From Catholic Exchange
By Matthew B. Rose
It might seem strange for an article about cryptozoology to appear on Catholic Exchange. Might we dare paraphrase Tertullian’s retort: What have cryptids to do with Christ? The existence or non-existence of Bigfoot, Nessie, Sea Serpents, and their ilk has nothing to do with the saints, the Eucharist, the dogmas of the Faith, or the existence of God.
Well, maybe not directly, but there might still be some kernel of a connection. Our Faith does not depend on whether these creatures exist or not, but we can still use them as springboards to discuss some surprisingly deep philosophical and theological reflections. Best of all, we need not rely on fuzzy photos, out-of-focus videos, or suspect footprints to stake our theological claims or hold our philosophical conversations.
Clarifying Terrifying Terms
As with all intellectual discussions, let us begin by clarifying our terms.
Cryptozoology refers to the study of, and hunt for, hidden and unclassified animals. Essentially, it involves looking for and studying mysterious creatures, such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Sea Serpents, and animals that should be extinct, but are still reported (think living dinosaurs or surviving Tasmanian tigers). Such unknown creatures are deemed “cryptids.”
Admittedly, cryptozoology is not a recognized branch of mainstream science, and many cryptozoologists find themselves on the receiving end of skeptics’ derisive comments. That certainly has not stopped the study’s popularity; books, TV shows, and movies all reflect our love for these monsters and other fantastic creatures. However, such popular presentations do little to lend cryptozoology more credibility; monsters, it seems, remain the realm of intellectual immaturity.
Nor is cryptozoology a standard realm for theological discourse, though there are exceptions.
One could, of course, look at strange creatures in Scripture, such as the Leviathan and the Behemoth (Job 40-41), or the Dragon in Daniel 14:23-27, through a cryptozoological lens. Biblical scholars who adhere to a literalistic interpretation of Scripture will cite such passages as proof that dinosaurs survived into recent times, and that the earth could not be as old as geology seems to indicate. Such young-earth creationists posit there is proof for a younger age of the earth in reports of living dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, which intersects their theology with cryptozoology.
One might also consider the example of Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin. Akin, in an early episode of his podcast Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World, discusses the mystery of Bigfoot. As with other topics discussed on the show, Akin and his co-host Dom Bettinelli examine “the claims and counter-claims” concerning Bigfoot, including through the lens of the Catholic Faith. While the two hosts don’t spend a lot of time on the faith perspective of Bigfoot, they do address some of the issues connected to Christianity if it turns out Bigfoot was, indeed, real.
So there is at least some tangential connection between cryptozoology and Christianity.
Can we use cryptozoology to our advantage? Evangelists and apologists have used stories of interest in the “popular culture” of their audience since the time of St. Paul, who referenced works and ideas of Greco-Roman culture in his epistles and in his preaching, as we see in his speech to the philosophers in Athens (17:16-34). Perhaps we can use stories of Sasquatch. Ogopogo, and the Ropen as a spark to deeper discussions of God and His plan for us.
Cosmological Cryptozoology and the Search for God
Often the search for cryptids draws comparisons with the quest for God. Just as men hunt the woods of North America for a mysterious hairy biped, so also man hunts for God, the biggest mysterious being of them all. The implication of the comparison is that one won’t find Bigfoot in the woods, and one won’t find God either; both are fairy tales.
This idea of God as one thing in the universe among many other things is what Terry Eagleton and Bishop Robert Barron calls the “Yeti Theory of God.” Many of the New Atheists posit this idea. If God is the greatest being in the universe, then we should be able to detect physical evidence of Him, as one could with a Bigfoot or the Yeti. We should be able to launch rockets into space and find God, and perform some experiments on Him, weighing His mass and volume. We cannot, and therefore the atheist smiles, crosses his arms, and declares God cannot exist.
The problem, of course, is that God is not just another mysterious creature; in fact, He isn’t a creature at all. The New Atheists, Barron notes, have it all wrong. God does not have a body; He is not bound by time and space, height and breadth, weight and mass. In other words, God is not the subject of the sciences. We can demonstrate the reasonableness of God, but we cannot do it through biology, chemistry, or any of the other “hard sciences.”
However, and this is key, our inability to scientifically prove God does not disprove Him. We can tell by using some of the demonstrations put forward by St. Thomas Aquinas, among others, that the physical universe could not exist without an immaterial God who is outside of time, outside of His creation.
Bigfoot might, or might not, be real. The world does not depend on Nessie. Cryptids are not necessary beings. They do not have the reason for their existence in their nature; rather, they depend on something else for their existence, assuming that they do exist. We are the same way, as is literally everything you encounter day in and day out. Even angels are not the source of their own existence.
The same cannot be said of God. God is ipsum esse, “Being itself.” This is St. Thomas’ fancy way of saying that God is existence, rather than having existence. He is the one necessary thing, and all else in the universe, even the universe itself, exists only because it gets its existence from Him. If something is real, if it has existence, then that existence comes from God.
Our restless hearts longing for God are quite unlike the trigger-happy hunters looking to bag a Bigfoot or some other cryptid. We seek not to empirically prove the divine, but rather seek how to have a relationship with Him. We know God not through an experiment but by experience.
The cryptozoologist has the tall responsibility of seeking physical proof that a mystery creature exists, trying to find a proverbial needle in a haystack. In our journey towards God, our proof isn’t a missing needle; the haystack itself shouts the glory of God.