Published 1988 in PURSUIT. Edited and updated: October 2004.
A central thesis of Erich von Daniken's
hypothesis is that religions on Earth have evolved from our worship of physical
entities from outer space. Much of the evidence for the gods having been ancient
astronauts is the same as the evidence that our gods cannot have been other than
Biblical, legendary, and epic accounts depict gods empirically. It is not difficult to reconstruct inferentially the changes in concepts wrought by the minds and languages of pre-scientific man. Descriptions of power, characteristics, and behavior, originating presumably from visits by ancient astronauts, were amplified into concepts of perfection: power became infinite power; the sky became heaven, and scientific technology became miracles.
Because of man's need to idealize, to seek immortality, protection, and comfort, he was moved to express those needs in the limited concepts possible in his pre-scientific early evolutionary stage. After thousands of years, all that remain are conflicting legends and stories. They have become part of the permanent furniture of our language, continually reinforced in a church-dominated and religiously saturated society, for most of two millennia, by the clerics whose dogged authority and irrationality continue to feed supernatural and theistic language into it. They do this despite the fact, as von Daniken clearly shows, that the literature gives actual descriptions of physical entities coming to Earth in what can be accepted rationally as extraterrestrial vehicles.
We can try to counter these forces of dogmatism and thought control only by clarifying how abilities, values and characteristics emerged in physical creatures and were later transformed into hypostatized entities. Ultimately, the reified gods were carefully defined as unknowable. Finally, we were persuaded to accept these so-called non-physical gods through blind faith.
Blind faith is no pathway to truth and knowledge. Certainly it is not, as Pope John Paul The Second said, " . . . the highest form of reason." It is, rather, a physiological, neuron-conditioned syndrome. In the absence of some physical life form, there is no evidence in the history of man of the existence of such functions as "knowing," "seeing," "tasting," "smelling," or "hearing." They are all neuron-directed activities. This is especially demonstrable by an examination of the emergence of life in man, and of his mental, perceptual, and conceptual faculties. All these are dependent upon a physical substratum. Such characteristics as speculation, reflection, self-awareness, etc., separate us from inanimate objects, and to an enormous degree, lower animals. They separate us, as well, from immaterial gods that by their definition cannot exist.
Thus, our gods as man defines them, are best described as having been physical creatures of our universe, intelligent beings far superior to those then on Earth.
Have those intelligences achieved mental capacities beyond our comprehension? Have they developed means of communication which makes ours as primitive by comparison as those of our primitive ancestors beating tom-toms? If so, then a 1,000 to 10,000 or more year's difference in the evolutionary progress of knowledge can make gods of us all.
Scientific knowledge of the universe is not much more than 300 years old on Earth, and we have already been accepted as gods by the Cargo Cults of World War II.
What makes an intelligent entity a god? The answer to this question depends on the social and religiously institutional impact upon emotional, rational, and intellectual development and the psychological needs of those seeking a god.
How, then, are we to interpret the use of the term, 'God,' in so much of our conventional language? How are we to interpret such statements as, "God is pure act." (St. Thomas Aquinas), "God permeates the universe," "God created the universe," "God is in all of us," "God is the unmoved mover," "God is the energy that underlies and permeates the universe," and President Bush's campaign remarks, "The hand of God is guiding the affairs of this nation," and "Freedom is . . . God's gift to every man and woman in this world," and Senator Kerry's retort " . . . as Abraham Lincoln told us, . . . we are on God's side," "In God we trust," (on our money), and Eisenhower's insertion of "under God" in our pledge of allegiance, and in countless other ways?
The factual vacuity of these statements can be exposed if we approach them through an analysis of the language and knowledge of analytical philosophy and science. Terms like 'knowledge,' 'goodness,' 'intelligence,' 'seeing,' 'hearing,' etc., having no inherent meanings, have acquired their conventional usage in relation to man's emotional, conceptual, and physical interaction with his environment and his psychological needs.
To apply them to cosmic, supernatural, transcendental, and metaphysical "intelligences" gives the illusion of understanding, utters sheer factual nonsense, and fails to recognize that the conditions under which they could apply would have no communicative value for us. Supernatural gods, being beyond nature and, hence, immaterial, cannot, contrary to common but unfounded belief, talk without tongues, see without eyes, hear without ears, or think and communicate without brains. Though gods may exist, communication between them and us depends on their nature.
In the case of some gods, personal contact is possible. Witness the gods (American military personnel) of the Cargo Cult, as reported in The National Geographic magazine of May 1974. Such contact is no longer possible. However, because John Frum (their god) cannot be found, he has achieved somewhat the status of Christ, whom the popes designated as the physical evidence of their incorporeal god.
The transcendental, supernatural, and metaphysical characteristics of man's gods have always been the end product of a process beginning with experiences of events not understood, of astronomical events and bodies, and of animals in such cultures as Egypt, India, etc., in awe of superior intelligences, in hero worship of superior human beings, in myths, legends, political and personal needs, or in fear of what lies beyond the light of the campfire.
A study of the history of how we evolved the concepts of our gods would be extremely enlightening for those interested in educating themselves.
The gods of ancient Greece and Rome were finely honed and propagated by the poetic genius of Hesiod and Homer; and later, commissioned by the popes, non-physical Christian gods were depicted in human form by the creative genius of such artists as Michaelangelo, El Greco, and Raphael. They offered up heroes as gods and theistic concepts as reality for the popes and the church. This was done so superbly that the former have become an indestructible mosaic in the societies of the world.
One irrevocable fact remains as a fault in the mosaic. Literature as far back as Plato's and the great religious books such as the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran, the Mahabbarata, and the great mythologies: Teutonic, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, Chinese, etc., bear witness to the countless mysterious and enigmatic physical facts, records, stories, artifacts, ancient descriptions in physical terms, of flying ships, gods from space, descriptions of Earth from the sky, and empirical descriptions of the gods' activities, etc.
Such facts, though not evidence as compared to the ruins of a spaceship, at the very least unquestionably point to a coherent body of data which tends to support von Daniken's ancient astronaut hypothesis. The superabundance and consistency of such empirical descriptions attest to their nature. These are the gods who, according to written testaments of their physical existence, lorded, with power, influence, and authority, over man, loved him, wedded him, and gave birth to children seeded in human beings.
It is important to examine the nature of gods that can exist and the predicated nature of "those" that cannot. To accomplish this task requires reason, facts, and knowledge. Unlike blind acceptance and illusion, clear understanding requires patient analysis of the language with which we clothe our gods.
Many theologians attempt to show, logically, that past so-called "proofs" for the existence of immaterial gods are not faulty. They then claim that since it is logically possible that God exists, He does. However, we can logically prove that a quadrillion of incorporeal "things" can both exist and not exist.
"Logically possible" must never be equated with "physically possible." For something corporeal to be shown to exist logically, one must first verify that all the premises, themselves, of the process of logic are factually true. In such an instance, the conclusion is only formally true. Despite the comfort one may derive from that conclusion, to determine whether it is empirically true, one must verify the formal, i.e., non-empirically founded truth with empirical evidence.
In the case of the ancient astronaut hypothesis, some declare there may be no hard evidence available. Some claim there is and offer physical facts as evidence. Such evidence, however, is circumstantial unless an ancient astronaut can be produced. However, just as science extrapolates from its evidence, so do ancient astronaut researchers. Their claims are no less falsifiable than are those of science.
Scientists, today, are convinced that somewhere in the vast expanse of the universe, extraterrestrial life and intelligence probably exist, though it may not yet be evidenced. Certainly this lends some credence and a degree of probability to the fact that Earth may have been visited in the past.
One such outrageous claim, that is blindly accepted by billions of people, including leaders of our nations, is that God, as an incorporeal cosmic (a contradiction) mind, exists.
He knows, constantly and simultaneously, not only every thought and action of sentient beings that did, do, and will populate the universe, He knows, also, every event in the universe such as colliding galaxies, the flutter of each butterfly's wings, the movements of every ant and cockroach, even every quark, and the jump of every electron to another orbit due to an energy input.
All this notwithstanding, I am willing to concede to the possibility of cosmic intelligence. But bear in mind that the term 'cosmic' involves a physical, not a supernatural, world. This admission entails the probability that there are many more than one such intelligences.
Let us, therefore, first give thought to a mind, i.e., the functions of a physical brain that might be the result of a hundred thousand or more years of evolution. To develop this further, however, we must momentarily digress, imaginatively and creatively.
Consider this: according to present estimates, there are about a billion trillion stars -- 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 -- (10 to the 21st power) in our universe. We have here the basis for a rough computation of the number of planets that might have intelligent life on them.
As is commonly known, one out of 9 (counting Pluto) planets in our solar system supports intelligent life. If out of every million stars only one of their planets supports intelligent life, there are left a thousand trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) planets supporting intelligent life. If only one out of every one million of these planets supports intelligent life far superior to us, then one billion (1,000,000,000,) planets support intelligent life far superior to us.
Considering the mathematical probability that this is the case, such intelligences would possess the basic characteristics and abilities with which we define our gods. If each of these planets supports a population of a mere million adults, far superior to us, there are at least a million trillion gods.
Let us return, then to the
nature of our gods. Even the eminent Carl Sagan, when he was not at his
arrogant best -- attacking von Daniken for saying what he, Sagan himself, held as
a possibility -- referred to the Oannes legend as deserving of
"critical studies" interpretable as "direct contact with an
A concept of gods who have evolved over many hundreds of thousands of years is not what theologians have in mind. Such gods, if they are in our presence, are accessible to the sense faculties. In the history of man, that presence has been described in no uncertain terms.
Surely a non-physical, i.e., spiritual, god could not have wrought the physical cataclysm that, according to the Bible was predicted and visited upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Any reputable scientist would deny the possibility of physical effects being caused by other than a physical agent or event. By "physical," we include all forms of energy.
Von Daniken's gods exist on the same physical dimension as do we. We do not mean that they will transform themselves from non-corporeal into physical form for our convenience as in the story of the physical Jesus, the Hebrew messiah, and His immaterial, i.e., spiritual, Father.
Most of man's gods, like the Christian god, are defined as transcendent, supernatural, permeative, non-material, i.e., spiritual and inaccessible to men's sense faculties. Except as conflicting concepts all over the world, such gods are defined as unknowable even though the language gives the false impression that they can be known.
That is the language that theologians, i.e., popes, priests, ministers, rabbis, use as they presume to be able to describe their gods in remarkable detail and to know specifically what those gods demand of us. They guide our actions, see, hear, and know every good or evil act of every inhabitant and creature in the universe -- all at one given moment. And more remarkable still, even as we are maimed, murdered, tortured, or brutalized, such non-physical gods are said to protect us.
Now as to cosmic intelligence, we must embark upon what for some is a viable possibility while for others it is a flight of fancy. It is, however, less fanciful than is an immaterial or spiritual god.
Let us fantasize that we are standing on a rock in a wide open field, enjoying the brilliance of the stars. Suddenly we perceive ourselves becoming smaller. Our diminution continues. We must assume for our purposes that our life functions will not terminate. Eventually, we find ourselves suspended between the rock's molecules. As our diminution continues the inner space of the rock takes on astronomical proportions. Finally we have "landed" on a "world" which in proportion to our size would be the size of Earth.
As we look up at the "sky," we see little difference between it and the one we formerly enjoyed except, of course, that the outlines of familiar constellations are missing. We are accustomed to thinking of the vastness of space. We ignore the fact that the distances between galaxies, stars, and planets relative to their sizes are little different from the distances between atoms, electrons, protons, etc., relative to their sizes. There is one crucial difference in our perception, however. We know the "universe" we now experience is a finite rock. Past experience tells us there are other "universes," i.e., rocks, like it.
If, now we substitute for our rock, an intelligent, physical, sentient being, that entity becomes our physical universe; and its "mind," "intelligence," "consciousness," etc., constitute our "cosmic" intelligence.
It is indeed conceivable that our suns, galaxies, and planets could very well be the physical substratum of the brain, body, leg, or toe, or some other object as is the case with our bodies that are the universes of the trillions of life entities that thrive within each of us.
Let us postulate that our universe is the brain structure of a giant entity on another dimensional plane. We are forced, then, to accept the further thesis that were this a brain capable of reasoning on at least the order of human beings (for, after all, it may be a giant amoeba, dog, ape, or creature unknown to us), it would in no way be capable of communicating with us. Such an intelligence could hardly be aware of us except possibly in the aggregate, or unless it put one of us on the slide of its microscope. But there are more serious reasons why there would be no communication between it and us.
There are radical differences in the spectrum of the physical composition of the billions of different sentient entities on Earth, and elsewhere in the universe, such as various insects, animals, children, criminals, insane people, or under-achievers (as Woody Allen described God in one of his films). It is obvious, then, that there are radical differences in the spectrum of minds -- both human and cosmic.
We will not, here, allude to the differences in the nature of the space-time continuum on the macroscopic versus the quantum level.
As long ago as the 17th century, the philosopher, John Locke, and others before and after him, concerned himself with the source of knowledge. Locke postulated that mind is but a tabula rasa (a blank slate) on which is written all our experience and that this experience is derived totally through our sense faculties. There is no need to go into the history of the philosophical dialogue that followed him. However, the important outcome of that dialogue was the recognition that without the sense faculties, anthropomorphic knowledge, such as we attribute to non-physical gods, is not possible.
We can surely recognize the validity of this thesis if we envision babies born without eyes (i.e., optic nerves). The content of their minds would be devoid of knowledge of color. Extend this perceptual deficiency to include all the sense faculties. It should become apparent that such babies would never be able to develop minds. They would forever remain in a "vegetable" state, i.e., Locke's "blank slate."
At no time in the history of man has there been an iota of evidence that mind or knowledge is possible in the absence of a physical structure. Recent developments in biology clearly demonstrate that life and minds in those senses of the word that entail consciousness, knowledge, human or animal experience, etc., or any of the functions of animal life such as seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling, thinking require a physical substratum. Particular elements, substances, and quantities thereof give rise to particular qualities: eyes to "seeing," ears to "hearing," noses to "smelling," brains to "thinking."
Note the variety of sensing faculties in the animal kingdom and the nature of their experiences acquired.
A brain thinks according to past input from the sense faculties. If our gods are not physical, they surely cannot possess the qualities and attributes which are possible only as the emergence of emergents from physical interactions.
Hence, life and mind emerge from physical structures sensitive to, i.e., reacting to, other physical elements and substances (light, sound, electricity, chemicals, or matter). Moreover, life and mind are qualities of physical substances just as liquidity, transparency, and the ability to smother fire are qualities of water emerging from the gases hydrogen and oxygen interacting with each other in particular quantities.
The only minds comparable to those of human beings knowledgeable people accept are those that are a complex of neuron activity, electrochemical interactions of approximately 10 billion neurons in the brain.
The physical brain is the command post of human activity.
If we realize the validity of the thesis that these activities are "caused" by the brain, we must include, also, all the qualities we attribute to gods such as knowing, believing, thinking, seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, etc. Therefore, concepts that we have of mind, of intelligence, of thought, of ideas are always given in terms relating to a functioning physical brain that stores our observations and explanations of physical events and behavior and our imaginative constructs.
Surely rational people cannot ignore the Biblical Ezekiel's clarity and coherence of description of a spaceship and its occupants, as described in Joseph Bloomrich's The Spaceship of Ezekiel. Ezekiel's account withstands the critical scrutiny, technological knowledge, and caliber and proficiency of this engineer who was involved in building NASA's Saturn Five spaceship.
In this paper, I have offered philosophical and scientific arguments in support of the Ancient Astronaut Hypothesis. Through the prodigious efforts and research of von Daniken and many other Ancient Astronaut theorist, relevant data, that have been conveniently ignored or overlooked for centuries, have been culled out of historical documents that, viewed as a coherent whole, attest, at least circumstantially, to the physical nature of our gods.
A study of these data will show any rational person, who holds the thesis that all facts and hypotheses should be subjected to the cold light of reason and empirical evidence, that he has a responsibility to keep his mind open to the possibility and viability of the ancient astronaut hypothesis and the physical nature of our Gods.