Erich von Däniken Ted Peters

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Ted Peters

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

How has von Däniken managed to get such a grip on the curiosity of Europeans and Americans? I submit that his views are received so avidly because they appear to wed scientific method with religious doctrine. A decade ago, as Theodore Roszak and others have pointed out, our young people repudiated the West's scientific mind-set. But today's college students have turned away from the counterculture of the '60s and, like the older generation, profess to value science. At the same time, both groups are in quest of new religious foundations. Unfortunately, most of these people are not sophisticated enough in either science or religion to be able to discriminate between good and bad science and between true and false religion. That is why a book like Chariots of the Gods? has been so eagerly received. It seems to blend science and religion in an exciting and respectable way. In fact, however, it does nothing of the sort. Consider von Däniken's "science" first.

In his delightful Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science … [1957], Martin Gardner describes the characteristics which distinguish the pseudo-scientist, or crank, from the orthodox scientist. For one thing, the pseudo-scientist works in almost total isolation; i.e., he holds no fruitful dialogue with fellow researchers. Of course he insists that his isolation is not his fault but that of the established scientific community and its prejudice against new ideas. He never tires of citing the numerous novel scientific theories which were initially condemned but later proved true.

Second, the pseudo-scientist is likely to be paranoiac. Gardner lists five ways in which these paranoid tendencies manifest themselves: (1) the pseudo-scientist considers himself a genius and (2) regards his colleagues as ignorant blockheads; (3) he believes himself unjustly persecuted and discriminated against; (4) he focuses his attacks on the greatest scientists and the best-established theories; and (5) he often employs a complex jargon and in many cases coins words and phrases (neologisms) of his own. Do any of these characteristics fit Erich von Däniken? Except for the fifth, I suggest that they do.

Von Däniken's thesis is this: the postulate that the earth was once visited by spacemen from another world serves better to account for ancient artifacts than do the scientific theories now accepted…. Why then has the scientific community either refused to consider von Däniken's position or rejected it out of hand? For several reasons. First, scientific investigation as now carried on is out of date, because the investigations do not ask of the past questions based on our knowledge of space travel; i.e., they presuppose that ancient man could not fly, consequently they cannot accurately assess evidence that he did when they find it…. Yet the only conclusions available to research are those which are arrived at in response to the questions asked. If you do not ask the right questions, the right answers will never appear. To put it another way, von Däniken claims that if archaeology does not question its data on the basis of what we now know about space travel, it cannot possibly set up an explanatory theory that takes account of space travel. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this claim; it is sound hermeneutics.

But the second reason von Däniken advances to explain orthodox science's prejudiced condemnation of his postulate sounds a bit more "pseudo." He argues that today's scientists stubbornly persist in refusing to admit that they need to change their methods and theories … Since they assume that ours is the most advanced civilization in the history of this planet, they are blind to any evidence that civilizations higher than our own once existed…. For example, present archaeological theory explains artifacts in terms of "primitive" religion and refuses to entertain other possibilities…. Thus the orthodox scientific community has shut itself off from the truth beforehand. Here is...

(The entire section is 1,556 words.)