BOOK REVIEW: “The Chariots Still Crash” by Clifford Wilson (1975)

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Ah, this book was like revisiting the neighborhood I lived in as a kid, I just rocked hard on the nostalgia. Back in the day, when I was a fanatic, I checked this book and it’s prequel (“Crash Go The Chariots”) out of the church library multiple times, frequently before long car trips so I’d have something interesting to read. Now that I’m not a fanatic anymore, I’m sort of surprised how well “The Chariots Still Crash” holds up, actually.

Wilson wrote “Crash Go The Chariots” in 1972 as a response to Erik von Danikin’s famous “Chariots of the Gods” from 1969. Von Danikin, you’ll recall, was the “Scientist” (Note the quotes) who created and popularized the whole “Ancient Astronauts” hoo-hah that was to become so popular with hippies, cult-members, UFOlogists, Conspiracy theorists, and assorted other stupid people. Since then it’s gone on to have an unexpected after-market life as a major plot point in films like The Fifth Element and the Stargate Franchise and Man from Atlantis and others. Sigh.

Wilson – who was the Director of the Australian Institute of Archeology at the time – decided to write his first book debunking Von Danikin’s tommyrot, which he did quite well. Just the same, “Crash go the Chariots” was out of print and more-or-less unavailable by 1975, so Dr. Wilson decided to write a book that was somewhere between an expanded edition and a true sequel, re-covering much of the information in the (then-unavailable) original book, but touching on a lot of new stuff besides. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this book is marginally better than the original (Which itself was pretty good), but I don’t have a copy of it, and haven’t read it since I was in 8th grade, so I could well be wrong about that.

Now, in interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out that this is unabashedly a Christian book, and the used copy I found here is from the obviously-religious “Spire Books” who’s logo is a steeple. While I’ll admit the book has a bias, it *does not* have an agenda, it is not propaganda. Instead, it was intended as a refutation of the Very Bad Science that was floating around in the mid-70s. It is intended for people who are already believers, and hence it has no interest in converting, inspiring, or otherwise preaching to the choir, it’s purpose is to explain why Von Danikin is full of crap, and it does that pretty well.

Imagine that! A Christian book actually defending science and rationality!

I myself have always felt that Organized Religion and Science can be mutually beneficial, and I’ve never quite understood the animosity on both sides of that equation, and this book is a nice example of the happy results of their infrequent synthesis.

Anyway:

The first chapter entirely takes to task Eric von D’s (then-current) third book, “Gold of the Gods” where he relates in great detail visiting a massive network of caves carved by extraterrestrials, and filled with ageless plaques “In a language not of this earth” and with a massive menagerie of golden animals that the author presents some pictures of. To refute this allegedly-irrefutable proof of extraterrestrial meddling, Dr. Wilson cited some magazine articles, and simply contacted some of the sources cited in the book. The Guide who allegedly took Von Danikin through the caves says he never took the man into any cave, the “Golden Menagerie” was actually brass, and it wasn’t photographed in a cave, but rather in the back room of a local catholic church. Furthermore a “Juan Moricz” claims to have made up the whole story on the spot and rattled it off to Von Danikin, who “Lapped it up” and never even asked for any proof. Wilson also sites a magazine article where Von Danikin got called on this and admitted he wasn’t physically there, he only saw this stuff “In his mind’s eye.”

Speaking of which, Von Danikin – who always presents himself as a scientist – has no credentials whatsoever, and claims to have acquired psychic abilities in 1959 which allow him to “See outside of time” and “Talk to other psychics who have since passed on.”

From thence we move on to Von Danikin’s now-famous (And to me pretty openly racist) comments that the ancient Egyptians certainly could not have learned how to pile rocks atop each other without aliens to help them out. I mean, after all, they’re from Africa, right? And everyone knows Africans are like stupid n’stuff, right? Wilson quickly points out the errors in this thinking, and gives us a quick guided tour of the pseudoscience of “Pyramidology” which he concludes is utter crap. There is a lengthy digression in this chapter about Noah’s Flood to support Wilson’s argument. To put it politely, this lacks verification, but again I think his point was to show how the whole “Ancient Astronauts” thing conflicts w/ Christian teachings, and not really to convert.

In any event, Wilson’s refutation that mummification was “An alien form of cryogenic suspension” is pretty damn funny.

From there, it’s off to Easter Island to refute Von Danikin’s assertion that aliens had to build the statues there. This was easy to do, as Thor Hierdahl had already done that in the 60s, and when confronted w/ the information, Von D pretty much admitted he was full of horse crap on the subject. What impressed me here is that Dr. Wilson is able to differentiate between Hierdahl’s archeological work in Polynesia (Which is first rate) and his diffusionist interpretation of history (Which essentially says that Egyptians settled in Polynesia, and is every bit as silly as the idea that extraterrestrials settled there).

The next chapter is the weakest of the book, in that it goes through a lot of tendentious arguments to explain why Carbon 14 dating isn’t reliable, in support of his Creationist view of history. While the rest of the book is pretty even-handed, this portion is, well, rather openly biased. Quoting: “Another serious dating problem relates to the finding of what appear to be both human and dinosaur footprints virtually next to each other in cretaceous rock found in the bed of the Paluxy river at Glenn Rose in Texas.” Dr. Wilson doesn’t seem to realize that these well-known footprints were obvious fakes carved by an over-zealous Seventh Day Adventist early in the 20th century, but he does comment that their size (18 to 24 inches long) is puzzling. (7th Day Adventists believe that in those days men were Giants) It’s too long to go into this here, but if you’re interested, this link has a lot of info on the subject http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/paluxy.html

After that, he completely debunks the notion that only aliens could have made the Mayan calendar, and then goes on to explain the purpose behind the mysterious Nazca lines http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazca_Lines in fact, most of this chapter is written by an actual minister from Peru who had a lot of personal experience with the lines, and was friends with several notable 1970s researchers of them. Interestingly, one of the lines that Von Danikin provides photos of in his book is very clearly a set of tire tracks.

Curiously, Wilson uses oddly circuitous logic to debunk Von D. here, when a direct attack would have worked much better. Von Danikin says that the Mayans knew that the Venus had a year of 584 days, and that they couldn’t have known that w/out spacecraft. Wilson’s argument is that most ancient civilizations had a good working knowledge of the visible planets, but he completely misses the fact that Venus has a year of only 224 days. Evidently Wilson didn’t have easy access to a good set of encyclopedias on that one.

We also spend a chapter discussing Von Danikin’s notion that the bible and other ancient creation mythology are all mythologized versions of alien contact w/ humans. This is kind of interesting, as decades ago it provided my first exposure to Mesopotamian mythology, and re-reading it this week, I got so overwhelmed with nostalgia that I had to go and write a rap song about the Enuma Elish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enuma_Elish (Quoting myself: “So Kingu kicked Ea’s ass/And just when it looked like he couldn’t last/Holy crap! He’s rescued by Enu!/They vote Marduk the king of the gods, too./The monsters were defeated, and before you knew/Marduk used an axe to chop tiamat in two/He used one of her halves to make the sky, and for what it’s worth/He used the other half to make the earth/The Tigris and Euphrates flow from her lifeless eyes/The world supported by her surprisingly hairy thighs”) I’ll be the first person to admit it’s not a very good rap song, of course. My band (“Republibot 3.0 and the Republibot 3.0 Orchestra, featuring Republibot 3.0”) has thus-far refused to perform it.

We wrap up with a sort of ‘bulleted’ chapter where Wilson takes on a whole lot of bad-science with short, to the point explanations. For instance, the famous “Ancient Metal Pillar in Delhi, India, that Does Not Rust.” (But is in fact, quite rusty in places, despite all the statements to the contrary).

In the end, I really enjoyed reading this book again. I don’t agree with a number of his arguments, I agree w/ his basic conclusion (“Von Danikin is a con man and a fraud”) and it probably had a profound effect on my writing style as a kid.

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