Book Review


Alien Intrusion:  UFOs and the Evolution Connection, Gary Bates (Master Books, 2005); reviewed by Mike Heiser

Alien Intrusion is a rare item in the world of UFO studies: a book on the subject written by a Christian through a Christian publisher.  There have been other sightings of this phenomenon, notably Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, co-authored by Hugh Ross, Ken Samples, and Mark Clark (NavPress).  I reviewed that book a couple years ago after it appeared (that review has since been posted on the website).  Anyone who remembers that review will recall that I was predominantly enthusiastic about its content, save for the awful chapters by Clark.  I don’t feel this book under review is as good, but it is still worth reading for those in the Church (and that would be its exclusive audience) who are new to this subject—given a few caveats.

Alien Intrusion gave me mixed feelings due to it uneven quality.  I would therefore recommend it, but with a note of dissatisfaction, and one reservation (see below).  At times (probably more often than not) I felt the author had covered the subjects he introduced in the book quite well, even breaking new ground as far as mainstream Christian knowledge of ufology and exposing the intended audience to material other books (like Lights in the Sky) had omitted.  At other times, the author lapsed into simplistic “answers” to issues and engaged in the kind of biblical interpretation that makes me and other biblical scholars groan.  I’ll try to give examples of each below.

The Pros

Let’s start with the positives.  For its intended audience (Christians who know next to nothing about the UFO issue, at least in terms of the literature in the field) the book succeeds.  It’s a broad overview of all the relevant topics and sub-topics.  In this regard it is better than Lights in the Sky.  For example, the coverage of the alien abduction phenomenon is more thorough and more in touch with the major writers within the UFO community who specialize in this area.  The book also (and this thrilled me) included brief critiques of Erich von Däniken, Zecharia Sitchin, and Billy Meier.  This is the first Christian book by a “real” Christian publisher I have seen to bring Sitchin into the arena and denounce his pseudo-credentials. For some reason Sitchin seems to escape notice in books like this. There was no mention of him in Lights in the Sky.  The same is true of Billy Meier.  Bates could have done a better job of explaining the Meier case, but I have to say it was gratifying to see that he included it and cited some credible critiques of the Meier case.  Lastly, I have to give Gary kudos for his view that the current alien abduction phenomenon has nothing to do with an actual breeding program—by true aliens or demonic beings.  Gary’s position is that it’s all about erecting a paradigm in front of people to embrace the idea of alien-human “advancement” or “merging”.  I agree.

The book also showed (again briefly) that many people in the UFO community tend toward linking the question of alien life to evolution.  “Briefly” may surprise those reading the review given the book’s subtitle: “UFOs and the Evolution Connection.”  I was quite surprised that there was as little about this connection in the book.  I couldn’t help wondering if the subtitle was added just to sell books, given that Bates works for Answers in Genesis, a Christian apologetic organization dedicated to the literal 24-hour day view of Genesis 1.  In the material concerning evolution that is in the book, Bates tries to argue (unsuccessfully in my mind) that the presence of an intelligent alien life form would bolster (or even require) the case for evolution and amount to an error in the Bible. 

As readers know, I disagree with this.  There is no reason that the two must be connected.  I would argue that if there ever turns out to be alien life, then God was its creator like everything else.  Bates, however, rejects this idea.  In so doing he has no option but to link alien life to evolution.  Bates is convinced that there is no intelligent alien life in the universe.  His view of the Bible simply does not allow for it.  He apparently must conclude this based on a flawed view of the image of God (see below).  While I don’t think there is any evidence for truly extraterrestrial life from other planets, I don’t rule it out.  God is under no obligation to tell us everything in the Bible about his creative output.

A Concern

My main concern with Bates’ view here is the same as I feel for Hugh Ross’s position.  While Ross does a far better job in his book of demonstrating the unlikelihood of intelligent extraterrestrial life, both he and Bates simply have no plan B.  In Bates’ case, were extraterrestrial life ever discovered, it would shatter his whole approach to the Bible.  He would be forced to surrender his commitment to his view of creation as well, or admit he was completely wrong in his position while he worked to adjust it.  Ross, on the other hand, would have to admit he was wrong about extraterrestrial life, but his position on creation (he is an old-earth creationist) would be unfazed.  My concern is that, with both, were they to be proven wrong, enemies of their cause would forever throw their error back at them.  Bates would be worse off here, though, since his position (“there are no ETs and there frankly can’t be, else the Bible would mention that”) would be viewed as arrogant.  People would be less forgiving for that reason.  Ross would have to battle the fact that his assured understanding of science had flaws, but at least he could appeal to comments on his website that philosophically and theologically allow for ET life—he comes off as more open-minded.

The Cons

As I noted above, there are a number of problems with the book, ranging from the “this could be improved” variety” to more serious issues of flawed biblical interpretation. 

For example, Bates appears to side with the Mogul explanation for Roswell.  This explanation has its problems in that it cannot account for all the witness elements of the Roswell event.  Had this book not been published for another six months, he would have had the advantage of the new work on the Roswell event presented by Nick Redfern (see that review in this issue as well).  This is doubtless a better explanation for Roswell, and one that actually can encompass the more solid elements if the Mogul explanation.  While this is not his fault, Bates’ handling of other aspects of the Roswell case leave a lot to be desired.  Astonishingly, he accepts the idea that the bodies seen by witnesses were crash dummies, despite the fact that the Air Force has openly acknowledged (in print) that these dummies were not used until the early 1950s, several years after Roswell occurred.  He offers no other view of this facet, and so I have to conclude he isn’t aware of other options.  This is the kind of egregious oversight that his opponents would seize.

A bigger problem with Roswell and the UFO issue in general is Bates’ weak discussion of the Majestic documents and other de-classified documents now available through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  While his intended audience would accept his position that all these items are fakes, readers who have spent some time in the literature know this is inadequate.  I have yet to see a Christian book of UFOs address the documents head on, or even in a way that would convince me they are even aware of the material.  The fact is that while the Air Force simply says “they aren’t real,” they have never offered any critique of the forensic work done on the documents in an attempt to prove their authenticity.  The Majestic documents have to date been shown to conform to know typewriter styles, ink and paper chemical composition, and know military numbering and nomenclature for the periods in which they purport to have been written.  Several of them mention the recovery of alien corpses and craft.  A few deal with Roswell as well.  My point is not that this means these documents have been proven authentic beyond reasonable doubt—it doesn’t.  There are kinds of tests that can still be conducted on them.  The contents of the documents may also be subject to a different interpretation (cf. Redfern’s book and my own suggestion in the Façade).  Rather, my point is that the Christian audience is ignorant of this material, which is quite possibly the best evidence for the alien hypothesis.  One gets the impression that Christian authors cannot deal with the corpus, don’t want their readers to know much about the documents, or are unaware of the material itself. 

In regard to evidence for UFOs, the book does a bit of a disservice here to the reader.  On page 146 the statement is made that “no indisputable empirical evidence (no piece or fragment) of an extraterrestrial craft has ever been recovered.”  This is true in my mind, but it skewers the evidence issue a bit.  On page 151 Bates writes (of the Zamora case), “one event that apparently left physical traces occurred in Socorro, new Mexico…”  The impression is created that physical evidence is very rare, and that, in effect, there is no evidence for real UFOs.  Peter Sturrock’s book The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence (2000) demonstrates quite well that there is an abundance of physical evidence for UFOs.  This work is the results of a group study of the data, the first since the infamous Condon Report.  Sturrock, a scientist with a Ph.D. who knows what the scientific method is, documents a wide range of evidence, including radar, vehicle interference, aircraft malfunction, ground traces, injuries to plants (e.g., radiation), and actual debris analysis.  Sturrock’s book does not prove that UFOs are extraterrestrial, only that there is such a thing as anomalous or unknown flying craft.  My point here is that it is misleading to convey the impression that there is little physical evidence.

Before leaving the direct UFO content of the book, there are certain other matters about Bates’ treatment of which readers (and he) should be aware.  With respect to crop circles, it is simply fallacious reasoning (and bad math) to imply that the majority crop circles were made by two men who hatched a plan in a pub to make some circles, or other small groups that thought it would be fun to do the same.  While the exploits of Doug and Dave did fool crop circle researchers, if one simply does the math—multiplying the number of circles recorded in a year and dividing it by Doug and Dave (and some friends), they’d have to do little else with their waking hours (including daylight hours) to account for them all.  There were also many of these circles before Doug and Dave hatched the idea.  Some (cf. Milk Hill) are extraordinarily large and complex, requiring satellite alignment for their precision.  Doug and Dave and their friends are not an adequate answer for the crop circle mystery. (Readers are encouraged to revisit Jacques Vallee’s interesting—and very human—microwave hypothesis on this subject).  On a different subject, Bates ought to be aware that the famous abductee Travis Walton also claims to be a born again Christian.  I don’t know Travis, but Christian friends of mine do, and vouch for his testimony.  This might have caused Bates to be a little less caustic toward his story, which, given the spiritual hypothesis favored by Bates in the book for other UFO cases, might have been a better approach. 

Lastly on the UFO material, I was truly dismayed to see Bates hold out Wernher von Braun as a “Bible believing Christian” who opposed the teaching of evolution in schools.  In a book on UFOs, this is truly ironic, since Operation PAPERCLIP, the program begun under Truman to recruit Nazi scientists for their knowledge, plays such a significant role in ufology (PAPERCLIP is referenced in the Majestic documents).  It is well known that von Braun was a member of the Nazi Party and that he surrendered to Americans as a matter of survival (I have posted his FBI file on the Internet before).  He was perhaps the most important scientist brought to this country under PAPERCLIP.  According to the FOIA documentation offered by Redfern in his recent Roswell book, PAPERCLIP also involved recruiting the Japanese monsters of Unit 731.  These were the people developing bio-weapons programs aimed at the U.S. population.  They were also the people who, among other atrocities, dissected POWs while they were still alive (including Americans).  With the approval of Douglas MacArthur, they were brought to this country to work in our own wingless aircraft (UFO) program.  I grant that von Braun couldn’t necessarily choose those with whom he worked.  I also consider it possible that von Braun became a Christian later in life, but I certainly find it at the very least inconsistent that he would be a Bible-believing Christian and a Nazi Party member.  At the very least I think it terrible to hold the man up as an example of a godly Christian while a man like Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposed Hitler in the name of Christ and paid for it with his life.  It would also have been nice for Bates to include some evidence of contrition from von Braun about being a part member. 

The rest of the review concerns a few minor points of biblical exegesis and one major bone of contention with Bates’ understanding of Scripture.

Regarding minor points, on pages 106-107, in a seemingly misplaced attempt to prove that the Bible speaks of a round earth, Bates quotes Isa. 40:22, where God sits above the “circle of the earth” and then writes, “The word circle has been translated from the original Hebrew word khug, which may be translated ‘sphere’.  (Interestingly, the German word kugel means ‘ball, sphere, or globe’)” [parenthetical comment is Bates’].  First, German is not a Semitic language, and thus the sounds of its words have nothing to do with Hebrew.  Second, khug in Hebrew does not begin with the letter “k” (like the German kugel does).  The letter in Hebrew for “k” is kaph.  The first letter in the Hebrew word under consideration is a hard “h” (h with a dot underneath in standard transliteration of Hebrew / Semitic; I'll have to use "ch" for the Web because of font issues).  As near as I can tell, Bates apparently gets this transliteration from a source that uses Strong’s numbers.   It is an error that undermines the point he is trying to make via the false etymological comparison with German.  This Hebrew word is rarely used in the Old Testament.  Other than Isa. 40:22, the noun form occurs in Prov. 8:27, where we read that God “drew a circle (chug) on the face of the deep” (ESV), and Job 22:14, where we read of God, “Thick clouds veil him, so that he does not see, and he walks on the vault (chug) of heaven” (ESV).  The verbal form occurs in Job 26:10: “He [God] has inscribed a circle (chug) on the face of the waters, at the boundary between light and darkness” (ESV).  I bring up these occurrences to illustrate that the Hebrew word here does not mean “sphere,” as in a ball hanging in space.  God did not draw a sphere ON the face of the deep (Prov. 8:27).  This would mean he constructed a ball atop the watery deep.  What is meant by this verse (and by Isa. 40:22) is made clear by Job 26:10 – God inscribing a circle on the face of the waters means he draws a circle around the earth.  This fits with standard ancient Near Eastern cosmology – that the earth was flat but round, with Sheol underneath and a heavenly vault above.  How do we know Job 26:10 should be taken this way?  Because the circle is inscribed at the boundary between light and darkness – the horizon surrounding the earth, where the sun rises and sets (to our eye).  Lastly, when we read of God “walking on the (chug) of heaven” (Job 22:14), this cannot mean sphere either, since the heavens are not a sphere.  The “spherical thing” in view here is in the heavens above the earth.  Lest this review devolve into a lesson on Israelite cosmology, I will leave other problematic comments in this area in the book rest.

Another minor point is the comment that the plurals in Gen. 1:26 refer to the Trinity.  They do not, and as a Trinitarian, I contend we must avoid this view or risk the doctrine.  As readers well know, I am sensitive to such matters since this was at the heart of my dissertation work.  the plurals here are “hortatory plurals”—commands of exhortation issued to the members of God’s divine council (cf. Psalm 82:1).  If this was the only verse that evinced divine plurality in the Bible, the Trinity explanation could stand.  The problem is that it isn’t.  One cannot import the Trinity into other passages that convey divine plurality and have the trinity survive as a coherent doctrine.  If one imports it into Psalm 82, then if the other elohim of Psalm 82:1 that make up God’s council are the members of the Trinity, God is judging them for being corrupt and sentencing them to die like men.  This just isn’t theologically kosher.  My guess is that Bates got this idea from the idea of the “plural of majesty”—a specific use of the plural noun to intensify or magnify the noun.  But that is the problem (see Waltke-O’Connor, Intermediate Hebrew Syntax, p. 122; C. van der Merwe, Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar, p. 185).  The plurals here are NOT nouns; they are verbs.  Ever since the renowned Hebrew grammarian P. Jouon demonstrated that the plural of majesty applies only to nouns, this view of Gen. 1:26 has been abandoned (cf. Jouon-Muraoka, Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, Par. 114e).  On to the more substantive matter, the one that causes me to recommend with reservation.

I speak here of Bates’ handling of Gen. 6:1-4 and the matter of the nephilim.  Forgive me for the Hebrew that follows, but since Bates sprinkles this section of his book with Hebrew words, creating the impression that he knows what he is doing here, the use of the biblical languages must be addressed.   It would also seem unfair for me to critique the use of Hebrew by ancient astronaut theorists and ignore the same kinds of errors by a Christian author.  I have said publicly that I will be fair here, and so I need to go into some of the problems in this part of the book.

At best the discussion of Genesis 6 and the nephilim is confusing.  It still isn’t completely clear to me what Bates thinks on some aspects of the passage.  He appears to confuse the sons of God with their offspring, the nephilim, and this is common.  It seems he does not want the nephilim to be giants when he claims that the presence of nephilim after the flood (as Gen 6:4 says) would “be a major blow to the view that God used the Flood to destroy the nephilim” (p. 361).  This is not correct. 

The syntax of the verb sequence in Gen 6:4 very likely indicating what is called a “frequentative waw” – that is, Gen 6:4 could easily be translated “there were nephilim [giants] on the earth in those days whenever the sons of God went into the daughters of man…” (see Skinner on this verse, International Critical Commentary, Genesis, and Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15).  This means that the syntax could be telling us the activity continued.  The offspring of the sons of God (the nephilim) were all killed off by the Flood, but the sons of God were not mortal and threatened by water.  They could have continued doing what they did in Gen. 6:1-4.  Indeed, this may be the very point of the phrase and its construction, since the writer had to explain the presence of the nephilim after the Flood (Num 13:33) and other giant clans (like Og and the Rephaim; Deut. 3).  This is the best explanation if one wants to hold a global flood view and argue that Noah’s line had not been “infected” by the seed of the sons of God.

Because Bates is unaware of the Hebrew syntax here, he seems to take pains to argue that the statement in Numbers 13:33 that the Anakim encountered by the Israelite spies were of the nephilim, was actually a false report of the unbelieving spies (i.e., they lied; pp. 363-364).  There is no exegetical foundation for this view.  It is a deliberate reading inserted into the text to avoid the nephilim (pseudo) problem.  The reason the report of the spies was called evil is absolutely transparent from the biblical text—they refused to trust God. We read nowhere that Israel was punished for lying, or that the people had been deceived by a lying report.  We read everywhere in the Old Testament that the people did not believe the word of Joshua and Caleb—who, by the way, did not accuse the other ten spies of lying.  This view is baseless.

Bates also commits the error of asserting that the translation “giants” for nephilim “is based on tradition or beliefs rather than a literal meaning of the text” (p. 362).  It is evident that Bates does not know Hebrew.  I won’t belabor the PDF file I already have on the Internet in regard to nephilim (posted mainly to combat the nonsense of Zecharia Sitchin on this subject), but I will distill a few details.  Forgive the Hebrew here as well (if you haven’t had at least a semester, this will be lost on you, but it’s important). 

The morphology (the shape or construction) of the term “nephilim” makes it IMPOSSIBLE for this word to mean “fallen ones” as Bates and many other commentators say.  It still astonishes me that Old Testament professors don’t seem to remember the noun paradigm they learned in first semester Hebrew at this point.  In fact, I have only ever seen one commentary that even catches this detail (but the author didn’t know what to do with it).  In Numbers 13:33 nephilim is spelled with the full historically long “i” vowel marked by the letter yodh.  Everywhere else it is spelled defectively (without the consonant yodh vowel marker).  The fact that the marker is used in Numbers tells us we must account for it – the root of nephilim MUST have a middle yodh (the leter “y”).  There is no place in the entire Hebrew verbal paradigm for a middle yodh in any verb form (and Gen 6 requires a plural participle).  This fact alone tells us that we aren’t dealing with Hebrew naphal.  It IS possible that the word comes from Aramaic naphal (“to fall”), since the verb form could then be accounted for, but then we have a logic problem.  The nephilim, as evil as they were, did not fall from grace—they did not participate in the fall since they weren’t human (only humans have moral guilt as a result of the fall; everything else is affected by the fall passively).  I know at this point some would desperately still try to have “fallen ones” here, but there is a crystal clear, far easier solution—and one that explains why the Septuagint translators (and every ancient Jewish source we have from the Second temple period) understood nephilim to mean “giants”:  the Aramaic noun for “giant” is nephiyla’ (note the middle yodh – “y” in the word).  That word fits the plural noun form perfectly since it accounts for the middle yodh.  There are other reasons the word and the scribal glosses of Gen 6:4 and Numbers 13:33 originated in the Babylonian period during the exile (again making Aramaic the source of the word), but that is for another time.  Anyone who wants Hebrew naphal as the root of nephilim must answer the morphological issue (but they can’t) when explaining the root.

All this leads to one conclusion:  the rest of the arguments Bates’ raises against giants fall like dominoes as a result of this mistake. That said, I won’t worry about the other problems in these few pages, save to alert the reader that Bates mishandles the Greek word “Titan” (he makes it seem unrelated to giants) and he forgets to mention that Tartarus also shows up in the New Testament in II Peter (2:4, often translated “hell” but the Greek word is not hades as usual) as the place where the fallen sons of God wind up (the “angels that sinned”).  I am not sure of the reason for the omission since his discussion of Tartarus doesn’t seem crucial to his argument.

Finally, I don’t want the reader to conclude that the book has too many problems to be profitable.  That would be erroneous.  The book does a number of things well.  This title, coupled with that of Ross, would be a good place for a Christian novice to start on this issue, especially in view of the spiritual ramifications of the UFO issue.