How Beliefs in Extraterrestrials and Intelligent Design Are Similar

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According to the popular series Ancient Aliens, on H2 (a spinoff of the History channel), extraterrestrial intelligences visited Earth in the distant past, as evidenced by numerous archaeological artifacts whose scientific explanations prove unsatisfactory for alien enthusiasts. The series is the latest in a genre launched in 1968 by Erich von Däniken, whose book Chariots of the Gods? became an international best seller. It spawned several sequels, including Gods from Outer Space, The Gods Were Astronauts and, just in time for the December 21, 2012, doomsday palooza, Twilight of the Gods: The Mayan Calendar and the Return of the Extraterrestrials (the ones who failed to materialize).


Ancient aliens theory is grounded in a logical fallacy called argumentum ad ignorantiam, or “argument from ignorance.” The illogical reasoning goes like this: if there is no satisfactory terrestrial explanation for, say, the Nazca lines of Peru, the Easter Island statues or the Egyptian pyramids, then the theory that they were built by aliens from outer space must be true.

Whereas the talking heads of Ancient Aliens conjecture that ETs used “acoustic stone levitation” to build the pyramids, for example, archaeologists have discovered images demonstrating how tens of thousands of Egyptian workers employed wood sleds to move the stones along roads from the quarry to the site and then hauled them up gently sloping dirt ramps of an ever growing pyramid. Copper drills, chisels, saws and awls have been found in the rubble around the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the quarries are filled with half-finished blocks and broken tools that show how the Egyptians worked the stone. Conspicuously absent from the archaeological record are any artifacts more advanced than those known to be used in the third millennium B.C.

Written By: Michael Shermer
continue to source article at scientificamerican.com

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  1. Whatever amazing and unexplained designed things humans find on earth the answer is usually simple – Other humans made them… of course !!!….not gods …not aliens….not complex solutions…..just humans…
    People must finally credit humanity with the capability and ingenuity to have achieved the most amazing feats of art and engineering etc….We don’t need gods or aliens…we are inquisitive, artistic and dextrous constructors who achieve wonders when we work together.
    Fantasies should be kept in the science fiction department….

  2. Of course its nice to have fantasy, its also nice to wonder how the pyramids were constructed. Attributing it to aliens is somewhat creating a high expectation that will eventually lead to disappointment if we realize it were just merely humans that build it. What intrigues me more is the usage of Π that can be found in the pyramid and the focus on the stars. For me it doesn’t mean there were gods or aliens. It actually means there always have been people that practiced science, which is a comforting thought :-)

  3. Just another highly speculative pseudo-scientific money making scheme designed to manipulate the susceptible minds of the under-educated masses.

    giggity

    PS: you can attach this statement to the “Proof of Heaven” article, too.

  4. …Copper drills, chisels, saws and awls have been found in the rubble around the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the quarries are filled with half-finished blocks and broken tools that show how the Egyptians worked the stone. Conspicuously absent from the archaeological record are any artifacts more advanced than those known to be used in the third millennium B.C.

    Our alien overlords must of planted these items in order to hide the evidence of their presence in the event that the truth came out. Similar yet at the same time completely opposite to what God done when He buried all them dinosaur bones and other ‘fossils’.


    Another alleged aliens artifact is a symbol found in the Egyptian Dendera Temple complex that vaguely resembles a modern lightbulb, with a squiggly filament inside and a plug at the bottom. Instead of featuring archaeologists who would explain that the symbol depicts a creation myth of the time (the “plug” is a lotus flower that represents life arising from the primordial waters, and the “filament” signifies a snake), ancient aliens fantasists speculate that the Egyptians were given the power of electricity by the gods.

    If one of these lightbulbs were to be discovered, it might provide an answer to the age-old question of whether aliens are benevolent or malevolent. If they used crappy energy-saving bulbs that take three quarters of an hour to come to full brightness and even then don’t fully light the interior of a room, it would mean they care about the environment and are basically decent.

    If they used the other type, they’re probably evil, extraterrestrial Jeremy Clarksons, racing around the universe in souped-up rockets, speaking in a weird, affected way, voting Space-Tory and burning up supernovae without a moment’s thought.

    And making terrible television programmes.

    Although if they did use the energy-saving ones, it could explain why the visitors are often depicted having massive bug eyes. It’s the inevitable evolutionary consequence of being environmentally friendly.

  5. I don’t believe in anything supernatural and am a big fan of Richard Dawkins. Yet, I don’t think the so called “ancient alien” theory is a work of “argument from ignorance”. As it is described in the above post, “The illogical reasoning goes like this: if there is no satisfactory terrestrial explanation”, well, I don’t think that’s the case with Ancient Aliens theorists. Unlike religion, people like Erich von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchin base their arguments based on archaeological evidences. They investigate, find archaeological elements that are odd and have no explanation, and then based on the evidence around them, they come up with Ancient Aliens theory.
    We still don’t have a clear idea on how for example the pyramids were made, we don’t even know why they were built. We thought that they used slaves, but recently we’ve found in the nearby villages and the workers had food, water, wine and good life. At the same time, by a single calculation, we realize that building the pyramids in 22 years needed a large amount of workers to work 24/7. Every single rock had to be extracted. shaped and put in the right location every 2 and a half minutes in order for the pyramids to be completed in 22 years. Now, that’s not an argument from ignorance, it is an argument from evidences and scientific research.
    http://www.nationalgeographic.com/pyramids/khufu.html

    • In reply to #7 by alibahaloo:

      Yet, I don’t think the so called “ancient alien” theory is a work of “argument from ignorance”.

      If you have a puzzle, there is no crime in speculating an explanation. The problem is when you assert your speculation as a certainty, or when you decorate your speculation with details whose only function is to excite the imagination of spectators.

    • In reply to #7 by alibahaloo:

      Unlike religion, people like Erich von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchin base their arguments based on archaeological evidences. They investigate, find archaeological elements that are odd and have no explanation, and then based on the evidence around them, they come up with Ancient Aliens theory.

      This, particularly in the case of Von Daniken is simply wrong! In terms of archaeology his work is rubbish, and as for claims that his work is based on evidence, – that is comical!! It is wild speculation based on ignorance wishful thinking deception and incredulity.

      In one feature on the NASCAR LINES (which were made by ancient peoples), he had a photograph which purported to be a runway for alien landings! A quick check on the ground showed it looked like an air-strip, but was the size of a tennis court!

      We still don’t have a clear idea on how for example the pyramids were made, we don’t even know why they were built. We thought that they used slaves, but recently we’ve found in the nearby villages and the workers had food, water, wine and good life.

      The slaves perception was a guess in colonial times. It is quite clear that Pharaoh Khufu had a substantial population under his command, and for at least part of the year when they were not farming, he was finding employment for them.

      At the same time, by a single calculation, we realize that building the pyramids in 22 years needed a large amount of workers to work 24/7. Every single rock had to be extracted. shaped and put in the right location every 2 and a half minutes in order for the pyramids to be completed in 22 years. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/pyramids/khufu.html

      The quarries, the transport boats and the well cared for specialist builders, are known. Why are incredulous explanations needed?

      Now, that’s not an argument from ignorance, it is an argument from evidences and scientific research.

      The archaeological explanations are evidenced. The aliens are wild fantasy speculations, which show ignorance of the academic historical research.

    • In reply to #7 by alibahaloo:

      I don’t believe in anything supernatural and am a big fan of Richard Dawkins. Yet, I don’t think the so called “ancient alien” theory is a work of “argument from ignorance”. As it is described in the above post, “The illogical reasoning goes like this: if there is no satisfactory terrestrial explana…

      Indeed it is an argument from ignorance as is the one you posit. This is the exact thing that creationists do when they produce evidence for the Great Flood or the Shroud of Turin, or even dare I say it, the historical existence of Jesus Christ. They see what other archaeologists have discovered, then completely disregard said scientist’s explanation and seek out something that must conclude with God, in the same realm these people tack in Aliens. And I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but the pyramids are not some giant mystery to science, which is thoroughly explained in Shermer’s article. These conclusions are not based on evidence, they are confiscating another’s work, assaulting it and using it to their advantage. How hard is it to wrap your brain around the fact that humans build big things? It’s just something that humans do. Mesopotamians built stepped Ziggurats, Egyptians built stepped pyramids, and Mayans built large stepped temples. We are all the same species and unsurprisingly, oftentimes we come to similar conclusions.
      IT IS NOT FUCKING ALIENS.

  6. “You can’t explain the exact process by which the first life started, therefore the Old Testament version of how life started must be true.”

    “You can’t find a fossil for every link implied by the genetic tree. Therefore Noah’s ark is the best explanation for the current set of species.”

    “You can’t explain to me what life was like before the big bang, therefore God appeared to Moses in a burning bush.”

    The Christians see only two possibilities, the bible and current science. It never occurs to them the big block is their extremely weak understanding of science.

  7. “archaeological artifacts whose scientific explanations prove unsatisfactory for alien enthusiasts”

    Translation: “I reject your plausible explanation in favour of my pre-detemined fantasy”

  8. The ‘HISTORY’ channel? When someone digs up a ray gun, well maybe. Many people today, particularly ‘new age’ followers never give much credit to the intelligence of our ancestors. It’s always ‘lost’ ancient wisdom and such like, from all sorts of spiritual beings. Wisdom which one can get today, usually by buying books and dvds by modern days seers. Lots of money in international best sellers! By the way Katy No.6 Jeremy Clarkson does say silly things but mostly it would seem just to get people going. He also says he is an atheist, so perhaps not completely silly.

  9. I used to believe this stuff and found out the reason why – fear. Fear makes you polarised and think all kinds of crazy stuff. Then I was getting away from those circles and recently I found Ancient aliens debunked which explained most of the stuff and I was back. Great feeling. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9w-i5oZqaQ

    It usually happens to people who only want one-sided world, like peace without war or nice without mean. Not going to happen.

    • Ok, good people from stone age. We are aliens and we can teach technology. What do you want : medicine, advanced weaponry, electricity, space travel ?

    • No. We want to learn how to make big tombs !

    • In reply to #14 by Ornicar:

      No. We want to learn how to make big tombs !

      Ah, but their ways are mysteeerious, and cannot be understood by us earthlings (except, possibly, by taking large quantities of hallucinogens and astrally travelling back to watch the cheesy L. Ronesque truth unfold, with the violent arglebargs fighting the noble doodlebugs, etc, etc).

      No, Schermer can’t be right. This is completely unlike Mormonism, the book of Revelation, the old testament and theology in general.

  10. I think it’s easier to close the gaps on ET than god. There are finite things to explain with the aliens but fill in a gap in the fossil record and you’ve just created two new gaps where there was only one previously.

  11. argumentum ad ignorantiam

    this is the bedrock of all woo. right now pope jp2 is about to become a saint because someone got better. the problem with the falacy is that while it is often used in innocence, it has to be protected in cynicism. evidence that was not made available at the moment the assertion was made must be covered up or those who posited it attacked as heretics.

  12. Von Daniken’s idea of ancient astronauts were thoroughly debunked in the early 70s. Now, again, we are revisiting this nonsense? I guess even the suggestion of a whacky idea miraculously grants it eternal life, at least in the minds of our less than well endowed critical thinking brethren.

  13. In the late 1960s a new fashion spread throughout the world referring to UFOs and beings from outer space who tought humans an awful lot of things – pyramids, the Nazca engravings, you name it. Von Daniken ( a Swiss hotelier, or so I was told), took advantage of this new trend and became a charlatan of this new “culture” to make some extra bucks. He was a very ephemeral character who became known due to a book that became a bestseller, and shortly after he vanished from the media scene and nobody has ever heard of him again. I think TV people who invited him to lecture all over the world realized they were making fools of themselves.

  14. Carl Sagan famously put it best when he wrote: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The ancient world has surprised archeologists for centuries by the discovered artifacts of sophisticated technological prowess. However, nothing has been unearthed that cannot be explained without resorting to gods or aliens.The search for alien intelligence might better be directed outward towards the stars, rather than inward toward the past.

  15. There’s a link for me between Erich Von Daniken and Richard Dawkins.

    This kind of stuff isn’t necessarily a bad thing for kids. It might be a little like the processes kids go through when they eventually sleuth out the suspicious case of santa and the tooth fairy. Provides some kind of immunity to acquiring irrational beliefs.

    I was a child when the movie came out and the Von Daniken books became very popular. I liked his books. They probably got me inspired and interested in all kinds of things, which I’d relentlessly pursue. Including science fiction. I didn’t know what pseudoscience was but my mother just kept purchasing a stream of books for me from the current pop science writers – presumably as some kind of antidote. Dawkins and Sagan were prominent among them. And Martin Gardner & Isaac Asimov. Von Daniken may even have contributed to making Sagan more popular. From there it was a slippery slope to the likes of Popper and the idea that 200 word sentences and books with 50% of the content in footnotes were normal.

    It could be that the Von Daniken material at the time was some kind of more interesting and fun mythology than the stuffy old church rituals of the moribund churches. Except more plausible, because of its sciency appearance. So it may have diverted some folks by crowding out the mental space available for silly beliefs and replacing them with something less easily falsified and therefore less subject to cognitive dissonance, and so more accessible to the scientific outlook.

    The idea of cognitive dissonance being that if people can initially be led to believe in something utterly ridiculous they are more likely to manufacturer alternative reasons for continuing their belief when their original justification is obviously and undeniably falsified. The more mental effort, creativity, and repetition that goes into constructing justifications the more firmly established become the associated myelinated neural pathways.

    A kid’s early belief in Santa is less easily falsified than traditional religious doctrine like prayers which don’t work any better than cracking wishbones or wishing over candles on birthdays. The reason the Santa belief is less falsifiable is that the xmas gifts keep showing up, though not always in the exact form hoped for (but then most kids will be reasonably certain they’ve been a bit naughty instead of nice). But there are still subtle signs older kids can detect like the lack of soot disturbance in the fireplace and that Santa’s handwriting is indistinguishable from their parents’. Plus there’s usually older kids who enjoy tormenting the younger ones by bursting their bubbles.

    The effects of cognitive dissonance could cause utterly bizarre religious beliefs to become entrenched, while apparently equally ridiculous pseudoscience isn’t. The reason might be that the pseudoscience is not sufficiently ridiculous or falsifiable. So pseudoscience can sometimes be a step forwards from outright non-science. Then it ends up like shooting fish in a barrel. Add in innovations like Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ and it’s pretty much game over for the churches.

    The churches were probably right to attempt to get Monty Python banned. Though it possibly would have been a better strategy if they had targeted Von Daniken – as the thin end of the wedge.

  16. At one time I had a fair amount of respect for The History Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic. Over the past three or four years it seems like they’re all being programed by writers from the National Inquirer. The Chariots of the Gods was a really creative idea for a sifi book. The ancient civilizations always seemed to worship the sun as the giver of life.That’s a pretty good reason for drawing pictures for the creator. They didn’t know any better. You’d think that we on the other hand would. Oh wait, I forgot about Scientology.

  17. But some ancient structures like the pyramids, large granite blocks at Baalbek etc. cannot be explained taking into account technological level of the times they were built. Dismissing speculation about these abnormal structures doesnot mean there is convincing explanation.

    • In reply to #27 by YesUCan:

      But some ancient structures like the pyramids, large granite blocks at Baalbek etc. cannot be explained taking into account technological level of the times they were built.

      Got evidence?

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