All roads in alternative belief eventually lead back to aliens, probably because the aliens represent a modern interpretation of the ancient angels and gods. Therefore it should come as no surprise that America Unearthed’s Scott Wolter will be appearing at the Paradigm Symposium this fall, a gathering of alternative “theorists,” including a large number of ancient astronaut speculators, dedicated to “re-visioning our place in history.” What is perhaps more surprising is that the H2 network, Prometheus Entertainment (of Ancient Aliens fame) and Committee Films (producers of America Unearthed) are sponsors of the summit. This should clear up any doubt about whether the network or its production partners has any residual idea that about the value of science, historiography, or facts.
I can’t help but think of the contrast between H2’s fact-free documentaries, which rely entirely on secondhand research and the low-information speculations of its interviewees, and Nova’s superb documentary on the Antikythera Mechanism, which aired on April 3. That program also made claims about how a startling new discovery about an old artifact could change our entire understanding of history and technology—and then they proceeded to back it up with scientific experiments, mathematical calculations, and careful historical research.
The Antikythera Mechanism is world famous as the only surviving example of the kind of highly advanced mechanical, gear-driven devices described by writers from Homer to Cicero and beyond. Nova documented the efforts of a team of scholars to investigate how the device worked, and they found compelling evidence that the machine was extremely sophisticated. The also compared it to appropriate and relevant ancient texts, like Cicero’s De re publica (1.14), which are cited to support not generate claims:
But as soon as Gallus had begun to explain, in a most scientific manner, the principle of this [Archimedes’] machine, I felt that the Sicilian geometrician must have possessed a genius superior to anything we usually conceive to belong to our nature. For Gallus assured us that that other solid and compact globe was a very ancient invention, and that the first model had been originally made by Thales of Miletus. That afterward Eudoxus of Cnidus, a disciple of Plato, had traced on its surface the stars that appear in the sky, and that many years subsequently, borrowing from Eudoxus this beautiful design and representation, Aratus had illustrated it in his verses, not by any science of astronomy, but by the ornament of poetic description. He added that the figure of the globe, which displayed the motions of the sun and moon, and the five planets, or wandering stars, could not be represented by the primitive solid globe; and that in this the invention of Archimedes was admirable, because he had calculated how a single revolution should maintain unequal and diversified progressions in dissimilar motions. In fact, when Gallus moved this globe, we observed that the moon succeeded the sun by as many turns of the wheel in the machine as days in the heavens. From whence it resulted that the progress of the sun was marked as in the heavens, and that the moon touched the point where she is obscured by the earth’s shadow at the instant the sun appears opposite… [text breaks off] (source)
The mechanism demonstrates the astonishing genius of the ancients, but the Nova program makes clear that this developed from centuries of hard work and observation, not from the manic work of alien overlords.
But this bit of Greek reflection contrasts not just with Ancient Aliens but also with another series I caught some of this week, Clash of the Gods, a documentary series that first aired on History in 2009 as a tie-in with the remake of Clash of the Titans. The program was intended to explore various ancient mythic figures, but I was disturbed after watching several episodes and seeing that each was pushing a subtle but consistent Christian agenda that sought to cast pagan myth as forerunners of Christianity and an anticipation of Christ. This isn’t just me talking. The DVD set specifically says “Each episode connects ancient myths to actual historical events, as well as to events in the Bible…”
In one episode I saw, the program diabolized Hades, the Greek god of the Underworld, turning him into a progenitor of the Christian Devil and his realm into Hell, despite the fact that Elysium belonged as much to Hades as Tartarus, and the fact that Hades was known as the “Other Zeus” and was sometimes thought to be Zeus underground. Another tried to make Thor into some kind of forerunner of Christ.
Leaving aside the scripted miniseries The Bible, I find it weird that History, and now its offshoot H2, seems to be pushing a spiritual angle in their documentary programming. I get that it’s big business and a solid moneymaker, but I’m not comfortable with labeling biblical primacy (Clash of the Gods), New Age neo-paganism (Ancient Aliens), or neo-Catharism/neo-Adoptionism (America Unearthed) as “history.”
4/7/2013 06:50:51 am
The NOVA show was fascinating and relieved when the scientific team exploring where the device was made, when and by who, not one pointed skyward (think Larry Fine) and uttered "we don't know, so Aliens"
4/8/2013 12:14:14 am
The NOVA program was great.
4/7/2013 07:03:18 am
Dan Carlin did a great podcast on the Thor/Jesus connection here http://www.dancarlin.com/disp.php/hharchive/Show-41---Thor*s-Angels/Dark%20ages-medieval-antiquity
The Other J.
4/7/2013 04:42:27 pm
A-yup. You find that kind of pagan-Christian syncretism all over the place in ancient Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland -- in the literature, the art, sacred locations, holidays, etc. It was a lot easier for Christians to get converts by subtle mixed-messaging than by telling these warriors their gods were all wrong, and risk exile or losing their tonsured heads. It resulted in some fascinating work -- the Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf and the majority of Anglo-Saxon poetry that was written down during that interstitial transition period (some of that stuff is the most existential writing you can find before Sartre). It's why churches in Ireland were built over wells -- the wells were sacred places to the pre-Christian Celts. Pre-Christian Gaelic lyric forms were adapted for Christian liturgy. And more recently, it's why our modern western version of Christmas, with the tree and the jolly herd-driving elf, is celebrated that way.
4/7/2013 07:45:56 am
Jason says: I’m not comfortable with labeling biblical primacy (Clash of the Gods), New Age neo-paganism (Ancient Aliens), or neo-Catharism/neo-Adoptionism (America Unearthed) as “history.”
4/8/2013 06:32:26 am
Jason's opening blog comment: "All roads in alternative belief eventually lead back to aliens, probably because the aliens represent a modern interpretation of the ancient angels and gods."
4/11/2013 07:48:33 am
Well, let me assure you and all Christians, sir, that you are certainly safe from that fate (one-world religion) as long as I'm alive.
4/9/2013 09:32:04 am
4/7/2013 02:34:26 pm
If you haven't already heard of this:
4/7/2013 04:01:20 pm
I just came across those and couldn't even read through Faram's walls of text. So that brand new "science" makes no sense to me.
The Other J.
4/7/2013 04:48:59 pm
Kinda wish I didn't look that up. Check out this example of rigorous precision:
4/8/2013 03:04:16 am
My headache gets a whole lot worse just trying to wrap my mind around that idea.
4/7/2013 03:52:16 pm
That was a terrific NOVA doc. It looks like it is basically the video version of Jo Marchant's book "Decoding the Heavens." If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. The book feels like a novel, but it's all about ancient science and interesting personalities. It has references too.
The Other J.
4/7/2013 06:40:34 pm
Jason, you've already done a fine job corralling the various forms Christian messaging in H2, and although to a somewhat lesser extent, it seems to be on History as well. I don't think there's any question about that sort of messaging on Discover America.
4/8/2013 02:09:07 am
Having worked on many a documentary as an editor or cameraman I can say that there is not a conscious effort made to forward christian beliefs from a network perspective. That said there could be from a production company however. More so it all comes from demographics. The majority of the TV watching public in the US is Christian so every program is going to be more Christian friendly. The last thing any network wants to do is to lose viewership because of offending the majority of the viewers. It has been found that non Christians or agnostics are less likely to change their viewing habits because of their belief system being offended, while Christians do tend to turn the channel and reject given programs. People need to remember that on Basic Cable (not HBO, or even public funded PBS) advertising rules all. Advertisers also do not want there programing to offend there client bases (again most Christian) so even if the program is will to take a risk all major advertiser needs to do is threaten to pull advertising (Car, food, and clothing companies do this all the time). Money dictates all and the largest consumer market will prevail. TV is never about education (Public Broadcast is the exception) it is about selling advertising, the goal to reach as many demographic markets as possible to encourage as many as possible advertisers.
The Other J.
4/8/2013 04:47:05 am
That leaves me less assured than if it were an active, determined process from some anonymous board, because that means there is a large enough demographic who gravitates toward or otherwise craves that particular kind of programming. Gah...
4/11/2013 07:59:44 am
This reminds me that when I was taking graphic design classes (didn't finish that degree), we had some interesting discussions about the role of advertising in shaping society. I've always been on the side that finds "we just give people what they want" to be morally and ethically weasel-y. I don't find it an acceptable argument, though I know that you're right that it HAPPENS, Matt. It's the same attitude that has led to increased anorexia and the consequent backlash of consumers demanding less unrealistic portrayals of women in common media and lower-end weight limits for models at several popular fashion venues.
4/8/2013 05:08:31 am
There most defiantly is, look at the popularity of similar themed shows GHOST HUNTERS, FINDING BIGFOOT, GHOST ADVENTURES, Jess Ventura's CONSPIRACY THEORIES, MONSTERQUEST, ect.. These alt science shows are big money, easily and cheaply to produce, and best of all are just far enough off base that there is no need to have any accuracy. Educated people write the shows off as fun mindless entertainment and others see it as glimpses into the "covert" world. They do appeal to both sides of the coin. From a marketing and production view point they are a no brainier. Not to much different thatn UNSOLVED MYSTERIES, THATS INCREDIBLE, IN SEARCH, and many other shows that preceded them.
4/9/2013 09:19:38 am
In defense of "Finding Bigfoot" at least the cast called out the producers for falsifying evidence in the first season. You don't normally get that in reality tv, and it at least shows some of the cast's desire for truth even if the topic is on the fringe.
4/9/2013 09:45:14 am
Yeah that was great, they even got him to talk about it on TV and admit his mistake.
4/8/2013 05:10:32 am
I've really got to check out the Nova doc.
4/9/2013 02:27:04 am
I agree that the ancient astronaut theory is wrong. I favor something along the lines of a previous civilization on this planet accounting for all the remaining stoneworks, which are clearly done with some serious advanced technologies. I don't see any attempt to explain these constructions eg Puma Punku, by Jason.
4/9/2013 02:29:52 am
I dealt with Puma Punku in reviewing Ancient Aliens' episode on the topic: http://www.jasoncolavito.com/1/post/2012/03/review-of-ancient-aliens-s04e06-the-mysteries-of-puma-punku.html
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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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