In Major New Article, Graham Hancock Repeats Previous Anti-Scientist Claims, Defends the Search for Atlantis
I will confess that I am not a regular visitor to Graham Hancock’s website, so I am sometimes a few days behind on his latest postings. The last time he wrote an article for his site was in December, and frankly he had sort of fallen off of my radar so that I didn’t realize until now that he published a monumentally long new diatribe on April 30. In the new article, Hancock alleges that scientists “consistently suppress and marginalise new knowledge that conflicts with established positions.” The proximate cause of the article was the appearance of news pieces on the websites of National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazine, which Hancock takes as proof that science is a conspiracy to impose dogma.
Hancock, of course, sees news accounts as the same as scientific journals, and both as arbiters of what is and is not “true” for dogmatic scientists.
The Smithsonian piece is actually a reprint from Hakai magazine, and it explores the reaction that Jacques Cinq-Mars faced in the 1980s and 1990s when his excavations suggested the presence of humans in the Americas in 24,000 years ago—before the Clovis horizon. The National Geographic news article retells the story of J Harlen Bretz (yes, “J” was his whole first name), who intuited correctly in the 1920s that certain geological features in Washington State were formed by a massive Ice Age flood, but who faced scorn from his colleagues because he could not provide a feasible mechanism to explain how this flood would have occurred, something that would only come to pass decades later.
Both pieces describe situations in which the most dominant personalities in a scientific field resisted new evidence and sometimes engaged in personal attacks against the claimant. In both situations, course correction was a long and slow process, occurring only when the weight of the evidence became overwhelming enough to overcome the previous paradigm and demonstrate that paradigm’s falseness. However, the cases are not quite as clear-cut as Hancock implies. The Cinq-Mars case seems to best support the claim that humans lived in Beringia for millennia before populating the Americas after the ice sheets melted. Hancock denies that the Bretz case is a “true” paradigm shift because, he says, the current consensus offers too many concessions to “gradualism.”
Hancock, instead of seeing a paradigm shift as evidence that even entrenched ideas can be corrected by the ruthless application of new evidence, prefers to read both incidents as evidence that elite scientists engaged in a massive campaign to reinforce outdated paradigms.
The largest part of the article is devoted to rehashing Bretz’s story from Magicians of the Gods. The short version is that geologists came to accept that the scablands of Washington State had been formed by a massive flood once they recognized a mechanism by which it could occur, specifically by the catastrophic draining of glacial Lake Missoula in one massive deluge. However, Bretz originally doubted this mechanism, believing that the lake held too little water to achieve the erosion seen in the landscape. Instead, he first thought the ice sheet north of Washington had partially melted, creating the flood. Hancock prefers this version, even though Bretz himself rejected it, because, following amateur geological speculator Randall Carlson, Hancock wants to claim that a comet hit the Earth and melted the ice. Hancock paints Bretz’s growing acceptance of the evidence that Lake Missoula had emptied catastrophically (and that it might have happened in up to eight stages) as a capitulation to “critics” rather than an adherence to evidence. In Hancock’s view, to propose a new idea is heroic, but to accept advice and feedback—or concede that anyone else might have a point—is weakness.
Thus, Hancock, even in celebrating Bretz, damns him for allowing the “uniformitarians” and “gradualists” to propose that the flooding occurred regularly, at intervals, perhaps, as modern geologists suggest, up to ninety times over thousands of years, rather than single-mindedly promoting a single catastrophic event, one that would conveniently help Hancock’s comet case. Hancock summarizes the modern view and then says:
This is all very reassuring, of course, but suppose that Bretz’s original insight was correct all along? Suppose that the “unique assemblage of erosional forms and glacial water deposits” that he invoked as evidence for his “Spokane Flood” can only be resolved “into a genetic scheme” if the time allowed for their creation be “very short, volume very large, velocity very high and erosion chiefly by plucking of the jointed basalt”? Suppose in other words that what happened in North America at the end of the Ice Age really was a single, sudden, cataclysmic flood – something unprecedented and unmatched since?
Suppose Hancock had evidence… He is happy to trash geologists but offers nothing against the modern consensus except for what-ifs. He argues that the heat from the comet impact would have melted the ice, but he chooses not to explain why this resulted in catastrophic, earth-changing flooding only in one spot. If the comet hit near the Great Lakes, shouldn’t similar flooding be seen elsewhere besides just the other end of the continent? Hancock says that one of four hypothesized comet fragments happened to hit the ice north of the scablands, and created unique destabilization there, but it seems that this is his own amateur conclusion and not a geologist’s expert opinion. He also fantasizes about how Bretz might have been a warrior for catastrophism to the end had the comet’s impact been known in his day. From this, he concludes the following about the supposed unwillingness of science to adopt hypotheses in the absence of clear evidence for them:
This is unfortunate and should remind us that all branches of science again and again repeat the same fundamental mistakes – elevating current hypotheses to the status almost of divinely-ordained truths, coming to regard those hypotheses as unchallengeable reference frames through which reality must be viewed, and marginalising, ostracising, humiliating and seeking to destroy the professional reputations of all those who propose alternative hypotheses.
Thunderous words, but to what end? After alleging that the team studying the alleged Younger Dryas comet impact is suffering from the same intolerance, Hancock lets loose the truth: “Meanwhile my own hypothesis of an advanced civilization of prehistoric antiquity obliterated from the face of the earth during the Younger Dryas ‘window’, is also strengthened by their work.” This gives him license to repeat much of what he has said about the comet over the past few years, and in excruciating detail, detail made all the stranger by the pointlessness of it. Hancock hopes, as we know, that readers will see the comet hypothesis as proof of a lost civilization that it allegedly destroyed; however, logically speaking, there is no reason to make this leap. If, for example, there were first evidence of an Ice Age super-civilization, then we might be justified in looking for a reason it collapsed and vanished; however, absent that evidence, the existence or non-existence of a Younger Dryas comet impact offers no evidence to support or refute the notion of a lost civilization. A destructive agent does not imply a civilization stood to be destroyed, and since we have plenty of human remains and archaeological material from before 10,500 BCE, logically we ought to find some trace of this vanished civilization, if only its tools and trash and grave goods. Hancock tells us that the comet simply incinerated it all, but would any comet whose impact left people and animals alive have truly consumed every last screw, button, or ornament? Indeed, Hancock himself quotes Antonio Zamora, a comet proponent, to describe the impact of the comet, and Zamora’s apocalyptic description says only that animals within 100 km of the impact were killed instantly, while debris and ice thrown up by the crash rained down catastrophically for 1000 km around the impact site. While horrific, this is not enough to wipe away a whole civilization supposedly centered somewhere on the other side of the world. His claim is stranger still when he tells us that Göbekli Tepe sprang up out of nowhere, with the implication that survivors of the lost civilization constructed it. They survived, but nothing else?
Hancock hopes to further muddy the waters of his core claim by devoting a section of his article to the question of who were the first Americans. He describes the process by which the Clovis-first paradigm collapsed, but he leaves out some very important facts. First, the Clovis-first paradigm began in the middle twentieth century and lasted less than fifty years before facts overwhelmed it—facts that began to come to light only about 20 years before the paradigm’s collapse began. Hancock’s lost civilization hypothesis is as old as Greece and Rome, but in modern form goes back to the late nineteenth century. Despite more having more than three times the amount of time that Clovis-first paradigm lasted, not a shred of evidence has emerged for an ice age super-civilization.
Therefore, Hancock’s words ring hollow when he says:
It’s high time for a change, indeed for a paradigm shift. When it comes I suspect it will reveal not only the true cause of the mysterious disappearance of the Clovis people but also vast and previously unexplored vistas of American prehistory. […] [I]t is intriguing, to say the least, that [the comet impact] coincides so precisely with the date that Plato gives us for the destruction, and submergence beneath the sea, of the lost civilization of Atlantis. As I hope I have demonstrated in this article, historians and archaeologists will go through Houdini-like contortions of reason and common-sense rather than consider the possibility that any aspect of their paradigm of prehistory might be wrong — so I am not surprised that they have never attempted to investigate at face value the Atlantis tradition of a devastating global flood 11,600 years ago.
It's probably worth noting that Atlantis was not destroyed in a global flood according to Plato. In the Timaeus, the Egyptian priests state specifically that no flood ever touched Egypt, and it is evident from the narrative that Athens and Greece were untouched by the waters that closed up over Atlantis—having had the Greek armies swallowed up in the Earth instead! “In a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea” (trans. Jowett). The connection to a “universal” flood came from later efforts to read Atlantis as a tale of the antediluvian Nephilim of the Bible.
I would like to think that geologists could identify the evidence of a global flood. Hancock, after all, concedes as much when discussed the Washington scablands and the geologists who recognized the remains of a flood there. Yet he seems to think that geologists have blindly chosen not to consider whether any geologically significant events happened everywhere on the face of the Earth around 9,600 BCE. He cites global “flood traditions”—i.e., Noah’s Flood—as reason to suspect the existence of such evidence, and yet he seems oblivious to how close he hews to the Flood geology of the creationists, and the early years of geology when Noah’s Flood was taken as a given, before the long and careful work of studying the Earth revealed no evidence such a universal disaster.
Hancock concludes the piece, as he did Magicians of the Gods, by warning that another comet is likely to hit soon, destroying us all. He seems to expect us to agree that the existence of comets proves that one destroyed Atlantis, even though none of this makes any logical sense without evidence of the existence of Atlantis in the first place.
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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