Did aliens from outer space civilise us?

When I was a kid back in the 1970s, I devoured a hugely popular book by the Swiss author Erich von Däniken called Chariots of the Gods. You may have read it too.

His contention was that ancient monuments, carvings and stories clearly evidenced the presence of alien beings amongst us in ancient history.

One famous example in his book is a carving on the sarcophagus lid of the Mayan king Pakal Votan (603-683 CE). He was a long lived ruler in central America and Von Däniken speculated that the Mayan had experienced contact with superior alien technology (as the image above shows):

In the centre of that frame is a man sitting, bending forward. He has a mask on his nose, he uses his two hands to manipulate some controls, and the heel of his left foot is on a kind of pedal with different adjustments. The rear portion is separated from him; he is sitting on a complicated chair, and outside of this whole frame, you see a little flame like an exhaust.

Chariot of the Gods – Erich Von Däniken

Von Däniken wasn’t the first person to speculate along these lines. Imagining contact between humans and creatures from outer space began to emerge in 19th century as the shackles of religion were thrown off and science increased our knowledge of the cosmos.

In 1897, the British author HG Wells wrote The War of the Worlds where resource hungry Martians invade southern England. A later movie version with Tom Cruise moved the action to the United States.

But Wells imagined aliens as hostile and warlike with no interest in helping humanity. That jaundiced view of extraterrestrials has been hugely influential in science fiction ever since.

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But others conjectured a more benevolent relationship. Aliens as our friends and mentors. The most notable proponent of this view was a woman normally referred to as Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891 CE).

She was convinced that humans in ancient history had made contact with highly advanced alien life forms on the planet Venus. Christianity, obsessed with putting humanity at the centre of the universe, had hushed this up.

It’s been hypothesised that there are stories in the bible that point to first contact with aliens and the inability of humans two thousand years ago to understand what they were seeing. So many of the visions of people ascending into the sky and fiery lights all relate to aliens and UFOs.

In popular culture the idea of more primitive species being influenced in weird ways by more advanced beings has even been dramatised in sci-fi classics such as Star Trek and Doctor Who. The Ridley Scott movie Prometheus also dabbles in the notion of an advanced species calling humanity into existence for its own dark purposes.

The belief in aliens creating humanity or turbo-charging our civilisation has been derided by a number of scientists including the late Carl Sagan. In a nutshell, they argue that the alien-human contact theorists are relying on a kind of “god of the gaps” intellectual approach. Where religious fundamentalists insert God into gaps in scientific knowledge, the first contact brigade place aliens.

Needless to say – opinions on this subject are sharply divided!

flat earth

Flat Earthers have no support in Ancient history!

Flat Earthers will find no support for their view that we’re standing on a very large dinner plate from ancient sources. Because even the Greeks of Pericles and Aristotle knew we were on a globe. They even calculated its circumference!

When I was at school, we were taught something false about the shape of the Earth.

Medieval people were not Flat Earthers

The falsehood was that people in the Middle Ages sincerely believed that the Earth was flat. Seafarers feared that if they sailed too far their ships would literally fall off the edge of the planet into the void. Christopher Columbus had to convince the church that by heading west in search of a better route to the Indies he wouldn’t suffer such a terrible fate!

The astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson appears to think our ancestors clung to this superstitious belief. When the Atlanta rap singer B.o.B recently tweeted his personal view that the Earth is flat, Tyson replied that nobody had believed that for five centuries – thereby inferring that before the Renaissance, it was the accepted wisdom.

But it wasn’t.

Even the Dark Ages rejected Flat Earthers

Even in the so-called “Dark Ages”, after the fall of the Roman Empire when classical learning was allegedly lost to us, the Venerable Bede calculated the date for Easter on the assumption that the Earth was spherical.

One mistake he made was thinking this “orb” was at the centre of the universe. It would take Copernicus hundreds of years later to put the Sun in the middle and the Earth orbiting round it. But, while getting that wrong, Bede never countenanced the notion that the planet was flat as a pancake.

Long before Bede, the Sumerian civilisation, Babylonians, ancient Greeks and Hebrew scholars – all accepted that the Earth was round. They didn’t have modern observatories or the ability to fly planes and rockets. Instead, they deduced the Earth was round from observation – mainly of the stars in the skies and their movements.

Also, simple facts like watching a ship disappear hull first when it reached the horizon.

Ancient Greek boffins blow apart Flat Earther theory

Ancient Greek super-brains Pythagoras and Aristotle wrote about the Earth being round five hundred years before Christ while Eratosthenes, a Greek scholar living in Ptolemaic Egypt even calculated the circumference of the Earth using a stick, the shadow cast by the sun in two places and some pretty basic maths. This video explains how he did it – then read on afterwards!

So why on Earth, pardon the pun, in the 21st century is the Flat Earth movement experiencing huge growth? 

The Flat Earth Conference this year was better attended than ever. Attendees were told that mainstream science and NASA in particular have been lying to them. The planet is flat and the Antarctic forms an icy barrier that stops us all falling off and plunging into outer space.

The Flat Earth view is endorsed by celebrities from ex-basketball star Shaquille O’Neill to English cricketer Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff. In an outburst against those who think the planet is spherical, Flintoff asked:

If you’re in a helicopter and you hover, why does the Earth not [rotate under you] if it’s round?

In 2007, a survey found that 55% of American adults and 95% of eight-year-olds (who have a better excuse for ignorance) believed the Earth was flat. Not even Christopher Columbus, most of the medieval church and anybody remotely educated in the Dark Ages thought we live on a gigantic plate. Yet there are people today who think NASA and the world of science are peddling myths.

Blame the Victorians for Flat Earthers

Today’s Flat Earth movement began in Victorian England with a reaction against rationalism and the scientific establishment. A chap called Samuel Birley Rowbotham (1816-1884), writing under the pseudonym “Parallax”, founded the school of Zetetic Astronomy.

This kicked off a rancorous debate that ended in a vicious court battle between scientist and round Earth proponent Alfred Russel Wallace and Flat Earth advocate John Hampden – who ended up trolling Wallace (in a Victorian manner) for years afterwards.

In 1885, William Carpenter published his book One Hundred Proofs that the Earth is not a Globe with arguments that have become common currency to today’s Flat Earthers:

  • The surface of standing water is always level
  • Surveyors make calculations for the construction of roads and railways that make no allowance for the Earth’s surface being curved
  • The light from lighthouses is seen from distances that should be impossible if the Earth was round
  • Mariners use maps and not globes because the Earth is flat

Carpenter begged his readers to just use their senses and trust the bible – which he claimed made no assertion of the Earth being round (but neither does it state it’s flat). His lightweight arguments were known to the Ancient Greeks and refuted over two thousand years ago.

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Ancient Greeks versus Victorian Flat Earthers

Eratosthenes, using his calculations of the Earth’s size, was even able to work out a distance from the Earth to the moon and a rough idea of its size. Other Greeks got close to working out how gravity operates (so why human beings don’t fall off a spherical earth) and that our planet circled the sun and not vice versa. This was two thousand, five hundred years ago.

The depressing revival in Flat Earthism threatens to take us back – not to the Middle Ages…but to the Bronze Age!