Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Intelligent Design, Panspermia and Ancient Astronauts

Intelligent Design, Panspermia and Ancient Astronauts. Looking at Richard Mooney, Colony Earth (London: Granada 1974)

David Sivier

This is another book, which I picked up recently in a secondhand bookshop in Cheltenham. It's very much a product of time, the early '70s, when there was a spate of books following von Daniken's blockbuster Chariots of the Gods, as well as the growth of the New Age and Fortean counterculture. Mooney follows von Daniken in claiming that the deities of the world's religions were extraterrestrial space travelers and that their scriptures, myths and legends preserve memories of genuine, global ancient catastrophes. The blurb on the back cover gives a warning of some of the book's claims in the following questions:
What was the great catastrophe that the Bible calls the 'Flood'?Are the Egyptian pyramids giant air-raid shelters?Were the bearded 'White Gods' of the Incas survivors from a catastrophe across the Atlantic?Were the giant stone monuments of antiquity built with the aid of high explosives?
To which the answer is obviously 'No'. Mooney, however, goes further than von Daniken and argues that humanity itself, not just its gods, came from elsewhere in the universe. The blurb also approvingly quotes Publishers Weekly to recommend the book to readers of von Daniken and Velikovsky:
For those readers impatient with the gaps in traditional science and theology, dissatisfied with both divine creation and evolutionary theory, Richard Moony offers a radical hypothesis... followers of von Daniken and Velikovsky will take it in their stride.
But it's also interesting for the way it also anticipates Intelligent Design and, in particular, astronomers Fred Hoyle's and Chandra Wickramasinghe's theories that life began elsewhere in the universe, and was seeded throughout the cosmos by a guiding intelligence, in their books Lifecloud, Diseases from Space and Evolution from Space. And it also prefigures the idea of Ronald Pearsall, a science teacher and colleague of radical Spiritualist Michael Roll, that there is a cosmic intelligence composed of subatomic particles that created humanity.

Mooney's introduction discusses the evidence for a highly advanced, ancient civilisation that is now vanished using some of the classic examples of ancient technology, such as the Baghdad battery, an aluminium belt found in China and the gold plating carried out by the Chimu of South America. This, he states, can only be replicated through electroplating. He also cites crystal lenses from ancient Sumer and Babylon. It has been claimed that The 'Baghdad battery' was an early voltaic cell. 

More recently it has been suggested that this is correct, though this does not mean that the ancient Babylonians were far more technologically advanced than previously known. It has been argued instead that they are known to have treated people with particular disorders with shocks from electric fish, like the Torpedo fish. They therefore constructed the battery for use as a medical instrument. If true, it does show that they did indeed know of electricity. But it does not show that they also possessed other advanced technological wonders, like electric lighting or computers. Mooney then goes on from this to make rather more far-fetched claims. Like the metal giant, Talos, created by Poseidon in ancient Greek myth to guard the treasure of the kings of Crete, may have been a robot. Or that the legends of serpents' eggs and magicians' wands that produced fire were memories of hand grenades and rifles.

The first chapter discusses the place of our solar system in the galaxy, and the two rival theories of its origin – that it was either the result of a cosmic collision between the Sun and another star, or that it and the Sun coalesced out of a nebula of gas and dust. In subsequent chapters, the book goes on to suggest that the best place for looking for planets with intelligent life is around stars of a similar age or older to the Sun, that is G, K and M type stars, and goes on to discuss the possibility that life existed before Earth. It argues that life operates in complete reverse to that of ordinary matter. While ordinary matter decays from the complex to the former, life moves from the simple to the more complex. It then suggests that DNA is similar to computer software and so may have been the product of an intelligence. He states:
The discovery of DNA, with all its implications, was seized upon by believers as further proof of the existence of God. In the case of the computer, we know that someone has programmed the information onto the tape for it to act upon. Could it not be said, then, that as the computer has a programmer, the DNA helix also has a planner? Perhaps the concept of a 'vital force' which 'animates' chemical systems making them life systems, could be expressed in a different way (p. 23).
This is then followed by the theory, first proposed by the British physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington, that there could be mental particle, the mindon, similar to subatomic particles of matter, like the neutrino. A professor at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Lawdon, suggested that mind is a universal property of matter, and physicist and astronomer V.A. Firsoff proposed that these mental particles interacted to form 'mental entities' governing or controlling purposeful action in organic chemical systems. It then claims that the fossilised traces of life have been found in meteorites, and that life may have been deliberately seeded on Earth from elsewhere in the Solar system.

This idea goes back to the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras, but was more recently put forward by the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. One of the strongest pieces of evidence for extraterrestrial life comes from the meteorite that landed in Orgueil, France, in the 19th century. This had 'organised structures', including collapsed spore membranes and two mushroom shapes. There is therefore a possibility that the Earth was seeded, purposefully or not, by intelligent creatures from a lost planet, which broke up, creating the asteroid belt. The book then discusses the evolutionary history of life on Earth, and the mystery of what killed off the dinosaurs. This last is supposed to have been a giant supernova explosion, but Mooney objects to this on the grounds that if it killed off the dinosaurs, then why didn't it kill off other reptiles?

The possibility that life exists elsewhere in the Solar system is then discussed. The book shows that Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto won't be the home of life. It is unknown whether there is life on Mars, as although organic compounds have been discovered from spectral analysis of its light, the photographs from the Mariner probes show that it is more like the Moon than Earth. It also proposes three alternative models of the surface of Venus. One is of a hot desert under perpetual clouds of carbon dioxide; a world covered with seas and life-forms similar to those of Earth's Paleozoic, or, alternatively, Venus is covered with oceans of petroleum formed by condensed hydrocarbons.

In the next chapter, Mooney debates the possibility that humanity came from outside the Solar system, mentioning the possible evidence from UFOs and that we may have been visited by automated probes. More out of place objects are also cited as evidence that we may have been visited millions of years ago by an extraterrestrial civilisation. This includes Dr. Gurlt's Cube, a rectangular chunk of metal 67 mm by 47 mm, which was found in a mine in Silesia in 1887. It then cites Dr. Lipp, von Hoerner, Carl Sagan and S.S. Huang that extraterrestrial civilisations may be found and communicating relatively close by in the Galactic neighbourhood – 100 to 1,000 light years, and that there might be 5 – 8 billion inhabited worlds in the Galaxy. He also returns to Firsoff's idea that mind may be a fundamental property of the universe. Firsoff suggested that the universe may be alive, and the Galaxy a living entity operating on nuclear rather than biological principles 'beyond our awareness and comprehension'. Mooney goes on to say

We could therefore postulate that an intelligent physical life form arose on a planet of a star near the galactic nucleus. How this form arose we are unable to say – perhaps there was some kind of 'divine creation'. Perhaps it arose only once, in human form (which seems remarkably well designed as a functional, machine-building organism), or there may be other, nonhuman intelligences.

Upon reaching a sufficient level of progress so that space travel could be commenced, this intelligent life form spread outward through the galaxy, traveling from suitable star to suitable star, and leaving some of its members on habitable planets or planets that could be made habitable, in the hope that they would take root and survive. (p. 47).

This chapter also cites the great Russian scientist and rocket pioneer, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who said that colonisation rather than evolution may have been the major factor in the spread of life in the universe.

The next chapter then ponders the question whether Earth has been colonised. Mooney states that we are at the 'dug-out canoe level' of space travel at the moment, and considers various methods by which a spacecraft could travel to other stars. This needs massively more powerful propulsion systems, such as nuclear or ion engines. Time dilation at velocities near the speed of light would keep the crew young, as decades or centuries passed on Earth. Other solutions include ark ships, where generations of people are born and die during the voyage, and suspended animation. Other, more exotic forms of transport and interstellar communication are also considered, like faster than light and warp drives, as well as telepathy and teleportation. But there may also be problems for interstellar colonists. The machinery and other advanced technology aboard their ship may become worn out and fail to be replaced, to the point where they may become unable to produce items like guns and shells. But as pioneers on a new world, they would only need the simplest technology and skills – weaving, pottery and candle-making. The first human colonists on this world, thus equipped, would have found transistors, printed circuits and lasers to be as mysterious as they would to a Roman soldier.

Human evolution is then tackled in chapters with the titles 'The Evolution Hoax' and 'The Myth of the Apeman'. The argument here is that biologically modern humanity appeared suddenly, 40,000 years ago, and is very different and far more advanced than its hominid predecessors, the australopithecines, while there is a long gap of 7 million years between the disappearance of Dryopithecus, the Miocene ape believed ancestral to the hominid line, and the next pre-human ancestor, Ramapithecus. Mooney notes that there are no pre-human ancestors found in the Americas and elsewhere outside of Africa, but dismisses the theory that humanity evolved in Africa and later migrated to the other continents. He discards this on the ground that they would be moving from a warmer to a colder climate before they had yet learned to make clothes, and thus would have died of exposure during the Ice Ages.

He also argues, contra Darwinian evolutionary theory, that the gradual accumulation of mutations could have been sufficient to produce the necessary physiological and mental differences between humans and prehumans. He points to chimpanzees, stating that they have been around longer than humanity, and asking why they haven't advanced to a comparable level. He once again turns to von Daniken for answers, who asked why there are no chimpanzees in trousers. It is because they never possessed the capability to evolve into humans.

The old image of the Neanderthal as an unintelligent, shambling creature is attacked and overturned. Mooney argues that Neanderthals were intelligent beings. As for Cro Magnon people, they were taller with larger brains than modern humans. He discusses the great skill of the cave artists of the palaeolithic and the fact that even at this remote epoch they appear to have worn well-tailored clothes, with men shaving and cutting their hair. Mooney once again follows von Daniken and asks why it is that human intelligence first appears 35,000 years ago, but it has only been in the last 6,000 years that there has been a sudden rise in the construction of cities, mathematics, agriculture, irrigation and medicine, concluding that von Daniken's proposal that humanity was shown all this by aliens 'has much to recommend it'. He also claims that myths across the globe not only show gods descending from the sky, but that humanity also possessed the power of flight, leading to the possibility that there was at one time an advanced, global civilisation. Part of the evidence in support of this is that the remains have been found in Alaska of pre-Inuit urban centres.

The book subsequently develops the idea that there was indeed such an advanced civilisation, memories of which are preserved in the myths of Atlantis and Lemuria as well as the Bible and the great texts of other religions, like the Mahabharata in Hinduism. This great civilisation was destroyed not by an Ice Age, but by a global catastrophe. This would not, however, have been caused by the impact of a comet or the close passage of Venus, as suggested by Velikovsky, C. Beaumont or Hans Hoerbiger. He cites the evidence for mass extinctions of animals like the mammoth and for a change in climate when areas now deserts were flourishing, concluding that something occurred to upset the world's axial tilt. This was caused by a great flood, as described in the story of Noah in the Bible and in the legends and myths of other religions.

The book goes on to discuss the origins of the different human races, Blacks, Caucasians and Asians. These may have evolved separately according to the different conditions on different planets, or they may also have evolved in different regions on Earth. He notes that racism and racial consciousness has only appeared recently. On the other hand, he cites the myth of Viracocha among the Incas and the Saiyam Unicob of the Maya to argue that the founders of these South America cultures were White. He also claims that this is shown by the skeletons of the rulers of the ancient South American pre-Inca civilisation of the Chimu at their capital, Chan-Chan. The story of the Garden of Eden refers to the idyllic condition of the whole world before the Flood. South American legends are also cited to claim that the ancient civilisation was also remembered as possessing electric lighting.

Ancient mapmakers, like those who created the Piri Reis map, were also aware of the geography of parts of the world, which they could not possibly have known according to contemporary wisdom. And the ancient astrologers were also aware of the as yet unknown 'odique' rays coming from the sun, as suggested by the French astrologer Michael Auphan. On the other hand, the global catastrophe recorded as Noah's Flood is different from that which destroyed Atlantis. This was caused by the eruption of Thera, which not only destroyed the Minoan civilisation, but also produced the 12 plagues that afflicted Egypt in the story of Exodus. Among the causes he considers for the global Flood is the possibility that the Earth may have been shifted in its orbit by an anti-gravity engine. Ancient civilisations could also have used anti-gravity devices to levitate the great stones they used to build monuments like Stonehenge and the other megalithic monuments, the great Inca city of Sacsayhuaman and the great pyramid of Cheops. He also cites the 'Brahma weapon' described in the Mahabharata, which produced smoke like 10,000 suns, and caused terrible gales and sickness in people and animals for days afterwards, while the sun, stars and sky were hidden by clouds and violent storms as a description of a nuclear war.

The description of God in the Bible and other religious texts actually describes an extraterrestrial visitor, a space god. It was these alien gods, who inflicted the great catastrophe on humanity as a punishment for their rebellion. The cave people discovered by archaeologists were thus not primitives, but the survivors of this catastrophe, who had been forced to return to a primitive state.

The emergence of the ancient civilisations across the world that for conventional archaeologists and historians mark the beginning of history and civilisation Mooney considers just a restoration by the survivors of the ancient flood. He supports this by claiming that the ancient cultures of Sumeria, the Minoans and Egypt in the Old World, and the Incas, Maya and Toltecs in the New suddenly appeared without any predecessors. He also draws on ancient myths of these civilisations being founded by gods from across the seas – Poseidon for ancient Crete, Quetzalcoatl for the Maya, to argue that their founders were groups of survivors from northern Europe, who had fled south and west to escape the destruction. He also attempts to explain the differences between these cultures by suggesting that they gradually forgot some of the common elements derived from the ancient, antediluvian culture as time went on.

Drawing on the work of the archaeologists and prehistorians investigating Stonehenge, like Alexander Thom and Gerald Hawkins, Mooney concurs that the great stone circles were indeed ancient astronomical observatories and computers. These can measure the Earth-Moon-Sun distance with great accuracy. From this, Mooney argues that they Stonehenge and the rest of them were built as one large stone computer system spreading across continents in order to measure the Earth's new axial tilt after the catastrophe. He also identifies the ancient Hyperboreans mentioned in the Greek myths as the ancient British. Following the suggestion of an American researcher that Stonehenge was built to be seen from above, like the Native American serpent mound in Ohio, the book goes on to claim that the ancient Brits did so because they had aircraft. This is based on another piece from ancient Greek literature, whose author, Abaris, claimed he had flown in 'Apollo's arrow'. This is interpreted as a description of an airplane. Mooney is also unconvinced by suggestions how Stonehenge and the other monuments could have been built by cultures that had only the most primitive technology. This was impossible, and the reason why nobody has ever found the remains of the rollers and other engineering works needed to move the building materials is because they never existed. Instead the stones were brought to the site and moved into position using anti-gravity technology.

The book then follows C. Beaumont in claiming that the passage graves – the long barrows built at the same time as the henge monuments – were shelters based on a passage in Isaiah ordering the Israelites to go to shelters to avoid God's wrath. He notes the presence of fires and cooking materials in these graves and sees them as evidence that people were living in them, not that they were provisions left for the dead for their journey to the other world. Noting how strongly they were built, Mooney argues that they were fallout shelters. The presence of human remains within them does show they were also used as tombs, but this was afterwards by the survivors, possibly because by the time the catastrophe had passed the chambers had acquired religious meaning.

The pyramids, so the book argues, were similarly built as massive air raid shelters and not as tombs for the pharaohs. He claims that there is little real evidence that they contained human remains, and that the claims that they did so are based on rock-cut tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Discussing the Great Pyramid of Cheops, he states that neither the ancient Greek historian Herodotus nor the ancient Egyptian historian, Manetho, mention a king of this name. Mooney cites instead an Arab historian, Masudi, who claimed that they were built before the flood by a king called Surid. He then describes the structure of the pyramids, noting that they had air shafts and elevated entrances. These would have provided the people sheltering within them with ventilation, and prevented the flood waters getting in. As with the Stonehenge and the tumuli of neolithic and Bronze Age Europe, he claims that it was simply beyond the ancient Egyptians' ability to construct them using copper or bronze tools. Therefore, like the passage graves, they were built using highly advanced technology. They cut the rocks with laser beams, and hauled them into position with anti-gravity devices.

Moving on to the great civilisations of South America, Mooney similarly argues that they were built by survivors of the ancient flood using advanced technology. He states that the Incas had no written language, but acknowledges that the Aztecs had a pictorial alphabet while the Maya had a system of glyphs. He goes on to claim that there are no indigenous South American epics like the Odyssey, nor kings comparable to those of the ancient Egyptians. He also argues from the carbon dating of wooden remains found in Maya ruins that they are far older than the convention dating of AD 700. He then describes the massive and impressive construction of Tiahuanaco on Lake Titicaca and the Inca fortress as Sacsayhuaman. He claims that by the time they were discovered by Europeans, the indigenous peoples had forgotten who built them. He finds this incredible, and that it contradicts mainstream historians' view that they were built by the Incas or a similar indigenous civilisation. He also argues that the Incas' road system was established long before they came to power, and was appropriated by them as one of their own achievements. Examining some of the structures in Tiahuanaco that were used as a calendar, the book cites various scholars, who claimed that these gave the true date for the construction of the city to about 9,300 to 14,600 years ago.

Mooney is also impressed by the workmanship of other artifacts from South America, like the very fine needlework of ancient textiles, which cannot be replicated by modern mechanical weaving. He follows von Daniken in believing the Nazca lines of the Atacama desert were constructed to be seen from above. He is also impressed by tiny golden beads, less than a pinhead in size, which were also constructed by another South American culture. He notes the Mayas' highly advanced mathematics, and claims that the Chimu were highly sophisticated doctors and surgeons, who knew how to manufacture artificial limbs. Because these are shown on their monuments, allegedly. Altogether he concludes that these great engineering feats were beyond the ability of their supposed builders using the tools they are commonly believed to have had, and so, like the pyramids of Egypt and the long barrows of Europe, they had to have been built with advanced technology. The differences between these cultures also arose for the same reasons as those between the rest of the ancient civilisations as a whole. As time went on, the individual civilisations forgot those parts of their culture which they shared with the other groups of survivors, and developed others that they inherited, so that the differences gradually increased.


The book then attempts to expand on its argument that the original culture-bearers, the legendary founders of the South American civilisations, were indeed bearded White men. It discusses and discards the theory that the similarities between the great South American civilisations and that of Europe and the Middle East were due to colonists from Atlantis or the migration of lost tribes of ancient Hebrews, as described by the Book of Mormon. Mooney does, however, consider that there is still a possibility that some Amerindian cultures may have been descended from the ancient Israelites. He claims that in ancient Rome and Egypt, the possession of White skin and reddish hair was a sign of nobility. He also cites other scholars of South American mythology to show that the great culture heroes of the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl, the Maya, Kukulcan, and the Incas, Viracocha, were all White. The term Viracocha is still used by the Amerindian peoples of Peru to describe White men. Viracocha supposedly was not only White, but also had something like a European tonsure and carried a book with clasps. This is remarkable, considering that books were unknown in the West in 2000 BC, when writing materials consisted of clay tablets or were inscribed on stone blocks instead of paper.

He also claims that ancient Andean legends show that these White men intermarried with local women and then were driven out by their mixed-race children, who became the first kings, and claims that the Conquistadors found that some Incas had lighter skin and reddish hair like Europeans, rather than Amerindians. This part of the book says that some Europeans believed that these White gods were appearances by Christ, but he rejects that, claiming that the appearance of these deities predate Jesus. He has no doubt, however, that these White gods were actually real people, the survivors of the global catastrophe, restoring civilisation after everything had lapsed into barbarism. He also notes that these gods are described as 'bringers of light' and are associated with 'cities of light', and that Jerusalem in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelations is described as a city of light. He believes this shows that both the ancient Hebrew and the South American civilisations had a common source.

The final chapter 'Gods and Men' argues that all the world's myth and religions have essentially the same structure. This is that humanity was placed here by beings from the sky and given dominion over the Earth. Humanity then rebels, like Lucifer in Christianity and Judaism, and is duly punished by a great disaster, including a devastating flood. These myths preserve the memory of real events, in which humanity came here from the stars. However, humanity rebelled and was punished by its extraterrestrial overlords. The Bible is an especially accurate record of these events. The story of Exodus accurately describes in mythological terms the eruption of Thera near Crete and the subsequent plagues this event inflicted on ancient Egypt.

Ezekiel's vision of the flying creatures and something that looked like wheels within wheels is a description of an encounter with a real UFO, as is his description of being taken to a chamber where special robes were needed. This is interpreted by Mooney as suggesting that he was taken to an extraterrestrial base, where special protective clothing was required because of radioactivity. A description elsewhere in ancient Near Eastern legend of a traveller gaining weight the closer he was taken to heaven describes the effects of the G forces they experienced during their flight. The scapegoat motif is also common to all religions, and appears in Christianity as the death of Christ. Christ's death and resurrection is part of the same mythological trope that sees the sun as dying each evening only to be reborn the next day. This anxiety about the sun's disappearance dates from the fear caused by its disappearance during the nuclear war and subsequent flood. The ritual washing that is also a part of so many of the world's religions also dates from the catastrophe, and the need to clean clothes and other objects of radioactive contamination.

The book ends with a 'Concluding Word', stating that if the world really did suffer a horrendous disaster in antiquity that caused civilisation to vanish into barbarism, we are faced with a similar situation where, due to our foolishness, we could thrust ourselves back into ten thousand years of savagery.

The book's now very dated, and it's central idea – that the ancient gods were alien spacemen – has suffered from the attacks on von Daniken's works in such books as Crash Go the Chariots. His archaeological arguments also run against the facts. Some of his ideas have been disproven by later discoveries, which he could not possibly have known about, but some of them were well known at the time he was writing. And some of the statements he asserts as fact are simply wrong.

For example, Cheops is most definitely mentioned by Herodotus as the builder of the Great Pyramid. While it is, or was, a matter of debate how the great stones were lifted into position, there's no doubt that it was done by human workers. The pioneering Egyptologist Flinders Petrie himself excavated the worker's town of Kahun, and the archaeologist John Romer has written about another village occupied by craftsmen working on the pyramids, Deir el-Medina. And in 1990 the necropolis containing the workers' graves was also discovered. Scenes of everyday life inside Egyptian tombs also show workers hauling stone blocks from the quarries. And I'm fairly certain one of the archaeological programmes screened on British TV in recent years also proudly showed a tomb painting of ramps being used to haul the blocks into position as proof that the pyramids were definitely not built through anti-gravity or any other kind of super advanced technology. The evolution of the pyramids from ordinary tombs through step pyramids to their characteristic, fully triangular type, is also well understood. As is the change in architectural materials, as the Egyptians switched from largely wooden buildings to stone.

Likewise, the book is quite wrong when it claims that the ancient civilisations suddenly appeared out of nowhere without any predecessors. The origins of civilisation are still being explored, and the discovery of Gobekli Tepe earlier this century has shown that it appeared earlier than previously considered, as well as challenging the assumption that urbanisation and agriculture developed together. But the great civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia were preceded by the establishment of settled villages and farming in the Natufian in Egypt, and at Jarmo in Iraq, for example. I also believe that archaeologists in the Americas have also found village settlements that preceded the great civilisations on those continents. But if the book ignores some pieces of well-established archaeology, it makes up others. I have not heard of any urban centres having been discovered in Alaska, that predate the Inuit. I don't think they exist. However, the Aleutian people at its eastern tip used to live in wooden lodges half-buried beneath the snow. Perhaps Mooney came across a garbled description about their settlements, or became confused himself, and so made the claim based on this, very much existing Native American people.

The book is almost certainly correct when it claims that Stonehenge and the other, similar stone circles in megalithic Europe were ancient astronomical observatories. That's now accepted archaeology. However, the idea that the long barrows were air raid shelters is still wrong. They were indeed tombs, though archaeologists have recently suggested that they were also sites of religious ritual as well. Fires were lit outside their entrances and the bones themselves seem to have been handled. This was possibly as part of shamanic ceremonies to allow the community direct contact with their ancestors in the afterlife.

Back to the supposed similarity between the great civilisations of South America and Egypt, these are, as very many people have said, more apparent than real. Yes, the Egyptians and Mayans built pyramids, but before the invention of the arch, this was only the way to build extremely large structures. And I'm also certain that the development of the Aztec pyramid from its more primitive predecessors is also well understood. But the book's focus on these cultures and those of the Near East also shows how it excludes facts that would cast doubt on its own theories. The civilisations of China and Asia are just as ancient, but with the exception of the Indian Mahabharata and the flying ships – Vimanas – of the Hindu scriptures, these are ignored. This is possibly because they and their architecture are so markedly different from those of the Middle East, although the Harappan civilisation certainly had links to ancient Mesopotomia.

He's also wrong when he says that the South American civilisations have no epics comparable to the Odyssey, and no kings to rival those of Egypt. He writes this while citing the Popul Vuh, the Mayan holy book that describes how their civilisation and its royal lineages were founded by the gods. And yes, these civilisations certainly did have their kings equal to those of the Old World, like the great Inca emperors, the Aztecs and the Maya. The Maya glyphs have long been decoded and read, and shocked the scholars who did so. Previously the Maya were believed to be a peaceful, agricultural people. The translated inscriptions, on the contrary, revealed a long history of war and dynastic intrigue between the competing kings and their cities. More recent theories also challenge the idea that the Inca quipu is simply an accounting tool. They're actually a form of writing, and the surviving quipus doubtless contains epics and other works of literature, which we cannot yet read. And like the ancient Egyptians, the techniques they used to carve and fit the great stone blocks for their ancient cities and monuments are also known. The Incas, for example, used round hammer stones. These have been found discarded in rivers, and also in ancient salt mines, where the salt has also preserved the leather thongs used to suspend larger stones for use as battering rams against the rock.

And this reveals the central, chauvinistic, even racist premise at the heart of the book. All the ancient astronaut theories are based on the belief that ancient peoples were too stupid to build their great architectural monuments or discover civilisation for themselves. And this is compounded by the book's proposal that the great culture heroes were all White. It's true that Quetzalcoatl, Kukulcan and Viracocha were described as White in the religions of the Aztecs, Mayas and Inca. However, the ancient Egyptians depicted their men, including the pharaohs, as reddish brown, and their women as yellow, and even sometimes portrayed themselves as black. They did not portray themselves as White, and used pink for the skin colour of non-Egyptian, European peoples like the Minoans. Similarly, I don't doubt that the founders of the ancient South American civilisations were indigenous Amerindians. Some of the archaeologists exploring the great civilisations there have appeared on recent documentary series, like BBC 4's Lost Civilisations of South America. These have discussed the Chimu and shown the remains of people from its capital, Chan-Chan. And they weren't White, but Amerindian.

Then there are the larger claims. Yes, many cultures have stories about a global flood, but scholars have long since given up the idea that there was a single flood covering the entire world. Rather, these myths are probably based on the individual cultures' experience of disastrous flooding. And some scholars believe that the story of Noah's flood in the Bible, and related stories in ancient Greek and Babylonian myth, may well have been inspired by the catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea many thousands of years before. The book may well be right about the eruption of Thera causing the twelve Biblical plagues of Egypt. There have been books published in more recent years proposing this. However, there are real objections to his argument that the world's myths all share the same basic structure. There are similarities across cultures, and themes certainly can recur in widely different peoples separated from each other by thousands of miles.

But the world's religions can also be very different. Some of the supposed similarities between Christianity and indigenous religions, such as those of Africa, may be due to the unconscious bias of the first anthropologists and other scholars to record them. Many of them were Christians, and some were missionaries and other clergy, and they may have been so struck by some similarities between their own faith and those of the peoples they studied, that they unconsciously gave excessive emphasis to them and ignored the differences. As for the common theme that humanity has fallen from its previous close relationship with God or the gods, this is probably an attempt to deal with the existential question of why death and suffering exists, rather than a memory of some ideal society in which humanity lived in harmony with its extraterrestrial overlords. Religious scholars have also rejected the idea that Christ's death and resurrection is derived from the dying and rising gods of the Ancient Near East or were a vestige of a solar cult.

Of the two theories of the origin of the solar system he discusses, astronomers now believe that it coalesced out a nebula. Probes to Venus has shown that it is indeed a ferociously hot desert with sulphuric acid clouds and rain. There may be microbial life on Mars, but the organic compounds detected by the spectrascopes may be due to light from the planet passing through our atmosphere, and picking up the signature of organic chemicals this contains. And there is the possibility that life exists on several of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn in oceans under their mantle of ice, warmed by deep sea vents or tidal heating.

There are also serious problems with his arguments against evolution. He's probably right that the Neanderthals were far more advanced than nineteenth century biologists believed. Certainly many palaeoanthropologists believe they used jewelry, and hence understood symbolic culture, looked after their aged and buried their dead with respect, suggesting that they had ideas about an afterlife. They also were fascinated by eagle's wings and may have had a religion centred around cave bears. Some other scholars have also controversially doubted that random mutation can account for evolutionary change. Apart from Creationists and those associated with the Intelligent Design movement, like Dr. Michael Behe, these include Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe and the American physicist, Dr. Lee Spetner. Spetner lays out his arguments against it in Not By Chance: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution, while Hoyle And Wickramasinghe do the same in Evolution from Space. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe also suggest that the genetic elements for life came here from space.

It's true that organic chemicals have been found in meteorites, the carbonaceous chondrites, and organic grains exist in the nebulae between the stars. It is also possible that some of these meteorites may have contained the fossils of living organisms, such as the Martian meteorite recovered from Antarctica which caused such a stir in the mid-'90s. This was extremely controversial, though I think some scholars still believe that the microfossils it supposedly contained are those of real organisms, rather than geological artifacts. However, the orgueil meteorite is less suitable as evidence, as I think it was stored in someone's fridge or larder, and actually dropped into a tub of butter or margarine before it was examined for signs of life. It's therefore heavily contaminated with the remains of terrestrial organic products. As for the origin of these meteorites, the asteroids probably aren't the remains of a destroyed planets, but debris left over from the creation of the solar system, which did not coalesce into the planets.

The book is also similar to those of the Creationists in stressing the differences rather than similarities between anatomically modern humans and their pre-human ancestors. It's certainly believed that the anthropoid lineage is derived from a Miocene ape that lived in the forests of Africa about 8 million years ago. However, as the BBC admitted in their show on the evolution of humanity, Walking with Cavemen, there's no direct evidence for it and the creature was not shown. It was just suggested through a brisk movement behind the trees. The austrolopithecines were, I believe, more primitive and apelike than scholars at the time of the book's publication believed. The Creationists also have cast doubt on whether some of the anthropoid creatures were in fact humanity's remote ancestors, like 'Lucy', discovered by Richard Leakey and his team. However, there were many more prehuman hominids than the book discusses. Mooney cites only australopithecus and the Neanderthals. But there were many others, including a direct ancestor, Homo Erectus, and Homo Heidelbergensis, who may have been the common ancestor of Homo Sapiens and the Neanderthals.

But humanity's evolutionary history has become more complex in recent years, as related species of ancient hominid, which lived at the same time as humanity's remote evolutionary ancestors, have been discovered. Some scholars have said the model of human evolution is so confused it looks less like a tree than a bush. The out of Africa theory certainly seems to account very satisfactorily for the origins and spread of humanity, especially as it is supported by recent genetic research. As for chimpanzees not evolving to the same level as humanity, this can also be explained by conventional evolutionary theory. Creatures evolve as they adapt to their particular environments or ecological niches, if I understand it correctly. Chimps don't occupy the same ecological niche, or were subjected to the same environmental pressures that led to the evolution of humans. They remained in the forest, and so have evolved to be chimps, not people. Similarly, Blacks, Whites and Asians are all members of Homo Sapiens. They did not evolve from separate hominid lineages, nor on different planets, but are adaptations to the different environments on Earth.

As for space travel and colonisation, he correctly describes some of the problems. The book seems to have come before the Bussard interstellar ramjet was proposed. This would solve some of the problems surrounding the use of suitable fuel for interstellar spacecraft by using the gas and dust between the stars. However, it also has serious problems which may make this impossible, although these may in time be solved. See Mallove and Matlock, The Starflight Handbook. But this section of the book is also contradictory regarding the technological level of the first colonists. It argues that they would first land on a new planet needing only very simple skills and technology, before claiming that in the case of Earth's extraterrestrial pioneers, the colonists had a very high technology, which was lost due to their rebellion against their extraterrestrial masters. It's possible that if the first colonists interstellar colonists at first only had Neolithic level technology when they arrived at their new world, subsequent waves of colonisation and succeeding ships would have more advanced technologies, which could lead to the emergence of a far more advanced technological culture. But the book doesn't discuss this possibility.

And then there's the book's mystical speculation that the universe itself possesses life and mind. It's a form of mystical pantheism, and so may well appeal to that section of the New Age community which has the same pantheistic inclinations. The mindons – the subatomic particle of mind, suggested by Sir Arthur Eddington and V.A. Firsoff – is interesting. It rather resembles the monads of Leibniz. These were the great seventeenth century philosopher's alternative to the materialistic atoms then being debated by contemporary scientists. The monads also contained elements of mind, with the human soul as one of the leading monads.

The theory also sounds, however, like an attempt to reformulate the elan vital of vitalists to the new paradigm of atomic physics after the existence of the ether was disproved by the Mitchelson-Morley experiment. But the mindon is also an attempt to solve a philosophically respectable question: how can inert matter give rise to life and consciousness? For the materialist, the solution is simply that life arises as a natural result of physical law. Cartesian dualists solve the problem by suggesting that consciousness and matter are two separate, but linked substances. And a third solution is dual aspect monism, which states that matter and consciousness/spirit are merely two aspects of the same substance. The mindon and the idea that the universe itself possesses mind and consciousness seem have much in common with this latter philosophical position.

Time has moved on since this book's publication, and those of von Daniken and the others that started and fueled the ancient astronaut craze. But the book is fascinating for what it shows of the mystical views of some of its believers and advocates. Way back in the 1990s Gareth Medway, a long time contributor to Magonia, wrote a fascinating article arguing that the ancient astronaut myth was a way that some people could reinterpret the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition so that they continued to believe in godlike beings – the space people – even after losing faith in a purely supernatural creator. There is certainly more than an element of that here.

The book argues that the universe itself may be conscious, and thus the creator of life. Humanity's interstellar cousins, who colonised Earth, aren't gods, but almost had divine powers. The Fall was a literal event, although it was humanity's rebellion against and subsequent punishment by these aliens. It also shows how Creationist, anti-Darwinist views were also shared by those, who otherwise rejected a literal interpretation of Genesis and perhaps the entire Judaeo-Christian religious tradition. These ideas are similar to the directed panspermia idea of evolution of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, which then influenced, or at least anticipated, a section of the Intelligent Design movement. And it demonstrates the strength of the feeling many people continue to have that humanity ultimately has its origins in the heavens, even in the increasingly secular and atheistic societies of the West.