The Raelian cult

In 1974, a 28-year old Frenchman Claude Vorilhon said that while on a hike by himself in a remote area, an alien spaceship landed near him and an extraterrestrial being emerged from it and conversed with him. The aliens were like us physically but much more advanced technologically and were called the Elohim. On another occasion, they took him to their home planet which he said was idyllic and that he was able to mingle with other prophets like Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Muhammad. He said that the Elohim were wonderful people and had mastered DNA technology and used that to create all the living things on Earth. They appointed Vorilhon as their ambassador on Earth and gave him the name Rael. They told him to prepare the people on Earth for when they would return and reveal themselves to everyone.

I wrote about this weird story in my book The Great Paradox of Science (p.191-193).

Raelians argue that Darwin’s theory of evolution and descent with modification (using the mechanism of random mutation and natural selection) is wrong because life on Earth is too complex to have evolved that way and must have been designed. This same argument is also advanced by theists but for Raelians their designer is not a god. Instead it is a race of extraterrestrials. According to Raelians, on a distant planet there live a highly advanced alien community called the Elohim that long ago had reached an advanced stage of scientific and technical knowledge and developed powerful biological engineering techniques that enabled them to make living cells and to tinker and modify them. They were naturally fearful about letting loose these experimental organisms into their own environment because of the harm they could do, so they looked for a planet that they could use as a laboratory to field test their genetic engineering, to create a home for all their creations so that they could safely see what worked and what didn’t. They chose Earth to use as their vast laboratory. They took the then lifeless planet and set about building life on it. Starting with simple cells, they proceeded to create seeds, grasses and other vegetation and progressed to plankton, small fish, then larger fish, then dinosaurs, sea and land creatures, herbivores and carnivores before they tackled the big project, creating beings like themselves. Thus came homo sapiens. This, according to Raelians, is how the Earth became populated with all the life forms we see around us.

Most people, if they had heard of the Raelian mythology at all, did not take this fanciful scenario seriously but treated it as good, clean, fun.

But not everyone laughed. Vorilhon was able to get quite a bit of media attention for this fanciful tale and and while some interlocutors expressed skepticism, enough viewers were attracted by this bizarre story to join up with Vorilhon and set up a commune, calling themselves Raelians. The cult bought a large piece of land that they called Eden that had a large house with a swimming pool.

As the movement grew, it followed a similar pattern with such cults, with the leader living a high life on the donations of the followers, with private planes, helicopters, limousines, staying in fancy hotels and eating at expensive restaurants. The cult also adopted a libertine lifestyle with people expected to go naked and have sex with multiple partners, except for those who could only have sex with Rael. But eventually rumors of pedophilia came to the attention of the outside world and the French authorities started to probe more closely. So Rael and many of his followers decamped to Canada.

One of his followers was Brigitte Boisselier, a PhD chemist, and Rael and she started a company in 1997 called Clonaid which was initially based in Las Vegas whose stated goal was to clone humans so that people could have eternal life. They received funding from a wealthy couple whose child had died in infancy and who wanted to clone him. The plan to clone a human being caused an uproar, with congressional inquiries into the practice and laws were passed in the US banning cloning of humans, resulting in Clonaid shifting its base to the Bahamas.

On December 27, 2002 Boisselier created a sensation with a press conference in Florida where she said that a cloned human baby had been born the previous day. But she refused to give any further information about the baby or where it was or who the parents were. A lawyer sued on behalf of the baby’s welfare and in the ensuing court case, the judge pressed Boisselier to say where the baby was. She finally said that it was in Israel. The judge dropped the case, saying that he had no jurisdiction over a baby that was not in the US. But despite repeated requests by the media to produce the baby, the Raelians refused to do so.

I used this case in my book as an example of how scientific logic works and how the scientific community makes decisions about the non-existence of entities, since logically proving non-existence is impossible except in highly artificial scenarios.

The problem with proving nonexistence of entities is illustrated by the film Avatar that postulated the existence of a valuable mineral called Unobtainium on another planet called Pandora somewhere in the universe. Although the film was unabashedly fictional, how could one possibly prove that such a mineral (or even the planet) does not exist somewhere out there? One cannot. Indeed the genre of science fiction routinely assumes the existence of as yet undetected things and universal laws. While such speculations can have great entertainment value and can even spur scientific investigations, the scientific rule is that to establish the existence of some entity, one has to provide a preponderance of positive evidence in support of it. In the absence of such evidence, the scientific conclusion is that the existence proposition is false and that the entity does not exist.

This rule is hardly controversial. It is used in everyday life by everyone, even though they may not explicitly recognize that they are doing so. It would be impossible to live otherwise. Small children may fear monsters hiding under their beds but adults know better and do not bother to look and check. The argument that such things might exist because we have not proven them to not exist carries no weight at all, and rightly so. To allow for the existence of something in the absence of a preponderance of evidence in support is to open oneself to an infinite number of mythical entities such as zombies, ghosts, unicorns, leprechauns, pixies, dragons, centaurs, mermaids, fairies, demons, vampires, werewolves, and anything else that a fertile imagination can conjure up. Unfortunately, many people do not use this rule consistently. They use it selectively based on subjective factors, which is why a survey of American adults showed high levels of endorsement for such things as extrasensory perception (41%), haunted houses (37%), ghosts (32%), telepathy (31%), clairvoyance (26%), astrology (25%), witches (21%), and reincarnation (20%). If we routinely and explicitly used the idea that we should presume nonexistence and that the burden of proof is upon those who make existence claims to show a preponderance of evidence in favor of it, many such beliefs would disappear.

As an example of how this logic can dispel false existence clams, recall the sensational announcement in December 2002 by the group known as the Raelians that they had successfully cloned a human baby whom they had named Eve, and that four other similarly cloned babies were on the way. Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal, had been born in 1996 and had led to a race to clone more animals, so this technology was much in the news and thus this Raelian announcement was not dismissed out of hand by the media who covered their press conference.

But the claim by the Raelians that they possessed human cloning technology garnered them a blizzard of worldwide publicity and the media rightly asked to see the baby that they claimed proved it. The Raelians said they would produce the baby later, but as time passed and no baby was forthcoming, people reasonably concluded that the whole thing was a hoax. No one felt obliged to prove that there was no such baby. The Raelians had made an existence claim and the burden was on them to provide evidence for it. Failing to do so meant that we were perfectly justified in concluding that there was no cloned baby.

So to repeat, in the case of an existence claim, the burden of proof is upon the person making the assertion. In the absence of a preponderance of evidence in its favor, the claim can be dismissed. As has often been said, “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” The basis for this stance is the practical one that, except in very limited circumstances, proving the nonexistence of an entity is impossible. Hence if we do not have a preponderance of evidence in favor of the existence of an entity, we can firmly conclude that it is not there.

As an aside, the Raelian creation story is yet another example of how it is always possible to construct alternative theories to explain any given set of facts. In postulating that life on Earth originated elsewhere in the universe and was later introduced here, the Raelians were adopting a highly imaginative, elaborate, and detailed form of the panspermia model of the extraterrestrial origins of life on Earth. It is impossible to refute it because to do so requires knowledge of every corner of the universe. Of course, as with all such panspermia theories, what it does is shift the problem of the origin of life on Earth to the origin of life elsewhere, but that kind of regress is usually ignored by advocates.

The Raelian theory is a comprehensive and naturalistic explanation of how all life evolved on Earth. It can explain everything about the living world. But it is a useless theory because it generates no predictions that can be tested. The only basis by which to judge which theory is worth taking seriously is the quality of the evidence produced in support of it, not on how many facts it purportedly explains. As long as a preponderance of evidence is lacking about the extraterrestrial origins of life on Earth, we are justified in treating the Raelian theory as false.

The reason I am writing about this now is that I stumbled across a new documentary Rael: The Alien Prophet (2024) that lays out the whole story. I was astonished to learn that the cult still exists and claims to have a hundred thousand followers worldwide. Vorilhon lives in Japan surrounded by young women and Boisselier lives in Mexico. No baby was ever produced but they have never acknowledged that it was a hoax. The impression that I got from watching the documentary was that these two people love being in the limelight and having the media focus on them and have manipulated the media to exploit their followers and enrich themselves.

The documentary interviews some followers who realized that they were being scammed and left but others continue to believe. A key defector was the person who was supposedly the chief technician on the cloning project who said he was stunned when he heard about the baby being cloned because he knew for a fact that not only did it not happen but that they had nowhere near the expertise or the resources to do it. But even his defection has not dented the beliefs of many followers.

The big plan is to build an embassy on Earth to welcome the Elohim when they arrive. The Elohim told Rael to have it ready by 2035. But if you are getting excited by the fact that it is only a decade away, I should warn you that they did not promise to actually come that year. There is always an escape clause for when these prophecies fail to materialize.

You truly can fool some of the people all of the time. The only question is how far down the chain do you have to go where the line separates those doing the deluding from the deluded.

The documentary Rael: The Alien Prophet (2024) can be seen on Netflix. It consists of four 50-minutes segments. Here’s the trailer. (It is in French. Click on the “Watch on YouTube” box to get English subtitles.))


  1. Matt G says

    Kind of ironic: the Elohim created us and one of us created them. Kinda like gods, except that gods have been created numerous times throughout history.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    Clearly Rael & Co and the leadership of Elohim City, Oklahoma (mentors of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh) should sue each other for trademark infringement.

  3. says

    This is only more evidence, as if more was needed, that it is impossible to make a claim so idiotic that some people will believe it. James Randi provided a clear example with his ‘Carlos’ hoax.

    While idiocy like this is not harmless, consider the potential for disaster should the MAGA cultists succeed in installing their cult leader in the WH again. ‘Popular delusions and the madness of crowds’ indeed.

  4. says

    He said that the Elohim … appointed Vorilhon as their ambassador on Earth and gave him the name Rael. They told him to prepare the people on Earth for when they would return and reveal themselves to everyone.

    This makes no sense to anyone not suffering from huge delusions of self-importance. Why would such enlightened aliens appoint ONE HUMAN, with absolutely zero experience or connections, to represent them to other humans? If any more-enlightened civilization wanted to help humans to get past our current state of savagery, they’d have two options: diplomacy leading to trade, scientific collaboration and cultural exchange; or conquest and planet-wide regime-change leading to the same results. Either of those would have a reasonable chance of long-term success. Giving one savage dipstick a new name and telling him to “prepare” his entire species on his own? Even one of us savages can see that has no chance of working.

  5. says

    The idea that “life is too complex to have emerged spontaneously from simpler systems, and therefore must have been deliberately created by a complex being with agency” is inherently self-contradictory. Whatever mechanism you postulate to account for the existence of a designer, could much more readily have accounted for less-complex beings.

    We are far too kind to those who attempt to invoke the “too complex” fallacy. They are the worst kind of vandals, destroying millennia of hard work in a few seconds of wanton irresponsibility. It does not require any understanding of a field simply to say, “I don’t believe you”. The simple dismissal is probably wrong, but a rigorous proof requires a disproportionate amount of effort.

    “It always requires less effort to destroy something than it did to create it” is basically the Second Law of Thermodynamics fleshed out …..

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