I hesitate to even bring up an open letter religious conservative Sam Weaver published on Wednesday in the conservative website Renew America, which bills itself as committed to the Founding Fathers’ (alleged) biblical principles, since many readers dislike even a hint of political ideology or meaning in the context of alternative history theories, as though interpretations of the past can be divorced from the context in which they are proposed and in which they function. However, Weaver’s discussion provides another perspective on the rivalry and similarity between ancient astronaut theories and the biblical creationism (and/or intelligent design) movement.
Weaver begins his column by praising ancient astronaut theorists for “thinking outside the box” and rejecting what he calls the “conventional wisdom and group think” of modern science and contemporary historians. And what might this conventional wisdom be?
It is naturalism and relativism. Only the natural, physical universe (or set of universes) exists. The spiritual realm is a myth – mere superstitious legend. Angels, demons and miracles do not – indeed, cannot – exist. God only exists in the hearts and minds of men – primarily slack-jawed, snaggletoothed, uneducated men; found mostly in the ample rural areas of the American South and some dying parts of merry old England; although they remain abundant in the great nation-island of Australia. […] In other words, man created God for man's benefit, not the other way around.
I don’t really know what Australia did to deserve its reputation as a Hollywood Western with kangaroos. But, anyway, Weaver continues by saying that science refuses to accept the validity of the Pentateuch, worships the “theology” of evolution, and denies that good and evil have an objective meaning beyond mere opinion. He is obviously unfamiliar with Paul Kurtz’s, Sam Harris’s, and Michael Shermer’s efforts to claim a scientific, teleological basis for contemporary Western (specifically American) ideas of morality. (I don’t agree with this: kangaroos and comets care nothing for your Western morality.)
Weaver tells ancient astronaut theorists that they are blinded by the evolutionary-materialist paradigm—apparently unaware of their desire to be raptured up into a postmortem “heaven” in the Orion nebula—and he urges them to recognize that extraterrestrials and pagan gods are in fact demons. “Do this, and your questions will all be answered and everything will become ‘crystal’ clear!! Even, perhaps, the bit about the crystal skulls!”
Weaver has been watching recent episodes of Ancient Aliens, for he admits to being perplexed by their discussion of the Nephilim, the giants of Genesis 6:4, the children of the sons of God and mortal women. Following Ancient Aliens, he conflates both groups (the sons of God and the giants) as one and speculates that they may have used “craft” and “emulated” human bodies to better fool human women into having sex and to convince skeptics that the spiritual realm does not exist. After confessing that he does not know what the Nephilim really were, he asserts that “if you study every word and phrase of Genesis from a spiritual viewpoint, all will become quite clear!” This is rather troubling, for Weaver asserts that he has been doing so for more than 22 years, and yet he remains as uncertain about the Nephilim as when he started.
He wraps up by praising ancient astronaut theorists for embracing the creationist viewpoint that evolution cannot account for humanity, but he tells them that they have gone wrong by accepting the conventional wisdom that only a materialist explanation can provide answers. Because Weaver refuses to accept that evolution could occur, he therefore demands to know where the aliens came from, a sort of knock-off version of Thomas Aquinas’s proof of God via the argument from first cause. (All effects have a cause, so there must have been a first cause, which can only be God.) “Evolution? Millions, if not billions of years? Does time negate logic? Time cannot negate Truth!!” If one assumes evolution is false, then of course one must conclude evolution cannot apply to other species on other planets.
What is fascinating is that Weaver, a creationist, embraces the ancient astronaut theory insofar as its “facts” and “ideas,” specifically anti-evolution (biological and cultural) claims, can be used to support creationism—and here we are almost certainly discussing fundamentalist, literalist creationism, not the more general creationism of the Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches. Ancient astronaut theorists want to breathe new life into old religion by tying it to modern science, however poorly, while creationists want to remake modern science in order to justify their religious beliefs. The end result, however, is always the same: finding new reasons to believe in the literal reality of stories told thousands of years ago. Creationists want to limit this to just one ancient text, while ancient astronaut theorists are happy to provide a cornucopia for the spiritually adventurous, but the end product is envisioned the same way: the union of the spiritual and the material in a world restored to balance between the natural and the supernatural, the physical and the magical.
Compare that conservative/fundamentalist view of ancient astronauts with one posted yesterday by James F. McGrath on the progressive Christian website Patheos, in which McGrath discusses ancient astronauts in terms of Gene Roddenberry’s use of the trope in the original Star Trek series (and its sequels), from a class (!) on religion and science fiction (!!):
It allows the exploration of longstanding traditions of storytelling to continue in the framework of our modern scientific worldview. But it also allows the gods to be challenged, rejected, taken on, beaten, and brought down to size. And so if, on one level, doing that posits that such beings as Apollo really exist, on another it allows human beings to outgrow them and treat them as beings like us, and not infallible sources of truth worthy of worship.
Not surprisingly, approaching ancient astronauts as creatures of fiction allows for a more insightful reading of the underlying meanings and motives behind the fantasy, as well as the reasons the myth has such resonance. I find it interesting that both the conservative and progressive Christian readings I’ve pointed to today seek to assert human superiority over the alien-demons, but one does so from a place of fear and a need to believe the demons are real to justify a literal reading of God’s Word, while the other does so from a place of curiosity, looking to see what the story can tell us about our understanding of the intellectual framework in which we live.
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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