_ It’s Thanksgiving in the United States today, and I for one know what I am thankful for today: Last night brought us the final episode of Ancient Aliens for 2011. Yes, indeed, we have at least a couple of months without any new ridiculousness about alien artists, warriors, and genetic engineers. Lead ancient astronaut theorist (AAT) Giorgio Tsoukalos billed this season finale on his Twitter feed as the “best ever” episode and one that was something called “Tsoukalicious,” but I’m just glad it’s over.
As a personal note, I had a terrible headache last night and could barely force myself to watch Ancient Aliens. This was only made worse by History's decision to show the program’s HD finale in the wrong aspect ratio, squishing the images down into a thin strip across the middle of the screen and making everyone look wide and weird.
_ Tonight’s episode, “Aliens and the Creation of Man,” has inherent in its title a revealing correspondence between the ancient astronaut theory and religious-oriented creationism (also: sexism--women exist, too). In both cases, the modern theory of evolution is suspect, and the existence of human beings is attributed to a higher power for a greater purpose. And in both cases, the trappings of science are misused to give the alternative theory a spurious credibility, implicitly conceding that in the modern world science is the arbiter of truth. As with creationism, the ancient astronaut theory is an attempt to preserve the power of traditional religious text and cultural heritage by giving it a (false) scientific respectability on which to base a literal understanding of ancient texts.
Tsoukalos knows nothing about evolution. He complains that humans could not have lost their body hair early on as the result of evolutionary change because humans immediately began wearing furs to survive winter. Having rejected evolution, I suppose it means nothing to him that humans evolved in sub-Saharan Africa, where snowy winters do not exist, and during a period when the earth was warmer than in the succeeding Ice Age. Then David Childress (he dropped the Hatcher apparently) trots out old Victorian spiritualist speculation as “proof” that “scientists” reject atheistic evolution. Whatever. Victorians also believed in phlogiston, vampires, man-eating jungle plants, and fairies. They are not unimpeachable authorities.
The human brain is next celebrated as a masterpiece of invention, and therefore a genetic legacy of aliens rather than evolution. (Ok, so where did the aliens come from?) Apparently the aliens were lonely and wanted creatures who could communicate through language. Dolphins have rudimentary language, so I guess the aliens were just messing with them for fun.
But then George Noory of Coast to Coast A.M. claimed Adam and Eve were a “true story” despite the clear evidence that the story is much later than its Sumerian original—an original that lacks the details found in Genesis. Childress chimes in about the reality of the Tree of Knowledge. Tsoukalos then offers his view of Satan, that he was a rebel alien (something like Scientology’s mythology, I guess). Of course he is wildly ignorant of the true origins of the Christian devil figure in a conflation of the Hebrew accuser (an agent of God in Job, for example) and a misreading of select passages about other figures (like Isaiah’s discussion of Nebuchadnezzar, which Christians reinterpreted as the fall of Lucifer, misreading figurative language about the king as “morning star” (Lucifer, or light-bringer, in the Latin of the Vulgate) as an angel named Light Bringer, or Lucifer (Isaiah 14).
The problem, of course, is that Biblical literalism is wrong no matter what idea it supports. To imagine biblical texts as literally true is to ignore the vast evidence that these texts have been altered and adapted over time. Even Isaiah 14, referring to Nebuchadnezzar, probably originates in a still earlier poem written for a different subject. The point is that taking ancient texts at face value is sloppy scholarship.
No time for such thoughts, however, since we are next off to Mesopotamia to belatedly acknowledge that the Biblical texts are predated by Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian myths—though there is no acknowledgement that the Biblical texts were influenced by these older models, only that there is an “echo” from various cultures all discussing the same aliens. Instead, we are treated to warmed-over Zecharia Sitchin, with various talking heads claiming (falsely) that the Mesopotamian creation myth plainly tells that the gods created humans to mine gold to power the aliens’ planet. It does not. This is what the Enuma Elish says (Marduk is speaking):
I will solidify blood, I will form bone.
I will set up man, ‘Man’ [shall be] his name.
I will create the man ‘Man.’
The service of the gods shall be established, and I will set them (i.e., the gods) free.
(Enuma Elish 6.3-6, trans. E. A. Wallis Budge)
So, not gold mining but worship of the gods was the reason for the creation of man, for the gods had, a few lines earlier, complained that their existence was futile without worship. (The gods were tired of building temples with their own hands, so the servant angle is right, just not the gold mining to fuel rogue planets part.)
Then we’re off to the panspermia theory, suggesting comets brought life to earth from alien worlds when microbes hitched a ride on comets. This, of course, directly contradicts everything the ancient astronaut theory stands for (since no actual intelligent aliens are visiting earth) but you know what they say about consistency and mediocre minds. I suppose one could suggest that the comets were seeded by aliens to terraform other planets like ours, but I’d think that a billion years is a long time to wait for the garden to grow. But since AATs don’t believe in evolution, they don’t have to worry about the likelihood that any aliens terraforming worlds a billion years ago either evolved beyond recognition or went extinct eons ago. They could not be the gods in flying saucers from the first fifty minutes of the program.
The grand finale is the assertion that extraterrestrials in no way disprove God but instead form a middle layer between God and humanity (i.e., angels). Thus, the program’s talking heads prove the point I made a few hundred words ago, that ancient astronaut theories are simply creationism by other means, an attempt to hold on to religion in the face of science.
And we’re done! Free! Free at last! Or at least until the next season starts. God (or Xenu or whatever) help us all.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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