Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Websites I Like: Paleobabble

Paleobabble is a website compiled by Mike Heiser.

He's a well qualified individual, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., Ancient History) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (M.A., Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies) who is familiar with an assortment of ancient languages, such as Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Syriac, Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Egyptian hieroglyphs. His academic expertise is divine beings (gods, angels, divine assembly/host of heaven) in ancient Israelite and Canaanite religions.

The blog deals with what he terms "cyber-twaddle and misguided research about the ancient world".


The day to day content is links and comments. What is interesting is the kind of material that comes up time and again. Heiser puts links to the material supporting his comments, and it is an excellent port of call for the latest "paleobabble" coming onto the Internet.

Why do people believe such things? The picture promoted originally by Von Daniken in "Chariot of the Gods" was of a maverick amateur who was unearthing material that upset the conventional archaeology of the ancient world, and which they tried to ignore or explain away because it was too startling and amazing, and they didn't want to believe that, for instance, alien astronauts were at work in the past. It's a very clever picture, because it defuses criticism before it even begins - "they would so that, wouldn't they".

It is, I think no coincidence that the rise of such ideas comes with the decline in traditional religious belief, and the rise of New Age movements. This can be seen mirrored in bookstalls where over the last twenty years, the science section has steadily diminished, while the New Age section has exploded.

In the 1970s, science and academia was the way forward, and books like "The Secular City" were being written. Religion was on the way out, burnt up in the white heat of the technological revolution. But that kind of arid, dry, humanism left a void, and that was filled by New Age spirituality.

Archeology also suffered with academics coming under pressure from "alternative archaeologies" which were much more in tune with the New Age, and apparently  well-established results were called into question. In part this was a presentational problem, as with science in general. Paul Feyerabend noted how:

Scientific "facts" are taught at a very early age and in the very same manner in which religious "facts" were taught only a century ago. There is no attempt to waken the critical abilities of the pupil so that he may be able to see things in perspective. At the universities the situation is even worse, for indoctrination is here carried out in a much more systematic manner.

The gap was in the explanatory text, of how scientific theories developed from problem solving. Science was instead becoming a new mythology, and alternative theories, like alternative archaeologies could be claiming "equal time" in their presentation, however bogus they might be. The skeptical element was missing.

So we need people like Mike Heiser, who provides a good overview of all the alternatives out there, with a very healthy dose of skepticism.

Here's a selection:


Yesterday I received an email containing some pictures of alleged giant skeletons. PaleoBabble readers know that I've posted before on this topic before, noting how Photoshop is certainly the solution to many of these pictures you see circulating on the web. Whenever I get photos like these (see below), I wish I had the time to comb the web for the originals that were used to create the hoaxes. Sometimes you find someone who's already done that work (like my earlier post, linked above). But this sort of thing could take dozens of hours. Fortunately, among the two photos sent to me are two that are easily demonstrated to be fakes

Can you spot the problem?  Look at the skulls side by side... See it? What are the odds that two skulls, at two allegedly different archaeological digs, would be missing the exact same teeth?  A billion to one, I'd say. Take a closer look at the comparison picture. You can see that the fracture lines on the two photos at the bridge of the nose are also exactly the same. It's the same skull, photo-shopped into two different pictures, with adjustments made in tinting. You can find these pictures on several creationist websites.


The Fictional Roots of the Ancient Astronaut Myth

All of those interested in PaleoBabble should be aware of the work of Jason Colavito. Jason has done a lot of work tracing the common ancient astronaut motifs back through science fiction of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His primary focus is H.P. Lovecraft. You can read a fairly lengthy overview on his site, entitled, "From Cthulhu to Cloning." It's fascinating stuff. Check out his book: The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture.

I've got a copy of that book, and it is indeed fascinating. Science fiction and gothic fiction seems easily to morph into a presentation of the same themes as real, whether it is ancient gods who are in fact aliens (Lovecraft to Von Daniken), or Ron Hubbard, who started writing science fiction and then promoted scientology (a bastard offspring of his science as science fact.


I recently discovered a book that I can't wait to read called Adam's Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins (author: David Livingstone; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). The book is about how, in response to Darwinism, certain 19th and 20th century preachers and biblical scholars came up with the idea that there were races *before* Adam. They justified the idea with some truly bizarre Bible interpretation. Whether theologically conservative Christians and Jews who imbibe such ideas realize it or not, much of this is similar to "root race" theories peddled by occultists like Helena Blavatsky, whose esoteric teachings were one thread in the racial theories of people like Adolf Hitler. (And in case you think these ideas aren't still around, spend some time on the internet).



I'm sure you've heard of the crystal skulls before. They are allegedly ancient Mayan artifacts capable of mysterious powers, like inspiring a terrible Indiana Jones movie.  Turns out they aren't ancient (I know-what a shocker). But look on the bright side. Maybe George Lucas will retire from script writing now.



Ron Wyatt and Those Egyptian Chariot Wheels

I've complained before about the poor quality of Ron Wyatt's "research" (loosely defined) before. While he may have been well-intentioned (his aim was to defend the Bible's content), there is no excuse for the kind of paleobabble he has become notorious for. What follows is a simple but telling example (though to be fair, this one comes from Mary Nell Wyatt, whom I presume is Wyatt's wife).

Wyatt's name is well known on the internet for touting the Nuweiba location for the crossing the Red (Reed) Sea. It was in conjunction with this investigation that Wyatt allegedly found Egyptian chariot wheels under water in support of his theory.

Did Wyatt ever bring one of these out of the water? The link below claims so, but (as is so common with paleobabble), no independent peer-reviewed examination by archaeologists and other specialists (to see if they were merely coral formations) was ever conducted and published. But aside from that, there are the obvious logic problems:  If it was a chariot wheel, how would one know it was Egyptian? If Egyptian, how would one know it was related to the exodus event? And if it was from that event, didn't anyone notice the incongruity of the sea floor *not* being littered with these wheels?


Dogon Debunking from an Unlikely Source

I recently blogged about the so-called Dogon "mystery." Readers will recall that it has nothing to do with alien contact. I utilized several scholarly articles where anthropologists went back to the Dogon people to check the original reports that made the Dogon so popular with ancient astronaut theorists. Turns out it was bogus (insert surprised look here).

I recently came across an older debunking of the Dogon issue from, of all places, the "Above Top Secret" website. It's well worth the read. If a source like this can think clearly and critically about the sacred Dogon cow, I would hope that others can embrace the effort that went into the piece. It doesn't seem like a biased source from people corrupted "by all that establishment book learning."

1 comment:

James said...

In the 1970s, science and academia was the way forward, and books like "The Secular City" were being written.

Not the case. Harvey Cox published The Secular City in 1965, and you can see a counter-current developing as early as 1967 in John V Taylor's Cadbury Lectures (later revised and published as The Go-between God.