peoples of the world. Apparently everyone from the Aztecs to the Egyptians were contacted by these alien beings that descended which were mistaken as being gods.
Myths and Gods
This is the first idea that I take issue with, the idea that ancient myths about gods are actually recording alien encounters. In order to come to this conclusion one needs to rob a myth of all its context first. For instance many AAT proponents have mentioned the Biblical verse about God leading the Israelites as a pillar of fire. This pillar of fire sounds suspiciously like a UFO. In order to assume that this verse is talking about aliens you must ignore the context of the story. In particular I point to the burning bush as a counter. While it is possible to stretch a pillar of fire into a UFO it is hardly the same thing to stretch a burning bush into having ANYTHING to do with aliens, especially when the voice of God comes from the bush to talk to a guy who's been wandering in the desert looking for a lost sheep. So in most of these myths one has to ignore the rest of the story and ignore historical context not to mention having to apply MODERN UFO/Alien lore to ancient accounts.
I'm constantly reminded by ancient astronaut proponents of the Annunaki, a group of Sumerian deities, whose name supposedly translates as "those who came down from heaven" as if this means anything. This is meant to add credence to the story but I'm not sure exactly how it does. Imagine we're a thousand years into the future and I stumble upon a super-man comic book that says he arrived from Krypton from the sky... exactly how does this imply that super-man is real? Even if these myths literally stated that beings from other planets came down and showed them how to plant crops it wouldn't be conclusive evidence although admittedly it would be more impressive than the stretched interpretations of myth often presented by AAT proponents.
I've also been told by AAT proponents that the best evidence for their hypothesis is the fact that almost all gods supposedly come from the sky the way the Annunaki did. This is, of course, entirely false. There were gods for nearly everything. Volcano gods, wind gods, gods of the underworld, etc. If one is to look at it logically it doesn't seem that the domain of the gods is always the sky and they aren't always descending or ascending. It is true that the heavens are a common place for the gods to live but given the majesty and beauty of the sky and the lack of understand the ancients had for how weather works and what the son, moon and stars even are it is entirely understandable that many gods would originate or live in the heavens.
Other supposed evidence for alien visitation comes in the form of massive monuments such as Stonehenge, the Pyramids and Machu Picchu. For some reason ancient astronaut theorists are unable to believe that human beings built these structures. While certainly there are many incredible feats of ancient engineering there is no archeological evidence that anyone BUT humans built these wonders of the ancient world. In fact there is ample evidence that human beings did in fact build them. It is true that for some of the monuments often touted the method of construction remains unknown however this is no reason to begin wild speculation. In this cast ancient astronaut proponents remind me of ancient storytellers attributing natural monuments to larger than life monsters. Case in point the Giant's Causeway:
The Giant's Causeway is a perfectly natural formation but has the appearance of design (Creationists should know that terminology) and was attributed to, well, a Giant. This is also akin to what is known as a God of the Gaps fallacy only in this case its an alien in the gaps. AAT proponents realize its still a mystery how many of these monuments were built and they don't think humans were able to build these structures by themselves and so alien intervention is a better explanation. They fill the gap with their knowledge with aliens without first having any evidence these aliens even exist.
To be entirely honest with you it bothers me that ancient astronaut theorists refuse to give credit to our ancestors for the feats the accomplished and the myths they compiled. There is a lack of respect for cultural context and the truth here that disturbs me greatly. This can be seen when they bring up something like the Baghdad battery, the Nazca lines, the pyramids or the Antikythera mechanism as proof of aliens. These are not proof of aliens they are evidence that human beings are a resourceful and creative species.
UFOS in ART?
Here is another subject that I ended up changing my mind on. Early on in my research into the idea I found ancient astronaut theory compelling primarily because of the artwork that supposedly depicts UFOs. Many paintings and works of art contain objects in the sky that can be interpreted to look like UFOs. There are numerous rebuttals of this but I think the strongest rebuttal is that actual scholars of art are not the ones claiming aliens. For anyone interested here is an excellent video debunking of some commonly held “UFOs” in artwork.
So as you can see the idea that these are UFOs is essentially bunk but even if it wasn’t how exactly would the presence of UFOs immediately prove the presence of extraterrestrials. Afterall UFOs are merely unidentified flying objects and as such they cannot be identified otherwise they wouldn’t even be UFOs. So even if the ancients did see some weird things in the sky that they couldn’t readily explain does that mean that they were seeing aliens? Why presume such a thing without first having evidence? Furthermore why assume that what people see today when they see a UFO has any correlation with UFOs of the past. A flaming chariot carrying Elijah into heaven doesn’t sound anything like a shiny metallic craft moving stealthily across the night sky and Elijah hopping into the fiery chariot doesn’t sound at all like being taken from your home and floated out the window during an alien abduction. Yet that Biblical story is often touted as an ancient alien abduction.
Conclusions and Similarities with God Belief
There has never been a shred of conclusive evidence that alien beings have interfered with life on Earth either by altering us biologically or affecting our development of civilization. There is also the fact that many of the civilizations supposedly influenced by aliens were separated by centuries and had vastly different methods of doing things and vastly different myths. The Aztecs, for instance, built pyramids and are sometimes lumped in with civilizations that had alien visitors yet their empire was separated by THOUSANDS of years from the Egyptian civilization that built their pyramids. How long have the aliens been here and why have they left no evidence behind at all? Why didn’t they give ancient man real technology, why only teach us what we were capable to know for ourselves (agriculture, building techniques, etc).
WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE?
Because the evidence for AAT is lacking so heavily one is required to have faith in order to believe it. Much the same way that Creationists have faith those that believe in alien intervention must ignore scientific consensus and evidence that refutes their ideas while co-opting actual science and actual knowledge to make their claims. Blending modern UFO lore with ancient texts may be a recipe for interesting fiction but it shouldn’t be presented as producing facts. Once again, say it with me:
WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE?