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There are a great too many people who believe that the marvels of the ancient world were created by aliens or Gods.  Fueled by authors like Erich von Däniken or the inane programming on the History channel, there seems to be a popular misconception that scientists cannot explain how these wonders of the Ancient world could have been created, hence the need for supernatural explanations.  There also seems to be a very profound disdain for the scientific prowess of the civilizations that came before us.  As W. T. Wallington can attest, even a rudimentary understanding of mathematics and physics, if properly applied, can move massive stone blocks without the need for modern tools and machinery.  If one man is able to lift a massive stone block into a vertical position in his own backyard using a few pieces of wood and a garden hose, it is conceivable that ancient civilizations could have used similar methods to erect the familiar megaliths that survive today.  Even the large stone idols on Easter Island could be made without magic; a dedicated crew with ropes could accomplish that feat without the aid of cranes or other modern tools. The fact that marvels like Stonehenge survive to this day is a testament to the ingenuity and skill of our ancestors.

I want to elaborate something here; I do not believe in a declensionist view of world history where ancient societies lived in Utopian civilizations unrivaled by the poverty- and crime-ridden polluted cities of today.  Ancient civilizations did achieve a remarkable level of social organization and technological achievement for their time.  But they were not as technologically sophisticated as our modern society.  There is no comparison between societies of a thousand years ago and the modern world today.  The level of material comfort, especially in the more developed countries, enjoyed in the 21st Century today is unprecedented.  Our planet in the digital age is arguably more culturally complex than the world our ancestors lived in.  Particularly when one looks at it in the context of population demographics, even if one only looks back on the last one hundred years.  In the year 1900 there were 1.6 billion people living on Earth.  The average life expectancy for someone in the United States during this time was about 47 years old.  One hundred years later, the world population was 6.1 billion and the average life expectancy in the U.S. was about 77 years old.  And with so many people alive today, our society has become as commensurately more organized to handle the complexities of modern life.  We have made more technological progress as a species with in the last century than perhaps in all of human history.  Human culture has been around for about 50,000 years yet it has changed more in the last 250 years than it has in the last 50,000 years preceding the modern era.  That change has been overwhelmingly for the better.  And clearly not the work of benevolent aliens!

To question the technological acumen of societies in the past is to abandon reason.  If one believes it is more likely that aliens or Gods built the Wonders of the Ancient World than it is that human beings discovered the rudimentary geometry and algebra needed to construct chevrons, pylons and aqueducts, then a profound abuse of logic has occurred.  Take, for instance, the claims of Scott Alan Roberts in his asinine work The Rise and Fall of the Nephilim: The Untold Story of Fallen Angels, Giants on the Earth, and Their Extraterrestrial Origins.  In his most recent book, Scotty Roberts makes the claim that not only have humans been visited by extraterrestrials, but that alien-human races comprise the bulk of the world’s myths, legends, religions, and superstitions.  Religion too is just an homage to our ancient alien lovers, since our own ancient (human) ancestors couldn’t distinguish the different between a sufficiently advanced technology and magic a la Arthur C. Clarke.  In fact, the entirety of Robert’s canon seems to be boiled down into two basic tenets that his readers seem to accept; 1) if you can’t explain it then it is magic, and 2)you can’t prove I’m wrong, so I’m right.

This distortion of our past is damaging because it prevents us from understanding the people and societies that came before us.  It denies us access to our identity and our heritage; where we come from, what that culture looked like and how it evolved into ours, what our ancestors had to endure so that we could be alive today.  It robs us of our history and the need to make sense of our origins if generations of human accomplishment are bastardized into the mantra of so-called alien expert bushy-haired Giorgio A. Tsoukalos’ catchphrase “aliens”.  Charlatans like Roberts and Tsoukalos are masterful artists but their works lack substance and rob us of meaning.  These tall tales about angels and aliens only prove how gullible people are and how willing they are to believe something without sufficient evidence to support it.  I’m sorry to say that folks like Roberts aren’t solely responsible; there are many publications like his magazine Intrepid, a marvelous work of fiction that masquerades as fact, on magazines racks all over the country.  The problem with magazines like the Intrepid is not so much that its readers are ignorant, which I highly doubt is the issue here, but perhaps that they are not critical thinkers.  They might lack the skills needed to assess arguments and be able to ascertain whether those claims are supported by the evidence presented.  Scientific literacy especially is an important skill in modern society because our lives depend on our ability to navigate in a world built by math and science.

It’s now common knowledge that viruses are unaffected by antibiotics and that vaccines work by injecting a weaker form of the germ into our blood stream to build resistance.  Most people know not to mix ammonia and bleach when cleaning their bathtub.  Most people are able to recognize that cells phones do not cause cancer but exposure to the Sun can.  The scientific breakthroughs that have allowed us to live longer, healthier lives were discovered only because society recognized the importance of scientific literacy.  Generations of scientists contributed to the pursuit of knowledge that led to advancements in the field of medicine, physics, chemistry, biology, and economics.  In order to make informed decisions about our health, our money, and our lives, people need to be scientifically literate.  Being scientifically literate means more than being able to interpret scientific data.  It also requires one to have an understanding of the scientific method.  Because science is more than just a body of knowledge; it’s also a ruthlessly practical process that allows us to gather new information and the verify the information that we already know.  If more people had the tools to discern fact from fiction using the scientific method, magazines like the Intrepid might not even exist.  That’s because when hared-brained theories about angels and aliens coming to Earth do not stand up to scrutiny or critical thinking.  Above all, science is demonstrably true; it does not require us to take on faith that the claims of a author made in a grab for fame and fortune are true.  We can go out in the field or the laboratory and test it.  Because when scientists make claims without hard evidence to back them up, there is no justification for holding any of those claims true.  If critical thinking were a cornerstone of our society, more people could challenge the wild assertions of pseudo-scientists and impostors, or at least stop giving credence to garbage.