A New Mythology: Ancient Astronauts, Lost Civilizations, and the New Age Paradigm
Callahan, Tim, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)
A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO I GAVE A PRESENTATION on my book Secret Origins of the Bible at a convention in the Sacramento, CA area. During the subsequent dinner we were treated to a lecture by a scientist on the extraterrestrial origin of pre-biotic molecules in asteroids and comets. After the dinner, one of the attendees approached me and said that after hearing my presentation about the mythic origins of the Bible and that of the dinner speaker about life's extraterrestrial origins, he was sure the book he was reading had to be true. He held up a book about ancient astronauts written by Rael, the founder of the Raelian movement that promotes cloning and believes humans were cloned by extraterrestrials.
Remarkably, this happened at a conference sponsored by the high-I.Q. group, Mensa, and the anecdote is emblematic of the new mythology developing in our time. Authors with little knowledge of either myth or history, and even less of science, have generated an entire new genre that is being embraced by some educated and intelligent people. It is one in which idiosyncratic interpretation of myth, bad history, and questionable science have been melded to create a new paradigm, one that has the potential to challenge reason and science to the same degree as Bible-based creationism.
While the New Age movement is by its nature vague, diffuse, heterogeneous and without unity, the general flow of its beliefs has gradually created a religio-pseudoscientific paradigm about the origin of life, humans, and civilization. Though it derives to some degree from writings that originated in the 1960s, much of it harkens back to late 19th-century fantasies of lost continents. The major difference between the new and the old forms is that ancient astronauts have now either replaced or become the mentors of Atlanteans as the creators of life and civilization.
Let us look at some of the disparate parts that have been woven together into this grand New Age myth. Then let us consider the myth as a whole and try to understand what need it Fills in its adherents.
A major tenet of this complex of religio-pseudoscientific beliefs is that mythology is a corrupted retelling of history. Among the "explanations" of myth are the cosmic disaster ideas of Immanuel Velikovsky and related scenarios from other writers that propose supposedly natural explanations for supernatural stories; everything from Noah's flood, the parting of the Red Sea, the collapse of the walls of Jericho, and Joshua making the Sun stand still, to the sinking of Atlantis. They often involve a collision of planets or near misses between planets and Earth. In the case of Velikovsky, in order to get his scenario to work at all, the entire human race had to suffer traumatic repression of the memories of the catastrophic collisions or near collisions with Venus, which were subsequently sublimated into myth.
The "science" in Velikovsky's theory is pure hokum. He described Venus as a comet that erupted out of Jupiter and made several close passes at the Each and Mars as it crossed their orbits before finally settling into an orbit between Earth and Mercury. Of course, Venus is a planet whose size and mass is near that of Earth, as opposed to being a comparatively small body made up mainly of dirty ice that we commonly call a comet. As a rocky planet it would not have likely erupted out of a gaseous giant like Jupiter. In fairness, however, we should treat Velikovsky's hypothesis as we would any other scientific hypothesis, assuming of course that it can be either verified or falsified.
As it turns out, it is testable. As part of his near-collisions-with-Venus-as-cause-of-everything scenario, Velikovsky said that during one of its passes with Earth the two planets exchanged atmospheric gases. He explained that the atmosphere of Venus was mainly made up of hydrocarbons (as would be expected if a body had been ejected from Jupiter). …