In the first part of this series, we looked at one example of using cryptozoology as a springboard into theological and philosophical discussion, namely the nature of God. We now focus on a more mundane philosophical topic, that is, human nature. For that, we turn to the debate over a potential hairy bipedal cousin of ours, who has a penchant for leaving big, barefoot footprints.
One of the points discussed by Jimmy Akin in the Bigfoot episode of Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World is whether or not Bigfoot has a soul. The idea stems from debates over what Bigfoot is supposed to be. Some hold that Bigfoot and other mysterious hominids are proto-humans, our close biological relatives. Others hold that these creatures are just undescribed primate species. Some even hold that Bigfoot, Yeti, and the like are relic populations of Neanderthals, hiding from Cro-Magnon men like us.
The debate over Bigfoot and his ilk and whether they have souls really depends on two points. First, what exactly are these creatures, assuming they exist? Second, is there such a thing as an immortal human soul?
If hairy bipeds like Bigfoot are not quite human, but still our ancestors on the evolutionary tree, then they more likely than not would be mere animals, that is, not gifted with intellect and free will. As intelligent as they would be, they would not have reason. In essence, they would not have an immaterial, immortal soul.
If these creatures are of some undiscovered species of primate, then they would likewise just be animals.We have studied known higher primates (such as gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees) for a while, and much has been written about their intelligence and ability to communicate through sign language. It would seem at first glance that this indicates that such primates are like us, having intellects and wills.
Yet they do not have the same level of abstraction we have. Gorillas taught American Sign Language sign and describe what they want, and even combine signs to coin, so to speak, new words. However, they cannot describe ideas like fundamental rights or virtuous living. That, it seems, is still the realm of human reason, even if we do not always follow such logic.
If Bigfoot represents some relic population of Neanderthals or some other subtribe of human, however, the story might be very different. Neanderthals, it seems, were more than just our biological relatives; they had a culture which bears more than a passing resemblance to our own. We know from archaeological excavations that Neanderthals had some concept of an afterlife and the immortality of their souls, even if they wouldn’t express it that way (in whatever type of speech they may have developed). Neanderthals, it seems, not only buried their dead (which could have simply been a natural way of hiding bodies from unwelcome scavengers), but they buried them with artifacts, that is, items they might need in the afterlife. In essence, they had a sort of religion.
Where does this leave us and our (potential) hairy bipedal neighbors? If Bigfoot, et al., are uncatalogued non-human primates, then their discovery would mean a lot for zoologists and paleobiologists, as well as monster hunters the world over. If these creatures are actually a subspecies of human, like the Neanderthals, we should treat them with the respect due to the children of Adam.
What, then, of their souls?
Personally, I think the most likely candidate for Bigfoot-type creatures throughout the world, assuming they are real, is some species or range of species of unclassified primate. Scientists and cryptozoologists can debate the physical evidence for such creatures; unfortunately, that debate does not give much fodder to a theological or philosophical discussion.
So let us assume that I am wrong, and that creatures like the Yeti or Bigfoot are actually surviving examples of Neanderthals. They would be, essentially, human, rational with an intellect and free will. They would have an immortal soul.
Would they need to be saved? Do we baptize Bigfoot?
It is a similar, though not identical, question to the one discussed in Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?; in that book, Br. Guy Consolmagno and Fr. Paul Mueller approach the question with a bit of humor (you have to when discussing holy aliens). The answers to whether or not to baptize space visitors depends on if there was an extraterrestrial “Fall,” as in the Fall of Adam and Eve. If these visitors were unfallen, free from sin, then they would not be in need of the sacrament (as is the case for the humanoid extraterrestrials of C. S. Lewis’ novel Perelandra).
Neanderthals, however, were humans, from our family. Looking, for a moment, at human evolution, we see man using reason, intellect, and will thousands of years before modern humans arrived on the scene. We can point to his elaborate tools, where man takes nature and transforms it into his vision of utility. From that point forward we can speak of mankind properly speaking. Our original parents were of that time, the first of a new creature with intellect and will, in a word, a rational soul. Homo sapiens stem from this original pair, and thus have shared in the gifts and Fall of our original parents.
So we could, in theory, baptize a living Neanderthal. That assumes, of course, we could communicate effectively with him (or her) and our cryptid cousin could consent to the baptism. Forced conversions are not condoned, after all, even for our long-lost living human relative.