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Joe Nickell - Humanistic Skepticism
Posted: 25 July 2008 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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jholt - 24 July 2008 08:47 PM

In Skeptic magazine [Vol. 13 No. 4 2008] there’s some great pieces that include criticisms and insight into some of Däniken’s work and views. Tim Callahan’s essay, A New Mythology, touches very briefly on Däniken and the “gods” of ancient myth were actually extraterrestrials…”, but it is more of a tour de force of skepticism into “consider(ing) the [grand New Age] myth as a whole and try to understand what need it fills in its adherence.”

But, for the purpose of this discussion I wanted to offer this section by Daniel.

Racism?

One very serious criticism of the idea that many ancient monuments required alien builders is that this a often seems to be based on racism. For example, it’s common for von Däniken’s books to describe skilled workers of ancient art and architecture and then say things like, “with the best will in the world one cannot imagine savages making them.”

Is he saying that all ancient humans were “savages” who were too primitive to build their own monuments? Actually, he seems to make an exception for the people of Europe. One anthropology textbook calculated that 96 percent of von Däniken’s examples “are from places other than Europe.” The textbook author wrote that von Däniken is apparently “utterly astounded by the archaeological records of ancient Africa, Asia, and North America. He is so astounded, in fact, that he thinks that only through the assistance of men from outer space could those black, brown, yellow and red people have produced the prehistoric works that archaeologists find on these continents.”

Why does von Däniken mostly ignore ancient European accomplishments such as Stonehenge or the temples of the Greeks? Skeptic James Randi thought he knew the answer: “because these wonders are European. built by people he expects to have the intelligence and ability to do such work.” Randi blamed this double standard on von Däniken’s “personal prejudices,” saying von Däniken “cannot conceive of our brown and black brothers having the wit to conceive or the skill to build the great structures they did leave behind.”—[Daniel Loxton]

Piques my interest now to read them again, because I think Randi’s exaggerating.  I thought Daniken did write about Stonehenge, using it because he could get away with making an alien visitation story out of it.  It’s origins are mysterious, and the greco-roman remains haven’t had any popular mystery left to them after the Renaissance.  Besides the henges, are there any European relics from antiquity impressive enough to help Daniken make such a case?  All the “wow” finds locate someplace else.  Googling Daniken offers him some defense, from Chariots of the Gods, “Let us not forget that we too were semi-savages 8,000 years ago.”  Daniken wasn’t an archaeologist or academic, just a storyteller, and didn’t see the warning that circulated throughout academia—the official notice declaring the term “savage” as racist de facto.

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Posted: 25 July 2008 08:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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“...[Däniken] cannot conceive of our brown and black brothers having the wit to conceive or the skill to build the great structures they did leave behind.”

This is simply garbage. Randi doesn’t know what he’s talking about as he probably never read Däniken’s books. Däniken has indeed written several books about Europe. Die Rätsel im alten Europa and Odyssey of the Gods — An Alien History of Ancient Greece are the ones I remember reading. In his books Däniken looks for reasons why “our brown and black brothers” built the structures, and tries to look for evidence (unsuccessfully, IMO) that they did it either to imitate the “gods” or to attract their attention.

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Posted: 25 July 2008 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:12 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 25 July 2008 09:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:12 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 25 July 2008 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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jholt - 25 July 2008 09:54 AM

Aesopo,

I am having a hard time following your reasoning and I think it comes from what is meant by “implicitly racist”. Searching out a smoking gun is futile and no one I’ve quoted is saying directly that Däniken is a racist. The term “racism” or “racist” in these insistences are not some academic bogeyman. In these cases it’s possible the person’s “tone” as Joe describes may come completely unintentional and is unacknowledged by the author due to factors not always clear. Randi proposes that it’s possibly from “personal prejudice”, or possible comes from blatant ignorance, which is where my money is when reading Däniken’s nonsense.

Several examples critics cite to imply reveal Daniken’s “implicit racism” point to his use of the term “savage”.  It once was a term used in academia to denote people of “preliterate” cultures.  For various reasons, one being that the word is shared with many pejorative definitions also, this use of the word fell out of favor.  What language did Daniken write the books in, anybody know?  It was German, was it?  I wonder what word he used that translated into “savage”.

As I say, I’m interested to read the books to get a sense myself.  On the face of it, I would say the evidence is thin Daniken’s strange aliens hypothesis reflected “implied racism”, and Daniken’s motives could well have been mercenary.  He sold one helluv-a-lotta books.

Only point I’d like to make is that Nickell’s statement was par for the course, and whether he’s right or wrong to say it, I fail to see what it has to do with him trying to be a “humanistic secularist”.

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Posted: 25 July 2008 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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jholt - 25 July 2008 09:25 AM

Something like the Pazca Lines are about the people of the Pazca culture and he simply dismisses that they had the ability to perform these feats free of ET influence and intervention in their own time, why, because to Däniken they are evidence of ET because the people created in ways that are not easily understandable and they lacked the where-with-all to give them meaning or purpose, or the ability to construct them as they were.

Okay, I have an idea. How about this?

Däniken thought so highly of “our brown and black brothers” that he simply could not accept that they would spend all their resources and energy in building enormous structures for their imaginary gods. You see? Däniken’s theories are implicitly humanistic because he thinks that our ancestors actually had a valid reason to create their lines and pyramids. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Of course it is. Däniken is simply wrong about his astronauts and that’s the end of the story. Anybody who tries to look for “something more” in his books in simply wasting his and mine time.

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Posted: 25 July 2008 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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I’ll give all of you guys a nickel if you return to talking about Joe Nickell.  wink

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Posted: 25 July 2008 11:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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laarree - 25 July 2008 11:01 AM

I’ll give all of you guys a nickel if you return to talking about Joe Nickell.  wink

I like Nickell’s illustrations.

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Posted: 25 July 2008 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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George - 25 July 2008 11:06 AM
laarree - 25 July 2008 11:01 AM

I’ll give all of you guys a nickel if you return to talking about Joe Nickell.  wink

I like Nickell’s illustrations.

There’s a nice 19th century feel to that drawing.  Has he been officially diagnosed with Multiple Persona Disorder?  wink

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Posted: 25 July 2008 11:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Aesopo - 25 July 2008 10:34 AM

Only point I’d like to make is that Nickell’s statement was par for the course, and whether he’s right or wrong to say it, I fail to see what it has to do with him trying to be a “humanistic secularist”.

Let’s call it a consciousness raising (you know, like Dawkins, the gays, and the feminists do smile ): you don’t need to accuse people of being racist (or Hitler) to prove them wrong…(whispering) especially if you call yourself a “humanistic skeptic.”

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Posted: 25 July 2008 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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[ Edited: 30 July 2008 06:11 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 25 July 2008 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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George - 25 July 2008 11:17 AM

you don’t need to accuse people of being racist (or Hitler) to prove them wrong…(whispering) especially if you call yourself a “humanistic skeptic.”

That’s true.  I’ve come to believe skeptics can get as sucked into logical fallacy with their assertions as anyone else.  But in the quote indicated, Nickell is concluding that Daniken’s errors stem from “implicitly racist” assumptions.  His argument wasn’t “aliens did not make those lines because Daniken is implicitly racist”, it was “Daniken’s operating assumption that Incas couldn’t have made those lines unassisted is implicitly racist.”

Turning this around, what if we were to discover a can of coca cola entombed in the heart of the Tikal pyramid?  Would it be “implicitly racist” for Randi or Nickell to operate from an assumption the Mayans alone did not put it there?  (And I think it’s fair to assume they would start with that assumption.)  But what if archaeologists had also uncovered other strong supporting evidence of Mayan coca cola manufacturing, evidence which they were either ignorant of or pretended didn’t exist?  It could well be that to Daniken, the Nasca lines and other artifacts from antiquity are odd finds which are as implausible in their time and place as finding this coca cola can entombed in this Mayan pyramid would be to us.

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Posted: 25 July 2008 02:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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jholt - 25 July 2008 11:21 AM

If he thought them completely capable and accepted the features as simply not fully understood by researchers, do you think he would still argue they are evidence of ET? I think this is where Aesopo is missing the point on what Joe says: “in an almost implicitly racist way I think, he’s not overtly, but, the implication behind his pointing out these things in his tone is that these ancient non-white people weren’t sophisticated enough…”

Nickell’s statement’s been lumped together with similar statements by Randi, and Daniel Loxton who apparently cited the both of them with statements of his own, and taken all together the accusation against Daniken isn’t that narrowed.  Loxton’s quote pointed out the use of the term “savages”.  I understand what Nickell was saying.  I’m not sure he was fair to Daniken.  Daniken’s knowledge on the subject isn’t sophisticated enough for us to presume anything about his incredulity—that he couldn’t understand how ancient peoples made these artifacts could well stem from ignorance and misconceptions about the cultures and archaeological record rather than problems he had with skin color.

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Posted: 26 July 2008 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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1. Nickell says he has broken every “rule” he now advises- that is how he learned them.

2. The brief, reserved “Racism” comment seems insufficiently relevant to warrant discussion. It is telling of the hypersensitivity to the “r” word in our society.

3. There is nothing about Joe’s approach that merits a philosophical branding of “humanism”. “Don’t be a jerk to people, even stupid credulous people” is hardly novel or insightful. It has been Penn & Teller’s M-O for decades (among others). I found the interview uncharacteristically boring. A droning “play nice with the believers” message. Thanks Joe, hey got anything for us about treating others as we want to be treated?

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Posted: 26 July 2008 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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sate - 26 July 2008 06:43 AM

It has been Penn & Teller’s M-O for decades (among others)

Actually, P&T;‘s MO has been to be a jerk to the credulous for powerful effect. See their episodes where they have fake psychics make believers cry and then reveal it was a scam to teach them how gullible they are.

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