Saturday, October 29, 2005

Bible misused as scientific support for UFO theories

<- This French coin depecits a modern-day misinterpretation of the wheel described in the book of Ezekiel.
There are a number of things about which I specifically refuse to write, no matter how often I am requested to do so. Why trying to convince others to think clearly and not believe everything they read on the internet makes people think I'm going to launch some sort of 1,200 word attack on religion is beyond me; I am afraid that those that think my devotion to science and reason prohibits an appreciation or respect for religion are about to realize it's not that kind of party. In fact, just to spite them, I'm going to launch a 1,200 word attack on UFO nuts trying to pervert religion to serve their needs.I speak, of course, of the book of the bible written by the prophet Ezekiel. The bible has some odd things in it, especially towards the end, but this book is almost flabbergastingly confusing. In it, Ezekiel sees an enormous thing appear, which then orders him to go and tell the Israelites to get their act together. However, this enormous thing is so bizarre that UFO enthusiasts constantly use it as "evidence" that aliens visited our ancestors in antiquity, or that our religions were founded by space people. The beginning of the book of Ezekiel starts with Ezekiel by a river in modern-day Iraq; while standing there, a wind emerges from the north (symbolic of a mystical, hidden origin) and carries to him four creatures. The creatures are in the shapes of men, but each has four wings, and each is accompanied by a wheel (more on that in a moment.) The men zip around, and each has four faces, one on each side of his head. The first is of a man, the second an eagle, the third a bull, and the fourth is that of a lion. The UFO enthusiast would have you believe that this description is in error, and that Ezekiel was actually seeing alien beings looking out at him through portholes in the exterior of a spaceship.
It takes sadly little thought to realize this is not the case. The descriptions of men with four wings matches the descriptions given elsewhere in the bible for Cherubim, those that stand between God and mankind. Simply put, they looked like angels, except for the having four faces. Each of the faces is of the most powerful animal of a certain region: the eagle is master of the skies, the lion is master of the wild, the bull is master of the domesticated animals, and humans are the master of all earthly things.
With each of these flying creatures comes a "wheel within a wheel" whose outer rim is covered in eyes. Many lunatics, such as Erich Von Daniken, claim that these wheels are actually the lower extremities of a spaceship that, hypothetically, would look like some sort of boat/helicopter/tank. These people explain that the eyes are actually portholes or lights, and that the first wheel is the classic description of a flying saucer. But, going back to the bible, we see that this is a ridiculous assumption; the 'wheels' are said to be made of precious, clear gemstones. Sure sounds like a crappy material to make a UFO out of to me. What's more, most people think of something like a cart wheel when they read this description and assume that there were spokes involved, which they later insist could be the rotor blades of a helicopter. Actually, wheels at the time were mostly flat, round discs bisected by large axles, which more than explains what he meant by "a wheel within a wheel."
Add to that the fact that the wheels are obvious of divine origin, exemplified by the fact that they're covered in eyes, and we're looking at a description of something suspiciously similar to a round column with a flat base. You know, like most of the furniture that would have been in the Jewish templesSo, what we have so far: something that's reminiscent of furniture and four angels. Up until this point, unless you ignore the fact that Ezekiel says the four angels were living beings and not helicopters, hovercraft, or spaceships, the UFO enthusiast has a pretty good argument in his favor.
That's why he will never mention the next part of the story. After sighting this combination furniture-angel thing, Ezekiel sees that there is a figure riding on top of it, and that figure commands him to go unto the Israelites and tell them to get back on the straight and narrow, so to speak. In a number of places in the bible, God is said to reside on a throne perched ontop of four of his best angels, a fact that was well-known at the time. Kings of various earthly countries had their thrones carved into the shape of four angels, to signify that God was on their side, and this description is always used to refer to God. Furthermore, the being addresses Ezekiel in a manner reserved for God (by calling him "son of man".) Just to put the final nail in the lunatic-built UFO coffin, Ezekiel admits that he knows exactly what he's looking at, when he says "such is the glory and appearance of the Lord." For a guy that's being harassed by people from outer space, theoretically, he takes it fairly matter-of-factly.
The rest of the book of Ezekiel is about Ezekiel going to the Israelites and telling them to stop doing all those fun things that anger the divine. The description of the "space ship" is just the first page or so; it goes on for pages and pages and pages about how one shouldn't wear makeup or eat oysters and such. The simple fact is that to us, the story seems bizarre and nightmarish, because we've come to think of angels as fat naked babies. It hasn't been that way forever, and at the time the bible was written, an Israelite would have heard the story and known exactly what the deal was: that higher powers were getting irritated with those on earth.When people try to use the bible to prove that science is wrong, I get angry.
But I get even angrier yet when I hear that lunatics are trying to use the bible to prove that flying space people are the basis of all codes of moral and ethical conduct. As always, I ask you: which is more likely? That denizens of a distant world conquered the challenge of interstellar flight, came down and scared the hell out of a guy 2500 years ago, or that Ezekiel decided to get his people back into shape by using common, every day descriptions of holy matters that, due to time and the complexity of the Hebrew language, now seem insane to us? If you had to finish that sentence before answering it, shame on you. The correct answer is ALWAYS the answer that doesn't involve monsters from beyond the moon. As a bit of final miscellaneous, there's a coin that was minted in the 1640s that shows Ezekiel's vision, though the UFO enthusiast would try to convince you it's actually a space-faring vessel. It looks to me like a flying donut.
Even 400 years ago, the time and traditions had changed a lot since Ezekiel's vision. The Frenchman who minted the thing had to try and interpret the story from his modern viewpoint, and, just like us, he got it wrong, just like us. Well, the portion of us that believe in spacemen, anway. Be seeing you.