May 2, 2012, WRITTEN BY MITCH ELDER
A very good friend of mine made a startling confession to me a couple of weeks ago – the implications of which I’m still wrestling with. I know this man well. I know him to be highly intelligent, well read, insightful, very skeptical, analytical, educated and articulate. He graduated from a respected university, makes his living as a researcher, has an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and is a master of logic and reason. He is a true polymath. I love this man, and maybe more to the point, I respect him.
Every now and then we get together to share good beer and conversation. Our meetings over food and drink are much more than just Saturnalian beer swilling. We dissect history, religion, culture, politics, evolutionary theory and everything else we can think of in a Socratic format of questions and answers, each of us testing our mettle against each other.
It’s an instant feedback loop of ideas and criticism.
We pass no judgments but pardon no folly. These engagements and my greater friendship with him are one of the true joys of my life. And so I was gob smacked when he looked me square in the eye and told me he had once come face to face with Bigfoot.
I was stunned not because of what he had just said to me or because it was specifically him who had said it – but because of my reaction to it.
Let me be very clear on this: this isn’t about him this is about me.
My immediate and reflexive response was, “Oh, I believe you.”
And I’m still wrestling with that.
I’d like to think my reaction was a combination of the beer and a desire to not offend. And while those two things certainly colored my response, I know deep in my heart they don’t tell the entire story. The truth is, I want to believe in Bigfoot. I really do. I want to believe there is something yet to discover in nature, something really, really big; something scientifically earth shattering and paradigm shifting.
Do I really believe in Bigfoot? Do I really believe that my friend actually saw one? These are two different questions. He saw something. Of that, I am certain. I will leave it to him to decide what it was.
But I have to decide what his story means to me and about the nature of belief itself. The difference between knowledge and belief is the difference between having facts and having faith. I want to believe in Bigfoot just as I would like very much to believe that there is a loving god who watches over me.
But my constitution won’t allow me to surrender to either notion without a consensus of evidence. I remain skeptical. And yet, I understand how and why believers believe. When you really, really want to, it’s easy. When you really want to, it’s easy to reflexively say, “Oh, I believe you.” But before I dive in with both feet and start living as if these things really existed, I must stop and examine my motives. Is this thing really out there or do I just wish it were?