Friday, November 07, 2008

Chariots of the Gods

I wasn't planning to post today because I have out-of-town guests, but I saw this report on a recent lecture by Erich von Däniken and couldn't help myself. Long long ago, when I was 12-ish, I devoured von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods which recounts all the "evidence" that alien astronauts visited Earth in ancient times. I put "evidence" in quotes, because it's really a mish-mash of archaeology and pseudoscience, and the book jumps from the Nazca lines in Peru to Easter Island to the Biblical book of Ezekiel. Pretty much any remnant of an ancient culture that was not recognizable as a "realistic" portrayal of ancient peoples or their gods was interpreted as alien astronauts, with no alternate explanations presented. It captured my imagination as a pre-teen, but it definitely does not hold up to my adult scrutiny. I tried to reread it when I was in my 20s, and didn't make it beyond the first chapter.

I was pretty surprised to see that von Däniken was still on the lecture circuit, since I read Chariots of the Gods 30-odd years ago, and it originally published 40 years ago. And, based on the lecture summary, he's still talking about the "proof" that ancient humans were visited by aliens.
Apparently "the scientists" do not believe what he says. By the way, during his whole lecture, he is always talking about "the scientists" or the "wise guys" without mentioning any names -- in contrast to his supporters who are always introduced by name and in detail. However, those unbelieving scientists apparently say that
  1. Aliens do not exist,
  2. Aliens would look completely different from humans, and
  3. Even if they do exist, they could never reach Earth because of the large distances.
If you watch the SciFi channel the idea that the ancient gods were actually aliens should sound pretty familiar, since the Stargate movie and the Stargate SG-1 television series were both based on this premise. Sadly, though, there aren't any actual stargates that would have allowed ancient Egyptians, Celts and other peoples to have spread across our galaxy, so those three objections that von Däniken lists sound pretty reasonable to me. But of course he has another explanation :
Däniken also has an explanation for the similarity between humans and aliens: panspermia! This theory, proposed by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, states that life on Earth came from space. Simple life forms may survive even in space and travel to Earth e.g. with meteorites. Däniken specifically stresses the point that Arrhenius won a Nobel Prize (which in fact he received for other achievements). However, Arrhenius never mentioned any aliens involved in panspermia. Däniken would have done better to cite another authority: Fred Hoyle, who believed in "directed panspermia". Aliens have purposefully sent seeds of life into space to spread life to as many planets as possible. This is also Däniken's claim. He then states that evolution will proceed in the same way in similar environments and thus it should be not surprising that aliens look similar to humans.
That scenario is pretty improbable, but I suppose not completely impossible. However, convergent evolution of non-human aliens on Earthlike planets isn't the focus of von Däniken's claims. What he believes is that there is hard evidence that aliens have actually come to Earth - not just to visit, but to mold the human race. Unfortunately it doesn't sound like his "evidence" has improved much over the past 40 years - it's still bits and pieces lifted from ancient religious texts, geometric analyses of the positions of cities and structures (pyrimids!), and other pseudoscience wildly extrapolated into spaceships and aliens. See, for example his "accurate" space ship drawings based on the Book of Ezikiel and the Mahabharata.

But there's good news (or bad, depending on your point of view): the aliens/gods will return on December 21, 2012, so spread the word!

Image: Skull from the Museum of Ica, Peru from The caption in English is "Human (?) skull" (question mark in the original), while the German caption says roughly "Human skulls were deformed in many cultures around the globe. Who were the people trying to imitate? Here is an example from the Museum of Ica, Peru." Obviously the answer is supposed to be "aliens".



Arvind Mishra said...

Nice post Peggy,I have almost similar feelings about this charismatic writer but I must submit that when I read the 'chariots of God' exactly about 30 years back while doing my post graduation ,I was similarly not impressed by the arguments.This is a book which taught me for the first time how to distinguish between science and pseudoscience.Its really a great surprise that maestro of pseudoscience is still active ! God bless him !

Anonymous said...

Peggy, this isnt even your post.....all that you wrote comes from another webpage....hmmm. Please try to use your own opinions about it, if you have any.

Peggy said...

Anonymous: I don't know what the heck you are talking about. I did copy a bit from the post at Aarvarchology - clearly indicated by the block quoting and smaller font. All the rest of the text I wrote myself. If someone has written something similar elsewhere, it just means that person has similar thoughts to mine.

Martin said...

Skull deformation occurs in other cultures as well, notably among high-born Hunnic women. Makes me sad to think about those tiny babies and toddlers growing up with a strap tightened around their heads. Must have hurt like hell. )-:

Anonymous said...

Wow. I love how close minded most people are. "Chariots of the Gods" isn't a scientific account with proofs and explanations. It's a book full of questions. He is only asking that you open your mind and assume alternate possibilities. I swear, anything that gives a human being the opportunity to be self-righteous...