Time magazine announced last week, in a story spelled out on Time.com, that “There may be solid evidence that the apelike yeti roams the Siberian tundra.” This is surprising news given that even in the face of good evidence, science is reluctant to admit new large animals to our biological family. The reasoning goes that since humans (mostly white, male humans of the western hemisphere) have explored most of the landmass on this planet, we could not have missed any large land creatures. There are rare exceptions, such as the mountain gorilla, added to our database only about a century ago, but it seems to have been the last of the large animals to avoid detection. Now the yeti, the bogeyman of many childhood dreams, may be coming to life.
Science is our way of describing and theorizing about what we have discovered. Many therefore assume that science is all about new discoveries. Some of us feel a tinge of sadness at having been born after the great era of discovery. Reading about how adventurers (responsible for far more fundamentally earth-shaking discoveries than scientists of their times) ventured into new worlds and declared the wonders of God revealed in the formerly unknown, is always a humbling experience. We know so little. The mark of the truly educated is not the claims of great knowledge, but the admission of how little we really understand. Does the yeti roam the inhospitable and very sparsely populated regions of Siberia and the Himalayas where it has been a staple of folklore for centuries? We may never find definitive proof, but Time holding out a candle of hope seems a step in the right direction.
Relegated to the world of the “paranormal,” elusive animals demonstrate that the ways we know about the world are multitude. Science does not, and does not claim to, know everything. Indeed, science has a limited frame of reference within which it works. Going out seeking cryptids is not, properly speaking, science. The belief that those seeking evidence display is closer to religious conviction. That does not mean it is wrong or that it is founded upon faulty suppositions. It is simply a different kind of knowledge. It is common to say science is in conflict with religion. It need not be. If we accept science at its word, as doing what it claims to do, there is no need ever to question assured results. Belief, on the other hand, seldom crosses over into the realm of objective truth, empirically demonstrated. If it did, it would not require believing. If yeti is discovered, there will be much celebration among believers, but the creature will necessarily pass into the hands of science. For this reason alone, many are glad to leave it in the realm of folklore and myth. Either way, to some people, yeti will always be real, whether scientifically verified or not.