The Case Against Ancient Aliens Part One Evidence and Worldviews

This article was originally published in Ufologist, Vol. 21, No. 3, September-October 2017

The ancient aliens or ancient astronauts theory is the belief that aliens visited Earth in the distant past. They manipulated our evolution. Their technology was responsible for many of the monuments of the ancient world. They were the source of our myths and religions. The theory became popular in the 1970s after the publication of Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken whose books have sold over 60 million copies. However, the first book on the subject appears to have been Flying Saucers Have Landed by Desmond Leslie and George Adamski in 1953. Since 2009 the idea has experienced a revival with the History Channel’s series Ancient Aliens. According to a survey conducted by Chapman University in 2015, about 20% of Americans believe in the ancient aliens theory[1] . In a similar survey in 2016 the next figure this figure had increased to 27%[2].

The ancient aliens theory has inspired science fiction movies such as Alien vs Predator (2004) in which an expedition to a buried temple in Antarctica discovers some ancient weapons, which are clearly alien in origin. Unfortunately, the ancient aliens movement has never shown us any evidence which is equally convincing and undeniably alien in origin.

The Ancient Aliens episode “Chariots, Gods and Beyond” quotes an archaeologist Robert Cargill saying, “There is not a single piece of evidence that von Daniken puts forward that cannot be attributed to human ingenuity, technology and development.”[3]

This is one of the few times in which the Ancient Aliens series presents a more mainstream or critical point of view. Many documentaries, especially on controversial subjects, will often show more than one point of view, allowing the viewers to form their own conclusions. In an earlier History Channel series UFO Hunters (2008-2009) one of the presenters often put forward a more sceptical interpretation of the evidence. There is no such attempt at objectivity in Ancient Aliens. 99% of the time the ancient aliens view is the only view which is presented. Ancient aliens believers often claim that mainstream academics are suppressing and censoring the truth. However, Ancient Aliens and many books on the subject basically engage in censorship. They ignore the more plausible explanations of conventional archaeologists and historians who have studied their subjects for years and rely on evidence and critical thinking. Their audience and readers are only getting one side, giving the impression their case is more credible than it really is.

A lot of their case is simply speculation and asking questions. In nearly every episode of Ancient Aliens the narrator asks. “Is it possible that” some myth, text or art refers to aliens or some ancient artefact was really the work of aliens? The Ancient Aliens episode “The Von Daniken Legacy” says, “By using rhetorical questions von Daniken suggested that evidence of alien close encounters could be found in everything from ancient religious texts and mysterious stone carvings to monumental structures and monoliths located all over the world.” [4]

Most experts know better than to be dogmatic and say that something is 100% not possible. Just because something is “possible” does not mean it is true or even likely. It is possible that we are all living in a computer-generated reality like in The Matrix, but it is not likely.

Asking questions is not the same as presenting evidence. It proves nothing. It also provides ancient aliens believers an escape. If they are proved wrong, they can argue they did not actually say something was proof of alien intervention, they were only asking if it was. Von Daniken has said,

“I was attacked at that time, “Erich von Daniken says.” In reality I had in Chariots of the Gods? 238 question marks. Nobody read the question marks.” [5]

So, are ancient aliens believers saying we were visited by aliens or are they just asking if we were?

On his blog the sceptic Jason Colavito wrote, “I’m often asked what is the harm in Ancient Aliens; after all, isn’t it just fun?” [6]  Again, do ancient aliens proponents really believe what they are saying or is it just fun, a joke which some of us don’t get and think they are being serious?

The ancient aliens theory is largely a worldview through which they interpret the evidence. Erich von Daniken acknowledges, “On the other hand paleo-seti philosophy is also just a point of view, a theory; it provides a very helpful foundation, but cannot yet be proved.” [7] This is apparent in their search for evidence in the Bible.

In his 1968 book The Bible and Flying Saucers Barry Downing argues that it is no longer possible for modern scientific people to believe in the supernatural, so he suggests that the supernatural events described in the Bible were really aliens and spaceships. He writes that “just as a UFO is a ‘short’ form for Unidentified Flying Object, so a ‘cloud’ is the Bible’s ‘short’ form for some sort of space vehicle.”[8]

They do not believe in God, gods or the supernatural, but they do not dismiss religious texts and myths and their accounts of the supernatural, like most non-believers would. They claim the texts and myths were still accurate, but they were really describing aliens and their technology in pre-scientific terms. Von Daniken writes,

“Their simple minds must have regarded the aliens as “gods” – although we all know there aren’t any gods.”[9]

In an Ancient Aliens episode, “Aliens and Sacred Places”, when Giorgio Tsoukalos says, “In my opinion, angels do not exist. Angels were merely the misinterpretation of flesh and blood extraterrestrials who descended from the sky with means of technology.” [10]

It is conceivable that if aliens did visit Earth in ancient times, primitive humans would assume the gods or angels had come down to them. However, this does not mean that is what happened. Archaeologists have not discovered any alien artefacts inside ancient temples which would suggest that their gods were really aliens. Ancient aliens believers are reinterpreting the texts or myths to fit their preconceptions.

Downing and Tsoukalos’ reinterpretation is based on a naturalist or anti-supernatural worldview, not science. Science is concerned with the natural world, not the supernatural. It cannot prove or disprove the existence of God or the supernatural. One cannot carry out a scientific experiment which proves there is no supernatural. The supernatural worldview has not been disproved. Most of the world’s population still believes in God or gods and the supernatural. Sometimes a cloud is just a cloud.

Furthermore, the supernatural events in the Bible cannot simply be reinterpreted as the activities of ancient aliens.

For example, many ancient aliens believers claim that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 was a nuclear attack, but the details suggest otherwise. Genesis says that God “rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire” (Genesis 19:24). Rain does not come down in the form of a single drop, like a warhead. It is widespread. Sulphur and fire is reminiscent of a volcanic eruption. There was no mention of any fireball, blinding flash, heat and blast waves, a mushroom cloud and fallout. People can be blinded but they do not turn into salt when they look at a nuclear explosion, like Lot’s wife did (Genesis 19:26).

Aliens are believed to have been behind the events of the Exodus, the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, the parting of the Red Sea, the pillars of fire and cloud. Again, they have no proof. They are simply re-interpreting the events as the work as aliens. However, ancient aliens believers also claim that aliens helped the Egyptians build the Great Pyramid and star gates. Whose side were the aliens on?

Von Daniken claims that the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus was really a transmitter for Moses to communicate with the aliens [11]. He writes,

“Undoubtedly, the Ark was electrically charged! If we reconstruct it today according to the instructions handed down by Moses, a voltage of several hundred volts is produced. The condenser is framed by the gold plates, one of which is positively, the other negatively charged…… Without actually consulting Exodus, I seem to remember that the Ark was often surrounded by flashing sparks.” [12]

If von Daniken had bothered to consult Exodus, he would have found that it does not say anything about sparks surrounding the Ark.

In his book Crash Go the Chariots Australian archaeologist Clifford Wilson interviewed an electrical expert Jeff Peers who says that because the Ark was completely overlaid with gold, it was only one metal plate and it could not be positively and negatively charged[13]. Wilson also pointed out that God spoke to Moses on several occasions before the Ark was built. God did not need the Ark to communicate with Israel[14].

Many ancient aliens believers claim that around 593 BC the prophet Ezekiel saw a spaceship. Ezekiel described seeing a cloud coming from the north. In the middle of the cloud were four living creatures with four faces, a man, a lion, an eagle and an ox, and four wings, which are later called cherubim, angelic beings. Beside each living creature was a wheel and another wheel within each wheel. Above the four living creatures was a dome or platform, and above this was a throne on which God was sitting (Ezekiel 1:1-18).

Raymond Drake [15] and R. L. Dione[16] say that it was a “saucer”. In his book The Spaceships of Ezekiel Josef F. Blumirch, “a major NASA engineer” interprets Ezekiel’s’ vision very differently. He claims that the living creatures and their wings were four helicopter engines and their blades, and the feet were the landing gear. Above then was the body of the spaceship, comprising the fuel tank, reactor and a capsule containing the pilot seated at his controls which Ezekiel thought was God on His throne. His book contains some drawings of what the spaceship was supposed to look like. In Guardians of the Universe Ronald Story comments that “they prove nothing more than whoever prepared them is a good draughtsman.”[17]

Blumrich’s proposed spaceship with its helicopter blades does not resemble any modern UFO. The fact, that different ancient aliens believers interpret Ezekiel’s vision so differently, suggests they are reading their own preconceptions into the text.

Ezekiel said he saw “visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1), that is, he did not believe he was seeing something which was physically happening. In God Drives a Flying Saucer R. L. Dione writes that Ezekiel “saw a flying saucer or dreamed he did”[18] which suggests he does not necessarily think Ezekiel’s experience was physically real.

Ezekiel did not see a single object, a spaceship with a command capsule and a seated pilot and helicopter engines underneath. What Blumrich claims were helicopter blades and engines, Ezekiel calls “living creatures’ and “cherubim”. There were golden cherubim on either side of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22). That does not mean the Ark was between two helicopter engines.  Ezekiel was a Jewish priest (Ezekiel 1:3). He would have known what cherubim looked like.  He may not have known what a helicopter was, but he could presumably tell the difference between something metallic and living cherubim.

Above the cherubim is a “raqia” in Hebrew, which can be translated as “dome” or “platform’. In his commentary on Ezekiel, Steven Tuell writes, “The term describes the dome of the sky, which marks the outermost limits of the human cosmos: beyond this barrier lies the realm of God.”[19] Ezekiel wrote that “the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” (Ezekiel 1:1). When he can see the throne of God above the dome or platform, he is looking beyond this physical world through the opening into heaven where the throne of God is. The cherubim are below the dome. They are on this side in the physical world.

One of the major features of Ezekiel’s vision is the four faces of the cherubim, a man, lion, ox and eagle (Ezekiel 1:10). Blumrich suggests they were either “gears and mechanism” or merely pictures on the helicopter engines similar to pictures on modern aircraft[20]. This is not convincing.

These cherubim are reminiscent of the Lamassu of Mesopotamian mythology. They were gods with human heads, wings and the bodies of a lion or bull. The Lamassu were “often represented as a standing figure that introduces guests to another, superior god.”[21] Lamassu were placed at the entrances to palaces, so Ezekiel and the Jews in exile in Babylon would have presumably seen them. The pagan Lamassu had three features, while Ezekiel’s cherubim had four, which perhaps signified that the cherubim were more complete and superior. LIke the Lamassu, the cherubim, were intended to introduce Ezekiel to the true God

Later, when Ezekiel says that God “brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 8:3), Blumrich takes this literally and claims he was taken in the spaceship to Jerusalem, even though Ezekiel said it was a vision.  Ezekiel describes how he saw six men appointed by God to go through the city and kill all the idolaters in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9:1-11). Blumrich thinks this actually happened[22]. Other Old Testament sources for this period, 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles and Jeremiah, do not say anything about strange wheeled objects landing in Jerusalem and six men killing lots of people. This is because it did not happen. It was a vision.

The final chapters of Ezekiel consist of a detailed description of a temple Ezekiel was taken to (Ezekiel 40-48). Blumrich appears to acknowledge that this was a vision. It was not a real temple[23]. Von Daniken takes it literally and claims Ezekiel was taken to a real temple, however depending on which of his book one reads, it was either in Kashmir[24] or Peru[25].

This is the first of a series of articles on the problems with the ancient aliens theory. Future articles will examine their approach to mythology and history, the theories of Zecharia Sitchin and their claims about Egypt, India and the New World.

 

 

[1]  “This Haunted World”. https://blog.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/this-haunted-world/

[2] “Paranormal Beliefs”, https://blogs.chapman.edu/Wilkinson/2016/10/11/paranormal-beliefs/

[3] “Chariots, Gods and Beyond”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2009, 9 mins

[4] “The Von Daniken Legacy”, Ancient  Aliens, History Channel, 2013, 5 mins

[5] Ibid., 7 mins

[6] Jason Colavito, “Texas Public School Devotes Two School Days to Teaching Ancient Aliens as History”, http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/texas-public-school-devotes-two-school-days-to-teaching-ancietn-aliens-as-history

[7] Erich von Daniken, The Return of the Gods, Element Books, Dorset, 1998, p 51

[8] Barry Downing, The Bible and Flying Saucers, Sphere, London, 1972, p17

[9] Erich von Daniken, Odyssey of the Gods, New Page Books, New Jersey, 2012, p 37

[10] “Aliens and Sacred Places”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2011, 33 mins

[11] Erich von Daniken, Chariots of the Gods?, Corgi. London, 1971, p 58-59

[12] Ibid.

[13] Clifford Wilson, Crash Go the Chariots, Master Books, California, 1976, p43-45

[14] Ibid,., p 50

[15] Raymond Drake, Gods and Spacemen in the Ancient East. Signet, New York, 1973, p 217

[16] R. L. Dione, God Drives a Flying Saucer, Corgi, London, 1969, p 79

[17] Ronald Story, Guardians of the Universe?, New English Library, London, 1981, p 40

[18] God Drives a Flying Saucer, op cit., p 79

[19] Steven Tuell, Ezekiel, Baker, Michigan, 2008., p 11

[20] Joseph Blumrich, The Spaceships of Ezekiel, Corgi, London, 1974, p 57-58

[21]  “Lamassu (bull-man)”, http://www.livius.org/articles/mythology/lamassu-bullmen/

[22] The Spaceships of Ezekiel, op cit., p 74-92

[23] The Spaceships of Ezekiel, op cit., p 107-108

[24] Erich von Daniken, According to the Evidence, Souvenir Press, London, 1977, p 297-301

[25] Erich von Daniken, The Gods and Their Grand Design, Souvenir Press, London, 1984, p 96-101

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