“Bilbo’s buddies” (Cryptozoology)

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We will look today at some of the beliefs that are unorthodox even by the usual standards of gullibility. Unicorns are just as likely as Skunk Apes, and thinking mermaids are out there is as unwarranted by the evidence as thinking the same about ghosts. But the beliefs we will examine are less frequent and thus more distinctive. We will also uncover the mindset and motivation involved in embracing these ideas.

Some people adopt these beliefs because men claiming to be a god wrote something on parchment paper in the Bronze Age. While this is common, the folks at Answers in Genesis take it further than most. Their Creation Museum is more than children getting piggyback rides from Stegosauruses and Sleestak cavorting about. It also champions a belief in dragons.

As with its claim that the universe is 6000 years old or that representatives of every animal congregated on Noah’s Ark, the Creation Museum bases this on no science or evidence, but on its interpretation of a specific biblical version. The book of Job references a mammoth fire-breathing leviathan, and they infer this creature was what came to be known as a dragon. Dragons fly as opposed to swim, but this detail must have been lost over the millenniums. Job is full of long, flowery prose and graphic imagery that make it easy to see the book as allegorical. But for those who insist it is literal, something has to fit in spite of the evidence, so dragons it is.

There are no dragon fossils or animals presumed to have been descended from such. Hence, Answers in Genesis puts stock in the fact that dragons appear in other cultures. But 20 fictional dragons doesn’t equal one real giant monster with a heart-shaped tip on its tail. AIG writes, “There is evidence in art found around the world that indicates humans interacted with cryptozoological types after the Flood.” By this logic, Salvador Dali interacted with a perpetually melting watch.

Joining dragons in the Creation Museum’s Middle Earth zoo are unicorns. The only two pieces of “evidence” are that some versions of the Bible contain the word “unicorn” and that the rhinoceros has one horn. These are the types of arguments put forth by a group who insists that an insidious government is conspiring with their heinous henchmen scientists to keep the truth from schoolchildren.

With regard to the unicorn’s existence, it wouldn’t take much for even a committed conservative Christian to see it differently than AIG. Other biblical versions refer to the animal as a wild ox. Also, the reference in the King James Version comes in a series of questions about challenges that would be impossible to overcome. Hence, involving a fictional creature such a line of questioning would be consistent. Like dragons, AIG points to unicorns in other cultures as proof they were real. But this only establishes their existence in fairy tales, not on Earth.

It’s not just biologically-challenged biblical literalists getting in on the magical creatures fun. Even highly-educated Icelanders are susceptible. Highway work was delayed in 2013 over fears it would disturb elven habitat. The matter was settled when a woman who communicated with elves conducted a telepathic mediation. She reported the bearded miniatures were OK with the highway crew blasting away as long as a large jagged rock that served as their sanctuary was relocated.

Over half of the people surveyed in the nation that ranks 19th in education were open to the possibility that elves are real. This shows how ingrained a religious or mythological idea can be in a culture, and how hard it is to extricate, no matter how much evidence is presented or how much the nation advances in other areas.

A British newspaper reporter wrote that Icelanders suspected that elves were behind bulldozer breakdowns and road worker misfortunes, a classic piece of post hoc reasoning. Another example of this came from a man who identified himself only at Petur, whom the reporter interviewed. As a youth, Petur related, his father told him to pay homage to an elf he felt was in the area. But the petulant youth considered this silly and refused. His punishment for this disobedience came in the form of blistered feet the next day. From then on, he believed. Couple this type of subjective validation with communal reinforcement, and you get belief in elves in the 21st Century in one of the worlds most developed, forward-thinking countries.

Staying with European island nations, we venture to Lancashire, England, where John Hyatt claims to have taken photos of fairies. He says he just asked people to keep an open mind. I’ve never met Hyatt, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt (about his commitment to open-mindedness, not about fairies existing). But whenever I’ve encountered “keep an open mind” or “just examine the evidence for yourself” exhortations from Truthers, reflexologists, and fairy people, they are OK with it only if my open mind accepts what theirs does.

Hyatt has photos that could be viewed as an out-of-focus Tinkerbell. They could also be viewed as flying insects impacted by reflection and refraction, flashes and flaws. You can judge for yourself here: http://tinyurl.com/o8fztm8

He was standing close enough to capture these creatures and remove all doubt. So the doubt remains, enabling believers to replace it with comforting thoughts. In fact, Hyatt inadvertently explained the reason folks believe: “A lot of people who have seen them say they have brought a little bit of magic into their lives and there’s not enough of that around.” So it gives their existence a little more meaning, perhaps offers comfort, a warm feeling, a sense of hope. Some of those interviewed felt the fairies held special powers. This is always an appealing idea, especially when you can infuse these magical beings with whatever benevolent actions you wish.

Also campaigning for fairy awareness is all-about-fairies.com. Despite its restrictive name, the website also informs its readers about leprechauns, mermaids, and pixies. On the FAQ, “Are fairies real?” is met with this persuasive, reasoned, thoroughly documented argument: “Of course.”

Later, it informs us, “Some people see fairies, and some see a white misty shape, other people see colored lights, and some sense their presence.” Everybody is a winner! This allows any action to be interpreted as a fairy. For those who can’t even sense a presence, that’s because, “Fairies must know that you believe in them and their magic before they show themselves.” That’s hardly right, it seems we incredulous folks need the most fairy love.

As to their habitat, “They like to live near meadows or gardens or in a fairyland.” Could you be a little more vague? Continuing, it is written, “They do interact with humans sometimes, but with only good intentions.” This is idealizing our wants, and this personification of total kindness and generosity offers peace and reassurance.

Here are the five pieces of proof for fairies that the website operator offers: 1. I’ve seen ‘em. 2. Others seen ‘em. 3. People in Days of Yore seen ‘em. 4. Youtube videographers seen ‘em. 5. People at fairy festivals seen ‘em.

While most believers prefer the elastic descriptions unencumbered by form or facts, a few try to bridge mythological creatures to real occurrences. For instance, a leprechaun-believing site tries to tie the Lilliputians in green fedoras to a historic event by claiming they hid gold from the invading Danes. Since the Danes couldn’t see them, it seems that guerilla warfare may have been a better response, but maybe leprechauns are pacifist.

The site reports that captured leprechauns offer gold for ransom. One hundred percent of leprechaun hunters have accepted this offer, as there are many gold coins in Ireland, but no captive leprechauns. The website also attributes to leprechauns “the ability to turn into a swirl of dust and be gone.” As such, it’s unclear why they would make the gold coin offer.

I also came across a mostly–abandoned blog run by a guy who runs around trying to capture photos of leprechauns. It contains shaky images with green swirls, such as this: http://tinyurl.com/kreef93. Another picture shows really tiny humanoid feet in the sand, and, of course, the only creatures capable of making such impressions are leprechauns.

Most proponents of these fields appeal to myth and folklore, but some attempt are more pseudoscientific spin. This is often the case when dealing with belief in mermaids.

On cryptid.com, it is pointed out that a fish/mammal combination wouldn’t work from a zoological or practical standpoint. So it weaves a storyline, sprinkled with terms thieved from evolution and biology, then ties it up with this speculation: “What if not all of our ancestors left the sea and moved to the Savannah? What if some stayed in the ocean, and continued to evolve into mermaids?”

These hypothetical mermaids, we are assured, are not the kind we think of, but are a form of aquatic ape. What follows are a series of guesses which it calls theories. But they are at best hypotheses since they offer no observation or experimentation, and present only cursory predictive behavior, such as this: “It seems likely that a big-brained primate would utilize tools. We’d have to assume that, like chimpanzees, they may use objects like rocks or other undersea items as tools.”

It also seems likely that other big-brained primates are utilizing tools such as a computer and modem to keep ideas fit for the Middle Ages alive today.

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