As Halloween is approaching again, the signs of the season are in the air. The leaves crunch on cold sidewalks, and the air smells of rotting vegetation. And, of course, we find zombies everywhere from the new season of AMC’s The Walking Dead to every costume shop and seasonal decoration display. But no matter how hard the media and retailers try to push zombies on me, I still don’t like them.
Note: The following post has been edited in response to criticism from Sonja Brentjes. A discussion of the edits is available here.
In the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer (November/December 2012), Taner Edis and Sonja Brentjes have an interesting article challenging the traveling British exhibition 1001 Inventions on the great inventions of the Golden Age of Islam. The two authors find the exhibit offensive because it suggests that medieval and early modern Muslim societies engaged in technological and intellectual investigation that contributed to later European scientific developments. I find the article difficult because if combines serious criticism of the exhibit’s mistakes and flaws with what seems very much like a politically-motivated philosophical disagreement with the presence of Islam in science, which in turn colors much of their discussion.
Since it came up in Tim Callahan’s comments about my blog post on Chinese mythology, I thought I should take a moment to discuss the modern myth of the Solar Hero. This was one of the most consequential mistakes in nineteenth century mythological studies, and even today it casts a shadow over broad swaths of the field. Exactly what happened is rather complex, so I’m going to try to pare it down to the essentials.
Today I have four brief points to cover that don’t quite warrant full blog posts, so I’ll present them as an omnibus.
First, I want to thank everyone who purchased a book in response to my request for support to help keep my website running ad-free. I just received my monthly sales report covering September, and I am happy to report that my readers purchased enough books that the royalties will cover the costs associated with upkeep and maintenance on the website. I hope all of you are enjoying the books, and I can’t wait to hear how you liked them.
In today’s eSkeptic, Skeptic magazine religion editor Tim Callahan offers a useful summary of how and why claims of a “universal” myth of a world-destroying flood are wrong. However, in doing so, Callahan makes several mistakes and oversimplifications that are worth pointing out. As I noted when I criticized skeptic Ben Radford, accuracy counts. It’s also worth pointing out that Callahan’s book, The Secret Origins of the Bible, relied heavily on outdated theories, especially the long-exploded concept of the Solar Hero, in attempting to analyze the origins of Biblical stories.
Some days, I wonder how humanity ever emerged from the Dark Ages. An article in the Canadian National Newspaper claims that the Maya predicted Barack Obama's reelection in the 2012 election in the Dresden Codex, a twelfth century post-Classic Maya text from Chichen Itza that is believed to be a copy of an eighth or ninth century original.
(Disclosure: I wrote an article for The Canadian National Newspaper several years ago, but the paper ended its relationship with me when they realized I was a skeptic rather than a believer.)
So now we get to the heart of the matter. I wondered why Philip Coppens had become so aggressive over the last few weeks in attacking his critics, and now I have the answer: He has a new book coming out and can't afford to let skeptics dominate online discussions of his views. It's all about the marketing! That doesn't stop him, however, from continuing to offer weird, misleading, and wrong ideas.
I could hardly let this pass without notice: In Thursday's New York Post, the paper's television critic, Linda Stasi, basically admitted that she has terrible taste in television. Stasi ran a column called "Way Out There" in which she more or less confessed to a massive crush on Ancient Aliens star Giorgio Tsoukalos (she calls him "hot"), whom she interviewed in advance of a speech he is giving along with Erich von Däniken at Manhattan's Academy of Medicine. Stasi binge-watched 20 hours of Ancient Aliens, cand after the program turned her brain to mush (she said she couldn't stop watching), she fawned over Tsoukalos in print.
The ancient astronaut theory is not terribly original, as I have taken pains to show, but clearly in the years leading up to the release of Chariots of the Gods in 1968, something was in the air. Our example today comes from the United States, specifically the original run of Star Trek. On September 22, 1967, NBC broadcast the episode “Who Mourns for Adonais,” written by Gilbert Ralston, in which the crew of the Enterprise encounter an extraterrestrial ruling a planet by pretending to be a god. Here’s the relevant bit of dialogue:
Remember how just the other day I said I wasn’t planning to write any more about Ancient Aliens pundit Philip Coppens, but with the caveat that I would if he brought forth some new claim worthy of note? Well, that took all of five days.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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