November 4, 2014

Ancient Aliens: A Secular 'God of the Gaps'

Moai at Rano Raraku, Easter Island
Moai at Rano Raraku, Easter Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the most concise ways to think about the "god of the gaps" (or argument from ignorance) concept would be something like the following (via Iron Chariots):
  1. I don't understand how X could have happened.
  2. Anything I don't understand is caused by God.
  3. Therefore, God caused X.
We have all encountered this flawed line of argument many times from religious believers seeking to promote their preferred gods. Most of us have a reasonably clear idea of the many problems associated with it. We recognize, for example, that premise #1 makes the mistake of assuming that just because I don't understand something nobody else understands it either. And we certainly recognize premise #2 as being thoroughly absurd. As a result, we find the entire "god of the gaps" notion far from persuasive.

A variation of this argument is not as uncommon among non-religious persons as we might think. I have heard variations of it from atheists who believe in ghosts, hauntings, souls, and ancient aliens visiting early human civilizations.

Wait! What? Ancient aliens? Yep. Haven't you ever heard some variation of the following?
There are many ancient sites scattered around the world (e.g., the pyramids in Egypt, Incan sites, Easter Island) where early humans could not have possibly built what we have found with the technology available to them at the time. Modern archeologists and scientists still cannot explain how they could have accomplished such marvels. They must have had help in the form of extra-terrestrial visitors with advanced technologies.
The person making this argument does not understand how these ancient sites could have been built and makes the mistake of assuming that nobody else does either. He or she then replaces gods with aliens and arrives at the conclusion that aliens built whichever megalith he or she is interested in.
  1. I don't understand how the moai on Easter Island could have been built and put into position given the technology available at the time.
  2. Anything I don't understand must have required extraordinary resources and outside help in the form of alien intervention.
  3. Ancient aliens built and placed (or assisted with the building and placement of) the moai on Easter Island.
This line of thought underlies one of the more embarrassing things I can recall ever seeing on television: the History Channel's Ancient Aliens series (i.e., ancient aliens provided advanced technological assistance to the early humans who constructed these megaliths).

Not surprisingly, there are many excellent reasons to be skeptical of such claims. For those of you who have not encountered them before, I wanted to take a moment to make you aware of Ancient Aliens Debunked, a great website containing a 3-hour film and other resources debunking the claims made by the Ancient Aliens series. If you have encountered these claims before - even if you've never watched Ancient Aliens - I suspect you'll find the film worth a look. I found it quite revealing of the blatant disregard for reality displayed by the show and many of those pushing ancient aliens as a viable explanation for things they do not understand.
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