Part 1 of My Interview on the Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast

A few weeks ago astronomer Stuart Robbins interviewed me for his informative Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast. Here is Part 1 of that interview. I’ll let you all know when Part 2 appears. The topic was the bogus use of ancient texts by Zecharia Sitchin and others to support their pseudo-astronomy.

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Zecharia Sitchin’s Planet X PaleoBabble

Astronomer Stuart Robbins has made a considerable effort in his PseudoAstronomy podcast to tell the truth about how real astronomy does not jive with the astronomical quackery of Zecharia Sitchin. I was recently interviewed by Stuart for his podcast (those episodes have not been posted yet), but as  a prelude to those, I thought I’d post links to his series on Sitchin’s astronomical claims and their refutation. I’d posted some of Stuart’s work over at UFO Religions, but posting the episode series in which mine will be a part seems like a good lead-up to when my interviews go online in early January.

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What To Do With Christian Researchers Who Purvey PaleoBabble

[Addendum: 10/22/2013 - I have been in correspondence with one of the researchers mentioned in Jason Colavito’s post. That individual tells me that research is underway in regard to some of the claims Jason criticized, and that I will receive a copy of the results of that research when ready. I will keep readers informed. As per the below, I will insist on those standards of evaluation. “Lab work” is not a synonym for peer review; it’s what peer review evaluates. I will in turn submit what I receive to experts in relevant fields whose own work has undergone peer review, experts to whom I turn to for evaluation of such things, as I am not qualified to decipher scientific tests.]

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Jason Colavito posted a telling essay today. For someone like me, a Christian and biblical studies scholar, it was disturbing. Frankly, it provoked me to enter the discussion. I have the training and am well known in both the “Christian weirdness” community and by scholars (Christian or otherwise) all over the globe (it’s a blessing of my job). I feel responsible to say something — to put people on notice in some sense. I wouldn’t want people to be deceived because I remained silent. It’s a consistency issue for me. I want to be on the record.

So what’s my beef?

I’m guessing Jason and I wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on some things. That’s fine. For one, I believe in a creator, though I’m not predisposed toward the young earth position, mostly for the way it distorts points of science, caricatures evolutionary theory, and imposes a modern context on the ancient text (something that atheistic evolutionists do with great frequency and equal ignorance). Put another way, the reason I’m not in that camp is not because I don’t think God capable of recent creation. I just don’t think the Bible was ever intended to teach us science. The Bible itself makes that clear if we just take it for what it says in its original context.1 Logically, then, I’m not a philosophical materialist. I accept the possibility of what is loosely (and in some cases, inaccurately) called the “supernatural.” That goes with the turf of theism and, by extension, Christianity. These positions have stood up to the best of academic philosophical debate for centuries, so I know I’m on good footing, despite atheist crowing to the contrary. These ideas are also not antithetical to the scientific or logical mind. I personally know too many PhDs in the hard sciences and philosophy to know that lame criticisms of theism from such trajectories have failed to impress many scientists and scholars, Christian or not. Most of what passes for critique of theism and Christianity is actually criticism of caricatures or flawed thinking that circulates among the laity.

I don’t know where Jason is at on any of that and I don’t care. I value his research; I’m thankful for it. So let’s be clear. What disturbed me wasn’t Jason’s comments about creationists. That’s yesterday’s news. I can think he’s wrong about that idea (again, I really don’t know what he thinks) without thinking he lacks integrity as a researcher. What disturbed me about the content of his post was the appalling, absurd ideas that some Christian researchers are apparently peddling as truth — even calling it biblical truth.

I can sum up my thoughts on the sort of research Jason highlights: it’s baptized pablum that lacks any prayer of being correct biblical teaching or coherent thinking. Jason’s post gives specific examples of the way Christian researchers have uncritically adopted the same insane, data-starved ideas as offered by Zecharia Sitchin and Giorgio Tsoukalos.2 All that’s missing is the fawning sycophantia and the hair. Why do they do it? I don’t know. Popularity? Gullibility? Money? Ego? Again, I don’t know. But I do know how to address it. It’s simple — the same strategies that show the non-Christian ancient astronaut twaddle to be vacuous will work on the Christian variety. This is evident since the same unsound thought processes are shared: intellectual laziness and abuse of data.

Here are my tried and true approaches:

1. Insist that any evidence put forth by an ancient astronaut researcher about what an ancient text says comes with specific primary source citation — in biblical parlance, “chapter and verse, please.” I do this consistently, and it usually kills the discussion before it even gets started. If I hear a claim without a reference or some other generality (“it’s in the Babylonian creation story”) my first response is “show me the text.”3 I won’t take their word for anything. Most of the time such citations are merely parroted from something they read in a secondary source (itself of abysmal quality if it’s an ancient astronaut title) or saw in a YouTube video, or heard on a radio show, or just picked up in conversation. Not good enough. Show me the tablet, line, chapter, verse, etc. If you’ve been too lazy or ignorant to look up the material yourself, you’ve forfeited the right to be heard. Parroting ideas isn’t research.

2. When it comes to textual material, translations and interpretations must derive from careful study of the original languages. That is, texts don’t just mean anything and ought not be raped and pillaged so they can be pressed into the service of nonsense. Languages have their own rules of grammar and usage. Their vocabulary is to be understood in the context of the people who produced the texts and their own time and culture — not our modern, foreign culture. You might think this is too high a standard. “Not many people can work in these languages, Mike.” Oh, well. Actually, there are more of those nerds out there than you’d think. If you’re going to pass yourself off as a researcher, teacher, or expert and can’t do this sort of work, you’re deceiving your audience with a false claim of authority. Don’t bellyache about not knowing the languages. Learn them. It isn’t rocket science. And it matters. (I didn’t waste fifteen years of graduate school to function at the same level as an English Bible reader or someone bound to English translation of other ancient texts). Besides, there are many good resources, in print and online, that can provide deep access to primary source material. But that would mean you need to tie yourself to (or get toasted by) the next item.

3. Assertions and conclusions offered must be based on sound research that has been subjected to peer review. Peer review is the practice utilized in scholarly publishing whereby a writer submits his or her ideas and research to a small panel of experts fields germane to the submission. The goal is not uniformity of ideas, but rather to check methodology and content relevant to the argument so that important data are not overlooked (or avoided) and earlier research is taken into consideration. In short, it’s a coverage and coherence filter. Without it, anyone could publish anything anywhere (especially the internet), making it impossible for non-specialists to know whether the material is sound or not. (Or, making it easier to dupe people). Passing the muster of peer review means that your work has stood up under scrutiny. The issue is not “right or wrong,” as peer reviewed publications publish varying viewpoints on any given issue. Passing peer review means that the essay or article deserves a hearing in the opinion of leaders in the field. I insist that the ideas put forth by researchers meet that standard. Every year thousands of articles and books are published under some kind of review. Researchers who avoid that material or refuse to address that material in their own work are either lazy or dishonest.

Frankly, there’s a name for people who refuse to submit their own research to the review of bona fide experts in the relevant disciplines: coward. For sure, peer review isn’t perfect. Flawed ideas get through from time to time. Scholarly journals don’t use angels for reviewers, either, so sometimes something gets denied because of politics. But the *fact* is that there are hundreds of peer-reviewed journals in the humanities and hard sciences to which work can be submitted. The sheer number is a corrective to the occasional mistake or abuse. Rejection is common, because a given journal can only print so many pages – so try another. If your work gets rejected over and over again, that’s a clear sign it’s deeply flawed. But if you never submit it, that’s a clear sign you’d rather pass yourself off as an expert to the unlearned you want to gather as your fan base and audience. On that level, there’s an ethics problem here.

These approaches — these safeguards — have served me well over the years. They are simple, reasonable standards that I strive to follow myself. Sloppy, self-serving research and personal speculations are no substitute. That a researcher has an idea or viewpoint doesn’t mean it is coherent. That there’s a mystery to be solved or a knotty problem in the historical, archaeological record doesn’t mean that we can now throw reason to the wind and declare the thought rattling around in our head to be truth. That the Bible is a book for all humankind doesn’t mean every interpretation of it is equally valid. You can claim the Holy Spirit led you to say XYZ, and I won’t care — because the Spirit is honest. He wouldn’t lead you into bunk (least of all ancient astronaut bunk) or to do careless work. He wouldn’t lead you to be lazy or ignorant. Appealing to the Spirit for your own lack of effort and courage in the above areas is reprehensible. Laying your own lethargy and ineptitude at the door of the Spirit hardly honors God.

For the Christian out there, willfully following flawed research that fails to meet these minimal qualifications common to serious academics is a spiritual issue. Yes, you read that correctly. In fact, it’s an issue of magnitude. It goes to using the intellectual faculties with which we’ve been blessed. It goes to honesty when you claim to be seeking the truth. It goes to having confidence in the God you claim to follow — that all truth will conform to his character and revelation because there can be no such thing as contradictory competing truths (at least in a coherent world). It goes to being an honorable testimony to those who don’t believe in the gospel so that Christ is not shamed by the way you do your work. It goes to fostering relationships of integrity with other researchers who don’t share your beliefs. None of us are perfect, but that isn’t the standard. Honesty and perfection aren’t synonyms. The former is a standard that can be reached and maintained even though the latter cannot. Exempting yourself from the former and making the latter your excuse for doing so is just wrong.

  1. I’d also argue that the actual truth propositions of the Bible are not incompatible with science.
  2. I hope that at least some of Jason’s ancient alien examples aren’t true, but he tries very hard to fact-check. That’s his track record. I will assume what he describes in his post is accurate until that is demonstrated not to be the case.
  3. This is why I made the video showing people where to find all occurrences of “anunnaki” in the cuneiform tablets — to show the ancient astronaut ideas about them are simply made up.

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Review of Ancient Aliens’ Craptastic Anunnaki Episode

Jason Colavito has courageously reviewed the latest ode to asininity from the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens series. I strongly encourage readers to check it out. It’s an informative and fun read. It’s a cornucopia of  My favorite portion:

William Henry, who believes telephone booths are secret symbols for trans-dimensional portals, lies about Sumerian texts regarding the Anunnaki, claiming without evidence that they were described as humanoids who could “phase in” to human form, which cannot be found in any ancient text.

It’s really hard to beat William Henry for incoherence. When all others simply ignore data – like the fact that none of this Anunnaki alien nonsense can be found in the cuneiform texts – Henry is bound to take it to the next level: that of utter absurdity.1

  1. William Henry brings back some good memories. Way back in 2001 after my first appearance on Coast to Coast AM, Henry was the guy who accused me of making money off Zecharia Sitchin’s work. I responded by posting my tax returns on the internet, asking William – and Mr. Sitchin – to do the same. I did that for three years in a row – just looked on my computer – I still have the web page. I was a struggling graduate student. I’m guessing they were doing better duping the masses. Anyway, neither of them took the challenge.

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Moving the Stones at Baalbek: No Aliens Needed

I can second Jason Colavito’s thoughts on Aaron Adair’s recent post on the very human technology used to move the trilithon stones at Baalbek (and other such stones at other locations). It’s a very good post and, for critical thinkers at least, lays to rest the myths about alien participation at Baalbek.

 

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Sachs, Velikovsky, and Sitchin

A short time ago I blogged about the work of C. Leroy Ellenberger, at one time a first-tier defender of Immanuel Velikovsky who later came to doubt and then refute that brand of catastrophism, sent me a link I thought I’d share with readers.

Leroy’s link was to a brief address by Abraham Sachs, a well-known 20th century Assyriologist (i.e., a scholar of Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform). The address was a refutation of Velikovsky’s use of cuneiform material to support his catastrophist theories. Here’s an excerpt:

“In searching for mathematical and astronomical texts, I myself have had the opportunity of sifting about 125,000 tablets in this country and the British Isles. As one looks back, with the advantage of hindsight, over the progress of cuneiform studies in the last century, it is evident that in the early decades, two steps forward were accompanied by one step back, in recent decades, the proportion is more like 300 to 1. In 1896, an excellent dictionary of Akkadian contained 790 pages; today, the latest torso of an Akkadian dictionary– with only one-third of the dictionary published in 8 volumes– already runs to more than 2500 pages. I mention all this only to underline the sad fact that anyone who, like Dr. Velikovsky, is not a student of cuneiform, runs the very high risk of finding non-existent facts, false translations, and abandoned theories that have foundered on the rocks of new textual material when he relies, as Dr. Velikovsky does, on books and articles that are 80, 50, 40, and in some cases, even 20 years old. . . . In Worlds in Collision, p. 161, Dr. Velikovsky says that Babylonian astronomy at one time had a four-planet system, with Venus missing. For this, he refers to a book, [quite correctly,] written in 1915. Not being a cuneiformist, Dr. Velikovsky cannot inspect the original text referred to in his 1915 source. I have read the text and I can report that it is quite true that Venus is missing in the text– but so are the other four planets. . . . Wherever one turns in Dr. Velikovsky’s works, one finds a wasteland strewn with uncritically accepted evidence that turns to dust at the slightest probe. . . . [I]it’s advisable to be [a cuneiformist] if you’re going to write about cuneiform texts. . . .”

 

While the address was directed at Velikovsky, the verbal spanking is also useful for directing attention to the bankrupt scholarship of Zecharia Sitchin, part of whose imaginative ancient astronaut theorizing includes catastrophism elements associated with the alleged astro-physical effects of Nibiru, wrongly identified by Sitchin as a 12th planet. This short speech (less than fifteen minutes) was given at Brown University in 1965, just a few short years before Zecharia Sitchin would pretend to know something about cuneiform tablets. Why is it that Sitchin, presumably an expert in cuneiform, was somehow ignorant of this material when Sachs was not? The answer is simple. Sitchin was no expert in this material. He was contriving a theory.

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Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses: Database and Bibliography Project

For all those interested in ancient Mesopotamian religion, I recommend the Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses Project website. It’s being produced by one of my alma maters, the University of Pennsylvania.

The project describes itself as a “website [that] offers information about the fifty most important gods and goddesses and provides starting points for further research.”

Here’s the link to the Anunna/Anunnaki page. Nicely done with bibliography links. (Sorry, Sitchin didn’t make the cut – this is real primary text research, not fantasy land).

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Ancient Aliens Debunked: Some Impressions on the Documentary

I just finished watching the whole (free) three-hour Ancient Aliens Debunked movie on YouTube. Took me quite a while, as it’s hard to find three hours of free time. But it was worth the here-and-there effort. I’m not going to write a full review, just share impressions.

I’ll start with some mild criticisms. There were a few points where I would have aid things differently, or added a different perspective, that would have taken a different trajectory than the director (Chris White). One was the nephilim segment toward the end. While filming there were things I added that got edited out. But so what? It wasn’t not my film (and any film I’d make would be unwatchable). There was also one place where Giorgio Tsoukalos has ”Moses” being shown the “roundness of earth” by God in an effort to (I guess – it’s hard to tell what Giorgio is thinking sometimes) say Moses went to space or something. This “verse” is not in any translation I can find, and I’ve done software searches through dozens of them. Giorgio (like his mentor Zecharia Sitchin) gave no actual verse reference. Moses was never vaulted above the earth in the Bible. Basically, he made this up. Christ should have called him out on that, but didn’t. Lastly, Chris should have credited Jason Colavito more prominently. Jason has done a lot of work in this area, and it’s all good stuff.

All in all, though, this is a terrific video. Chris did a lot of research for this and was able to make it digestible to the average viewer. He also (unlike the Ancient Aliens crowd) makes his sources accessible and gives actual citations of ancient texts.

I’d only seen a few pieces of Ancient Aliens on TV. I don’t watch much TV as it is, and spending any of my valuable time on that would be a true waste of time. Having seen a good number of scenes now via the Ancient Aliens Debunked documentary, I know that decision was the right one. This documentary demonstrates that the Ancient Aliens material is not only pseudo-scholarship, but borders on the simply stupid. The researchers presented on the show (I speak here of the people presented as authorities: David Hatcher Childress, Jason Martell, Erich von Daniken, etc.1) are some of the poorest thinkers I’ve ever heard. It’s disturbing that so many people can be persuaded by “researchers” who can’t apply simple rules of coherent thought or logic to what they do. The claims are absurd, and their defense is inept. Katy Perry thinks Ancient Aliens is “thought-provoking,” so here’s a suggestion: cast her as a researcher in future episodes. None of the present ones are any smarter. She’d at least be easier on the eyes.

Those who had a hand in making the series are even more blameworthy for the deceptive nature of the material. I lost count of the times when Tsoukalos would talk about “ancient texts” with visuals of some odd artifact or wall painting appearing, creating the impression that those artifacts SAY what the narrator is claiming, as though they were inscribed with the words. This is sheer dishonesty that goes beyond ineptitude. The textbook example is the Anunnaki material. The images of winged creatures and reptoid artifacts used to talk about the Anunnaki have nothing to do with them. They either come with no text at all (like those from the Ubaid period in Sumer) or texts near the images (the “winged men”) are well known and contain no content at all about the Anunnaki (and originated centuries after Sumerian culture had died out). The show repeatedly deceives the viewer in these ways. It’s about milking the audience for cash in DVD purchases.

I’ve often said that NONE of the ancient astronaut “evidence” is persuasive to anyone in the relevant fields. It is only persuasive to amateurs, people who don’t know the material. Chris White has demonstrated how the Ancient Aliens’ series claims are easily overturned and shown to be the nonsense they are with a little bit of serious research.

 

  1. I’m excluding people presented as curious inquirers brought into the show for variety and interest. Curiosity and asking questions are virtues. It’s just too bad people often base their beliefs on material that is demonstrably wrong because they depend on “researchers” instead of real scholarship.

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Heads Up on PaleoBabble 2013 and Stats

Just a few notes.

I usually post statistics for the year on Jan 1, but I can’t do that (for the blogs anyway) this year, since my last wordpress upgrade destroyed my statistics plug in. I’m trying to get a new one in place (still). Now wordpress tells me I need to upgrade AGAIN to get any new plugin to work. So…

I will be upgrading this blog sometime in the middle of January. That means it may go down again, if recent history holds (the last two upgrades have nearly destroyed the site). I’ll be taking plenty of time to get backups in place before the upgrade. Even if I have to re-install the whole thing, I should be fine.  So, be aware of all this.

The above will also allow me to install some new security for the site. My host tells me there have been repeated hacking attempts on this blog. Probably another open-minded fundamentalist Sitchinite.

Statistically, all I can share of relevance for this audience is that my homepage and my Zecharia Sitchin website have continued to rise in traffic.  The stats are below. Thanks to all who visit and read!

Mike’s Homepage:

unique visitors 2009 169152
2010 239607
2011 243543
2012 286,675
number of visits 2009 330587
2010 559089
2011 683899
2012 771,015
website hits 2009 5563139
2010 7447119
2011 6627720
2012 9,196,722

Sitchin is Wrong.com

unique visitors 2009 67503
2010 107224
2011 101094
2012 132,407
number of visits 2009 79843
2010 132281
2011 124318
2012 161,052
website hits 2009 510381
2010 985305
2011 900302
2012 1,661,781

 

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Ancient Aliens Debunked: 3-Hour Documentary Now Online for Free

Readers may recall a few months ago when I announced I’d be interviewed for this documentary. That happened in August. Well, I’m happy to announce that the documentary is finished and online. It’s just over three hours, and free to the public. I haven’t had time to watch it yet, but having read all the scripts, I can tell you it will be well worth viewing. There’s a lot of good research that went into this. Jason Colavito’s work, to which I often direct readers, figures prominently in several places. The producer tells my I’m in the last section. Lastly, make sure you visit the actual website, since other video that didn’t make it into the final product will be kept there for viewing, along with source documentation.

I’ve also created a Page on this blog with a link to the documentary so you can easily find it later and direct friends to it.

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