Archive | January 2012

Should We Give Thrive a Pass on Facts, And Instead Praise its “Message?”

As stated here, the purpose of this blog is to bring to light the many errors, distortions, and inaccuracies contained in the conspiracy theory documentary Thrive. My objections to Thrive are primarily fact-based. It presents many claims as fact which are simply untrue: for example, that crop circles are of extraterrestrial origin, that Adam Trombly has invented a working “free energy” device, and that an insular group of conspirators control the world. These things are not true, and many other claims the movie makes aren’t true either.

A common thread in many of the comments I’ve received on this blog, however, has been to take me to task for focusing on the factual veracity of claims made in Thrive. According to certain commenters, the factual accuracy of the film and its claims aren’t the point, and instead of debunking them, I should be praising what some people view as the movie’s “positive message.” This article will evaluate that assertion critically, or at least as critically as an essentially faith-based proposition can be evaluated.

Should we give Thrive a pass on its purported facts, or some of its purported facts, in favor of praising either its overall “message” or the good intentions of its creators, such as Foster Gamble? I would clearly answer no to this question, but it’s equally clear that many fans of the film would unhesitatingly answer yes. This difference in approach illustrates some interesting things about the movie itself and the audience at which it is aimed.

Do Facts Matter?

On the face of it this question seems silly. Of course they do. Facts always matter. Without ascertaining what’s fact and what’s not, the world is unnavigable. However, it appears that, when one delves into the strange New Age netherworld of the sorts of subjects covered in Thrive—UFOs, magical energy devices, ancient astronauts, and conspiracy theories—facts become a whole lot less important, at least to the people who believe in these things.

Let’s take, for example, Adam Trombly’s “free energy” machine. An early article on this blog presented the facts that, not only is there no evidence that Trombly’s machine works, but the principle by which it supposedly operates violates the laws of physics. In the comments on that and other pages, however, some defenders of Thrive don’t seem to be very troubled by this. Believers in “free energy” devices, when confronted with facts demonstrating that a particular machine has not been proven to work, will often start arguing about possibilities and potentials of unlimited energy devices, sometimes citing examples of other particular machines—whose operations have not been proven either. You can see examples of this sort of argumentation in the comments to that page. To them, therefore, what seems to be important is that a person believes in the possibility of “free energy.” When you come at it from that tack, whether Trombly’s specific machine does or does not work suddenly recedes in importance. The factual question of whether it does or doesn’t work is no longer the key issue you’re arguing about.

But what does this say about Thrive? It seems safe to conclude that Foster Gamble believes strongly in “free energy” devices, and promoting that belief to the public seems to be one of the key objectives of Thrive. One would assume, therefore, that Adam Trombly and his device are, if not the best and most compelling example of “free energy” devices that Gamble could find, at least a representative example. Even if Gamble, in preparation for making the movie, interviewed 50 inventors of so-called “free energy” devices and only Trombly was willing to sign up to appear on camera, it wouldn’t make sense that Gamble would put him in the movie if his specific device wasn’t capable of illustrating the point Gamble wants to make about “free energy.” Seen in that light, isn’t the failure of Trombly’s case to persuade us that “free energy” devices are real extremely damaging to Gamble’s argument in general?

Don’t misunderstand what I’m arguing here. One failed example is not an excuse to trash an entire idea. If you can show me a working example of a “free energy” device whose operation is clearly and publicly verified by reputable scientific sources—a “free energy” device whose operation and functioning are unmistakable, explainable by science and capable of being reproduced—I will concede that “free energy” exists, and the fact that Trombly failed to build such a device is irrelevant. But what I am saying is that if Trombly is the best example of this phenomenon that Thrive can offer us, and that example fails to make its case, doesn’t that diminish the ability of the movie Thrive to persuade us that its arguments are credible?

Again, just to be clear: the point I’m making is that, by using Adam Trombly as a (presumably) representative example of “free energy,” Thrive turns out to be not very persuasive that “free energy” exists. This may be just because Trombly is a bad example, in which case the makers of Thrive chose him poorly; or it may be because there’s nothing to “free energy” to begin with, in which case the makers of Thrive are asserting something they either know is false or ought to know if they had done proper research into the matter. Either way it seems inescapable that Thrive’s competence and credibility as a source diminishes as soon as you realize that the claims the movie makes about Trombly and his machine don’t pan out.

To at least some defenders of the movie, however, this analysis doesn’t follow at all. To them it doesn’t really matter whether Trombly is a good example or a bad one—they wish to believe that “free energy” exists, and the fact that the specific inventor showcased in Thrive has not created a working “free energy” machine is not permitted to impeach this conclusion. This is purely faith-based, result-driven reasoning.

I’m using the Trombly case as an example here, but it is by no means the only example. It would be one thing if it was the only unpersuasive example. But it isn’t. If you pile the numerous errors, distortions and unwarranted conclusions in Thrive atop one another, it quickly becomes clear that the movie as a whole has an extremely serious problem with basic factual credibility on multiple levels.

Should We Cherry-Pick the Claims in Thrive, Believe Some and Leave Others Alone?

Another thread that comes through in some of the pro-Thrive comments suggests that viewers are approaching it as a sort of cafeteria smorgasbord where you’re expected to take one or more claims it makes at face value while dismissing, or ignoring, others. The movie offers so many conspiracy theories and New Age perspectives, changing gears so rapidly, that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. The problem is compounded when one looks at the Thrive Movement website, especially its section on the “Global Domination Agenda,” and sees links to a bunch of other conspiracy theories that the movie didn’t have time to cover, as well as mentions of conspiracy theorists, like Alex Jones, who themselves espouse particular conspiracy theories not specifically mentioned in the film. It’s difficult to accept that anybody could believe the literal truth of all of the conspiracy theories mentioned in Thrive or referenced, directly or indirectly, on the website, but, as I have long experience dealing with conspiracy theorists, I know that it is (unfortunately) possible, perhaps even likely.

A good example of the “cherry-picking” approach concerns David Icke. As most people familiar with the conspiracy underground know, Icke, perhaps the most well-known conspiracy theorist in the world, is instantly identified with his bizarre theories that the world is secretly run by evil reptilian shape-shifting aliens. These theories are science-fiction redresses of the old anti-Semitic “Jewish world conspiracy” theories that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with aliens standing in for Jews. Icke appears in Thrive—in fact, although he isn’t interviewed until later in the movie, his face flashes on screen within the first seven minutes of the film—but does not talk about reptilian aliens on-screen. One of my strongest objections to Thrive is that Icke is involved in it and quoted as a reliable source about anything, even though he doesn’t push his reptilian alien crap in this specific film. Pro-Thrive readers of this blog have taken me to task for this. According to them, I’m supposed to overlook the fact that Icke believes in reptilian shape-shifting aliens and instead focus on positive things he says in Thrive. (Like what? The false claims of a “Global Domination Agenda”?)

I remain unconvinced that Foster Gamble put Icke on-screen just because he had something supposedly worthwhile to say that is unconnected to his reptilian alien delusions, as some Thrive fans have asserted. For one thing, Icke’s entire worldview stems from this delusion. If you read his writings it’s difficult to find anything he talks about that isn’t connected in some way to his elaborate sci-fi conspiracy mythology. For another thing, David Icke’s associations are so toxic that there’s no chance anyone who is not already predisposed to accept, or at least consider, Icke’s ideology could overlook them. The fact that David Icke appears in this movie at all is a not-very-subtle bid to market Thrive and its conclusions to Icke’s core audience, whom Gamble is obviously interested in reaching. Thus, don’t tell me that the fact that Icke believes in evil reptilians from outer space is somehow irrelevant to what he’s doing in this movie. Whether Foster Gamble himself believes in evil reptilians from outer space is not the point—he probably doesn’t (I certainly hope he doesn’t!)—but if you want to reach conspiracy theorists who dwell at that advanced level of fantasy, you can do no better than to utilize David Icke as a mouthpiece.

Again, as with the Trombly issue, if Icke was the only unreliable or questionable source in the movie, it might be easier to look past his presence and simply chalk up Gamble’s invitation for Icke to appear as a fluke in the “bad call, Ripley!” category. But in Thrive you don’t just get David Icke. You get Nassim Haramein, touted as a reliable source on ancient history but who plays fast and loose with the facts; you get Steven Greer, whose claim to fame is pushing the-gubbermint-is-covering-up-UFOs conspiracy theories; you get Edgar Mitchell, a former astronaut known for making outlandish conspiracy-oriented claims that NASA has officially denied; you get Deepak Chopra, well-known in New Age and alt-med circles; the list goes on and on. Inviting people to your movie to espouse controversial opinions is fine, and I have no problem with that. But these people are asserting as matters of fact many things which are demonstrably false. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. But nobody has a right to their own facts.

Good Intentions?

Okay. So Foster Gamble is wrong about crop circles, free energy, the Global Domination Agenda, the Rockefellers, alt-med cures, Nicola Tesla, UFO suppression, alien astronauts, and countless other things. One can certainly argue that he made a couple of poor decisions, credibility-wise, by giving the floor to Adam Trombly, whose claims cannot be verified, and David Icke, whose claims are something out of bad science fiction. Should Mr. Gamble’s good intentions in making Thrive insulate him from criticism on these points?

I’m sure Foster Gamble is a nice guy. On-screen he comes across as extremely personable. Before he made this movie he was widely associated with a campaign to ban (or reduce) industrial pesticide spraying—which I regard as a good cause and effort well spent. I’m quite sure he honestly wants to see the world improve and to see people lead better lives. I’m also quite sure he works very hard and puts a lot of effort into activities that he believes advances these goals.

Here’s the thing: so do I. However, I do not hear defenders of the Thrive movie arguing that my good intentions should insulate me from criticism for doing what I do on this blog.

Indeed, who doesn’t have good intentions? Who honestly doesn’t think the world can and should be improved, that people should live longer and more fulfilling lives, and that social justice should prevail? It’s not as if it’s so unusual to find a person as well-intentioned as Foster Gamble that a person with such intentions suddenly becomes immune from criticism on the basis of factual inaccuracies or logic errors, especially in a media piece that is, as Thrive purports to be, a documentary supposedly telling the truth about “how things really are.”

Personally, I devote a great deal of money and time to volunteer and charity activities. I believe strongly, for instance, in providing better access to education, especially higher education. I’m out there working on my ideas to “save the world” just as hard as Foster Gamble is working on his. What sort of special privileges or immunities do I believe this entitles me to? Absolutely none at all.

Here’s something else to keep in mind: peoples’ ideas for improving the world can, and usually do, conflict with one another. I believe that conspiracy theories impair peoples’ ability to think rationally and thus participate meaningfully in public discourse. Therefore, refuting conspiracy theories and promoting the facts is something I feel is a strong social good. I would venture to say Foster Gamble would disagree. He seems to believe that promoting conspiracy theories is a social good, or otherwise he wouldn’t have made Thrive in the first place. I do not question Gamble’s good intentions. But it’s a simple fact that Gamble’s activities in promoting conspiracy theories directly conflict with my own efforts to refute them. He has money to burn and an audience of millions, so he’ll probably make a lot more headway on his goal that I will on mine, but that doesn’t change that I think Foster Gamble is wrong. Am I not allowed to assert that view because I also believe that, however wrong he is, he at least is acting out of good intentions and pure motives?

What Is the “Point” of Thrive, Anyway?

Here we get to the real issue: why was Thrive created, what is its ultimate “message,” and who is it aimed at?

When I first began this blog I was reluctant to speculate too much as to Foster Gamble and the other makers’ motives in creating the movie, because those motives are extremely unclear. After studying the film and reaction to it for the past two and a half months, however, I believe we can make a reasonable hypothesis as to why this film was created and what it’s ultimately trying to say.

I’ve recently had a fascinating conversation over email with an academic, who happens to be an expert on conspiracy theories and New Age mythology. This person, whose credentials are impressive, is not a “debunker” as I am—he studies the phenomenon of conspiracy theories and why people believe them, whereas my study of them (and I do not study them in an academic realm) focuses on ascertaining their factual veracity. After my conversation with this person regarding Thrive, which helped me to see the larger context in which the movie operates, I think I understand the point of the film much better than I did in November. This topic is worth expanding upon and will probably be the subject of a self-contained article.

The upshot of my conversation with the expert was that Thrive was created as a means to explain, at least partially, the failure of New Age concepts—which have been around and popular since at least the ‘70s—to result in the transformative change that many New Age believers insisted would flow from the implementation of their ideas. Here is what he had to say on the subject (he asked that his identifying information not be disclosed on this blog, but he gave me permission to post his words): 

“I suspect that what’s going on is that New Age, now entering its third generation, has developed a theodicy. Now, this is a theological term, but it essentially means an explanation of the existence of evil – why bad things happen to good people. For some of those in the New Age milieu – Foster Gamble, David Icke, Whitley Strieber, Duncan Rhodes and others, all incidentally in middle age and with a long term involvement in the New Age milieu – an explanation is needed as to why, if we’ve entered the Age of Aquarius, is the world less peaceful, equal and progressive than ever? Conspiracy theories offer such a theodicy – the New Age hasn’t happened because evil people prevented it from happening.” 

Once you start to consider Thrive from this angle, everything falls into place. It suddenly makes sense why Thrive carefully strokes the various tropes of New Age belief systems: UFOs, ancient astronauts, alt-med miracle cures, benevolent aliens and magical free energy machines. It also makes sense why, once the movie has proclaimed its sympathy with these themes, it turns on a fire hose of conspiracy craziness, theory after theory thrown willy-nilly at the audience in an attempt to make one or more of them stick. The movie’s point, therefore, is this: “The reason that our New Age beliefs haven’t transformed the world is because the evil conspirators are thwarting us.”

This also explains why Thrive’s supporters aren’t generally swayed by factual arguments or applications of logic and critical thinking. The point is not to establish literal, verifiable truth (though the film seems, on the surface, to want to do this as well). The point is to validate an essentially spiritual belief system. At its core, then, seen from this angle, Thrive is basically a religious text. A Thrive supporter is no more likely to abandon his support for the film, when presented evidence that crop circles are terrestrial in origin or the Global Domination Agenda does not exist, than a Mormon is to leave the Church of Latter-Day Saints when told that there is no archaeological evidence that the Nephites and Lamanites actually existed.

That Thrive supporters take the movie this way—whether they are consciously aware of it or not—is borne out by comments like this one, which seems to equate criticism of the movie with some sort of assault on the primacy of the human spirit:

“Thrive is not out to get anyone other than the people that Gamble feels are responsible for the situation we find ourselves in today. I believe that all Thrive is trying to do is show people the power they have, which to me is amazing because all I see everywhere are reminders of how I need to better myself or change who I am because its not good enough. I don’t feel the need to back up any claims with links or anything of that nature because you can’t cite the claim I have which is this; Every human being has the capability of being amazing no matter what but there are people who try very hard to keep us unaware of this….I just love the movie Thrive because it gives me hope. All I want is for as many people to be inspired by this movie the way I was because it is too hard for me to see and hear about so many people living with so little while we enjoy the benefits of their destruction.”

So Thrive, then, is probably intended to be accepted on spiritual and philosophical terms—not factual ones.

That means that unless I’m ready to give battle on the supposed spiritual basis of Thrive, I need to delete this blog immediately, right? Not quite.

There’s Just One Problem…Thrive Purports to be a Documentary. 

Unfortunately Thrive doesn’t wear its intentions on its sleeve. On the face of it, it appears to be a documentary—a movie intended to state what the facts actually are. The fact that I had to talk to an academic expert on conspiracy theories and New Age beliefs to realize that it is not really a documentary demonstrates this. It also leaves the movie and its makes with the same fundamental problem that drew me to begin debunking it in the first place: the things that it says are facts are not, in fact, true. 

Appreciating the New Age context in which many supporters of Thrive perceive the movie is one thing. However, it doesn’t change that the movie is still out there claiming to be a documentary and telling people that the Rockefellers control their food supply and that evil oil companies are suppressing extraterrestrial technology. So long as statements of fantasy such as these are continued to be passed off as objective fact, attacking Thrive on the basis of its factual accuracy is, in my view, entirely fair game. To argue otherwise is to argue, effectively, either that (i) facts don’t matter; (ii) Foster Gamble’s good intentions in making the film should immunize him from criticism about its assertions; or (iii) that the purported “goodness” of the movie’s overall message outweighs the transgressions it makes against the truth. This article, I feel, has already effectively refuted (i) and (ii). Point (iii) makes me uneasy because it’s essentially an “ends justify the means” argument, which is always dangerous. 

Regardless of whether Foster Gamble would himself agree that the purported factual assertions in the movie should be taken with a “grain of salt”—and it would be very problematic if he did state that unequivocally—there’s no question that some people out there do believe everything Thrive says. I can state that, between comments received on this blog and replies directed to me on Twitter, I have, since beginning this blog, seen an example of an assertion of the direct factual accuracy of every major claim made in the film. Granted, this is spread among many different commenters, but if each individual claim in the movie is believed to be literal fact by at least one person, that still adds up to a lot of people believing in a lot of untrue claims. This is the problem with movies that play fast and loose with the facts masquerading as documentaries. It’s deceptive. If you’re trying to tell people the way things really are, here on Earth in our real world, by doing so you owe at least a moral duty to tell these things accurately, and that means doing diligent research to make sure the claims you want to make are really true. Given the ease with which I and the other contributors to this blog have debunked many of its claims, I’m left with serious doubts that Mr. Gamble and the others responsible for Thrive have done the research they should have done before passing off these claims as true. 

Should we give Thrive a pass on its facts and instead praise its motives or its message? So long as its makers offer it as a factual documentary, no, we shouldn’t. It’s just that simple.

Ancient Astronauts–Debunked!

One of the key claims in the Thrive movie, and in fact a major assumption on which the movie is based, is the idea of “ancient astronauts”—the supposition that extraterrestrial beings came to Earth in the early history of the human race and imparted knowledge to humans. As with most other claims and basic assumptions in Thrive, the idea of ancient astronauts is unsupported by facts and contrary to logic and critical reasoning. It is purely a faith-based proposition, and this article will explain why.

What Are “Ancient Astronauts” And What Does Thrive Claim About Them?

The idea of ancient astronauts is very popular in New Age circles. The basic idea is that supposedly aliens visited Earth thousands of years ago and gave humans knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Thrive argues that part of this knowledge was the “torus” shape that Foster Gamble asserts is some sort of pattern for unlimited, free energy. This pattern is supposedly observable in the “Flower of Life” and virtually anything else in ancient or early modern art or architecture that involves 64 circles or really 64 of anything.

Much of the first quarter of Thrive either deals with ancient astronauts explicitly or implicitly. At 20:25 of the film, for instance, there is the explicit claim that alien intelligences were visiting Earth in UFOs in ancient times. Prior to that, however, there are various claims made, such as those by Nassim Haramein, of things that are supposedly of extraterrestrial origin, “proving” the ancient astronaut theory correct. At 20:10 in the film, Mr. Haramein states that the Egyptians, Incas and Mayans all talk about “sun gods” who come to Earth and teach them engineering, writing and all of their science. Evidently we (the human race) are supposed to get back to our extraterrestrial roots and discover the “gift” of free unlimited energy that these aliens supposedly gave us thousands of years ago.

What Is The Evidence That Thrive Relies On To Claim Ancient Astronauts Are Real?

The answer to this question is simple: none whatsoever. All of the claims made in Thrive about ancient astronauts are based on the same basic assumption: that ancient peoples couldn’t possibly have built this or that structure, or known about this concept or that concept, and therefore this “proves” that they must have been given these ideas by a superior intelligence.

That’s it. That’s all the Thrive movie has to support its claims about ancient astronauts. No evidence at all. Just an assumption followed by a supposition, neither of which are logically or factually supportable.

Example: at 18:45 of the film, Foster Gamble, finishing up his talk about the 64-circled “Flower of Life” design, says, “Is it a coincidence that this design appears on two different continents?” We have already seen on this blog that the Thrive movie’s claims about the “Flower of Life” being “burned into the structure of the rock” are false, and that the makers have acknowledged that they are false. Later, trying to link the number 64 with recent discoveries about human DNA, Gamble says of ancient peoples (at 20:02), “But how on earth did they know about it?”

This assumption is nothing less than a frontal assault on human intelligence. Mr. Gamble and Mr. Haramein are suggesting that ancient peoples were so stupid, simple-minded and helpless that they couldn’t have come up with anything worthwhile unless that knowledge was given to them by aliens.

There is also another incorrect assumption lying behind this one: that knowledge of science and technology in the modern world is always a perfectly linear expansion, that nothing that has ever been known or discovered in human history has ever been lost or forgotten, and that modern understandings of science and engineering are the sina qua non of intelligence. That is to say, if we can’t explain how the Egyptians built a pyramid in terms roughly analogous to understanding of the processes of building the Empire State Building, this precludes the possibility that the pyramids could have been built by humans.

Although it appeals to an extraterrestrial designer rather than a divine one, ancient astronaut theories are similar in reasoning (or lack thereof) to young-earth creationism and “Intelligent Design.” Right away this should tell you that ancient astronauts are not a rational explanation for the concepts or creations of ancient peoples.

Where Do Modern “Ancient Astronaut” Theories Come From?

Ancient astronauts, as the idea is commonly understood in the circles of New Age believers that are evidently Thrive’s target audience, burst into popular culture in 1968 with a pseudoscientific book called Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken, which is still in print 44 years later. This virtually fact-free book argues that ancient structures such as Stonehenge and the Nazca Lines are too advanced to have been built by ancient peoples, and thus must have been constructed by aliens. Probably the best debunking of von Däniken is this article written by John T. Omohundro way back in 1976 which takes apart both von Däniken’s supposed “evidence” and his faulty reasoning. A more concise criticism can be found on the Skeptic Dictionary page on von Däniken, which states:

“[M]ost of von Däniken’s evidence is in the form of specious and fallacious arguments. His data consists mainly of archaeological sites and ancient myths. He begins with the ancient astronaut assumption and then forces all data to fit the idea. For example, in Nazca, Peru, he explains giant animal drawings in the desert as an ancient alien airport. The likelihood that these drawings related to the natives’ religion or science is not considered. He also frequently reverts to false dilemma reasoning of the following type: ‘Either this data is to be explained by assuming these primitive idiots did this themselves or we must accept the more plausible notion that they got help from extremely advanced peoples who must have come from other planets where such technologies as anti-gravity devices had been invented.’”

These ideas weren’t new even in 1968. This article mentions some of the progenitors of the ancient astronaut theory, and also debunks some other examples from Chariots of the Gods?. But in New Age circles—people who want to believe spiritual “alternative explanations” for things rather than accept factual and rational explanations—von Däniken has been a hero for nearly half a century. Unfortunately, woo beliefs tend to be much more popular than dry facts of history and archaeology.

But Isn’t It True We Don’t Know How The Pyramids (Or Other Ancient Structures) Were Built?

Yes, in some cases it is true. But why does this lead to a binary choice—that if we can’t explain it, we must conclude that it was done by aliens? There is, in fact, another and much more likely possibility: that the ancient peoples did it themselves using means and procedures whose exact natures are no longer extant in the historical record.

Also, do not confuse “we don’t know how they were built” with “the building of these structures is impossible given what we know about physics and engineering.” Believers in ancient astronaut theories constantly confuse these two conclusions. We do not know how the pyramids were built, but the construction of them by human hands is certainly not impossible. Skeptic Dictionary puts it this way:

“We still wonder how the ancient Egyptians raised giant obelisks in the desert and how stone age men and women moved huge cut stones and placed them in position in dolmens and passage graves. We are amazed by the giant carved heads on Easter Island and wonder why they were done, who did them, and why they abandoned the place. We may someday have the answers to our questions, but they are most likely to come from scientific investigation not pseudoscientific speculation. For example, observing contemporary stone age peoples in Papua New Guinea, where huge stones are still found on top of tombs, has taught us how the ancients may have accomplished the same thing with little more than ropes of organic material, wooden levers and shovels, a little ingenuity and a good deal of human strength.”

What we lack is not an understanding of the scientific possibility of building these structures, but the historical records of the processes used to build them. For example, it is clearly not impossible for human beings to haul massive stones, such as those used to build the pyramids at Giza, many miles from a quarry to a construction site. We do it today with trucks and cranes, but many, many historical records exist of it being done in structures all over the world in the days before trucks and cranes. Therefore, we know it is possible. But with the pyramids, the historical record of how they were built has been lost. Did they use pulleys? Ramps? Did they haul the stones on donkeys? Did they use teams of slaves? We don’t know, but the fact that we don’t know doesn’t mean that any or all of these techniques were not or could not have been used.

See the difference? We don’t know how they were built is not the same as we believe that the building of these structures is impossible according to our understanding of science and engineering. Those are two very different concepts, but New Age believers conflate them constantly, and this conflation is the basis for ancient astronaut claims.

But What About Ancient Peoples’ Mythology About Sun Gods Who Taught Them Everything? Isn’t That Evidence of Alien Visitation?

No.

A key part of ancient astronaut bunk is to warp and distort ancient peoples’ mythology and religious beliefs to try to claim that they really were talking about aliens and UFOs. Von Däniken does this in Chariots of the Gods? and Nassim Haramein does exactly the same thing at 20:10 of Thrive. Mr. Haramein claims that Egyptians, Mayas and Incas all had “sun gods” that supposedly taught them science and engineering. This claim is false at least with respect to the Egyptians and Mayas.

The ancient Egyptian sun god was called Ra. I looked up Ra in my Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, by Arthur Cotterell & Rachel Storm, and while I found a very detailed article on Ra’s role as the daily-reborn sun god of Egypt, there was not a single word referring to him teaching science and technology to the Egyptians. You can browse some online resources about Ra (such as this one) and you will also see that there is no mention of Ra’s relationship to science and technology. I read quite a lot about Egyptian mythology in my early years, and I don’t recall ever hearing this. If anyone more versed in Egyptian mythology than I am can correct me if this is a misconception, I invite them to do so—but please come armed with a direct quotation from a reliable source before commenting.

Mayan mythology and religion is extraordinarily complex. In researching this article, as near as I can tell the Mayan sun god was called Kinich Ahau, and he was primarily associated with music and poetry—not science and engineering. Clearly there is no mention of this god, at least in the materials I could find, “teaching” ancient peoples how to build anything. Again, if anyone who knows Mayan mythology wishes to dispute this characterization, I’ll do an update to this blog with a correction—but again, come armed with direct quotations from reliable sources.

I have a friend who is very much into Mayan culture, and who just got back from an archaeological dig in Guatemala. (His blog is here). I asked him about the sun god stuff. His answer: it’s garbage. Mr. Haramein appears to be mistaken.

He does have a point, however, when it comes to the Incan sun god. That god was called Inti and was the most important god in the Incan pantheon. This site refers to legends that Inti “taught civilization” to Manco Cápac, the mythological founder of the Incan civilization. Presumably the teaching of “civilization” involves science and engineering.

But before you conclude that this is “evidence” that the Incas learned everything they knew from little green men from the Pleiades, let’s step back a moment. Mr. Haramein made the claim that all three civilizations had sun gods who taught them about science and technology. The facts show that only one of them had a belief similar to that. Mr. Haramein was also proven incorrect about the “Flower of Life” at the Temple of Abydos. Clearly, when it comes to making assertions about ancient history, he doesn’t seem to be correct very much of the time.

Even beyond the issue of Mr. Haramein’s credibility, however, think of something more basic: if these ancient peoples were visited by extraterrestrials, why would formulations of myths and religious stories be their primary means of recording this extraordinary event? These ancient peoples did write down their history. Take the Mayans, for instance. In addition to recording their mythology, they recorded the genealogies of their kings and historical events that occurred in their countries. You can see a translation of a Mayan codex, called Popul Vuh, which does exactly that, here. Why would these peoples have not recorded what actually happened?

That dovetails with my next point.

If Ancient Astronauts Helped Ancient Peoples Build Things in the Distant Past, How Come They Haven’t Helped Us Build Anything in Recorded History?

This is a question I’ve never heard a believer in ancient astronauts even attempt to answer. If aliens helped Egyptians build the pyramids thousands of years ago, how come they didn’t help us build, say, the Hoover Dam in the 1920s? Why do all these supposed alien interventions lie in periods of the past for which historical records are sketchy or nonexistent?

Let’s take another example of an awesome and mysterious structure, every bit as amazing as the pyramids: the cathedral of Hagia Sofia (St. Sofia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople, now called Istanbul.

This, one of the largest and grandest cathedrals in the world, survived many earthquakes over the centuries that turned most other structures to rubble. For many years modern scientists and engineers had no idea how or why the builders of St. Sofia were able to “earthquake-proof” the building. Then, in 2002, the answer was discovered: the Byzantines who built St. Sofia in the 530’s A.D. invented earthquake-proof cement 1300 years before anyone else had thought of it.

Before 2002, then, St. Sofia was in precisely the same category as the Egyptian pyramids or the Nazca lines: “We have no idea how they did it!” Yet I am unaware of a single instance in which New Agers have alleged that aliens helped build St. Sofia.

Why not? The answer is very simple. St. Sofia was built in recorded history. There are lots of written records relating to its construction in 532 A.D. We even know the names of the architects: Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles. In short, we know that aliens weren’t involved in building St. Sofia because none of the historical records relating to the construction of the cathedral mention them.

This fact is proof positive of how and why the “We have no idea how they did it, so it must be aliens” reasoning is inherently faulty. We know for a fact that humans built St. Sofia without help from Antares or Alpha Centauri. There was something about how they built it that we did not know, at least until 2002, and that something was a marvel comparable only to modern techniques of modern earthquake-proof construction. Yet no one could take seriously the claim that because this marvel existed, it somehow “proved” that aliens must have been involved in its construction.

This means that the only candidates for alien construction projects are those for which we don’t already have detailed records of their construction. If, for example, a stone tablet was discovered in Egypt tomorrow with a complete record of how the Great Pyramid was constructed, and archaeologists verified the tablet as genuine, the Great Pyramid would suddenly be off the New Agers’ list of “proof” items for alien astronauts. This shows that alien astronaut claims can only thrive (pardon the expression) where there is no direct evidence to refute them. This is a classic telltale sign of faulty reasoning.

Aren’t You Being Unfair And Closed-Minded By Refusing To Accept The Possibility That Aliens May Have Interacted With Humans In The Past? I Mean, You Should Be Open To All Possibilities, Right?

Many defenders of Thrive who have come to this blog to comment have taken me to task for denouncing this or that possibility involving woo subjects like UFOs or crop circles, or conspiracy theories like the “Global Domination Agenda,” as if I am somehow being unfair and closing the door on potential understanding by insisting on verifiable facts and logical reasoning. This criticism totally misses the point and again reinforces the faith-based belief system of Thrive’s target audience.

Personally, I would be delighted if historical or archaeological evidence of extraterrestrial visitation came to light. It would undoubtedly be the greatest discovery in the history of the human race. I personally do think it is likely that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. However, this supposition—and it is no more than a supposition—does not justify a belief that these extraterrestrial beings are visiting Earth in UFOs, because there is no credible evidence that this is in fact happening. Not only is there no credible evidence of extraterrestrial visitation in modern times, but the supposed “evidence” for extraterrestrial visitation in the past is even thinner.

Why, if aliens visited humans in the past, should the evidence of these visitations be so oblique and attenuated? If it really happened, shouldn’t it be unmistakable? Again—why didn’t Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, erect a stone tablet stating, “I just want to leave this stone behind to thank Zorky and Bloopblop from the planet Galinka for all their help in building my wonderful pyramid”? If it really happened, wouldn’t there be ample evidence of it? And in the absence of such convincing evidence, is it really that unreasonable to conclude that it did not happen?

I believe in the human race, the intelligence of the human species, and the boundless ingenuity of humanity. I seem to believe in these things more than Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do. I believe that a bunch of very intelligent men and women, born in Egypt thousands of years ago, were clever enough to figure out a way to build the Great Pyramid, and if we modern peoples could see how they did it, we would be extremely surprised and intrigued by their ingenuity. Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not believe that Egyptians were smart enough to do this; they’d rather believe that these people were pathetic and helpless and could only have done what they did if aliens helped them.

I believe that artists, engineers and artisans across many different cultures, in many different countries, in many different eras, were smart enough to come up with the idea of a flower-like design with 64 interlocking circles independently of each other. This is not a “coincidence.” Is it really that hard? Is it so far beyond the realm of possibility that one ancient person in Egypt came up with a 64-circle flower design and thought, “Gee, that’s pretty—I think I’ll paint it on the wall,” and then someone else in China hundreds of years later had the same idea and also thought it was pretty? Why does this stretch any sort of credulity to believe this?

But Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not believe this. They believe people in Egypt and China—civilizations that gave us paper and fireworks, had running water in their houses, and explored much of the ancient world—were too stupid to do this without the help of aliens.

I believe that a couple of ordinary yahoos from rural England, with no advanced training in engineering or mathematics, working with boards, measuring tapes and other simple tools, can and regularly do create magnificent, geometrically perfect crop circles on a regular basis. In fact, I can prove that they do. But Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not believe this. They believe people are too stupid to figure out how to flatten some wheat stalks and throw some magnetized particles around to fool the gullible.

Most sadly—and here is the real tragedy of Thrive—Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not seem to believe in the capacity and ingenuity of the human species to improve its present condition. They don’t think we can end global warming, clean up the environment or improve the quality of life for many of the world’s people on our own, the same way we have solved many other problems, by using science and reason and calling upon the infinite creativity of the human spirit. No—the whole point of Thrive is that we, the human race, are too stupid and corrupt to do these things, and we must instead rely on magical technology supposedly given to us by extraterrestrials in order to solve these problems.

That’s their message. Humanity is doomed, and we always have been. Hell, according to Gamble and Haramein, as well as some commenters on this blog, we’re too stupid to figure out how to build crop circles correctly! But that doesn’t matter. Aliens will sail down from the skies to our rescue. As long as we don’t let those evil Rockefellers and the Federal Reserve take over.

Seen in this light, Thrive’s dogged insistence on the alien astronaut hypothesis is not only silly and illogical—it is downright insulting.

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