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Supernatural Creep: The Slippery Slope to Unfalsifiability

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on May 31st, 2013

Science does not address “supernatural” claims – it must stay within natural laws and can only test that which obeys natural laws. Sharon Hill has a new piece about slipping into supernatural means when natural explanations no longer seem to suffice, especially in cases of “high strangeness”:

“What happens when science doesn’t cooperate with your subject area? Researchers of unexplained events may get frustrated and disenchanted with the scientific process when the eyewitness accounts they collect are too weird to explain via conventional means. They go unconventional.”

She discusses how the Bigfoot community is split between those that think the explanation is a flesh and blood creature and those who think the answer is beyond the normal. Also mentioned is the Beast of the Gevaudan, the Yowie and phantom black dogs. How can glowing eyes and resistance to bullets be explained? Or are researchers going down the completely wrong path.

yowie

“In their 2006 book, The Yowie: In Search of Australia’s Bigfoot, authors Tony Healy and Paul Cropper appear to have a parting of the ways when trying to explain all the Yowie accounts at face value—some of which, like our American Bigfoot are pretty bizarre. What is up with an animal that is sometimes described as having three toes, sometimes four or five? And, after all this time, why can’t we trap one or find a body? The creature has a stupendous ability to escape human grasp by eluding our cameras and leaving only tenuous, dubious traces of its corporeal existence. It can run outrageously fast and may be able to see infrared light. With the Yowie, we can’t think of a way to get a wild man on the island continent. It seems so implausible. But as Healy and Cropper note, it’s uncomfortable to explain the Yowie as a paranormal entity, perhaps as a psychic phenomenon, because it results in replacing one mystery with another.

Characteristics of hairy hominids or other unidentified cryptids may be just marginally odd—avoiding detection for decades among people, expert at hiding in plain sight, unusually developed senses of hearing or sight, fantastic strength or incredible speed. Or, they may get a bit spooky—glowing eyes, inability to be photographed, immunity to bullets, seen everywhere but found nowhere. They get to the point where it’s beyond natural—telepathy, shape-shifting, apporting or dis-apporting, signaling illness or death. In the case of some monster sightings, they are associated with UFO sightings, sychronicities, and time loss or distortion.

In order to hang on to the literal interpretation of eyewitness accounts, researchers may take tiny steps away from a purely natural explanation of their quarry. If the animal is shot at close range, why is it not injured or killed? Instead of questioning the story (or the marksmanship of the gunman), the assumption is that the thing must have some extra quality like bullet-proof skin, or perhaps it is impervious to bullets. If these stories are regarded as valid, and more like it come along, instead of doubting the witness, the researcher concludes there must be something paranormal going on to explain it.

The slip down the supernatural slope is really apparent when there are accounts of “high strangeness”—mind-boggling stories that have absurd elements. This term was originally used by Dr. J. Allen Hynek to describe extremely peculiar UFO cases that appeared to be associated with dream-like details, such as mysterious phone calls, electronic glitches, and Men in Black visits. If a report is one of “high strangeness,” it’s more than the typical “I saw a UFO” or “I saw a Bigfoot” story. It turns into a “I saw a Bigfoot go into a UFO” story—a whole other level of weirdness that now strains a natural explanation, if true.

And so it goes with Bigfooters. I recently read a blog post about a person who was rejected from the Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BRFO) because he dared mention a telepathic experience related to a Bigfoot encounter. There are Bigfoot researchers who discard reports that involve any paranormal or supernatural element because it sounds less credible to admit such ideas if they wish their work to be taken seriously. (This is a bit weird for the BFRO, I thought, since Matt Moneymaker ascribes some incredibly bizarre, paranormal talents to Bigfoot like the ability to “stun” people and immobilize them. I can’t take his speculations seriously.)”

This piece is published on Sharon’s Sound Sciencey column for the Committee of Skeptical Inquiry where she aims to reach across to both sides of the fence. It may make you reflect on your own thought processes. Read the entire piece here.

Sharon Hill specializes in issues of science and the public and runs the Doubtful News website. Sharon can be reached at shill@centerforinquiry.net.

Craig Woolheater – has written 2532 posts on this site.
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster.


3 Responses to “Supernatural Creep: The Slippery Slope to Unfalsifiability”

  1. Allen Garmon via Facebook responds:

    The claims that bigfoot is impervious to bullets reveals an ignorance of ballistics. An animal that large would probably have little reaction to being shot by anything but the largest hunting rifle cartridges.

  2. DWA responds:

    I continue to find it interesting how almost all the conversation about how “elusive” these creatures are focuses on the woo-woo proponent claims and on the presence or absence of suitably wild terrain.

    It seems to me to come down much more to this:

    NO ONE – of consequence to the proof, that is – believes anyone who saw one.

    I think it’s really that simple. On the one hand, one hears “they would have been found by now.” On the other, one sees the very evidence that would be required to do that rejected, out of hand.

  3. DWA responds:

    “Supernatural creep is the way researchers hold onto their cherished ideas that a mysterious phenomenon, as they perceive it, is really out there. Being too invested in the idea to let it go, they reinvent reality instead.”

    Um, Jeff Meldrum, Grover Krantz and John Bindernagel aren’t doing that. All one must do with them is address the evidence they’re looking at and show that an alternative explanation is better. So far: nada.

    “I recently read a blog post about a person who was rejected from the Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BRFO) because he dared mention a telepathic experience related to a Bigfoot encounter. There are Bigfoot researchers who discard reports that involve any paranormal or supernatural element because it sounds less credible to admit such ideas if they wish their work to be taken seriously.”

    Well, one seems here to be trying a little too hard to have it both ways. Sharon herself gives perfectly good reasons that “high strangeness” explanations can (and should) be handily rejected. Why (she says) postulate paranormalities when ample evidence pointing away from that is available for review and pursuit? Don’t try to discredit an organization because they are doing just what you are suggesting to do, which is: stick to what science can explain.



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