Chariots of the Gods — Erich von Daniken
Several years ago, while working at PlayStation, I was introduced to the most compelling evidence I have ever seen for the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. That there is extraterrestrial life is, to me, a given. That there is intelligent extraterrestrial life also strikes me as true, it not because of statistical likelihood, then certainly because of the aforementioned evidence.
That evidence came in the form of a four hour documentary called “The Disclosure Project,” in which people who are trained observers — pilots, control tower operators, radar technicians… Mainly military and paramilitary personnel — soberly talk about their experiences with UFOs and other phenomena. I’m not asking you to watch all four hours of it, but I encourage you to check it out. It might blow your mind a little bit.
“The Disclosure Project” started me down the rabbit hole of research into extraterrestrials. The issue is that the “good stuff” is obfuscated — some say intentionally — by stories and individuals that must be ignored outright. Finding the wheat among the chaff is, unfortunately, not unlike searching for a particular piece of hay in a haystack. The labyrinthine world of extraterrestrial research collides with many other communities, from New Agers to conspiracy theorists and everything in between, and among the group are the Ancient Astronaut theorists.
Simply put, the Ancient Astronaut theory states that ancient texts — religious texts in particular — contain accounts of extraterrestrial visitation. The theory uses things like the great pyramids, nazca lines, and other relics of the ancient past to further prove their point; ancient peoples, they reason, can’t possibly have had the technology to build those things. Therefore, aliens.
I’m not certain, but I believe the principle text of Ancient Astronaut theory is Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which was on sale at Audible.com over black Friday.
So I happily purchased it, knowing that I’d get to it eventually, and a few weeks ago I had roughly five and a half hours of chores to do during which I listened to the book in its entirety. The narrator, William Dufris, performed admirably, but considering that the book is non-fiction, performance wasn’t a thing to which I gave much consideration.
What I cared about was the substance of the book. I wanted to find in it compelling evidence that would show me beyond a shadow of a doubt that civilizations visited this planet thousands of years ago and sparked human society.
But I didn’t find it in Chariots of the Gods. What I found instead was more of the same frustrating tactics that plague the UFO discussion at large: the faulty logic that absence of evidence for one condition constitutes evidence for another, the assumption that ancient religious texts are literally true, and half-formed points followed by series of leading questions designed to distract from the lack of complete evidence.
That isn’t to say that the book wasn’t interesting; on the contrary, I found it to be a fascinating look back in time, to the late 60s, when the moon landing electrified the world and filled people with wild dreams of a technological, interplanetary future. It is particularly interesting to see von Daniken’s wishful predictions about moon colonies in the 80s and humans on Mars by the 90s. I often wondered while listening to the book whether his thoughts were representative of the zeitgeist or if he was an outlier. I suppose I could ask my parents, who would have been in their early twenties at the time.
But back to the book. I understand the point of a persuasive essay, sure, but a Chariots of the Gods only has a handful of salient points within its pages. That being said, I find Ancient Astronaut theory plausible — which would essentially make humanity a cargo cult — which is why I was even more disappointed in the book than I ought to have been.
By asking a plausible question and following up with hysterically delivered series of hypothetical absurdities, von Daniken weakens his salient points. He rests his hat upon the assertion that the Epic of Gilgamesh, Bhagavad Gita, and old testament are literally true, that Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly Merkabah (Chariot) was an eyewitness account. He takes them to be truths without offering any kind of support for that assumption, leaning (I surmise) on the convenience of widespread belief in gospel truth.
That particular assumption fails my first litmus test, and that so many of the subsequent arguments are built on this shaky foundation weakens the whole book enough for me to want to throw the babies out with the bathwater. There are good points in there: rock quarried from places too far to transport conveniently, with no evidence of said transport; mysterious metal alloys that make no sense; accurate drawings of the Pleiades constellation on rocks; and many, many others. Instead, von Daniken and his heirs argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were annihilated by nuclear weapons. In my mind, that’s not a relevant point.
At the end of the day, the five-hour book is worth listening to, not only because of its sporadic delivery of real head-scratchers, but for its effectiveness as a window into the recent past. And if you click on this here link, you’ll be throwing me a bone, which I appreciate. But if you’re looking for something a bit more serious to dig into UFO research, look at Disclosure (part one, part 2) and Sirius.
Originally published at The Warbler.