"Ancient Aliens" Creator Kevin Burns Discusses His Belief in Fringe Claims and Conspiracies in New Interview
Right now in California, fans of the History Channel series Ancient Aliens are gathering for Alien Con, the fan convention put on by the History Channel and Famous Monsters of Filmland. Regular readers will remember that the convention’s PR team offered me a chance to interview the creators and stars of Ancient Aliens and then promptly stopped communicating with me the second that I took them up on the offer. Based on press coverage of the convention, it appears that the stars of the show and producer Kevin Burns are only willing to sit down for fluff piece interviews and are afraid of being challenged.
So, we get unchallenging interviews like Den of Geek’s conversation with Burns in which the Ancient Aliens executive producer makes a series of outrageous statements that begged for follow-ups that interviewer Tony Sokol, a self-confessed believer in “the otherly,” simply let pass because he either agreed with them or considered them entertaining.
Sokol asked Burns if he believes in the Illuminati, and Burns cited right wing conspiracy theories to explain why he believes the Earth is secretly controlled by a cabal of Templars / Freemasons / international bankers. It is worth quoting in full because it supports my conclusion that Burns is not just an amoral entertainment producer (he also produces reality shows and writes for science fiction programs) but an active advocate of pseudohistory and conspiracy, even if he calls himself an “open-minded skeptic” who doubts as many ancient astronaut claims as he accepts:
I think the Illuminati is an intriguing notion. There's a fascinating history. It stretches back to the Crusades and the days of the Knights Templar and the idea that the Rosicrucians kind of begin the Freemasons at arguably about the same time in the 1700s and 1800s, as the Illuminati. It's a pretty thinly kept secret that there is such a thing as the Bilderberg Group and the Council on Foreign Relations and the New World Order. I would even dare to say that this election, personalities and notions of personal corruption notwithstanding, is really about globalism versus nationalism. If the Illuminati exists, its agenda seems to be globalism.
This might be your standard critique of globalization, but for the idea that the elite is united and unified in managing and controlling humanity, not just managing world economies to kleptocratic ends. It is difficult to find issues on which elites agree around the world, even when it would be in their interest to do so.
Burns went on to talk about his involvement with Ancient Aliens and In Search of Aliens, and the results were even more depressing. He described how he learned of the “Roswell Rock,” and why he decided to use it on In Search of Aliens: He said it’s because he couldn’t personally think of a reason that would invalidate the idea that aliens made it. (He didn’t think too hard.)
Despite claiming to doubt some of the “far-fetched” ideas of the ancient astronaut theorists, Burns takes great pains to insist repeatedly that he has a conspiratorial view of science and actively believes that mainstream historians are inventing knowledge that can’t actually be known and trying to convince us that their conclusions are facts. He says, for example, that we can’t know how the Easter Island moai were moved or how ancient buildings were built because no one saw them constructed; therefore, he believes that all possible explanations are potentially valid because we “don’t know.” The idea of an argument’s power deriving from logic and evidence escapes him; for him pathos is apparently more valid than logos, and ethos is irrelevant. Aristotle, he is not.
But it was more disturbing to see Burns actively quote Graham Hancock to describe his view of history: “We are a species with collective amnesia.” And how does he know that? To answer that question is to invite a conundrum he could not untangle with anything resembling logical consistency. He then follows fringe historians down the rabbit hole by imagining history as a battle between monolithic “science” and dogmatic “religion”—and he doesn’t think much of either of them:
Ancient Aliens, to me, is not pseudoscience. It’s an Indulgence of something I genuinely do believe, which is there is more in this universe than we can understand with our limited scientific experience and ability. Science and religion are both trying to explain the wonder of the universe and I think it is arrogant to suggest one is truer than the other and it is arrogant to think that we know everything there is to know. […] I personally believe the success of Ancient Aliens is in direct reaction to the fact that we live, at least in this country, in a more and more secular society and that science has set itself up as its own kind of religion. It is a secular religion that wants to make you believe that we are nothing special, we are nothing but a happenstance of molecules, an accident of evolution.
You can see that Burns, a self-described lapsed Catholic, wants to place the ancient astronaut theory between secular, materialist science and spiritual, supernatural religion. But he also seems to fundamentally misunderstand the provisional natural of science—which probably explains why the Ancient Aliens narrator (whom he says mouths his own viewpoint) consistently mistakes the conclusions scientists (and historians) draw from evidence for diktats from on high that scientific inferences are identical with established fact. His thoughts on science as a religion are shocking, and disturbing, particularly in his belief that science is an ideology and that facts exist solely to challenge spirituality. Christians who believe in theistic evolution would obviously disagree, so there are ways to be spiritual while also accepting scientific evidence.
To that extent, it’s rather telling that a long way later in the conversation, Burns completely forgets his own anger at science and religion and describes Ancient Aliens in the same terms as religion, while dismissing the skeptical project in its entirety:
Some people have asked why we don’t have skeptics in the show. If you were really trying to be scientifically honest in a show you’d have skeptics. Well, would you have a skeptic in a show about Jesus? Would you have a skeptic in a show about the Virgin Birth? At a certain point, we don’t want to create a feeling of open-mindedness and then undercut it with somebody who’s only comment is “well there’s no proof.”
Burns must not watch much cable. Ancient Aliens itself has skeptically questioned whether the Virgin Birth was divine or had alien involvement just this year!
It's telling that Burns sees the ancient astronaut theory as a type of faith claim, but more telling that he believes that open-mindedness is a type of faith in the absence of facts. But note, too, that he thinks that skeptics can offer nothing more than a dissenting assertion—not additional facts that call into question ancient astronaut claims, not a discussion of the fraudulent claims ancient astronaut theorists make, or the types of logic, evidence, and reasoning necessarily to move from speculation to science. He thinks of skeptics only as nay-sayers who doubt without reason.
I guess we can see why Burns and his cohorts refused to let me interview them. I’d have eviscerated his slipshod logic and kumbaya excuses for imagining feelings coequal with facts.
Tomorrow: Kevin Burns goes full-on crazy in the second part of his interview with Sokol!
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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