Finally Something Sensible: The Soothing Familiarity of Pseudo-Archaeology

One constant in Christian-Land is the over-reliance of believers on pure pseudoscience trash as evidence for their claims. We’ve talked about why Christians love pseudoscience many times, and the reasons for it are very similar to the reasons why they get sucked into MLMs so reliably often. When a Christian leaves Christianity, they often still suffer from the indoctrinated worldview that made them Christians in the first place. If an ex-Christian doesn’t resolve those lies, then they’re at risk for falling into something just as bad (if not worse!). Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: a Christian who deconverted to at least some extent, then fell into a group devoted to pseudo-archaeology.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair! (David Stanley, CC.) A 4th-Millennium BC temple to the Sumerian god Enlil in Nippur (modern Iraq). The bit on top is a palace added thousands of years later, the photographer notes.

A Knee-Jerk Reaction.

Just a little while ago, I ran across a comment on a link Wayne Borean gave in comments last time that was super-relevant: a guy said, “Thank god I’m an atheist” and a Christian immediately showed up to advise him, “type up on YouTube Grady mcmurtry he’s a very good scientist my friend” — and he did it because he’s been indoctrinated to believe that Creationism is a slam-dunk proof of Christian claims, and that this proof reliably persuades atheists to convert to Christianity.

A predictable response from a Christian who has no idea what he’s talking about. (Screengrab from Facebook, 3/1/18.)

The Christian who so advised this atheist did it almost immediately, too. It was hilarious. His very first impulse upon hearing that someone, somewhere didn’t believe in his Pretendy Fun Time Game was to blurt out the name of someone he thought had totally found PROOF YES PROOF of Christian claims.

Augustine sure had it right about these Christians! It is indeed “offensive and disgraceful” for Christians to spew lies, making claims that we know for 100% sure aren’t true. And “reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture” really do “bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren.” And they do “understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

To people like that, pseudoscience comes very naturally. It feeds into all of their basic beliefs about the world and the people in it. They swim like salmon upstream into the various sub-branches of pseudoscience like pseudohistory and pseudo-archaeology, which are to real history and archaeology what urban legends are to journalism.

If someone doesn’t do a lot of work to undo all the indoctrination points that led them to believe in Creationism and the other various untrue claims lurking all throughout Christianity, after deconversion they will run into one of the many non-Christian (or only vaguely-Christian) bits of pseudoscience out there and not realize why it’s wrong.

That’s what happened to Bill Stanley.

Everyone, Meet Bill Stanley, a Typical Pseudo-Archaeologist.

The person in the video we’re about to discuss doesn’t actually give his full name or any of his credentials. But YouTube commenter whiteknightcat found him anyway with the bits of information we did find out through the video.

Click to embiggen. Anatomy of a pseudoscientist.

Bill Stanley is a very, very minor player in the pseudo-archaeology community. According to his own (very likely self-written) biography, he’s a “technical graphics specialist and technical editor” from Tennessee. That means he has no background whatsoever in real history or archaeology, which is the first hit on our pseudoscience checklist.

What he does have is a tour in the Marines and what is described as “frequent travel.” This travel appears to have happened largely with the military and currently as gigs giving lectures to pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology groups, since by his own telling he’s largely stayed right where he grew up for his whole life.

(His background in technical editing almost qualifies him for the Salem Hypothesis, which states–in its weak form–that a Creationist claiming scientific training/education is very likely going to be an engineer. As RationalWiki points out, one can extend that thinking out to any woo-based pseudoscience. You’ll notice as well on Stanley’s bio page that a lot of his fellow travelers in pseudoscience have similar backgrounds in the military and technical fields.)

Another similar biography tells us that at some point Bill Stanley got super into the work of Zecharia Sitchin, a long-debunked pseudohistorian, which led him to the “so-called ancient astronaut thesis,” which fit nicely with his contempt for “mainstream thinking” and all that “official history” getting taught to schoolchildren. He’s mostly known for his work with the ancient astronauts theory since then (here’s one of the DVDs he made with some UFO group a while ago).

He also subscribes to all kinds of other woo, like mediums and reincarnation. The rabbit hole goes deep with this one, though he’s smart enough to keep it out of his professional life. (It’s also entirely possible he’s actually dead now. I spotted an obituary for a fellow of his same name, general age, location, and nickname–and the liking for gold coins certainly fits in with the general profile of a fundagelical prepper.)

We’re checking off everything on the list so far then.

And to Think, I Almost Clicked Out of This Video Before Hearing The Good Bit.

I was cruising around YouTube earlier and ran across a recommendation for a video that I’d never seen before–something about ancient history. I like that topic, so hey, sure, fine, I thought, let’s go look at it.

When I realized what it was going to be about a few seconds into it, I almost clicked right out of it. I’m glad I didn’t, though, and I’ll show you why in a moment.

Here’s the video (it’s on Hooktube, which is like YouTube except archived, so you can click on these links without giving money to whoever put the YT video up). It’s called “Why The Sumerian Civilization is Way Too Controversial for Mainstream History,” and it’s put up by an account called “Ancient Secret Discoveries,” whose entire YT account is a cornucopia of crazypants weirdness.1

As soon as I saw the intro screen, I knew this was going to be some Grade-Z conspiracy theory junk. It looked a lot like a bog-standard Ancient Astronauts wankery session, just the usual pseudo-archaeology stuff one often sees out of fundagelicals who’ve gotten a little too immersed in their Endtimes diagrams.

Stanley opens his lecture with some biographical information:

One of the questions –I remember asking this– “Mommy, where did I come from?” I grew up in the small little mountain town in East Tennessee. We were very strict Southern Baptists. So as you can imagine, the answer I got came right out of [the Bible’s book of] Genesis. The answer was, “Honey, you were created by God.” And I accepted that for a very long time.

He then claims that “the human race also accepted that [answer] for a very long time,” using the Bible as the answer for human origins. Then, he says, in the mid-1800s people began to answer that question with “evolution, Darwin.” But now, he says, there’s a huge debate among scientists about whether or not evolution is really the right answer either.2

Then he says something interesting at one minute in: he tells the audience that he’s definitely no “Bible-thumper. I haven’t thumped a Bible in many years.”

That admission made my ears perk up immediately.

(He never does say what he believes now, or at least he hasn’t through the length of the video I’ve seen so far. I’ll update in comments and here if I find out. I don’t think he’s Christian anymore, but if he is, then he’s some flavor of it that is compatible with the notion of ancient extraterrestrials messing about with human beings in some major way.)

Giants in the Earth.

The Annunaki are usually reckoned by fundagelicals as being the nephilim mentioned in the Bible, or perhaps the “giants in those days” discussed in Genesis 6 and later elaborated-upon to be “the sons of Anak.” They appear in most myths of the time in that part of the world, similarly to the Great Flood.

The Anunnaki concept was adopted by conspiracy theorists around the mid-70s, spurred on by pseudohistorian Zecharia Sitchin, who claimed that they were actually totally extraterrestrials who came to Earth half a million years ago to mine for gold here. (That detail shows up in the pseudohistory peddled by Scientologists as well.) These Anunnaki created the human race to use as slave labor. They taught humans how to use agriculture and they built the pyramids in Egypt. Then they went away. Sitchin taught that not only were the Anunnaki coming back to Earth one fine day, but that they’d left behind a few human-alien hybrids who didn’t even know what they really were. AND HE HAD PROOF YES PROOF.

Collectively this set of beliefs is called the ancient astronaut theory, though we’ll ignore for now that there’s nothing about this set of delusions that qualifies as an actual theory. The exact nature of the “ancient astronauts” might vary here and there, but essentially here are the broad strokes: many eons ago aliens came to Earth for various reasons. They had something to do with human development and history, played some pivotal role in the construction of this or that major monument, and then left or went into hiding. But they’re coming back Real Soon Now™ so we should all get ready, which involves handing our credit card numbers to a particular website for supplies of some kind.

Just as Bill Stanley piggybacks off of Sitchin’s work, Sitchin himself was piggybacking off of Erich von Däniken’s ancient alien astronauts conspiracy theory, outlined in Chariots of the Gods? and other books. Like we see in Creationism, that level of idea-inbreeding without verification has produced a veritable library of pseudoscience at the disposal of any newly-blossoming conspiracy theorist.

Of course, actual real archaeologists and historians alike have condemned Sitchin’s work in the strongest possible terms as well as debunked all of that ancient astronauts idiocy,3 but conspiracy theorists gonna con. By now the ideas contained in Sitchin’s work have filtered down to tons of other nutters like David Icke and, well, Bill Stanley here.

Horseshoe Theory.

Horseshoe Theory tells us that the extremists on one side of any issue have more in common with the extremists in  their out-group than they do with the more moderate and liberal members of their own group. In effect, these extremists begin to meet each other on the fringes.

Horseshoe Theory.

The idea has its critics (much of it coming from the extremists themselves!), but it sounds like a good description of what we see happening all the time in really polarized groups.

For example, if we see a guy spewing really MRA-style talking points somewhere, we literally have no idea if we’re hearing a really gung-ho Christian or a really gung-ho atheist talking. It could literally go either way. Unless the guy tells us specifically that he’s an atheist or a Christian, we wouldn’t be able to guess (we’d be safe in assuming that a self-identified official MRA is an extremely young white atheist, but still, I’ve noticed that the same mindset is shared by almost all fundagelical men of all ages–the fundagelical men just don’t formally affiliate with MRA groups).

In the same way, if we hear someone going on at length about anti-vaxxer talking points, we have no idea in the world if we’re listening to a fundagelical Christian or an ultra-liberal crunchy pagan–unless they give us an explicit cue somewhere to that effect.

And it must be really uncomfortable for Christian Creationists to make room in their tent for people like Bill Stanley, who don’t consider themselves “Bible thumpers” anymore.

Really, the actual conspiracy that Bill Stanley believes so fervently is just bog-standard Creationism:

There’s this vast huge conspiracy on the part of mainstream historians and archaeologists to keep people in the dark about our species’ earliest history, because of big important Reasons. But he is one of the very few people who actually knows the truth, which makes him an outcast and pariah in his field. They say he’s wrong and they’re so mean to him in speaking against his ideas! Ah well, he’s okay with that: it must mean he’s right! He’ll keep fighting the good fight, knowing that the information he holds could revolutionize the entire world.

The window dressing Bill Stanley uses to decorate his indoctrination has changed names, but the display in the window hasn’t changed at all. He’s not a Bible-thumper? He’s still a thumper; it’s just that the book he’s holding has a slightly different title.

The Indoctrination Still Stands.

Indeed, the indoctrinations that both Christian Creationists and Anunnaki believers share makes them interchangeable as a group. All that’s missing are a few formal name changes here and there. Both Christian and non-Christian woo believers check every single mark off of our checklist, and they share other traits besides.

That’s why someone like Bill Stanley thinks that he’s figured out this vast, huge conspiracy, and why he has dedicated no small portion of his limited lifetime on Earth to teach others what he knows. Before we make the same mistakes, we have to undo the indoctrination that forms the support structure for woo-like beliefs–be they Christian or not.

  • Inability to assess the  value of a given source of information
  • Unfamiliarity with common logical fallacies and cognitive biases
  • Fear of being wrong; reality-based criticism is dismissed
  • Strong need to be considered correct and an expert in the field of the delusion
  • Persecution fantasy: need to be an outlier, to be a fringe believer, to be different
  • Unwillingness to honestly engage with criticisms or to amend one’s beliefs
  • Pushback taken as unfair persecution and evidence that the delusion must be true
  • Contempt for anything mainstream like scientific consensus–disagreement is knee-jerk and based on wishful thinking and poor sources (sometimes a new/different idea is a valid one, but these delusions don’t fit that category)
  • Hyper-inflated view of the importance of the delusion in the long scheme of things–and of the intelligence, discernment, and wisdom of the person/people holding the same delusion

Until we do this work in ourselves, we’re going to fall into one delusion after another. Some of us get lucky and the work’s done as part of our deconversions; other times, we only do it much later, after we’ve drifted into and out of all sorts of woo. I’ll tell you this, too: if you’re worried about reconverting, or falling into something else that’s erroneous and harmful, I strongly suspect that the more of this work you can get done, the less likely you are to see that happen.

Next time we’re going to meet an ex-Satanic Panicker who didn’t do that work–and we’ll see what a cold, cold world Christianity became for people who continued to try to get by on their lurid pasts in those old conspiracy theories. See you next time!

We actually know what this means: it’s a receipt to someone who donated some livestock to an upcoming feast for the king at the time. That just amazes me. (Oregon State University, CC-SA.) The person submitting that photo notes drily that it’s also the oldest piece in their McDonald Rare Books Collection, coming in as it does from about 2041 BCE.

1 On a scale of 0 to Time Cube, I’d give it easily an 8.

2 That’d be a huge, huge NO. There is no debate about evolution being a thing. There’s no controversy about whether or not evolution is the best explanation we have for why life on Earth today looks like it does. That’s just something Creationists and other woo-peddlers say to lend their endeavors more legitimacy.

3 It’s such a disappointment that the guy who made that extensive video ends up being a Christian who buys fully into all sorts of other woo, but this is still a must-see if you’re interested in the topic.

Endnote: I started a debunk of the lecture, but it’s a real Gish Gallop! I’ll put the doc on the forum wiki when I get it finished.

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