This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Erich von Däniken and the alien god-substitutes

I was about thirteen years old when I first read one of the works ofErich von Däniken. That was his “most famous” work, Chariots of the Gods?, and at the time I was mightily impressed. I might mention that that was also the time I’d just discovered the joys of science fiction – not the rather hard-science, cerebral science fiction of now but the science fiction of the time, full of cheerful impossibilities like antigravity and FTL travel. So my mind was …primed…for the injection.

For those who have never heard of him before, von Däniken (born 1935) is a Swiss author and former jailbird who has made a fortune for himself out of several books he wrote propagating this thesis: that there are great mysteries in the past of humanity that have left traces through time, and that these mysteries all come down to a single base theme – that human beings have been “created”, through genetic manipulation and through timely technological help, to become what they are now…by aliens.

According to von Däniken (and some other authors who write on the same themes), then, the course of human civilisation has been shaped by aliens – no, more, without aliens there would have been no human civilisations, at least not in recognisable forms. According to von Däniken, the world is full of artifacts that “prove” the existence of such help – the statues of Easter Island, which, according to him, the natives could not possibly have carved; the lines in the desert at Nazca, in Peru; some ancient artifacts that he says show modern appearance, like aeroplanes etc, and so on. I’ll discuss a few of his claims in greater detail in just a moment.

I did say that von Däniken had impressed me at thirteen; but one does not stay thirteen forever, and a tiny bit of critical thinking and a re-reading of his theories pretty much did for him as far as I was concerned long before I left school. I have, since then, flipped through his books at libraries and bookshops, not because I was really interested but because I wanted to see what new facts he had up his sleeve. Some of the facts; well…did you know that giants walked the earth? Von Däniken has photos of their sandal prints!

You get the idea.

Anyway, let’s go on to only a very few of von Däniken’s major claims:

1.    The Pyramids of Egypt were, er, cryonic vaults. I’m sure the Pharaohs 
would have mightily appreciated knowing of this. Unfortunately, while we’re not sure of the exact techniques of pyramid building, we do have a fair idea of the approximate dates and the effort involved; and we do know who built the pyramids of Egypt, and why; and we do know that the reason that there are not more of them is that they were so expensive to build that they virtually bankrupt the nation.

2.    Herr von Däniken claims that the lines carved in the desert of Nazca, Peru, 
are landing strips for alien spacecraft. This is an interesting idea; not the least because it suggests that spacecraft have to take off and land like aeroplanes. It’s an even more interesting idea because elsewhere in his writings, von Däniken claims that spaceships (of which more anon) descend and ascend vertically. Apparently this is one of those occasions where von Däniken hasn’t read himself too carefully. Naturally, he fails to mention two major points. First, the lines of Nazca  are the outlines of gigantic totemic animals. And, secondly, any spacecraft that used them as runways would have to be very small indeed, because those lines are only a metre wide.

3.    Another claim is that about the stone heads (Moai Statues) on Easter 
Island. Of course, the natives could not - von Däniken says – have built those heads, they were poor helpless people who could never have undertaken that massive effort. If anyone who actually researched the heads has claimed that they were all built in a day, or month, or even year, I for sure haven’t heard of it.

4.    Our Erich also says that a sarcophagus lid carved by the Mayans in about the year 638 of the current era 
shows a man riding a rocket with his head covered by a “helmet with antennae”. In order to convince us of his theory, he publishes a picture of his version of the sarcophagus lid, with certain parts blacked out so that we see the resemblance he wishes us to see. The problem is that this isn’t too convincing even in his censored version: why is the man’s head outside the rocket, for instance? And if we see the uncensored version, well…the helmet with antennae turns out to be hair, the nose of the rocket turns out to be the traditional Mayan Quetzal bird, and the engine of the rocket the skull-face of the Mayan Earth monster. Actually, the sarcophagus depicts a ruler, Pacal, suspended between heaven and earth. So much for that story.

5.    Oh, yes, von Däniken also is so good as to claim that old myths and legends (and religious myths like the Burning Bush and the Ark of the Covenant) were actually alien artifacts and visitations; that some of the visions of the prophets of angels and heaven were their experiences of being taken up in alien spaceships, which were clear to begin with but became muddled with time. He even goes so far as to describe these ships – which are pretty much consonant with UFO lore, naturally.

You see the advantages of this line of argument? Just about everything can be re-interpreted in terms of alien visitation; if something can be interpreted simply and complexly, the normal (and usually correct) solution is the simple one. But with von Däniken, it’s quite the reverse; for him it’s the more complicated explanation that suits. So if one says humans carved the Easter Island heads over decades with primitive tools, it doesn’t go down well with Herr von Däniken; he must have them made in a day with laser cutters by aliens in whose likeness they were made.

Now the most interesting thing about this is, why on earth should a former jailbird be able to earn a fortune writing garbage like this? What is it in us that allows many of us to swallow such dross? Why should we be so eager to believe that humans were capable of nothing unless directed by aliens or other “higher forces beyond our control”? Why should science that tells us something happened much more straightforwardly, and provide proof to back up its contentions, be ignored in favour of a piece of rather insulting supposition?

This is a bit different from UFOs as “alien observers” who do not directly affect us – another fable in my non-humble opinion, given the interstellar distances involved – or from cryptozoology, the study of such alleged creatures as the Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster. Such things also need a suspension of disbelief, but of a different order…and are far more forgivable.

What von Däniken tells us is that we have been created and/or manipulated by a race or races of what, for want of a better word, might be termed godlets. What he wants us to believe is that we are eternally in debt to, if not actually being controlled at this moment by (and why should they have stopped?) these godlets.

You see where I’m getting with this, I hope. What von Däniken is trying to establish is little different from what religions have been trying to make us believe for ages – that we are not our own masters, that we lack the capacity to be our own masters, that we have been made for a  purpose beyond our understanding, and that science (conventional science) is hiding or obscuring evidence that proves von Däniken/religion correct. The only difference is that religion does it with childhood indoctrination and magic/superstition, and von Däniken does it with pseudoscience.

Again, I come back to a favourite theme of mine: the idea that religion, per se, would not exist if it were not for a tendency for a very large number of humans to be happy with the idea that we aren’t really responsible for our actions and that we can be bailed out for their consequences by “higher forces” which are using us for purposes too high for us to understand.

Religion and Erich von Däniken. Two sides of a tarnished, and counterfeit, coin.  

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