CREATIONISM, CRYPTOZOOLOGY, & THE CULTURAL AUTHORITY OF NOAH'S MONSTERS
~ Joseph Laycock ~
“Cryptozoology” refers to the search for creatures rumored to exist but not recognized by science. The term was most likely coined by the Scottish explorer Ivan T. Sanderson and popularized by the Belgium-French zoologist Bernard Huevelmans. Cryptozoologists generally turn to myths and folklore for hypotheses about undiscovered species (known in the field as “cryptids”). While zoologists discover new species every year (mostly insects), cryptozoologists are almost exclusively concerned with “megafauna” such as the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, the Yeti, and more recently, the chupacabra. Although some cryptozoologists advocate the scientific method, cryptozoology is generally regarded as a pseudo-science. In the absence of skeletal remains or other hard evidence, cryptozoology relies almost exclusively on irreproducible eye-witness reports. However, cryptozoologists claim several victories, such as the discovery the Okapi in 1901, previously believed to be a mythical creature.
Because it deliberately situates itself between the realms of myth and science, cryptozoology has become a sort of “backdoor” for those seeking to appropriate the cultural authority of science. Cryptozoologists often present themselves as “true scientists” whose ideas have been rejected by a hypocritical scientific establishment. Creationists have increasingly held up the claims of cryptozoology as evidence that accepted scientific paradigms are dogmatic and simply ignore contradictory evidence. In several cases this has resulted in unlikely alliances as cryptozoologists turn to Creationists for funding and Creationists hold up the claims of cryptozoology as evidence of the fallibility of the scientific establishment.
Creationist groups such as Answers in Genesis have applied the hermeneutic of cryptozoology to the Bible by suggesting that Biblical monsters such as behemoth and leviathan are actually dinosaurs. This idea appeals to children and suggests that fantastic elements of the Bible are scientifically viable. Some Creationists have become preoccupied with the idea that the discovery of a living dinosaur is a silver bullet that could destroy the theory of evolution in one blow.
The Texas-based group Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), founded by Donald R. Howard, produces textbooks that teach that the Loch Ness Monster disproves evolution. An ACE biology textbook from 1995 explains:
Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie,’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur. Could a fish have developed into a dinosaur? As astonishing as it may seem, many evolutionists theorize that fish evolved into amphibians and amphibians into reptiles. This gradual change from fish to reptiles has no scientific basis. No transitional fossils have been or ever will be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all.
Howard’s books are used in Christian schools in the United Kingdom as well as publically-funded charter schools in the United States.
In 2000, William J. Gibbons led an all-Christian expedition into Cameroon in search of the Mokele-Mbembe, a dinosaur-like creature rumored to live in the Congo river basin. His expedition received $50,000 in funding from Paul Rockel, a Canadian wealth manager and Young Earth creationist. A subsequent expedition in 2003 was funded by creationist Milt Marcy. Although Gibbons never found the creature, his findings were reported on by the Texas-based Institute for Creation Research. Marcy funded another expedition by Peter Beach and Brian Sass, whose website Genesis Park is dedicated proving that humans and dinosaurs have coexisted.
As Donald R. Prothero and Michael Shermer point out in Abominable Science!, the Creationist search for a living dinosaur is based on a faulty understanding of evolution. Even if the Loch Ness monster or Mokele Mbembe were discovered, this would not make a dent in the theory of evolution: Older species can be found living alongside newer species, just as grandparents do not disappear when their grandchildren are born.
Even stranger than repeated searches for African dinosaurs has been the Creationist response to the chupacabra. The chupacabra or “goat sucker” is named for its habit of attacking livestock and sucking out their blood like a vampire. Sightings have occurred throughout Central America, Mexico, and the Southwestern United States but reports of what the creature looks like vary widely from an alien-like biped with spines to a hairless wild dog. According to Tracking the Chupacabra by Benjamin Radford, this creature was first sighted in Puerto Rico in 1995 and closely resembled the creature from the sci-fi movie Species, released that year.
In 2009, a man named Jerry Adler in Blanco, Texas, discovered the body of an alleged chupacabra. Although the creature appeared for all the world to be a coyote with severe mange, the discovery drew the attention of international news. Adler sold the body to John Adolfi of Phoenix, New York, who displayed it in his “Lost World Museum,” dedicated to exploring “the debate” between Creationism and evolution. Adolfi wanted a taxidermy chupacabra for the same reason Gibbons and his backers wanted to discover a dinosaur in Africa––he felt the creature’s very existence cast doubt on the authority of mainstream science. Adolfi subsequently lent the corpse the explicitly Creationist “Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum” in Crosbyton, Texas.
Radford notes that for some Christians, the chupacabra is a sign of the end-times. James Lloyd, founder of the Christian Media Network ministry, authored a book entitled Chupacabras: The Devil’s Genetics. Lloyd believes the chupacabra is the locust like creature described in Revelation 9. He speculates that the creatures were created by geneticists working for the anti-christ and will be unleashed at the battle of Armageddon. Here the chupacabra has achieved cosmological significance, its existence offering clues into how the world began and also how it will end.
In Religion and Its Monsters, Timothy Beale notes that the word “monster” derives from the Latin monstrum, which is related to the verbs monstrare (“show” or “reveal”) and monere (“warn” or “portend.”) While Creationist monster hunters use a scientific vernacular, they are not really engaging with the theories they dispute. It is not scientific-rationalism but the epistemological authority of monsters that attracts Creationists to cryptozoology. Monsters are invested with such potent symbolism that they do not require evidence to believe in them. In the popular imagination, cryptids are what makes the modern mythologies surrounding them compelling. By weaving the Bible with folklore, Creationists are able to paint a world where the raw powers of myth can be encountered not only through sacred stories but in Loch Ness, the Congo, and the even Blanco, Texas. This is an enchanted worldview with which scientific-rationalism cannot easily compete.
Between the realms of myth and science, cryptozoology has become a sort of “backdoor” for those seeking to appropriate the cultural authority of science
By weaving the Bible with folklore, Creationists are able to paint a world where the raw powers of myth can be encountered not only through sacred stories but in Loch Ness, the Congo, and even Blanco, Texas
Alexis Rockman's Map of Cryptozoology
Song, "Behemoth was a Dinosaur"
Even if the Loch Ness monster or Mokele Mbembe were discovered, this would not make a dent in the theory of evolution
This is an enchanted worldview with which scientific-rationalism cannot easily compete
Anatomy of a chupacabra