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The "Evidence" for Atlantis:

Addressing New Age Apologetics


by Karla Poewe-Hexham and Irving Hexham

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Whenever we speak or write about New Age topics we are inevitably asked: But what about the evidence for Atlantis and other lost civilizations? It is commonly assumed that such "evidence" is extensive.


A case in point is the book Out on a Limb in which Shirley MacLaine recounts how her guru, David, told her: "According to Plato and Aristotle and other great minds, Atlantis really existed as an extremely advanced civilization...."[1] MacLaine then links this "fact" to the ruins of ancient Inca, Mayan, Egyptian, and other known civilizations to "prove" the existence of UFO's, extraterrestrials, and spirit messengers.


Without the so-called evidence of known civilizations and the accompanying claims that they possessed powers beyond those of modern science, MacLaine and others would not have been so easily convinced about the "truth" of the New Age. After reporting her conversations about Atlantis and other "lost" civilizations, MacLaine said:

When I had finished reading what David had given me I was exhausted. It was true that I had heard much of what I read in dribs and drabs throughout my life, but somehow having it compiled and organized in written form with respected and credible researchers and scientists and archaeologists and theologians backing it up -- it was different. The accumulation of evidence was too powerful to take casually, much less dismiss....[2]


Statements like these have convinced us that in order to successfully counter New Age propaganda, Christians must address the apologetic arguments New Age thinkers use to promote their views.


In saying this it is important to note that claims about Atlantis and other "lost" civilizations are quite unlike many other New Age historical claims which are based on out-of-body experiences, "channeled" messages from spirits, readings of the ethereal "Akashic Records," and so forth. Such "sources" are entirely subjective in nature -- beyond verification or falsification.


By contrast, the New Age usage of the Atlantis theme --- as well as related occult works about Lemuria, Mu, and a host of other lost civilizations -- serve a very different function. In contemporary occultism, legends of lost civilizations are linked with the ruins of various historic civilizations to make an apologetic point. Specific extraordinary claims are made about the technology, religion, and general social order of certain known civilizations of antiquity. These claims are then seen in terms of "mysteries" which are "solved" by reference to earlier civilizations which eventually lead back to places like Atlantis and Lemuria. Therefore, rather than being statements of faith, New Age claims about lost civilizations are presented as verifiable facts which justify other New Age beliefs.


There are three historical ways Christians may test these claims. The first is simply to check the sources of New Age writers, if they offer any. A second check, once it is certain that their sources are correctly cited, is to test the sources themselves. The third test is to examine whatever counterevidence may exist against New Age claims about Atlantis and other supposedly lost civilizations.


THE BIRTH OF ATLANTIS


The Greek philosopher Plato (428-348 B.C.) was the apparent father of the Atlantis myth. In his dialogue Timaeus one of his characters, Critias, tells the following story:

Then listen, Socrates, to a tale which, though strange, is certainly true, having been attested by Solon....In the Egyptian Delta...one of the priests, who was of very great age, said, O Solon, Solon,...the histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean,...[from] an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Hercules...this island of Atlantis...endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours...then, Solon, your country shone forth, in excellence of her virtue and strength...in courage and military skill...she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated the rest of us...afterward there occurred violent earthquakes and floods, and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared into the sea.[3]


From the manner of the telling and the use to which the story is put, it is clear that although Plato's character declares this is a "true" story, Plato expected his readers to understand that it was a literary device used to make a philosophical point. Similarly, while Plato gives further details about Atlantis in his dialogue Critias, it is to develop his political theories first outlined in The Republic. For although Plato gives details about both the island and city of Atlantis, they are of such a nature that they illustrate his philosophical arguments rather than recording actual history.


It is possible that Plato incorporated elements of earlier stories into his text. Like Shakespeare in the sixteenth century, Plato often made use of preexisting Greek tales and used the names of real characters in his dialogues. Further, the Greeks had various deluge stories about islands, like Rhodes, rising and sinking into the sea. Thus certain names or elements of the Atlantis story may have a remote basis in fact, allowing some writers to find "evidence" to use in developing their theories that Plato told a true story.

Whatever historical "truths" may be derived from Plato's story, it is very important to recognize that he used the story to glorify Athens and the Athenians while propagating his own political doctrines. The Atlanteans were ordinary men, even though their royal line, like that of all Greek cities, was said to have been founded by a god, Poseidon. After unjustly invading Europe and Asia the Atlanteans were defeated by the valor and military strength of the Athenians, who then liberated the peoples whom the Atlanteans had enslaved. Finally, when Plato describes the city of Atlantis, it is a well-ordered but otherwise unremarkable city -- similar to the cities of Greece.


Plato's story therefore provides no basis for wild speculations about space visitors, flying machines, magical powers, wonderful crops, healing arts, or any of the other myriad of wonders which modern writers so often attribute to Atlantis. Thus, even if Plato's story were true, it offers no evidence for the occult ideas propagated by writers like Shirley MacLaine.


That Plato's story about Atlantis was not true is further substantiated by two facts. First, there are no Greek or Egyptian references to Atlantis before Plato's time. Second, during the three hundred years that followed Plato, all Greek or Roman writers who discussed Plato's use of the Atlantis story took it for granted that it was a fiction. Only around 75 B.C. did the Roman writer Poseidonios (135-51? B.C.), a friend and tutor of Cicero (106-43 B.C.), suggest that Plato's story about Atlantis was possibly based on fact. In the following centuries, educated opinion was divided about the historicity of Atlantis. Some writers, like Proclus (410-85 A.D.) -- the last major Neoplatonic philosopher -- took the story at face value. Others, such as the church father Origen (115-253 A.D.), saw it as an allegory.


ATLANTIS AND AMERICA


After the sixth century, Atlantis receives no further mention in Western literature until the publication of the medieval encyclopedia De Imagine Mundi in the twelfth century. Even then, however, it received only a brief mention. Interest in Atlantis revived following the European discovery of the Americas in the sixteenth century. A Spanish writer, Francisco Lopez de Gomara, suggested that the new continent was the site of Atlantis in his General History of the Indes. The English magician, John Dee (1552-1605), placed Atlantis on a map he drew of America. And Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) wrote a utopian tract called The New Atlantis (1624).


A large body of literature emerged locating Atlantis in America and several fortunes were lost in attempts to discover the "lost" city. As time went by, however, it became clear that Atlantis was not going to be discovered on the American continent and interest in searching for it died out around 1850.


Shortly after this quest for a literal, historic Atlantis ceased, the Atlantean story entered a new and important phase as an apologetic tool for modern occultism. To understand the development of the occult approach to Atlantis, it is vital to examine the theory of a nineteenth-century figure who himself was not an occultist.