Atlantis (Enrique Meseguer, Pixabay)

The Rise & Fall Of Atlantis And The Mysterious Origins Of Human Civilization (Book Review)

J.S. Gordon; Watkins, London (2009) (pp xxix + 354)

(Forthcoming) First appearance of this article to be in: Skeptical Adversaria (2009) or Skeptical Intelligencer (2009)

Reproduced with permission

Gordon is an ‘alternative historian’ who holds that the sober accounts of ancient history presented by mainstream scholarship are largely false. His focus is upon Atlantis, the ‘sunken island/continent’ which was apparently invented by Plato as a literary device (the central feature of a moral tale) and represented by him as Egyptian in origin for the purpose of verisimilitude. The story as presented by Plato finds no empirical support and is regarded as plausible only on the fringe. Further, Gordon links his ideas about Atlantis as a real entity with arguments in support of the currently ‘trendy’ theory of the universe as pervaded by consciousness, regarded here as a rival to three other views which he rejects: mainstream scientific evolutionary theory, Judaeo-Christian-Muslim creationism, and the fringe view that ‘ancient astronauts’ provided major early input to the development of homo sapiens.

Gordon’s work is not altogether without interest; but it is vitiated by a number of features common in such books, including: a) seriously inadequate referencing of quasi-factual claims (which obviously obstructs assessment); b) loose and over-simplified argumentation (frequently the validity of one of his claims, if itself granted, would render a further more dramatic position arguable but no more than arguable and would by no means demonstrate that it was true – as Gordon repeatedly suggests); c) acceptance of highly dubious earlier fringe sources (notably Blavatsky and the modern proponents of Vedantic ideas about long time-depths for homo sapiens ); d) overstated criticisms of mainstream ideas (e.g. (post-)Darwinian approaches to evolution); e) sheer errors of fact and usage (e.g. acceptance of the theory of Egyptian ‘mystery religions’, now debunked; references to unrecorded trips to Egypt allegedly undertaken by Plato; a badly non-standard and thus confusing definition of the term scientism); etc.

My own main area of expertise is linguistics, and in this area Gordon displays vast confusion and advances/accepts some very poorly-grounded ideas. For instance: i) he repeatedly discusses key linguistic matters in an impossibly vague manner; ii) he fatally confuses linguistic levels (pronunciation and grammar) in using key terms such as agglutinative ; iii) he relies upon earlier non-standard thinkers whose ideas have not been judged plausible, and even upon ill-informed and dated sources such as Blavatsky; iv) he proposes wildly implausible and unsupported scenarios involving the development of languages and scripts (intended to replace well-established mainstream ideas about these matters); v) he largely ignores the two hundred years of scientific historical linguistic scholarship and thus employs the usual loose, utterly unreliable fringe philological/etymological methods; etc.

In any learned discipline, advancing novel theories is pointless if one does not first acquire (or gain access to) a reasonable degree of expertise – if only to disagree rationally with well-supported positions that one now understands. Gordon has not achieved this, in linguistics in particular, and it does not appear that he has made a serious attempt to do so.

I suggest that the book cannot be taken seriously as it stands. With more effort on Gordon’s part, it is conceivable that it might have been somewhat more interesting.

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