The Voice of Russia reported that a 300-million-year-old piece of aluminum machinery turned up in a piece of coal a Russian man was using to heat his home. News reports alleged that the artifact resembled the teeth of a cog wheel, even though the object itself is not curved, and Sharon Hill of Doubtful News quickly explained that the object is in all likelihood a natural crystal. Russian media have been promoting false “ancient alien” artifacts since Soviet times, so this bit of tabloid hype is nothing new or out of character.
Meanwhile, Ancient Aliens Debunked filmmaker Chris White gave an interesting interview to Skeptiko host Alex Tsakris about his film, the reaction to it, and his conservative Christian beliefs. Despite appearing on the controversial creationist and paranormalist Skeptiko podcast, the interview is interesting and well worth a listen or a read. White addressed the criticisms skeptics (including me) have raised about his film, particularly his discussion of Noah’s Flood as a real event and the Nephilim of Genesis as actual beings. In the interview, White explained his belief that Noah’s ark was real, and he suggested that post hoc rationalizations can bring the Biblical story into agreement with observable facts.
I could go into the details but I’m not sure that’s the direction we want to go here. But all these different things about the Ark itself, I think have very rational explanations. If one takes the time to look into those things, I think you’ll at least come to the conclusion that there is a rational defense of this.
According to White, Flood stories are consistent wherever they are found around the world:
What I defended was the idea that it was such a consistent story over virtually every culture in the history of humanity. And not just a flood story with various elements, whether it be eight people or animals and a boat and a dove or raven. Not just little details like that that are so conspicuous that we need to address them but other things. This flood and this whole boat situation was a result of some hybridization thing that happened and that was why the flood was sent. It goes even further than that. Beings that were a part of that hybridization that were locked in some sort of abyss. It’s these weird consistent things.
White, however, cited me as evidence in support of his belief that the flood myth is consistent in its details across cultures and through time, specifically the blog post I wrote criticizing Tim Callahan, writing in eSkeptic, for failing to consider Chinese flood myths when attempting to account for the stories of floods found around the world:
I was impressed with Jason Colavito who is also a skeptic and certainly an Atheist or Agnostic. I’m not sure where he stands but he’s certainly not a Christian. He wrote another article saying, “Look, Skeptic.com just totally blew over this ancient Chinese flood myth.” He pointed out that this really is a connection. You can’t just simplify this and say, “Oh, it’s just a flood. We don’t have to worry about it.” He was saying that there are really consistent things and it really did happen. And at the end of the article he’s essentially saying to the skeptic community, “Look, I don’t believe Chris in this regard or whatever but these things are real and we haven’t come up with a good explanation for them.”
(Disclosure: I appeared on White's Ancient Aliens Debunked podcast last week, but was not involved in the production of White's film.)
I think readers know my views on the Great Flood. There is no geological evidence it ever happened, and absent any such flood, we have no reason to speculate about the seating arrangements on the ark. That said, I did agree that some Chinese stories bear a resemblance to the Near Eastern flood myth, and I do not know why—but this shouldn’t be taken as evidence for a real flood. Such stories are found throughout Southeast Asia, an area with consistent cultural contact with India and through them to the lands beyond. Therefore, contact with Near Eastern, Hindu, Buddhist, Greek, Christian, or Muslim stories may well be involved.
White went on to discuss the similarities of ancient myths and their relationship to actual “hybridization” events. I hope to write more about this tomorrow.
However, I have repeatedly said that skepticism is an activity, not a belief, so White’s arguments about Noah’s Ark have no bearing on whether his Ancient Aliens Debunked offered sound criticisms of ancient astronaut claims. (By the same token, Ancient Aliens has to be taken on the merit of arguments, not on the dubious credentials and New Age spiritualism of its stars.)
That said, I do want to point out an undercurrent in the podcast. In the interview, Tsakris takes skeptics, including Skeptic’s Michael Shermer, to task for advocating scientific materialism and supporting mainstream, conventional beliefs:
I mean, Michael Shermer, great, he published your thing and did an article on his website and his magazine, but I find them to really just be Apologists, more or less, for scientific materialism which, let’s face it, is really a cover for Atheism.
Both Tsakris and White agreed that they saw organized skepticism as a front for atheism and the perpetuation of dominant power structures, mediated by the “status quo,” which the context of their conversation suggests means a secular, atheist, liberal agenda. Both expressed doubts about vaccines, and Tsakris suggested that there was a possible conspiracy on the part of scientists and skeptics to uphold the (liberal-atheist) status quo.
I will leave it readers to judge how secular they find our soceity. I’ve often criticized organized skepticism for falling too much into the trap of the iron triangle proposed by philosopher Paul Kurtz, which saw skepticism as one side of a triangle composed also of secular humanism and atheism. While there is significant overlap among the adherents of each, I’ve repeatedly argued that these three systems are not synonymous and need not be taken together.
1/24/2013 05:19:06 am
There is only one difference between Chris White & his arch enemies,the Ancient Aliens theorists. Chris White is in favor of the monotheistic "intervention" theory of an omnipotent God, while Ancient Aliens theorists support the idea of Pantheistic interventionism. Bonitas non est pessimis esse meliorem....
1/24/2013 08:34:22 am
"Despite appearing on the controversial creationist and paranormalist Skeptico podcast"
1/24/2013 08:40:20 am
Sigh. Thank you for pointing that out. I mistyped it the first time, went back and fixed it, and somehow when I pasted into the blog template, it reverted to the previous version. (Maybe I didn't press CTRL-C hard enough and still had the old version on my clipboard.) I fixed the typo.
1/24/2013 09:05:41 am
I don't understand why so many religious people are so obsessed in proving that the events of their <insert holy book here> are literal. They inevitably paint themselves into very contrived corners trying to prove something that, taken out of the context of their religion, they would probably consider utter nonsense. Religions are based on faith, not proof. Once you decide to accept the supernatural then, by definition, material explanations become irrelevant and unnecessary. Better to adopt the position that the stories are allegorical and take a stand on the ideas behind them, some of which actually have merit.
1/24/2013 12:18:04 pm
Nah. The New Atheists (like me) would accuse them of arbitrary cherry-picking.
1/24/2013 01:05:11 pm
It's curious in this case- the AAT's dismiss the usual religious narratives while insisting that their narratives of alien origins are the truth of the matter. When White says, no no no, these alien narratives are wrong and this particular set of religious ones is right it looks a bit like two sides of a coin.
Shannon LC Cate
1/24/2013 01:06:42 pm
That part cracks me up, too. Aliens, supernatural beings...it's all silly. Why are some people so strident about one or the other?
1/25/2013 04:04:28 am
I would classify aliens, at least intelligent ones, as supernatural until we have material evidence of their existence. In this sense Ancient Aliens has already become a pseudo-religion. Frankly, I'm surprised that none of the AATs have petitioned to make it a recognized religion in the US so that they can enjoy the benifits of tax-exempt status. Look what L. Ron Hubbard was able to do with his space opera about Lord Xenu!
1/24/2013 10:53:05 am
Somehow I feel sorry for Chris White.It only takes 5 minutes to debunk Noah's Flood. Sedimentary rock formations and the sorting of fossils.....
1/24/2013 01:05:10 pm
Yeah, I don't get it. All of the religious people I know understand that the Bible is full of myths and metaphors. I got o church every Sunday, consider myself a post-Christian agnostic, but was raised in an evangelical tradition (Southern Baptist) where I was taught from an early age that stuff like Noah's Ark is JUST A STORY.
1/24/2013 01:17:44 pm
Is there ample geologic evidence of sea level transgression, where shallow seas covered over most of a continent? Yes. Has it occurred since the existence of homo sapiens (within the last ~100,000 years BP)? No. A rise in sea level to that extent hasn't even occurred since hominids split from the ape line (~8 million years BP). We're talking tens of millions of years ago, and even the last sea level transgression did not push as far inland as ones preceding it.
1/24/2013 10:27:56 pm
Yes, I've read "The Rocks Don't Lie" as well, and while it's a great book, it does oversimplify the transmission of myths involved. For example, the Hebrew flood story isn't likely a direct plagiarism of the Babylonian but probably grew out of a common myth shared across the ancient Near East. That said, there wasn't just one origin point for world flood myths but many, and the explanations therefore must be multiple to account for it. Frazer, for example, included tsunamis as the origin of one set of flood myths, but noted that they could not account for all.
1/25/2013 04:00:28 am
I agree, I was merely using tsunamis illustrate a point.
1/24/2013 01:36:28 pm
I carefully listened to the interview,especially the segment in which Chris White talks about epistemology,ethics & general religious perspectives,& there is something utterly disturbing & sinister about it.
1/24/2013 03:45:46 pm
The founders of the American religious right, back in the '60s and '70s, either cynically or intuitively began manipulating a basic sociological principal. Most people do not think through every position they take or base those positions on consistent philosophical principals. Somewhere between late adolescence and early adulthood, they identify with a group and take on its positions. Obviously, there are a lot of nuances, special cases, and exceptions to this interpretation of society. The point I want to make is that one of the most powerful roles to have in a society is to be the one who defines what "our side" believes.
1/24/2013 04:11:14 pm
Just out of curiosity, am I in the the farthest west timezone of the regular commenters here?
1/25/2013 04:19:50 am
I'm in the US Eastern time zone (UTC-05:00). I'm guessing your in the Pacific time zone?
1/25/2013 06:11:41 am
No US time zone for me. Far East
1/25/2013 02:38:53 pm
Pacific and there's about a 50/50 chance I'll move back to Alaska soon.
2/3/2013 02:55:01 am
As a mythologist since 35 years ago, I´m sure that the globally told Flood Myth only and really deals with the Milky Way River Mythology, the great flood that´s running OVER the Earth in the Sky and not ON the Earth.
terry the censor
2/6/2013 06:03:54 am
White said, "What I defended was the idea that it was such a consistent story over virtually every culture..."
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