Cryptozoology & Creation Apologetics

(Originally published in Creation Matters July/August, 2015.)

By Dave Woetzel

The term cryptozoology was coined by Bernard Heuvelmans (who has come to be called “The Father of Cryptozoology”) in the late 1950s. It comes from three Greek words: kryptos (“hidden”) + zoon (“animal”) + logos (“discourse”), which combine to yield “the science of hidden animals.” A more precise way of stating this would be that cryptozoology is the investigation and gathering of evidence supporting the existence of organisms that have not been described by science. The unknown creatures themselves are known as cryptids, a word first proposed by John Wall of Manitoba, Canada in 1983.1 The word cryptozoology has now become a part of modern vocabulary.

In recent years, interest in this field has spiked, as shows from National Geographic, History Channel, and others feature regular episodes on monster hunting. The sensational nature of some of these productions (presenting dinosaurian cryptid research, alongside paranormal experiences and supposed alien encounters) has dismayed serious researchers and placed the whole field in a dubious light. However, there continues to be progress in the work of documenting “hidden animals.”

Cryptozoology successes

Perhaps the two best-known species that were thought to be extinct, but then were found in recent history, are the megamouth shark and the coelacanth.  In 1976, a naval research vessel working in the Hawaiian Islands caught a previously unknown animal when it hauled in its large anchor.  The 1,653-pound shark was called “megamouth” because of its large, toothy oral cavity.

The coelacanth was supposed to have been extinct for about 70 million years, until a fisherman caught one off the coast of South Africa in 1939.2 In the last two decades, new species of deer, lemur, and marmoset have been found.  Only discovered by western science in 1992, the Saola, or forest-dwelling ox, is so different from any currently known species that a separate genus had to be constructed.

The giant squid that allegedly attacked sailing ships in the annals of ancient maritime lore was believed by many to be mythological.  Numerous modern research efforts have tried to substantiate its existence. But in the fall of 2004, a live giant squid (Architeuthis dux), measuring roughly 25 feet long, attacked a baited fishing line off the Ogasawara Islands.3  Japanese scientists released photographs of the bus-sized creature with eyes as large as dinner plates.

New species are still being discovered fairly regularly in remote places like Papua New Guinea and the Amazon basin of South America.  Usually, these discoveries involve plants and small animals. But in 2009, as a result of an intense effort, a six-foot-long monitor lizard was found, photographed, and classified as a new species in the Philippines.  One news report read: “It has a double penis, is as long as a tall human, and lives in a heavily populated area of the Philippines.  Yet somehow the giant lizard Varanus bitatawa has gone undetected by science until now.”4

Cryptozoologist

A cryptozoologist is someone who systematically seeks to track down those species (or sub-species) that are still unknown to science.  There are a number of remote regions where intriguing reports give cryptozoologists hope of finding a dinosaurian cryptid!5  Success in the field of cryptozoology is part hard work, and part good fortune (or providential blessing).  It typically involves traveling to remote locations, interviewing indigenous peoples, spending long hours observing in target areas, and sleuthing for clues.  Simple things like animal droppings, hairs, feathers, eggshells, and footprints (like the claw marks on trees that helped researchers discover that large monitor lizard in the Philippines). Cryptozoological tools include advanced photographic equipment, night vision gear, sonar devices, game calls (especially if the quarry is a predator), various baits, and even flying drones.

French cryptozoologist Michel Raynal developed from Heuvelmans a methodology for how the existence of a particular kind of plant or animal can be established by accumulating testimonial evidence (accounts of sightings), circumstantial evidence (indirect observations like footprints, nests, or droppings), or even autoptic (i.e., personally observed) evidence (like a photo which anybody can see).  While skeptics might be dubious of this kind of evidence, it would be well to remember that the same region of Africa from which we get reports of a living sauropod yielded the discovery of the elusive Okapi in 1901.  Before that, it was only known to the outside world through the stories of tribal peoples.  Cryptozoologists not only seek to establish the existence of famous “hidden creatures,” like the Loch Ness Monster or Big Foot, but also pursue stories of common animals in unexpected places, and new varieties of plants.

Although there are plenty of naysayers in the scientific community who argue that money could be better spent studying endangered species, there are defenders of cryptozoology as well.  The late Grover Krantz, an anthropologist at Washington State University, maintained that even a fuzzy photograph, snapped by an overexcited layperson, can constitute important evidence and should be carefully considered by the scientific community.6  Joseph Gennaro, a biologist at New York University, pointed to the 1977 photo of Champ,7 taken by Sandra Mansi and stated, “The picture was subjected to all kinds of computer noise-elimination techniques to verify that it was not a floating log or a ripple, not turbulence, not wind current, not glare, not a fake—that it was actually a phenomenon that could not be explain by any critics of cryptozoology.”8 Dr. Roy Mackal of the University of Chicago was a prominent cryptozoologist. He investigated the Loch Ness phenomenon and made multiple trips into the Congo searching for a sauropod. Mackal wrote the book A Living Dinosaur? In search of Mokele-Mbembe.9

Creationist efforts

Creationists have been strongly represented in the cryptozoologist ranks, particularly in the serious search for dinosaurian creatures.  The reason for this, I believe, is twofold.  First, creationists are far more inclined, than are their counterparts in the mainstream scientific community, to believe that such creatures still exist.  It is more plausible to envision relic species like dinosaurs, existing in remote regions, if one believes they co-existed+ with man just a few thousand years ago, rather than being committed to the notion that men and dinosaurs have been separated by tens of millions of years of evolution.  Secondly, the creationists are quite interested in finding “living fossils” because of the potential value that such finds have in the origins debate.

As someone who has invested considerable time and resources into cryptozoological inquiries, particularly in pursuit of dinosaurian creatures, I am often asked why substantiating the existence of a living dinosaur would help creation apologetics.  Dr. Philip Kitcher, in his anti-creationist book titled Abusing Science, claims that solid evidence that dinosaurs and man co-existed would “shake the foundations of evolutionary theory.”9  Likewise, the Darwinist Arthur Strahler insists that

…it is conceivable that a scientist will some day discover human bones among dinosaur bones in such a relationship that it is judged highly likely that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. Such a finding would deal a crushing blow to the widely favored hypothesis of a unique evolutionary sequence. In Popper language, the hypothesis of evolution would be falsified.10

These are bold assertions.  Some creationists also naively believe finding a dinosaur would be the silver bullet to slay the wolf of evolution.  Unfortunately, the history of Darwinian theories suggests that all such evidence would quickly be assimilated into evolutionary theory.  I believe that few, if any, committed evolutionists would change their minds when confronted with such a find.

History has shown that the plasticity of evolutionary theory permits it to accommodate nearly any scenario, making it unfalsifiable.  Nonetheless, cryptozoological successes, like the 1994 discovery of the Wollemi Pine (a type of tree thought to have been extinct for millions of years), are useful for illustrating the speculative nature of evolutionary theory, and for casting doubt upon the transmutation of kinds over deep time.  Seeing Darwinists do a 180-degree turn on dinosaurs would be a very public embarrassment, resulting in a significantly greater credibility problem.  They would shift from a posture that dinosaurs were so unfit that they could not survive, to claiming that some were so fit that they survived till the present virtually unchanged!  It would be considerably more dramatic than finding a lobe-finned fish like the coelacanth, still alive and hardly changed after millions of years.  Natural history museums, national parks, and the many magazine articles and books that prominently display dinosaurs would require modification because they currently state that men never co-existed with the great reptiles.

Evolutionists have capitalized on the popularity of dinosaurs to sell their theories, especially to young people.  Evolutionist Sean Carroll wrote, “Dinosaurs are the poster children of evolution, and they inspire the vast majority of those who touch them.”11  Discovering a living dinosaur would help creationists reclaim the reptiles to the glory of our great Creator.  For example, it would give credence to the many historical accounts of men encountering dragons.

Finding a living, breathing, dinosaurian creature similar to the specimens in the fossil record would bring into question the reliability of other Darwinian stories.  If evolutionists can’t get something as simple as men and dinosaurs being separated by tens of millions of years correct, how can one trust them that men and mold share a common ancestor?  If a living dinosaurian specimen has only changed slightly in the supposed 60 million years since the fossils were buried, how come other dinosaurs evolved into birds?  Worse yet, how did a tiny squirrel-like creature evolve all the way into a man during the same timeframe? Indeed, the evidence we do have suggests that any extant dinosaurians are smaller, and arguably less fit than were their fossilized ancestors.  This points to degeneration, rather than evolution.

So, while committed evolutionists would surely argue that there are other creatures (like horseshoe crabs and crocodiles) that are “living relics,” still recognizable from the era of the dinosaurs. such a find would nonetheless be a public-relations boon for creationists.  The weightier scientific arguments for intelligent design could then be brought to the public’s attention because of the increased interest.

Dinosaurian cryptids

But what is the likelihood that a dinosaurian creature actually exists today?  This is pretty difficult to assess.  As much as many of us would like to see incontrovertible evidence (a readily observable population somewhere, a recently deceased corpse, or a captive living specimen) it is difficult to anticipate where such evidence will show up.  Furthermore. we must be careful to maintain a healthy, scientific skepticism of unverified claims, so that we don’t waste valuable resources or make statements that hurt our credibility.  I have personally invested over 20 years focusing on this particular subset of the origins debate, and my “short list” of possible cryptids has come about by requiring multiple lines of evidence that the hypothetical creatures exist, rather than a solitary claimed sighting.  The credentials of the observer(s) are also a factor.  I am particularly interested in having recent sightings.

Possibilities

So, after leading dinosaurian hunting expeditions on six continents, I would like to give my personal opinion on the leading “hotspots” where relic species might one day be found:

  • Pterosaurs:  In my opinion there is a good possibility that these creatures still exist in the Asia-Pacific region around Papua New Guinea (PNG).  I hiked coastal islands of PNG during a three week expedition in 2004.  After conducting numerous interviews, traveling extensively within the target area, photographing fascinating carvings, and personally observing an anomalous, nocturnal flying animal, I feel that this region holds great promise.12  I would place the odds at 90% that there is a cryptid there, and about 70% odds that the creature they call “Ropen” is an extant pterosaur.
  • Dinosaurs:  There are two regions where “dinosaur sightings” meet the criteria outlined above.  One is in the western part of equatorial Africa (Cameroon and the Congo basin).  In 2000, I conducted a reconnaissance trip into the African rainforest, slogging through the swamps and floating the jungle rivers. I came away favorably impressed with the likelihood of a sauropod dinosaur still living in that region.13  On subsequent expeditions,  associates have conducted follow-up research, which has included photography of nesting sites, and taking casts of footprints.I would say that there is a 70% chance that there is some hitherto, unidentified reptilian creature alive there, and 60% odds that it is indeed a dinosaur.  The likelihood of confirming this is not as good as it is for the Ropen, in my judgment, but additional expeditions are well worth pursuing.In 2015, I traveled to Lake Murray in the highlands of PNG, near the Indonesian border, where there are reports of a large theropod dinosaur still living amid the swamps and islands.  After conducting interviews over multiple days, I was satisfied with the credibility of the eye witnesses.14 This remains an active area of research, as nationals have now been employed to survey the remote regions of the lake, seeking locations where the creatures might be found with regularity.
  • Plesiosaurs: There are any number of “sea monster” sightings, and numerous deep lakes where visitors regularly report seeing strange reptilian creatures.  After having been to many such locations and interviewing eye witnesses, I would say that the odds of clearly discovering such a creature is lower than that for the above two categories.  My most-likely lake monster candidate would be Ogopogo, followed by Champ, and then the Loch Ness Monster.I actually observed the Ogopogo phenomenon in Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, in 2011.  While I am certain that there is a large creature lurking there, I cannot say that it is reptilian, and I doubt very much that it is a plesiosaur.  My estimate would be only about 50% that a creature like Champ actually is a plesiosaur.  It is somewhat more likely that in the immensity of the oceans, some such creature persists.  Perhaps we might someday be fortunate enough to run across a corpse, or a baby cryptid that is easily captured, but the chances seem to be remote.

Conclusion

Some creationists have questioned whether the investment of time, effort, and funds into cryptozoological endeavors is a wise use of our apologetics resources.  I believe that these efforts quite possibly could yield substantial fruit.  To turn a phrase from David Livingstone, the end of the cryptozoological feat is only the beginning of the enterprise.15  Just as Livingstone’s explorations opened doors for the gospel and helped end the slave trade, so I believe that the discovery of a living dinosaurian creature, in one of these remote regions, would provide a forum for the truth of creation, hasten the eventual demise of evolution, and open doors for evangelism.

In summary, I think that cryptozoological work holds considerable promise for creationists.  Man’s natural fascination with these great reptiles is no accident.  God designed dinosaurs to display his power.  Indeed, that is the message of Job 40–41.  When Job’s faith in God faltered, the Lord commanded him to “Behold now Behemoth!” (40:1).  Later, God stated of Leviathan: “None is so fierce that he dare stir him up; Who then is he that can stand before me?” (41:10).  Dinosaurs, rather than being a showpiece for evolutionary propaganda, should remind people of the greatness of our Creator.  It is my hope and prayer that this will be accomplished in some measure in the near future by the discovery of one of these awe-inspiring creatures.

Acknowledgement

I would like to give special thanks to Don Patton and to an anonymous reviewer for providing helpful comments in my development of this article.

References and notes

1 Eberhart, G.M. 2002. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. ABC-CLIO, Inc., Santa Barbara, CA, p. xlvii.

2 Anonymous. (2002, April 12). Coelacanth project takes off. SouthAfrica.info, Science & Technology,. Retrieved July 21, 2015, from www.southafrica.info/about/science/coelacanth.htm#.Va61HflViko

3 Kubodera, T. and K. Mori. 2005. First-ever observations of a live giant squid in the wild. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 272(1581):2583–2586.

4 Owen, J. (2010, April 9). New giant lizard discovery “an unprecedented surprise.” National Geographic News. Retrieved July 21, 2015, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/04/100407-new-giant-lizard-varabus-bitatawa-biology-letters/

5 See the archive at http://www.genesispark.com/exhibits/evidence/cryptozoological/

6 See, for example, Regal, B. 2011. Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology. Palgrave Macmillan: New York.

7 Champ is the name of a lake monster said to live in Lake Champlain, a very deep, 125-mile-long, slender, ice-age lake on the border between the states of NY and VT.

8 Wolkomir, R. 1986. Tracking down monsters. International Wildlife 16(2), March/April,

9 MacKal, R.P. 1987. A Living Dinosaur?: In search of Mokele-Mbembe. E.J. Brill: Leiden, The Netherlands.

10 Kitcher, P, 1982. Abusing Science: the Case Against Creationism, MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, p. 121.

11 Strahler, A.N. 1999. Science and Earth History: The Evolution /Creation Controversy. Prometheus Books: Amherst, NY, p. 17.

12 Carroll, S.B. 2005. Endless Forms Most Beautiful, 2005. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, p. 295.

13 See Woetzel, D. 2006. The fiery flying serpent. CRSQ 42(1):241–251.

14 See Woetzel, D. 2001. Behemoth or bust: an expedition into Cameroon investigating reports of a sauropod dinosaur. Journal of Creation 15(2):62–68.

15 Woetzel, D. 2015. The cryptid of Lake Murray — a Living Theropod? Creation Matters 20(3):2.

16 Murray, I.H. 1971. The Puritan Hope. Banner of Truth: Carlisle, PA, p.179. [Livingstone actually said, “Viewed in relation to my calling, the end of the geographical feat is only the beginning of the enterprise.”