Christian Apologist Attacks "Ancient Aliens" for Believing in Unearthly Entities Based on Ancient Texts
The History Channel gets attacked for a lot of reasons, from its promotion of fake history to its emphasis on extremist perspectives to recent claims by UNESCO that one of its productions actively damaged archaeological research in Madagascar. Yesterday, it also came under fire from Christian talk radio for subverting the Christian worldview. The criticism came on Lutheran Public Radio’s Issues, Etc. program, a show more likely to discuss Biblical interpretation, porn addiction, and current events than space aliens. On the other hand, the same show has a penchant for Hitler and trying to link Nazis to secularism and “Darwinism,” so I guess space aliens fit right in to their areas of concern.
This Issues, Etc. covers Christian reflections on ancient astronauts. It opens with clips from Ancient Aliens discussing “misunderstood technology” and space gods. I disagree, however, with the host Todd Wilken’s claim that Ancient Aliens has “better” narration than Rod Serling’s 1970s narration of In Search of Ancient Astronauts and its sequels. The show’s guest, Kenneth Samples, an evangelical Christian apologist with Reasons to Believe, explains that he is obsessed with watching the History Channel, and both men explain that they disagree with Ancient Aliens and consider it a retread of Chariots of the Gods. Samples says that he considers the ancient astronaut theory to be “an attempt to find salvation from above,” and that the theory is essentially a religious claim competing with Christianity.
Samples places the ancient astronaut theory in the context of religion and philosophy, and he is undoubtedly correct that the hypothesis is a substitute for traditional religion. How many times have we seen ancient astronaut theorists rhapsodizing about the spiritual qualities of aliens? Or even encouraging us to treat them as deities? He says that the claim is also a rejection of secularism, though here is perhaps in more debatable territory. The midcentury ancient astronaut theory of Erich von Däniken, a Catholic, was very much an attempt to fit religion into a secular worldview by making the miraculous and the divine compatible with science. (Von Däniken frequently has discussed his crisis of faith.) I think that Samples errs just a bit in suggesting that the idea is a “rejection” of religion. Insofar as the ancient astronaut theory actually attempts to take ancient religious texts literally and explain them scientifically, it seems not to reject religion so much as to transform and modernize it. Von Däniken has specified that Jesus wasn’t a space alien, so one could be both Christian and a believer in his claims. Modern ancient astronaut theorists like William Henry are explicit in their claim that ancient astronaut theories provide spiritual guidance.
Samples next discusses Christian engagement with the many worlds hypothesis and the question of whether aliens on other worlds were or could be saved by Christ, and he is again correct in noting how difficult it is to make a scientific case that the aliens arrived here. However, he has uses some motivated reasoning in that he admits that looking to aliens for “redemptive power” is a threat to traditional Christianity, and thus his own worldview. He would seemingly prefer aliens not exist since this makes it easier to support the Bible, but this is not a recipe for objective analysis. He agrees with secular criticism of the ancient astronaut theory’s idea that prehistoric people were too stupid to have developed their own cultures, but he does so only because he believes that God would not have given some peoples different sets of abilities than others since Genesis says we are all made in His image.
After the break, Wilken asks Samples about the theory of panspermia—that the building blocks of life arrived on earth via asteroid from another planet—and asserts that atheists support the hypothesis. They purposely conflate directed panspermia (space aliens intentionally seeding earth with molecules) and accidental panspermia (organic compounds or bacteria hitching a ride due to a chance cosmic collision) in order to lump ancient astronaut theorists and “atheists” (equated with scientists) together in opposition to Biblical creationism. Thus, Samples calls panspermia “alien creationism” and says that it is ironic that the “atheist of atheists” Richard Dawkins concedes that we cannot explain the origins of life on earth and therefore has to appeal to an extraterrestrial intervention. Samples says that science has conceded that there is no natural explanation for life on earth, which excites him because it suggests the reality of God, even as they grasp for space aliens to save them from such a conclusion.
Apparently in 2008, Richard Dawkins was asked about panspermia and said that there was a possibility that aliens could have seeded our planet with life, but that they would in turn have needed to evolve. An out of context clip of this was used in Ben Stein’s creationism movie Expelled. Creationists jumped on this as Dawkins admitting that life on earth could not have evolved on its own. He clarified that directed panspermia was a “highly unlikely event” and that “design can never be an ultimate explanation for organized complexity.” Creationists omit this, and the claim returns here in this interview.
Anyway, Samples criticizes the History Channel repeatedly, but he doesn’t seem to recognize that Ancient Aliens isn’t a rip-off of Chariots of the Gods but rather directly based upon it. He also seems unaware that ancient astronaut ideas predate Chariots.
Sample notes the parallels between space aliens and Christian ideas of angels and demons. Sample is careful not to “draw a hard and fast connection” but heavily implies that he believes that UFOs and space aliens are in fact demons. He is less certain that any UFO activity could be angelic. He cites Jacques Vallée to support his connection between UFOs and the occult. While there is much to commend this connection, beginning with the assumption that demons are real probably isn’t an effective way to prove demons are real and piloting flying saucers.
Wilken ends the show by asking Samples how he would answer a Christian who is losing his faith due to the ancient astronaut theory. Samples claims that Christianity is true because it can be verified by historical texts, and we know God is real because the universe if “fine-tuned” for humans. Thus science and history work together to prove Christianity. He concludes by claiming that the History Channel, which he refers to as the “Alien Channel,” is entertaining “but there’s very little history” on it.
Overall, Samples made a good case that the History Channel is bad news and that Ancient Aliens is a pack of lies, but he did not address the underlying problem that if ancient astronaut theories are wrong for using ancient texts and scientific data in service of an ideology, would that not mean that his brand of “reason-based” Christian fundamentalism is on equally shaky ground for doing the same thing? In essence, Samples and Ancient Aliens are making the same claims but differing only in how to define the word god.
9/3/2015 03:48:31 am
One of the things I would dispute is that the History Channel is the "Alien Channel". It is more likely the "Pawn Stars" channel. That show, which seems to be on 24/7 except on Fridays when "Ancient Aliens" is shown and on Sundays when, if you watch, you can see people driving trucks in Alaska, or putting up power lines.
9/3/2015 04:34:14 am
Non-secular historical texts can be just as phoney as the ancient astronaut stuff.
9/3/2015 04:45:39 am
These guys should go on air with Georgia and the Ancient Aliens crew and have a live debate. If I had TV I would watch it because that would be hilarious.
9/3/2015 05:08:56 am
Ugh, DAWKINS. I hate that that guy is seen as the be-all and end-all of "logical atheism." Frankly, I find him to be just as dogmatically and offensively my-way-or-else as any fundamentalist, born-again Christian, and his conclusions are just as illogically based as theirs sometimes. Take the comment quoted in this very article that “design can never be an ultimate explanation for organized complexity.” There is literally nothing about "organized complexity" that serves as evidence either for or against "design." It's simply an Occam's Razor situation, because the explanation "physics" doesn't require any assumptions whereas the explanation "God" requires the assumption that God exists. The problem with using Occam's Razor as an absolute ("never") is that sometimes it's WRONG. Sometimes the explanation with the fewest assumptions ISN'T the one that ultimately proves to be true.
The troll Krampus
9/3/2015 06:41:06 am
I agree. I would enjoy seeing him, Graham Hancock, and especially David Wilcock, eat some knuckle-sandwiches. Have you ever visited Wilcock's website? Holy hell. And his voice and face just get me annoyed to the point of insanity with all the bs just dropping out from his mouth. http://divinecosmos.com/
9/3/2015 07:41:22 am
The key word in the Dawkins quote is "ultimate"- because anything capable of designing organised complexity must itself be an entity of organised complexity.
9/4/2015 11:01:38 am
Yes, but chaos theory also states that there is a chance, however slim, that a complex entity could pop into existence without evolving from something simpler, too. As well, there is the paradoxical possibility of an evolved deity causing its own course of evolution from the future. There is NO EVIDENCE to make any absolute statements from. Therefore, absolute statements should not be made.
9/3/2015 05:23:08 am
"Von Däniken has specified that Jesus wasn’t a space alien, so one could be both Christian and a believer in his claims."
9/3/2015 06:47:32 am
He did, according to reports from the time. He thought better of it after the publisher told him not to offend Christians, and he has exempted Jesus from his claims ever since.
9/4/2015 10:04:34 am
Haven't they heavily implied that Jesus was genetically modified or some sort of test tube baby created by aliens?
9/4/2015 01:09:47 pm
"He did, according to reports from the time. He thought better of it after the publisher told him not to offend Christians, and he has exempted Jesus from his claims ever since."
9/3/2015 05:26:27 am
Eh, RD is annoying, but then so are the fundamentalists and the fringes. At least some of the fringe ones are more interesting.
9/3/2015 07:09:54 am
My girls attended a Catholic school staffed by Domenican nuns and their motto is "Faith and Reason ". They learned Genesis was not a science text and there was no young earth creation material taught, only current scientific opinion in earth sciences,physics, and biology was taught.
9/3/2015 07:16:19 am
Religion is slowly dying out just like the dinosaurs. Religion without creationism is half religious extinction.
9/3/2015 07:28:10 am
I agree that traditional religion is in decline, but many are turning to new age crazy to fill the void and I'm not certain that's an improvement.
9/3/2015 07:49:26 am
Religion is hardly dying out, not in the US at any rate. The Judeo-Christian paradigm is slowly being eroded by its literalist fundamentalist hell-raisers, but it remains strong with its more rational adherents (yes, they do exist, even among scientists who know how to separate personal faith from science). Religion is merely morphing into new forms, including AAers. Sigh.
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
9/3/2015 08:58:31 am
Religion is not dying out in the US, but the number of religiously unaffiliated people is growing, as the Pew Forum study released earlier this year demonstrates: http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/. I think that's one of the reasons fundamentalist Christianity is so fanatical. They feel threatened because Christianity isn't as dominant in the country as it used to be. Christians make up "only" 70 percent of the populace now.
9/3/2015 08:01:34 am
9/3/2015 04:56:26 pm
There is nothing fringe about linking the Nazis to Darwinism.
9/3/2015 05:29:08 pm
How so? By Hitler's admission in "Mien Kampf," his influences were Martin Luther, Richard Wagner, Henry Ford, Bismarck, and Karl Marx. It is possible Hitler wasn't even aware of Darwin's theory as he dropped out of high school. Darwin nowhere suggests genocide as a form of natural selection, and states that the advanced 'races' obviously came from barbarian ancestors. As far as conjecture goes, Hitler's ideas of genocide could have easily been derived from the Bible. Evidently he considered studying for the priesthood.
9/3/2015 06:09:47 pm
Wouldn't Hitler have been influenced more by the advent of eugenics?
9/3/2015 06:38:35 pm
Well, *actual* Darwinism wasn't necessarily an influence, but various perversions of it certainly contributed to the social climate that precipitated Nazi Germany. The work of Darwinist/Lamarckist Ernst Haeckel, for instance, not only rationalized popular racism but also was used as Nazi propaganda.
9/4/2015 02:04:06 am
1. the book Ghost written to be Propaganda tells us nothing of what HItler really thought.
9/4/2015 09:16:24 am
JaredMithrandir: The dedication of Das Kapital, specifically the first volume, is to Wilhelm Wolff, not Charles Darwin. This page goes into some detail about the Darwin dedication myth:
9/3/2015 07:36:56 pm
The eugenics crowd used a corruption of Darwin to bolster their beliefs and the Nazis used the *science *of eugenics to justify what they were going to do from the beginning. Science was just the excuse.
9/4/2015 01:35:41 pm
Whereas I see no evidence of a supernatural deity, there is strong evidence of a Metaphysical Realm, which is the source of our creativity and ethics. If we were purely physical, we would be mechanisms, like plants and animals and machines, and thus have no need for ethics--and we wouldn't be creative. The theory of evolution is perfectly correct between two major events: 1) the beginning of life, and 2) the beginning of ethical life. The first requires the incorporation of an inverse material unit into a cell of material atoms, and the second requires the incorporation of a non-physical unit into pre-ethical men.
9/4/2015 08:28:45 pm
Darwin and Hitler are not connected. It would be like connecting 19th century composer Von Himmel to Hitler because his name sounds like some other guy a little. It is possible he was told about evolution, bu that's probably it.
9/5/2015 02:34:51 am
First, Hitler did not use "Darwinism" (not a thing) as a basis for his or the NAZI ideology. In fact, if you look at their "banned books" list on Die Bucherei, Origin of the Species is banned . . . which means they gathered and burned it. If they were supporters of the work . . . they wouldn't be burning copies and keeping it from the German populace. However, the Christian Bible was on the "approved" reading list . . .
9/5/2015 03:22:39 am
Something else that should be noted about the fallacy of the Darwin/NAZI connection . . .
9/5/2015 06:30:00 am
The father of Eugenics was Darwin's Cousin Galton, that is a fact not a conspiracy theory.
9/5/2015 06:31:10 am
The Book Burning incident was a Public propaganda stunt to stir up the Christians. Not their real Ideaology.
9/5/2015 06:33:15 am
When Mendel's theories were integrated with the Boveri–Sutton chromosome theory of inheritance by Thomas Hunt Morgan in 1915, they became the core of classical genetics while Ronald Fisher combined them with the theory of natural selection in his 1930 book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, putting evolution onto a mathematical footing and forming the basis for Population genetics and the modern evolutionary synthesis.
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