The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Dr. Carol Tavris

lecture reminder …

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me):
Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

with Dr. Carol Tavris

Sunday, April 29th, 2pm
Baxter Lecture Hall, Caltech

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In this week’s feature article we return to a classic myth of ancient astronauts, but here Skeptic magazine Religion Editor Tim Callahan shows how these legends have grown into practically religious beliefs for many New Age spiritualists who have grown disenchanted with mainstream religion and have turned to these legends to find mythic meaning.

Tim Callahan has written numerous articles, reviews, and essays for Skeptic as well as The Humanist and other publications. He is the author of Bible Prophecy and The Secret Origins of the Bible.

a 'Mayan rocket' (according to Erich von Daniken).  This illustration actually
depicts the Mayan ruler Pacal within a composition of standard Mayan iconography, including a bird, a god, and a cross

A ‘Mayan rocket’ (according to Erich von Däniken). This illustration actually depicts the Mayan ruler Pacal within a composition of standard Mayan iconography, including a bird, a god, and a cross.

A New Mythology
Ancient Astronauts, Lost Civilizations
& the New Age Paradigm

by Tim Callahan

A couple of years ago I gave a presentation on my book Secret Origins of the Bible at a convention in the Sacramento area. During the subsequent dinner we were treated to a lecture given by a scientist on the extraterrestrial origin of pre-biotic molecules in asteroids and comets. After the dinner, one of the attendees approached me and said that after hearing my presentation about the mythic origins of the Bible and that of the dinner speaker about life’s extraterrestrial origins, he was sure the book he was reading had to be true. He held up a book about ancient astronauts written by Rael, the founder of the Raelian movement that promotes cloning and believes humans were cloned by extraterrestrials.

Remarkably, this happened at a conference sponsored by Mensa, the high-I.Q. group, and the anecdote is emblematic that there is a new mythology in our time. Authors with little knowledge of either myth or history, and even less of science, have generated an entire new genre that is being embraced by educated and intelligent people. It is a genre in which idiosyncratic interpretation of myth, bad history, and questionable science have been melded to create a new paradigm, one that has the potential to challenge reason and science to the same degree as Bible-based creationism.

While the New Age movement is by its nature vague, diffuse, heterogeneous and without unity, the general flow of its beliefs has gradually created a religio-pseudoscientific paradigm of the origin of life, humans, and civilization. Though it derives to a great degree from writings that sprang up in the wake of the 1960s, much of it hearkens back to late 19th century fantasies of lost continents. The major difference between the new and the old forms is that ancient astronauts have now either replaced or become the mentors of Atlanteans as creators of life and civilization.

Let us look at some of the disparate parts that have been woven together into this grand New Age myth. Then let us consider the myth as a whole and try to understand what need it fills in its adherents.

Colliding Planets

A major tenet of this complex of religio-pseudoscientific beliefs is that mythology is a corrupted retelling of history. Among the “explanations” of myth are the cosmic disaster theories of Immanuel Velikovsky and related scenarios from other writers that offer supposedly natural explanations for supernatural acts; everything from Noah’s flood, the sinking of Atlantis, the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus, the collapse of the walls of Jericho, and Joshua’s long day in the Book of Joshua. Often this involves the collision of planets or near misses between planets and Earth. In the case of Velikovsky, in order to get his theory to work at all, the entire human race had to suffer traumatic repression of the memories of the catastrophic collisions or near collisions with Venus, which were subsequently sublimated into myth.

The “science” in Velikovsky’s theory is pure hokum. He described Venus as a comet that erupted out of Jupiter and made several passes at the Earth and Mars as it crossed their orbits in near collisions before finally settling into an orbit between Earth and Mercury. Of course, Venus is a planet whose size and mass is near that of the earth, as opposed to being one of those comparatively small bodies made up mainly of dirty ice that we commonly call comets. As a rocky planet it would not have likely erupted out of a gas giant like Jupiter. Nevertheless, to be fair, we should treat Velikovsky’s theory as we would any other scientific theory, assuming, of course that it can be either verified or falsified.

As it turns out, it is testable. As part of his near-collisions-with-Venus-as-cause-of-everything scenario, Velikovsky said that during one of its passes with Earth the two planets exchanged atmospheric gases. Since the atmosphere of Venus was mainly made up of hydrocarbons (as we would expect of a body ejected from Jupiter), when these were mixed into our atmosphere they reacted with oxygen to form carbohydrates. These precipitated out of the atmosphere and fell as manna from heaven, sustaining the Israelites in their flight from Egypt (see Exodus 16:13–21).

Leaving aside for the moment the inconvenient fact that if the two planets were close enough for their atmospheres to mix, gravitational forces would have likely ripped both of them apart, Velikovsky’s theory stands or falls on Venus having a reducing atmosphere made up mainly of hydrocarbons. In fact, the atmosphere of Venus is made up mainly of carbon dioxide — carbon in its oxidized form — along with clouds of sulfuric acid. Therefore, it couldn’t have carried such an atmosphere with it out of Jupiter, and it couldn’t be the source of hydrocarbons to react with oxygen in our atmosphere to produce carbohydrates. Velikovsky’s theory is falsified by the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Venus.

Thera: One Cause Fits All

Less extreme than theories of planetary collisions are attempts to attribute the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the collapse of the walls of Jericho, to a single natural cause: the eruption of the volcano on Thera, one of the islands of a group collectively called Santorini, lying in the Aegean northwest of Crete. In this conjecture, the eruption of Thera not only destroyed Knossos on Crete by generating a tidal wave and earthquake, but also set off a train of events recorded as miracles in the book of Exodus. Iron in volcanic ash settling in the Nile turned it blood-red, poisoning the water in the process (the Nile turned to blood). This drove frogs out of the river (the second plague). They died, and their rotting corpses provided homes for maggots, causing a population explosion among flies, gnats and other insect vectors. This, in turn, generated boils on beasts and men and finally created the plague that killed the flower of Egyptian youth (the “first-born” in Exodus). In addition, the cloud of volcanic ash covered the land (plague of darkness), generating a brief period of intense cold, causing hail to fall in Egypt and destroy the crops; and insect populations were disrupted, causing a plague of locusts to descend on Egypt. The Israelites, living in the area of Goshen, just east of the delta, were far enough removed from it to avoid many of the plagues.

As the children of Israel were leaving Egypt they used the towering volcanic plume — the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night — as a directional sighting guide. Ongoing eruptions and earthquakes caused the water at the end of the Gulf of Suez to retreat long enough to allow the Israelites to cross the sea bottom dry-shod. This was just the first phase of a tsunami, however, and the returning tidal wave swept away the chariots of the Egyptian pursuers as they attempted to cross the seabed. Aftershocks of the earthquakes generated by Thera’s eruption were responsible for the Israelites being able to cross the Jordan dry-shod and for the collapse of the walls of Jericho. While somewhat less extravagant than repeated planetary near-collisions as single causes of everything, there is implicit in the Thera scenario the neat tying up of everything more common in fiction than in the messy complications of real life.

The theory that postulates Thera’s volcano as the single cause of the miracles of Exodus and Joshua, along with all other attempts to find natural correlates to the Exodus myth, suffers from the failure of either history or archaeology to substantiate these myths, the Exodus, or the conquest of Israel as depicted in Joshua. The Thera eruption happened long before the traditional dating of the biblical events. Even if these events were redated (see below), there is no evidence of a sudden diminution of Egypt’s power at any time that would fit the Exodus. Nor is there any archaeological record of widespread sacking of the cities of Canaan, as related in Joshua, at any strata that relate to the biblical time frame of the Exodus and conquest. This has resulted in apologists for the historicity of the Exodus proposing a host of radical redatings of various events in an attempt to shoehorn the Bible into history and history into the Bible.

Rewriting History & Prehistory

Graham Hancock, author of the 1995 popular book, Fingerprints of the Gods, seeks to redate the sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Giza into the ice age, claiming that the weathering of the Sphinx shows signs of water erosion rather than that done by wind and sand. He dates the Sphinx at ca. 12,000 BCE and sees Egyptian civilization as having been bequeathed to them by an ancient lost civilization that flourished during the last glaciation. Since Hancock also believes that the face on Mars (originally seen as flanked by pyramids) was built by ancient Martians, his theory has ties to both lost civilizations and ancient astronauts.

The Piri Ries Map (colorized detail) from the cover of 'Maps of The
Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age'

The Piri Ries Map (colorized detail) from the cover of Maps of The Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age

Graham Hancock is not the only amateur theorist to attempt to redate the origins of civilization into the ice age. One book that is referred to so reverently by New Age theorists that it might as well be scripture is Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings by Charles Hapgood, published in 1966. Using Turkish and Arabic maps, particularly the famous Piri Ries Map, as his evidence, Hapgood came up with a most startling conclusion: “The evidence presented by the ancient maps appears to suggest the existence in remote times, before the rise of known cultures, of a true civilization, of a comparatively advanced sort, which either was localized in one area but had worldwide commerce, or was, in a real sense, a worldwide culture.”1

Hapgood further asserted that this ancient civilization flourished during the last glaciation, some 35,000 years ago. Its remains were lost, but evidence of its worldwide extent is to be found in pre-Columbian maps showing the eastern coastline of South America, as well as the continent of Antarctica. All of these maps are either Arabic or Turkish. Hapgood’s reasoning seemed to be that, since Islamic civilization also preserved copies of Ptolemaic maps, the originals of which were lost in the destruction of the great library of Alexandria, their maps detailing the coastline of South America and showing Antarctica were also copies of ancient maps. Since there is no indication that either the Ptolemies or any of their contemporaries sailed to the western hemisphere, much less circumnavigated Antarctica, Hapgood speculated that the originals of these maps were made by a civilization that was more ancient than those of either the Greeks or the Phoenicians.

The Piri Ries map, dating from ca. 1513, shows the Atlantic coastline of South America continuing on down to and joining with Antarctica. However, the Oronteus Finaeus maps, dating from 1532, show Antarctica as a separate continent. Considering that the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan died during his circumnavigation of the globe in 1521 — meaning that the Piri Ries map was made before the discovery of the Straits of Magellan — its inaccurate depiction failing to show the separation of South America from Antarctica is perfectly reasonable. Likewise, the Oronteus Finaeus maps, made after Magellan’s voyage, showed Antarctica as a separate continent. However, since the Moslem Turks and the Christian Portuguese were enemies, it would have been unlikely that either the Portuguese or the Spaniards would have shared the discoveries of Columbus and Magellan with the Ottoman Empire. How, then, did Piri Ries know how to map, even with inaccuracies, the Atlantic coastlines of South America and Antarctica? One possible answer to that question is that maps made during that last glaciation showed the two continents joined by an ice shelf. That is, these maps were indeed the heritage the lost ancient civilization, as Hapgood asserted.

What Hapgood apparently failed to consider was that Arab seamen might well have reached the Americas before the Spaniards and Portuguese. There are two pieces of evidence to support this possibility. One of these is a collection of coins found off the coast of Venezuela. Most of these were Roman coins, dating from the time of Augustus to the fourth century. However, Cyrus Gordon pointed out that two of the coins were Arabic, probably dating from the ninth century.2 Gordon also pointed out that Roman coins were still in use as currency centuries after Rome had fallen. He sees the coins as coming from a Moorish or Arab ship ca. 850. Unfortunately, while Gordon reported that the coins were then in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution, nothing further seems to have been published about them. It is possible that a lack of proper provenance makes them dubious as evidence of a Moorish shipwreck. In any case Gordon’s idiosyncratic speculations on pre-Columbian contacts are quite suspect. However, much firmer evidence of Arabic pre-Columbian voyages to the Americas is given by Dr. M. D. W. Jeffries of the Department of Anthropology, Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. In his article, “Pre-Columbian Maize in Asia,” in Men Across the Sea, Jeffries concludes: “Enough evidence has been presented for the presence of maize in Asia in pre-Columbian times to recommend a reassessment of contacts between America and the Old World. The fact that maize entered China from the west suggests early transatlantic rather than transpacific contacts.”3

Jeffries also points out that maize, originating in the western hemisphere, first entered Europe from Asia Minor ca. 1320, as opposed to being introduced from the west by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 1500s. In most European countries it was initially known as either “Saracen corn” or “Turkish corn”.4 It is Jeffries’ opinion that Arabs, who were largely in control of both the overland and maritime trade routes in the 1300s, introduced maize into both Europe and Asia. The failure of the Islamic powers to colonize the Americas left them open for the Spanish and Portuguese, as well as leaving the Islamic voyages of discovery out of the history books. Thus, the Piri Ries map is not the great enigma theorists of the new paradigm claim it to be.

White Gods from the East

Another theory proposed as an alternative to conventional views of history and enthusiastically endorsed by New Age theorists, rises out of the corruption of culture hero myths with a noxious compound of extreme diffusionist ideology, bad archaeology, cultural arrogance, and racism. This is the theory that the Native-American civilizations were actually kick-started by Caucasian colonists from across the Atlantic Ocean.

In mythology, culture heroes are divine or semi-divine beings who are great benefactors of the people, giving them fire and teaching them the arts of civilization. Thus, if they were white and came from the east, this indicates, so the reasoning goes, a mythologized version of what actually happened. European or Mediterranean peoples came from across the Atlantic and enlightened the crude, uncultured American Indians. In particular, they taught the Andean and Mesoamerican tribes writing, how to build pyramids, and other civilized arts. Of course, those who might have come from Egypt or the Near East wouldn’t have been much different in color from the Native Americans, which somewhat dampens the effectiveness of such a myth, as does the fact that while the Mesoamerican civilizations had writing the Andean cultures did not.

It occurred to me that the reason culture heroes often came from the east is that they were symbolized by the dawn — they came from the east just as the sun rises in the east. Just as naturally, they returned to the east once their work was done and would, of course, return some day from the east. It also occurred to me that the description of these culture heroes as “white” didn’t necessarily mean they were Caucasians. Rather, the word translated as white could just as easily mean “pure,” “shining,” or be yet another reference to the dawn. Of course, I am far from the first to see the white gods from the east in this way. Writing back in 1868, Daniel G. Brinton said of the Andean culture hero Viracocha:5

All these sentiments were linked to the dawn. Language itself is proof of it. Many Algonkin words for east, morning, day, light, as we have already seen, are derived from a radical [i.e. “root”] signifying white. Or we can take a tongue in nowise related, the Quiche [the language of the Incas and other Andean peoples], and find its words for east, dawn, morning, light, bright, glorious, happy, noble, all derived from zak, white. We read in their legends of the earliest men that they were “white children,” “white sons,” “leading a white life beyond the dawn,” and the creation is attributed to the Dawn, the White One, the White Sacrificer of Blood.

In their 1992 book In Quest of the Great White Gods, Robert and Jennifer Marx refer to a Maya culture hero mentioned in the Popol Vuh. This work was written in the Quiche language though in European characters, by a 17th century Christianized Maya of Guatemala. The Quiche were a division of the Maya, whose name is only coincidentally spelled the same as the common language of the Andean peoples; and the Popul Vuh, though written by a Christian convert, related a considerable amount of their mythology. The Marxs’ have this to say of its content:

Many other Maya also contributed to this book, telling what they had been told about their ancestors’ origins. The stories are all similar. The people started eastward (sic) across the Atlantic and came to the Americas. Their kingdom was founded by a great eastern ruler named Votan. Votan was a white man who with his crew of tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed men in dragon-prowed “serpent ships” brought the Mayan people across the sea and settled them in their new land.6

This would seem to be absolutely stunning material that would completely supplant Brinton’s scholarly explanation of the whiteness of these gods being associated with the dawn and enlightenment. Certainly, Votan must be the same as Wotan, the Teutonic king of the gods, known to the Anglo-Saxons as Woden, and to the Norse as Odin. However, there is one great problem with the Marx’s description of what seems to be Vikings founding the Maya civilization: I searched the Popol Vuh in vain for any mention whatsoever of any character with a name remotely like that of Votan. Furthermore, Quetzalcoatl arrived and departed on a raft made of writhing serpents, but that is as close to “serpent ships” as any of the white gods got. The Maya equivalent of Quetzalcoatl was Kukulkan. His cult appears late in the Maya civilization and may have been imported into Maya areas by Toltecs acting as mercenary soldiers for the Maya city-states.

In fact, the name Votan was derived by a mistranslation of Mayan hieroglyphics by a fanatical Spanish monk named Diego de Landa. After burning many of the priceless books of the Maya, Landa compounded his assault on the Mayan culture by becoming interested in their system of writing. He erroneously transliterated the Mayan glyphs, each of which was a word, as letters corresponding to those of the Roman alphabet, then “translated” those texts he hadn’t burned and produced a mass of linguistic gobbledygook. The Mayan books that had survived Landa’s burning were considered indecipherable.

The myth of the great white gods doesn’t die easily, however. In an article titled “Pre-Columbian Indo-European Civilization of the Americas” in Ancient American, a magazine supporting the view that civilization in the Americas was founded by colonists from across the oceans, author Tom Finn refers to the burial site of three Moche nobles who were much taller than the average Moche, who were usually four foot ten to five foot six inches tall:

Their exceptional stature, ranging from five feet nine to six feet tall presented no small problem for conventional archeologists, one of whom declared that in life the men “may have suffered from a disease similar to Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes thin, elongated bones.” The mummies’ red hair, however was ignored.7

In fact, the reasons archaeologist Alana Cordy-Collins suggested that the nobles found in the tomb may have suffered from Marfan syndrome is that the skeletal remains indicate that all of them were between 18 and 22 years of age and all seem to have died within a month of each other.8 These facts, along with the fact that they shared the same tomb, all point to close kinship. An isolated find of a few tall men who died at what was, even for ancient peoples, an early age, suggests a genetic disorder rather than three representatives of the great white gods.

As to the red hair, this seems to be a misapprehension on the Finn’s part. When I wrote to Dr. Cordy-Collins asking for information about the Moche giants, she responded that the remains were not mummified, but were skeletal. The only tissue other than bone that survived were a bit of desiccated skin and brain matter and a few wisps of black hair. Since the hair was black rather than red, one of Finn’s major pieces of evidence that these Moche nobles were Indo-Europeans evaporates upon even casual investigation. Now all we have are a few men of unusual height. Suffice it to say that a few such closely related males with one unusual genetic trait do not constitute proof of the existence of the great white gods.

Ancient Astronauts: Gods from Outer Space
Modified cover art from Erich von Daniken's 'The Gold of the

Modified cover art from Erich von Däniken’s The Gold of the Gods

Related both to the great white gods and to attempts to attribute mythic events to physical causes are the theories of Erich von Däniken, Zecharia Sitchen and, more recently, “Rael”, who believe that the “gods” of ancient myth were actually extraterrestrials who used genetic manipulations to raise our ancestors from the level of the apes to sentient status. Though von Däniken has been largely discredited in the mainstream press, he continues write and sell books read by the faithful. The idea still has great appeal for many who wish to see human origins as a deliberate creation by intelligent beings, yet reject religious creation myths. Gods as space beings forms the basis of a modern mythology. Morphing the Bible into science fiction, the nephilim or “giants in the earth” of Genesis 6, offspring of angels (Heb. bene elohim, “sons of God”) and mortal women, become alien-human hybrids. Much of this type of thinking is fueled by slanting translations to fit one’s theory. For example, the word nephilim is mistranslated as ”those who came down,” implying extraterrestrial origin. In fact nephilim more probably means “fallen ones,” implying that the angelic beings who sired them had fallen from grace by having carnal relations with mortal women, or “fellers,” those causing others to fall. The first century Jewish historian Josephus said of them:

…for many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants.9

Ignoring this, Zecharia Sitchin titled chapter 5 of his 1976 book The 12th Planet, “The Nefilim: People of the Fiery Rockets.”

Sitchen mixes the planetary collision theories of Velikovsky with the space gods of von Däniken, interpreting the battle between the young god Marduk and the sea monster, Ti’amat in the Babylonian epic Enuma elish, as a collision between two planets, one formerly in the solar system the other an intruder from deep space. After this fateful cataclysm the “gods” descended to earth where they made Homo erectus into Homo sapiens for the purpose of creating workers to be their servants. The newly made humans rebelled and were driven out of the civilized lands of Sumeria.

To support his theory, Sitchin claimed that Sumerian civilization appeared “suddenly” and thus can’t be explained by any other means than intervention from above. In fact, he asserts that even our mere existence can’t be explained by natural causes. In The 12th Planet he claims: “Of the evidence that we have amassed to support our conclusions, exhibit number one is Man himself. In many ways, modern man — Homo sapiens — is a stranger to Earth. … And why does all living matter on Earth contain too little of the chemical elements that abound on Earth, too much of those that are rare on our planet?”10

Does he mean that he can’t understand why life isn’t silicon-based? Carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, the basic elements from which living things are made, are all common on Earth. Even a smattering of knowledge about biochemistry would be a big help here. Thus, starting with three unfounded — and false — assumptions (Sumerian civilization began suddenly, modern humans are alien to Earth, and living things are made of elements rare on Earth), Sitchin then proceeds to interpret ancient epics as supporting the bad science fiction that is the essence of his theory.

The theme of space aliens as our creators surfaces again in the form of directed panspermia in Michael Drosnin’s 2002 bestseller Bible Code II: The Countdown, where the aliens not only travel through space, but time as well, enabling them to encode future events in the biblical text.11

All of this modern pseudoscience comes together in the 2003 book, The Genesis Race, by Will Hart.12 Along with citing Velikovsky and Sitchen, Hart also attacks evolution, citing Michael Behe and other advocates of Intelligent Design in the process. However, he uses Francis Crick and Fred Hoyle as his main authorities, particularly using Crick’s theory of directed panspermia as his explanation of our origins. Hart’s thesis even hearkens back to theories of lost continents when he claims there is a lost city in the depths of the Caribbean off Cuba. He too celebrates the great white gods that, naturally, were ancient astronauts who arrived from the east.

The “Mysterious” Sumerians

Hart asserts that the earliest civilizations started up suddenly, without any indication of a transition from primitive Neolithic villages to full-blown civilization with the wheel, metallurgy, writing, and irrigation systems. He says that before the Sumerians: “There simply were no previous human cultures that were experienced and knowledgeable enough to tame rivers for irrigation, nor were any of the Sumerians’ contemporaries in other parts of the world attempting such a project.”13 This echoes Sitchen’s view of Sumer as “The Sudden Civilization.” Sitchen writes:

Having begun to use stones as tools some 2,000,000 years earlier, Man achieved this unprecedented civilization in Sumer circa 3800 B.C. And the perplexing fact about this is that to this day the scholars have no inkling who the Sumerians were, where they came from and how and why their civilization appeared. For its appearance was sudden, unexpected and out of nowhere.14

Let’s examine what we actually know about the Sumerians. In the third edition of his book, Ancient Iraq, historian Georges Roux notes:

The Sumerian civilization was never imported ready-made into Mesopotamia from some unknown country at some ill-defined date. Like all civilizations — including ours — it was a mixed product shaped by the mould into which its components were poured over many years. Each of these components can now be traced back to one stage or another of Iraqi prehistory, and while some were undoubtedly brought in by foreign invasion or influence, others have roots so deep in the past that we may call them indigenous.15

Roux goes on from this starting point to detail the gradual increase in technological sophistication from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, which includes four stages of culture in the Chalcolithic or Copper and Stone Age. These earlier periods are: the Neolithic Jarmo culture, appearing ca. 7,000 BCE, during which there was progressive domestication of animals and plants, the growth of villages, and the invention of pottery and brick-making; the Hassuna Period, 5,800–5,500 BCE, the first of the Chalcolithic stages; the Samarra culture, 5,600–5,000 BCE, during which irrigation agriculture first appears — thus putting the lie to Hart’s assertion that nobody before the Sumerians had attempted such projects; the Halaf culture, 5500–4500 BCE, whose villages had cobbled streets, who used ox-drawn sledges; who grew emmer, wheat, barely einkorn, lentils and flax; and who had cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs; and finally the Ubaid Period, 5,000–3,750, which featured houses and temples of increasing size and complexity, and whose large mud-brick platforms foreshadowed the earliest ziggurats. In the earliest Bronze Age civilization, the Uruk Period, 3,750–3,150 BCE, the wheel and cylinder seals appear. By about 3,500 BCE these people were using a form of pictographic writing that would eventually develop into cuneiform. The Uruk Period was followed by the Jemdat Nasr Period, 3,150–2,900 BCE and the Early Dynastic (ED) Periods (ED I, 2,900–2750; ED II, 2750–2600; ED III, 2600–2334) of Sumerian civilization proper.

So, the Sumerians did not suddenly appear with a full-blown civilization. Rather, the archaeological strata show a gradual, step-wise increase in the sophistication and complexity of cultures in southern Mesopotamia, starting with a Neolithic culture that was gradually domesticating plants and animals (Jarmo) and ending with the Bronze Age dynasties of the fully civilized Sumerians with writing, the wheel, bronze metallurgy, monumental architecture, and large scale irrigation systems. It is particularly noticeable that irrigation agriculture first appears in one of the earliest Chalcolithic periods (Samarra) between 5,600 and 5,000 BCE.

Much of the evidence of earlier, Neolithic and Chalcolithic, cultures in the region of southern Iraq came to light comparatively recently. Sitchen may, therefore, be excused for his erroneous assertions to some degree since they were based on lack of data. However, The 12th Planet has recently been republished without any acknowledgement of the more recent archeological discoveries in southern Iraq. Hart, writing in 2003 has no excuse whatsoever for making this assertion.

Directed Panspermia and the Attack on Evolution

If we are the products of genetic experiments by extraterrestrials it is as essential to New-Agers that evolution be attacked as it is to those who assert God made us out of dust. Our manufacture by intelligent aliens through genetic manipulation may be, at least superficially, more sophisticated than God molding us out of red clay and breathing life into our nostrils, but it is creationism nonetheless. (The name Adam, meaning simply “man,” is related both to adama, “soil” and ‘ahdmoni “red”.)

Much of the attack on evolution, while dressed in New Age regalia, is depressingly similar to old style creationist arguments that have been refuted time and again. For example, Hart asserts that flowering plants suddenly appeared 100 million years ago.16 This is identical to the assertion by Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in his 1978 book Evolution? The Fossils Say NO! that there were no primitive angiosperms (flowering plants) in the fossil record, that flowering plants appear suddenly as a well developed group in the middle and upper Cretaceous.17

For quite some time, no evidence could be found of the first angiosperms in the Jurassic or earlier. Then in 1976 two paleobotanists, James A. Doyle and Leo J. Hickey, discovered a sequence of fossil leaves and pollens in the lower Cretaceous documenting the origin, rapid evolution and diversification of the angiosperms. Paleobotanists had wrongly assumed a longer time requirement for the early evolution of flowering plants and had been looking for the ancestors of angiosperms in the wrong strata.18 Note that this extremely significant discovery was made a full two years before Gish’s book was published. The discovery was big news in the scientific journals at the time. Had Gish bothered to do a little library research, he could have avoided being two years out of date with respect to the fossil record. Hart, writing in 2003, was only 27 years out of date.

Another creationist shibboleth embraced by the New Age paradigm is a cavalier argument against the probability of evolution. Essentially, this amounts to a disbelief either in the possibility life having arisen from pre-biotic molecules by natural processes or the possibility of random mutation and natural selection producing great changes in living things. Father to this line of reason is none other than Francis Crick, codiscoverer of the structure of DNA. In his 1981 book, Life Itself, Crick wrote:

A few years ago [Leslie] Orgle and I reintroduced the idea — originally propounded by the twentieth century Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius — that life evolved elsewhere and was wafted to earth in the form of spores. Arrhenius called this hypothesis panspermia (“seeds everywhere”). But Orgle and I suggested that the microorganisms more probably had arrived in a space vehicle “homed in” on Earth by a distant civilization. We called this concept “directed panspermia.”19

The primary objection to panspermia (directed or otherwise) is that it only puts off the problem of the origin of life to another time a place.

Crick’s hypothesis was subsequently picked up by the physicist Fred Hoyle, who, with mathematician Chandra Wickramasinghe, wrote a number of books claiming that life was seeded from outer space. In their 1990 book, Cosmic Life Force, for example, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe write:

A primary thesis of this book is that cells, among which is a viable faction, cells particularly in the form of freeze-dried bacteria, are prevalent everywhere in the galaxy. Any planet or planets that arise anywhere in the galaxy will therefore be in receipt of this cosmic bounty of life, and wherever the planetary conditions are favourable for survival such life could take root. With the billions of candidate stars that are available with conditions similar to the Sun, it does not stretch credulity too far to suppose that the survival and development of cosmic life on planets must be rather commonplace.20

Pre-biotic compounds certainly exist in space, and it is widely accepted that some of those that eventually gave rise to life were delivered to our planet by way of comets and asteroids. However, the survival of bacteria in interstellar space, though quite possible, is purely theoretical. From this tenuous possibility the authors make what can only be characterized as a leap of faith: “Evolution of life on the Earth can be viewed as a direct consequence of our continued exposure to cosmic genes, and had it not been for such exposure terrestrial life would not, as we see it, have proceeded beyond the stage of single-celled structures.”21 In this view, not only is the initial delivery of primitive life from space, but evolution itself is continually fueled by extraterrestrial forces. So, rather than evolution proceeding due to random mutations culled by natural selection, the major genetic changes are delivered to Earth as viruses and passed to living things as infections.

A number of objections to this theory naturally occur to the less credulous. How is it that a virus in space happens to be carrying the genetic material needed for a given species to evolve? Also, how does the virus find the right species? This wouldn’t work that well in the random mixing we would expect to find in nature. The authors agree that it can’t be random: “The alternative to assembly of life by random, mindless processes is assembly through the intervention of some type of cosmic intelligence. Such a concept would be rejected out of hand by most scientists, although there is no rational argument for such a rejection.”22

Having leapt from science to metaphysics, the authors eventually tell what sort of cosmic creator they have in mind in the last paragraph in the book:

The creator has been given many shapes and names in the diverse cultures throughout the world. He has been called Jehovah, Brahma, Allah, Father in Heaven, God, in different religions, but the underlying concept has been the same. The general belief that is common to all religions is that the Universe, particularly the world of life, was created by a being of incomprehensibly magnified human-type intelligence. It would be fair to say that the overwhelming majority of humans who have ever lived on this planet, would have instinctly (sic) accepted this point of view in some form, totally and without reservation. In view of the thesis of this book, it would seem to be almost in the nature of our genes to be able to evolve a consciousness of precisely this kind, almost as if we are creatures destined to perceive the truth relating to our origins in an instinctive way.23

So, the fact that most people believe in God is proof that such belief is embedded in our genes, and the only way it could be embedded in our genes is by the creator. Ergo, our belief in God proves his existence. QED.

Francis Crick’s directed panspermia was used by Michael Drosnin as scientific support for what he read out of the “Bible Code” in the following encrypted message from a block of type 32 characters wide by 12 high from Genesis: “DNA was brought in a vehicle.” This message is crossed by another: “your seed.” Nearby is the message: “In a vehicle your seed.” From this Drosnin concludes:

When I found that encoded in the Bible, I couldn’t believe it. It seemed like science fiction. DNA, the molecule of life, sent to Earth in a spaceship.

I wondered if any reputable scientist would even consider such a fantastic idea.

I called on the most eminent authority in the world, Francis Crick, the Nobel laureate biologist who discovered the double helix, the spiral structure or DNA. It was one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time. As Crick himself declared in the first moment of revelation, “We’ve discovered the secret of life.”

“Is it possible,” I asked Crick, when I reached him at the Salk Institute in San Diego, California, “that our DNA came from another planet?”

“I published that theory twenty-five years ago,” said Crick. “I called it Directed Panspermia.”

“Do you think it arrived in a meteor or comet?” I asked.

“No,” said Crick. “Anything living would have died in such an accidental journey through space.

“Are you saying that DNA was sent here in a vehicle?” I asked.

“It’s the only possibility,” said Crick.24

While Crick told Drosnin that directed panspermia was “the only possibility,” he was far more restrained in 1981, only saying that his theory was as viable as the traditional idea that life evolved from non-life here on Earth: “The kindest thing to state about Directed Panspermia, then, is to concede that it is indeed a valid scientific theory, but as a theory it is premature.”25

Hart has used both Crick and Hoyle as support for his belief in ancient astronauts seeding the earth with life, shaping its evolution (or perhaps sequential creation) and, eventually, giving human beings civilization. Crick, despite his status as a Nobel laureate, has nothing but a hypothesis and his own certainty that directed panspermia is “the only possibility” for the origin of life on earth. Hoyle, despite his credentials as a theoretical physicist, and Wickramasinghe, despite his qualifications as a mathematician, likewise have no evidence to back their theory. Thus, both theories are utterly untestable and amount to mere speculation rather than science. When scientists write non-science, it inspires non-scientists to write nonsense.

The New Age Motive Behind the Myth

It is a delicious irony that at the basis of fundamentalist creationism is the perceived need to use science to prove the Bible is the inspired word of God, and in so doing abandon faith altogether. That is, rather than being willing to let their faith in the existence of a creator be the basis of their belief, creationists seek scientific proof that there had to be a creator. They are, in fact, members of a community of faithlessness. In a similar fashion, New Agers seek the anointing of scientific authority for their creation scenario of ancient astronauts.

What is the motivation behind this new mythic movement? There is, of course, the money. In his 1993 book, Understanding the New Age, Russel Chandler pointed out that J. Z. Knight could, at that time, earn up to $200,000 in a single appearance channeling the entity “Ramtha”, a 35,000 year old “spirit warrior” from (where else?) Atlantis.26 Likewise, Michael Drosnin cashed in on an arcane argument for the inspiration of the Bible, first formulated by Orthodox Jewish mathematicians, invoking ancient astronauts in the process of writing and selling millions of copies of his Bible Code books.

Possible financial motives of practitioners, however, fails to explain the motivation of those who hang on Ramtha’s every word or comb through computer-generated Bible Code programs in search of spiritual enlightenment. Curiously, one of the main appeals of the New Age creation myth may be very similar to one of those of evangelical Christianity. While attending a literary conference at Wheaton College in Illinois, the spiritual home of Billy Graham, I saw a sweet teenage girl, who seemed to radiate earnest purity, get up and say how grateful she was that she was saved from before the beginning of time. This view of special election is a centerpiece of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, and in its broader application may be found in the New Age notion of our deliberate creation by space-faring aliens acting in the service to a great universal intelligence. This is far more comforting than the undirected interplay between chance and natural selection. Furthermore, this special election, while enveloping the believer in the fuzzy reassurances of the “Desiderata” (“You are a child of the Universe: You have a right to be here.”) is, like most New Age spirituality, free of the restrictions of Bible-based morality. In fact, its very secularized sense of the numinous may again be the unwitting creation of Arthur C. Clarke, not only from his floating monolith of 2001, but from his 1953 novel Childhood’s End, in which a race of space-faring aliens arrive at the critical moment and intervene to create a utopia on Earth, to guide us away from destruction and toward growth. They are working in service to a great cosmic overmind, union with which is the next phase in our evolution.

Along with special election, the New Age creation myth has, for all its repudiation of traditional religion’s constraints, a moral tale of a fall from grace in ancient times, and a romance in its tale of lost civilizations swallowed in the mists of time. The appeal of this romance is that it removes the believer’s focus from the mundane world of day-to-day life, the petty struggles of paying bills and earning our keep in jobs that are either mind-numbing or casually degrading. Not only is there the romance that we are the heirs of Atlantis and the cosmic children of the interstellar deeps, there is as well the explanation in the myth of the Fall of why our lives are so mired in the petty concerns that keep us from our true vocation of thinking deep thoughts. Once again, the appeal of a myth of the fall is ironically similar in both Christianity and the New Age.

  1. Hapgood Charles. 1966. Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. Philadelphia and New York: Chilton Books, 193, emphasis in original.
  2. Gordon, Cyrus H. 1971. Before Columbus: Links between the Old World and Ancient America (3d. printing)/ New York: Crown Publishers Inc., 68.
  3. Jeffries M. D. W. 1973. “Pre-Columbian Maize in Asia,” in Man Across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts (second printing). 1973. Austin, TX and London: University of Texas Press, 400.
  4. Ibid., 399.
  5. Brinton, Daniel G. 1868. The Myths of the New World. New York: Neyholdt and Holt, 175 emphasis in the original, bracketed material added.
  6. Marx, Robert F. with Jennifer G. Marx. 1992. In Quest of the Great White Gods. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 7.
  7. Finn, Tom. 2005. “Pre-Columbian Indo-European Civilization of the Americas.” Ancient American, Vol. 9, No. 60, 9.
  8. Donnan, Christopher B. 2001. “Moche Burials Uncovered” National Geographic March, 64.
  9. Flavius Josephus. ca. CE 80 (1987). (trans. by William Whiston). The Antiquities of the Jews, in The Works of Josephus. Hendrickson Publishers, Ch. 3, paragraph 1.
  10. Sitchin, Zecharia. 1976. The 12th Planet. New York: Harper Collins, 13.
  11. Drosnin, Michael. 2002. The Bible Code II: The Countdown. New York: Viking.
  12. Hart, Will. 2003. The Genesis Race. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company.
  13. Ibid., 65.
  14. Sitchin, 1976, 53.
  15. Roux, Georges. 1992. Ancient Iraq. London: Allen and Unwin, 48.
  16. Hart, 2003, 31.
  17. Gish, Duane. 1978. Evolution? The Fossils say NO! San Diego: Creation Life Publishers.
  18. Godfrey, Laurie R. ed. 1983. Scientists Confront Creationism. New York: W.W. Norton, 200–202.
  19. Crick, Francis. 1981. Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature. New York: Simon and Schuster, 85.
  20. Hoyle, Fred and Chandra Wickramasinghe. 1990. Cosmic Life Force: The Power of Life Across the Universe. New York: Paragon House, 60.
  21. Ibid., 60.
  22. Ibid., 138.
  23. Ibid., 144.
  24. Drosnin, 2002, 143–144.
  25. Crick, Franics. 1981. “Seeding the Universe” Science Digest vol. 89, November, 153.
  26. Chandler, Russel. 1993. Understanding the New Age. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 122.
Secret Origins of the Bible (detail of cover)
also of interest by Tim Callahan:
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