Friday, February 19, 2010

Cryptozoology and Religion - Interesting article and a comment

Interesting overview article on cryptozoology and religion, by Joe Laycock at Science and Religion Today, suggesting a parallel between fringe science efforts and religious fundamentalism. He argues that both attempt to re-sacralize a world stripped of mystery by science, specifically natural selection and evolution. Though perhaps sacralize isn't the proper term, more an issue of both approaching the sublime.

Laycock notes that Creationists have turned to cryptozoology to back up some of their beliefs. He does not discuss that some cryptozoological expeditions have a Creationist agenda to them, as attempts to find living Mesozoic reptiles such as dinosaurs or pteradons, in order to support Young Earth Creationism. But that's alright, it's not meant to be a tome.

But there is a bigger issue. Laycock doesn't really pinpoint why the two have started to cross paths. Yes, there is the sacralization thing, the sense of wonder. But that applies to many things, and it is why people who are interested in science issues can in many cases find common ground in activities rejected by mainstream science (like cryptozoology), as they focus on mystery and wonder. There is the Young Earth aspect or similar "prove the scriptures" elements (Bigfoot as Children of Cain in some ideologies, etc.).

But there's another aspect, and that's their nature vis-a-vis the mainstream: both are forbidden. In his book A Culture of Conspiracy, Michael Barkun uses the concept of stigmatized knowledge to explain how seemingly incompatible conspiracy memes transfer back and forth between religious, racist, political, and paranormal (specifically UFO) narratives and communities. One reason is that they are all labeled by the mainstream press, academia, science, and the political structure as being forbidden, rejected, or otherwise not just wrong, but excessively wrong. Once labeled as such, these concepts don't go away so much as start to transfer and hybridize within a pool of stigmatized knowledge.

Creationism is rejected by the scientific community, and forbidden by law (in the US where Creationism is most potent) in public schools. Cryptozoology isn't outlawed in public schools, but it simply wouldn't be taught, and it is rejected by the mainstream scientific community. Elements of both have particular beefs and interests in the fossil record and with evolution. Perhaps it isn't surprising that the two worlds have collided a bit, just as cryptozoology, once fully identified with secular materialist hunts for living species, has also developed an arm concerned with thought forms, UFOs, and psychic creatures.

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