Bigfoot and a Critical Thinking Exercise

Martin J Clemens posted a link to his article on the evolution of Bigfoot on a forum I frequent, and I thought it woud be a fun opportunity to exercise my critical thinking skills. I had frequent nightmares about Bigfoot as a kid, so I have to say I had fun picking apart the arguments in this article…Here goes:

Since the presentation of the Patterson Video from October 20th, 1967, Bigfoot mania has swept the globe.  As a cultural phenomenon, or more accurately, an urban legend, Bigfoot’s popularity has skyrocketed, since that cold autumn day, when two business associates, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, happened to encounter what is arguably the most controversial anthropological find of modern science.

I don’t think you can call a film that’s probably a guy in a bigfoot costume anthropological evidence. And maybe it’s controversial in your circle but I doubt many (if any) anthropologists are losing sleep over it.

As possibly the most famous entry in the anthropological category of ‘Cryptid’, the Sasquatch, or more commonly, Bigfoot, has garnered more than its fair share of attention, both from believers and sceptics alike.

Among the sceptical arguments against the existence of this oft-described monster of the woods, is the pseudo-scientific claim that such a creature, if it could have evolved in the first place, could not survive for such a long period of time and remain unknown to modern science.

I don’t think any skeptic would say it’s impossible that this creature exists, I certainly wouldn’t. But people have been looking for it for a long time and no evidence has been found. It’s unlikely that a population of these creatures could have gone undetected for such a long time especially with people actively looking for it. After such a long time without any evidence it’s reasonable to be dismissive of claims that there’s a bigfoot until actual evidence is brought to light.

What I hope to show in this article is the fundamental flaw in the above reasoning, and to demonstrate, through an abstract examination of the currently known ethos of the Sasquatch, that it is not only possible for such a creature to exist and to flourish, but that it may even be likely.  In other words, I hope to debunk the debunkers.

Just because something is possible or even likely doesn’t make it true. Without evidence there’s no reason to think it’s true. The people who debunk bigfoot are simply looking at the evidence and pointing out that it’s not actually evidence for bigfoot.

Why have I taken this relatively safe position of attempting to discredit the sceptics, instead of purporting to support the supporters?  In short, the paradox of my own scepticism does not escape me.  At present, we, as a community of both sceptics and believers, have no real footholds with which to make our climb to the lofty height of proven correct.  No live sample, no dead carcass, no impressively clear footage or photography and no unimpeachable testimony exist in support of either camp; but in spite of this relatively clear fact, sceptics continue to ridicule, berate and dismiss the opinions, evidence and claims of supporters.

Of course there’s no evidence in the skeptic’s camp, what would that look like? A photograph of not bigfoot? There’s no such thing as evidence that bigfoot doesn’t exist, it’s not possible to prove that bigfoot doesn’t exist. Skeptics simply scrutinize the so-called evidence in support of bigfoot but since there is nothing convincing thus far of course skeptics are dismissive of the claims of bigfoot believers.

Is it so far fetched to conceive of an as yet undiscovered bi-pedal hominid species that is large in stature, covered in ape like hair, and which is, apparently, intelligent enough to know that humanity should be avoided, even at the risk of injury and conflict?  A growing number of enthusiasts, cryptozoologists, anthropologists and laymen would answer that question with a passionate ‘no’, though an equally large number of sceptics would intelligently argue the opposite.

It seems far-fetched to me, but that doesn’t matter. If someone were to give me actual evidence that such a creature existed I would believe it.

The basis of the sceptical claim is typically as follows: The scope of humanity is such that every corner of the earth is occupied by humans, or has been with certain fluctuation; (often adding in the following caveat) those small pockets of territory that are as yet undisturbed by human populations are either too small to support a breeding population of large mammals and to simultaneously allow them to remain hidden from scientific observation, or are environmentally unsuitable for a sustained mammalian population.

No, the skeptical claim is that there’s no evidence supporting bigfoot so there is no reason to believe such a creature exists until the evidence is found.

Admittedly, there is a fairly obvious logic to that argument, even though there are factual flaws.  Not the least of which is the fact that there are stretches of undisturbed arboreal forest in northern Canada that are nearly the size of the State of Texas.  Now obviously this doesn’t account for reported Sasquatch populations residing outside of Canada, though it does illustrate the type of logical misinformation used to debunk issues like Bigfoot.

That doesn’t prove anything. It might indicate the possibility of an undiscovered species, but that doesn’t make it probable. I find it hard to believe that there are undisturbed areas of forest the size of Texas though, I’d like it if someone could point out to me where these forests are.

The entire argument of Sasquatch real-estate may be moot anyway, as I shall try to illustrate.  If we look at Bigfoot in evolutionary terms, we may be able to come up with a plausible theory to refute the sceptical claim.

I am hesitant to provide any preliminary qualification to this argument; for fear that I would do more damage to the natural selection theories on which I base my own theory in the process.  It would be best if the reader had an understanding of both Darwinism and gene selection theory, but it’s not entirely necessary.

Darwinism? I’m assuming you mean evolutionary biology, which is a completely different thing than Darwinism.

Essentially, my argument is a simple abstraction of natural selection on the genetic level, which can explain firstly, how a creature such as Sasquatch could evolve, and secondly, how it could have adapted to survive, as a species, in relatively small breeding pools.

Let’s first look at the possibility of a large bi-pedal hominid evolving to the currently reported state of Bigfoot.  This isn’t much of a stretch really, after all, we exist, the great apes exist, and lower hominids exist.  All such species have evolved in various climates, in various population environments and with varying degrees of success (genetically speaking).  When considering whether Bigfoot could have evolved from our common ancestry, it’s interesting to learn that the great apes of Africa held the very same cryptid title until their discovery in the late 19th century.  British and American scientists believed the Gorilla to be a myth, until the first corpse was presented for examination, though no reasonable person would now say that apes don’t exist.

So, to answer the first part of the sceptical argument, yes, it most certainly is possible that a Sasquatch-like creature could have evolved from our common ancestry.

Of course it’s possible. Skeptics don’t say it’s impossible, just that there’s no evidence and thus no reason to believe sasquatches exist.

If we have reasonably established that Sasquatch evolution is possible, then we should now look at how such a creature might survive and remain hidden from science.

One aspect of the Sasquatch ethos that sets it apart from all other primates (except possibly us) is it’s intrinsic intelligence.  The reasoning, memory and forethought often displayed by Bigfoot in well documented encounters, suggests that the species has developed a ‘big brain’, more than likely similar to the human brain.  It would seem on first examination that the Sasquatch brain is less developed than the human brain, though it may simply be that it developed along different evolutionary requirements. Language and reason may be available to Bigfoot, but in different forms than we see in ourselves.

This is complete speculation.

All that would have been required for a big brain to have evolved in a second species (second may not be the correct ordering of big brain development, as some believe that whales and dolphins were the first to cross that finish line), is the survival and propagation of genes within the evolution of the Sasquatch, which tended to favour individuals with greater capacity for learning and reasoning.  Meaning that the individual Sasquatch who held those traits was more likely to survive to a breeding age than those who did not, and therefore was more likely to pass on his genes to the next generation, thereby enabling successive generations to further adapt that particular genetic advantage, eventually becoming a species characteristic.

Incidentally, all other commonly held Bigfoot traits would be passed on in the same manner, and for the purposes of this argument, we needn’t provide a full explanation of the evolutionary process, it is enough to identify the specific traits that could have evolved, in order to refute the sceptic claim.

Again, just because something could have happened doesn’t mean it has.

In that effort, let’s look at what would be required for Sasquatch to survive as a species in small pockets of wilderness, all the while remaining hidden from humanity.

Firstly, many sceptics have claimed that the survival of a large mammalian species would require a breeding population in excess of 100,000 individuals in order to avoid natural extinction.  This is true -give or take 10,000 individuals- however, it is only true if the species has a gestation rate, growth rate and life span that is similar to ours.  With all that is unknown about the biology of the Sasquatch, it is conceivable that the environment in which they have evolved, has favoured genes for extended lifespan.

Biologists and Geneticists today can find no reason why humans cannot evolve (even artificially) to a lifespan of more than 200 years, and if this is so in humans, why can it not be so, naturally, in Sasquatch?

It’s possible for a species to have a long lifespan, so what? And humans could eventually live longer than 200 years, but that’s because of modern medicine, not evolution. There’s a big difference. This has no bearing on whether or not a separate species could evolve a long lifespan.

When considered on its own, an evolutionary predisposition for super-long lifespan may seem unlikely, but when considered along side all other known Sasquatch characteristics: sturdy build, well suited for mountain/heavy forest survival, large size, omnivorous nature; all these things could be interpreted to compliment a longer lifespan than humanity.  It is entirely possible that Sasquatch have adapted their metabolic processes, to slow down growth and development and as such have greatly increased the time it takes them to reach breeding age.  From a certain perspective, there do seem to be some advantages to such genetic adaptation; right from the start we know that species which reach breeding age later in life, tend to have smaller populations, which, in an environment that is geographically limited or which has limited food resources, would be a natural measure of population control, helping to ensure genetic survival.

I suggest that the immense size of Sasquatch is a testament to such an evolutionary trait, whereby, they have the time to invest in growth during a prolonged adolescence, before they would naturally begin to invest those same resources in procreation.  The double effect of this characteristic might be that such a species would need a much smaller breeding pool in order to survive.

This is all baseless speculation. Coming up with an explanation for why the pop-culture idea of bigfoot could exist doesn’t prove anything.

However, none of this shows how or why Sasquatch is able to remain undetected in these small pockets of wilderness, or does it?

If the above is true, or even plausible, then it could follow that any creature that must wait for an extended period of time before reaching breeding age would also develop a mechanism for ensuring that each worthy individual was able to reach that age in a healthy state.  Given the extended time frame, there would be a greater risk of the adolescent falling prey to various dangers in their environment (not the least of which would be predation by other species of hominid, i.e. us).  A natural progression of this logic might lead one to the idea that the Sasquatch evolved a heightened xenophobic propensity.  Simply put, they are naturally more fearful of members of other species, than other species might be of them.  This would serve to ensure that each individual is afforded the same opportunity to mate and rear offspring.

Even if they’re extremely good at hiding there should still be evidence of their existence. Why haven’t there been any skeletons discovered? Feces? Fur? Habitats such as a den or cave? Something the size of a large human or a bear should leave behind traces that it exists. And if the bigfoot can be photographed or videotaped, they shouldn’t be impossible to find. There should be evidence in the places where these are taken, so why isn’t  there an abundance of evidence for bigfoot?

And even if there is such thing as bigfoot and it’s skilled enough at hiding his tracks to leave no evidence behind, there is still no evidence, so this speculation is meaningless.

This is a fairly easy line of reasoning to follow, and can be further illustrated by looking at the historical conditions that could have led to such an evolutionary situation.

Among early primates, of which we know there were several variant species, each species evolution was dictated by two things.  1) The genetic make up they had to work with, and 2) the environment in which they needed to survive.  For any one species, the evolutionary outcome of their survival was born of the minute adaptations and selection of successful genes along every successive generation.  Those genes that were not successful did not make it into the next generation and therefore did not influence the adaptation of successive generations.  In each environment, various species used various and alternate traits to varying levels of success, resulting in the wide array of primates we see today.  While some experienced success in one direction, others when in another.

It is more than possible, and in my mind, is even likely that of the infinite evolutionary possibilities, the above scenario has played out in at least one species, and has led to the creature we now know as Sasquatch.

Again, because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s true.

In summary, I believe I have shown, however clumsily, that Sasquatch could have adapted through evolution, to be long lived and shy, which might have the effect of allowing them to survive in the smaller pockets of wilderness that remain available.  This is not to say that they will be able to remain obscured in the face of ever encroaching human development and deforestation, and I suggest that if my theory is correct, then not only will sightings increase as we trespass on their territory, but those encounters will become increasingly violent as the Sasquatch are forced to coexist with other species beyond their natural comfort level.

You haven’t shown anything. Of course it’s possible that sasquatches exist, but there’s no evidence. All you have shown is that you can write a story about why these creatures might exist. In the absence of evidence there’s no reason to believe in bigfoot, and it’s impossible to come to any conclusions about their traits or their evolution.

6 Responses to “Bigfoot and a Critical Thinking Exercise”

  1. 1 Martin j. Clemens June 15, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Well, firstly, thank you for taking the time to consider what I’ve presented.

    I would have preferred any counter argument to be based on something more than pure semantics, but since my own argument is essentially the same, I can hardly blame you.

    There are certain facts that seem to have escaped your grasp, namely that there currently is no evidence of Bigfoot, and as such, conjecture and speculation are all that is left to the believer. My article is not intended to be proof of the exitence of sasquatch, it is an abstract theory of how a sasquatch type creature could have evolved. This is quite clearly stated in the article.

    Now, since sceptical inquiry will accept nothing less than a corpse or part of a corpse, we’re faced with a problem.

    Wildlife experts are unanimous in their understanding that many large mammals leave no trace of their presence in an area, until the area has been either overpopulated by that species, or encroached on to a specific saturation point by man. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    As you so eloquently pointed out, because a thing is possible, it does not mean it is true. What it does mean, is that it is possible. Which is the entire point.

    Sceptics, en masse, use the argument that I’ve outlined to claim that bigfoot cannot exists because of reasons X, Y, Z. I refute that claim, showing that reasons X, Y and Z are false logic.

    As for the large forested areas you question, look at a map of northern Ontario/Quebec.

    If you would like to read a little more, I suggest having a good look at ’13 Things That Don’t Make Sense’, by Michael Brooks, and ‘The Living Cosmos’, by Chris Impey. You will come to find out that there is no biological reason for human lifespans to be limited to less than 100 years. This is not a marvel of modern science…and it is entirely a function of evolution.

    Bt the way, my learned friend, Darwinism is precisely the right concept; natural selection and evolution. Evolutionary biology is born of Darwinism.

    So, if you can suspend your disbelief for a few moments, can you focus your keen intellect on the actual purpose of the article and critique the logic of the theory, leaving the overall argument of whether the creature exists or not to others for the time being?

  2. 2 linzeebinzee June 16, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Skeptics cannot claim that bigfoot cannot exist because it’s not possible to prove that. All that skeptics can say is that until evidence surfaces, there’s no reason to believe this creature exists.

    Your point was that it’s possible that bigfoot exists. Yes, it is possible, but your ideas don’t make it any more possible.
    Your “theory” is completely made up, based on no evidence, so what’s the point? I could write up a possible evolution of the Leprechaun, but without any evidence for Leprechauns it’s meaningless.

    I put theory in scare quotes because it’s not a scientific theory without evidence. It’s fiction. How can I critique the logic of your article when it’s all made up? Everything you said about bigfoot is possible, so?

    I wonder why you insist on using the term Darwinism, rather than evolution, which is what you’re actually talking about. Darwinism is a loaded term and has different meanings to different people. To me, whenever I see someone use the word Darwinism, I think of the way creationists use it, which is to imply that atheists see Darwin as a religious figure. That’s not what you were talking about in your article, why wouldn’t you just say evolution or evolutionary biology? I suggest reading the Wikipedia entry on Darwinism.

  3. 3 Martin j. Clemens June 16, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    I have no argument against the idea that I’m not presentnig evidence, as that wasn’t my intention. What I did was no different than cosmological speculation about what aliens “might” be like.

    By the way, using the term Darwinism the way I did, is the correct use of the term, using it in connection with a relious agenda, in one direction or another, is entirely political.

    Darwin was about evolution, plain and simple, the use of his name in religious discussion is highly distasteful to me. I use it to describe evolution or evolutionary biology as often as possible, if only to take back the meaning for what it should be,

  4. 4 Global Villager June 16, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Well Martin I enjoyed your article, it was fun to read, it would be cool if bigfoots did exist and you do make good points about why we can’t rule it out all together. It certainly excited the imagination and I thank you for that.

    However, that being said, I have to agree with linzeebinzee. Just because it could exist doesn’t mean it probably does. In fact, considering the total lack of evidence in an ever shrinking world (not literally of course) the probability is so small it probably is not worth writing about.

    If your goal was to spark the imagination and write a fun article – mission accomplished, though I am unsure that was your intention!

  5. 5 linzeebinzee June 22, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    You’re right, cosmological speculation about what aliens might be like is just like what you did. Both are based on no evidence, and both are only good for entertainment purposes. Personally, I think aliens are way more fun to speculate about though, and I think they’re more likely to exist.

    When you refer to evolutionary biology as Darwinism you’re implying that evolutionary biology hasn’t changed since Darwin presented the theory, and you’re ignoring all of the advances that have been made in the field and all of the scientists other than Darwin that have contributed to it in the past 150 years. Using “Darwinism” to describe it is inaccurate.

  6. 6 Gary B March 12, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Geez you guys, everybody knows that aliens are either green or grey and have really big heads. Before the cosmological enlightenment the green ones were forced to sit in the back of the flying saucer.

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