The Burden of Proof

Beast of Burden

By Matt Knapp

People are strange…

In the world of Bigfoot researchers and enthusiasts, people like to throw around various catch phrases and pseudo-professional terms. One of my personal favorites that have come to fruition over the past few years is “burden of proof.” Every time I hear it, the image of that old woman in the hamburger commercials from the 80’s comes to mind, demanding to know “Where’s the beef?!”

There are many explanations as to the importance and definition of “burden of proof” in the legal and scientific fields. I would assume in such a field as Bigfoot, the closest one to having any merit would be the scientific meaning, although with people throwing around threats of lawsuits based on differing opinions, I could be wrong. For my purposes however I will stick with the science based train of thought.

If I say something exists, the burden of proof lies on me to prove this thing’s existence. There seems to be some grey area here, depending on how far you go with your claim that goes against other accepted “truths.” Regardless, it is up to me to prove my claim. To support my claim with evidence that others may review. Many great scientists have faced this burden of proof, with “outlandish” claims, and little to no evidence to support such claims. Sometimes the proof was not revealed until after the person had passed on. Other times technology had to advance before the proof could be had. And at times the proof was discovered by someone who wasn’t even involved with the claim. The question here is did those circumstances make the original claim untrue? I’ll give you some examples of things that were met with fierce objections, claims that went against what the scientific world considered to be true. The Earth being round. The solar system revolving around the sun. The human circulatory system and the heart being the main pump. Black holes. The Doppler Effect. Ohms. TV. FM Radio. Liquid fueled rockets that could be used as weapons. Gorillas, Pandas, Giant Squid, Komodo Dragons, etc. The list goes on and on. In fact one could wager on the scientific community being wrong the majority of the time until the truth is proven to them in one form or another.

So once again, is the claim wrong, untrue, or “outlandish” because of the lack of evidence to support it at any given moment? Anyone using simple elementary school logic knows the answer is a simple “no.” Lack of evidence does not mean a claim is untrue, it just means it has yet to be proven. With that being said, if we do not know if a claim is untrue or not, why do certain individuals feel the need to either dismiss it immediately, or attack it? If science has proven over hundreds of years that it can and will be wrong, and that many of our commonly known facts started out being treated as outlandish claims, then why do we feel the need to repeat this process over and over? Not only that, but the majority of the time it is done by individuals who project themselves as having higher levels of education and intelligence. Yet when it comes to simple logic they think and act in archaic and rudimentary ways, all the while projecting this often times false image on the individual or claim they are attacking. A claim that they have no way of knowing if it is true or not, based on their own scientific reasoning. Kind of like a dog that growls and snaps at anything that comes near its food, to the point it ends up chasing its own tail and looking foolish. Only in the Bigfoot world, these foolish mutts strut around as if they had actually accomplished something.

…When You’re A Stranger

Now that we’ve worked past the idiocracy of attacking a claim as a falsehood based on the lack of evidence at a given moment by bringing it back down into the realm of logic and common sense, let’s look at why this happens in the first place. There is indeed a common denominator. Prejudice. One of the definitions of prejudice is:

(1): preconceived judgment or opinion (2): an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge.

I assure you, many of the people in this endeavor, whether it be a self-righteous expert, a skeptic, or a newbie just getting their feet wet, are severely lacking in “sufficient knowledge.” There are entire books written on the subject which contain nothing more than “preconceived judgments or opinions.” Many of the research groups are based off of these very things. The various cliques and social groups within the community are grounded in these type belief systems. When someone of a differing group or someone who is unknown to the majority at hand makes a claim that either the group or certain individuals are unaware of or have a preconceived opinion on, that person is met with hostility. That person is immediately put on the defensive. Then the attacking party uses this defensive posture in the individual that they themselves provoked as an argument against that person’s claim.

“See there! Look how defensive they got when all I did was ask a simple question!”

Which is normally followed by “That a boy” and pats on the back. Do people really not realize how ignorant this makes one look? Sure, all they did was ask a simple question, normally “Where’s your proof?” which is basically the same thing as calling a complete stranger a liar. It means “I don’t believe you. Prove it to me or else you’re a liar.” Where I come from this type of behavior would not only put someone on the defensive, but would also anger them to the point of not being willing to share any “proof” that they might have to support their claim. Now did you do the world a favor by trying to belittle some stranger in front of your friends, or did you set the mystery back 10 years by cutting off the potential solving puzzle piece due to your ignorant approach? That a boy!

There’s a second side to this prejudicial monster though. The hypocrisy. If these people were to just attack claims due to lack of knowledge, I would find it ignorant, but at least then it would have some other reasoning behind it that would make my claim of prejudice moot. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. See, when claims are made from within these cliques and circles, and then the claims are accepted as true. A simple explanation to their peers as to why they do not have any evidence supporting their claim is all that’s needed. I mean that’s okay right? I mean after all they know this person. They do not know that other individual. The person they know has never been caught lying to them before. They have spent time socializing in the past. Their overall opinions coincide with one another so it’s okay to not only give them the benefit of the doubt, but to flat out take what they say as fact without any of the challenges and demanding of proof that was put on the individual they do not know as well. This is called a double standard. Some other double standards are white people can use this restroom, but black people cannot. Europeans can speak English, their native language, but Native Americans must learn a new language. Men can vote, but women can’t. These double standards were all based on prejudice. I’m at a loss to think of a double standard that isn’t based on prejudice. Yet we can discuss the double standards in the Bigfoot community, but we do not dare put its true name to it. We have seen the error of our ways in the above mentioned prejudices, yet here we are repeating them on a daily basis in a field that contains no experts. No facts. Just opinions and theories. Wasn’t opinion and theory the basis for the other prejudices as well?

Where’s The Beef?

So what are we supposed to do, take everyone’s word that their claims are genuine? Not ask for any evidence or proof of so said claims? That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m not suggesting anyone to walk around like mindless sheep. I encourage individual thought. This is my point entirely. The problem is that there is too little individual thought, and too much gang mentality. Too much ego. It’s a hard thing to swallow. There are highly respected people in this field. People whose opinions hold instant merit within the community. People who have never laid eyes on a Bigfoot in their many years of research. People who have found maybe one or two possible tracks, maybe none at all. When someone comes along making claims that they have not only seen a Bigfoot, but have seen several, or talk about the large amount of tracks they have found of all shapes and sizes, it invokes two emotions; disbelief and inadequacy. Neither of which are positive emotions. So at that point their questioning becomes that of emotional based. It’s human nature to try and get rid of negative emotions, to try and “fix” the problem, and that’s what they do. They offer the challenge. “Where is your proof?”

First we have to look at how the claim is being perceived. The most common reasoning behind a claim attack is the old standby “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” A phrase which was popularized by Carl Sagan. Often times in the Bigfoot community the word “extraordinary” is replaced by “outlandish.” Just so we can be on the same page, I will go ahead and offer up these definitions as they apply to this particular subject:

Extraordinary: 1 a: going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary <extraordinary powers> b: exceptional to a very marked extent <extraordinary beauty>

Outlandish: 2 a: strikingly out of the ordinary : bizarre<an outlandish costume> b: exceeding proper or reasonable limits or standards

Now here you have a situation where an individual is making a claim that is supposed to be based on their own experience and knowledge. Then an individual challenges their claim on the basis of it being extraordinary or outlandish. Knowing what these words mean, they are either saying the claim is going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary for Bigfoot; or they feel the claim is strikingly out of the ordinary, or exceeds reasonable limits and standards of Bigfoot behavior. So for that person to challenge those claims on the basis of the claims being extraordinary or outlandish, they must possess the knowledge of what usual or ordinary behavior of a Bigfoot is, which could only be had through close observation. Therefore they would in fact be subject to their own line of questioning based on their initial questioning of the claim. So now, who does the burden of proof fall upon? The person making the claim, or the person who apparently already knows so much about Bigfoot behavior that they can determine when something is extraordinary or outlandish? Where is their evidence and proof to support that they can make the judgmental call if a claim has gone beyond the limitations of acceptable Bigfoot behavior? So was their basis for challenging the claim grounded in truth and science, or was it motivated by other means? Chew on that for a moment, I’ll wait.

The problem with evidence and proof of Bigfoot’s existence and behavior is this; not all evidence or proof, even in the scientific sense, can be subjected to the scientific method, nor determined in a laboratory setting. A Bigfoot sighting is not a repeatable occurrence. It is an event in time. You could also say it is an experience, but we’re going to use an event in time to make it something solid. Events in time can’t be reproduced. No matter how hard you try. Short of a time machine they can’t be subjected to peer scrutiny. All that you have is the testimony of the witnesses involved, and/or the evidence left behind from the event. The mistake people are making is treating Bigfoot as something that should be approached with the scientific method, when in fact it should be approached the same way other events in time are, such as historical events and phenomena. Skeptics realize this, which is why they demand this rock solid proof. They know that the scientific method cannot be applied to a historical event. Just ask anyone what extraordinary proof or evidence would they in fact require, and the answers will all be the same. A body. The only way to accomplish that is for it to either be a stroke of dumb luck, or for you to be able to predict where a Bigfoot sighting will occur.

Now we apply it to our burden of proof. If a person is making a claim based on an event in time they experienced, what would be an acceptable piece of evidence to provide proof of their claim? Now keep in mind, it is an event in time that occurred. So what extraordinary evidence would be sufficient for their extraordinary claim? We cannot observe nor repeat an event in time that has already taken place. Both of which are required for the use of scientific methodology. Are we going to hold everyone to the standards of video or photographic proof? Meaning everyone must at all times have a visual recording device at the ready while in the field, and without producing this visual evidence we don’t believe anything they say? But wait, we have now reached a time where both video and photographs can easily be manipulated; therefore even a clear picture would be left up to opinion. So if “extraordinary evidence” is not logically feasible for this application, what is left?

Here’s The Beef!

The reality of it all is that there is no precise scientific method to determine the validity of an event in time. Different individuals will claim different requirements for validation, dependent on their own presuppositions and types of evidence involved. Since a Bigfoot sighting, encounter, or experience is an event in time, which cannot be “re-observed” or repeated, we must look at the evidence differently. This is why the application of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is somewhat subjective and invalid for determining event in time phenomena.

The requirement of “proof” which in our case is a body is an impossibility. This form of proof cannot be obtained through scientific methodology. Observation, experimentation, and repetition cannot be applied to an event that has already occurred. Nor can video or photographic evidence be produced based on the whim of an individual requiring such as proof. Which we also know would not be considered “absolute proof” based on the abilities of today’s technology. So why demand it in the first place? Unless you are making the demand based on the knowledge that it can’t be produced to begin with, allowing yourself some sort of pseudo-victory on behalf of your own motivations when the witness fails to do so. Another “That a boy!” for you.

The requirement for absolute proof however, ignores the fact that there is a category of “sufficient evidence.” In logic, (keyword logic) there is deduction and induction. Deduction, my dear Watson, is reasoning from the general to the specific. Drawing a conclusion based on fact. Induction is the reverse; drawing general principles from specific facts. It is reasoning from the specific to the general. Often times, deductive and inductive reasoning is used to reach conclusions about events that have taken place. In doing so, there is no requirement of “extraordinary evidence.” The evidence is simply examined contextually in the genre in which it fits. An example of what I mean is this:

We do not apply observation, experimentation, and repetition to the subject of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The genre, which is history, (an event in time) does not fit that methodology. The scientific method. Yet skeptics, as well as certain Bigfoot researchers, will require that methodology be applied to Bigfoot, and claims of Bigfoot encounters and experiences, thereby, misapplying evidential and logical analysis.

Furthermore, we cannot ascertain all things with absolute certainty. For example, we cannot prove that the Battle of the Little Bighorn ever happened by observing it. We do have however, written documentation from eyewitnesses who observed it taking place. I do not know anyone who does not believe that the Battle of the Little Bighorn took place, without involving the scientific method and with no requirements of “extraordinary evidence.” Yet they will make those demands of a Bigfoot encounter or sighting.

Yes there are differences between a documented battle observed by many eyewitnesses, and a Bigfoot sighting observed by one or a few individuals. However, in terms of logic the same rules should apply based on the fact that they both fit within the same genre. Encounters with Bigfoot type creatures have been documented for hundreds of years by eyewitnesses spanning the entire globe. Why are the standards different for those encounters, than they are for other event in time phenomena? Not only are the standards different, but they are standards that should not even apply to those given situations. Standards, demands, and requests that are both illogical and impossible to provide based on the simple fact that sightings and encounters are being treated by skeptics as falling into a certain category in which they do not belong in the first place.

The Conclusion…

Whether or not the Battle of the Little Bighorn took place and the events happened as they are recorded, will not change anything nor will it have an effect on anyone. But, if it is true that Bigfoot, Sasquatch, The Yeti, The Yowie, whatever name your region chooses, do in fact exist, that would have a profound effect on people, what we think we know about science, possibly even our own history and what we know about our own world. This makes people uncomfortable. Even those who believe they can or possibly do exist. To find out they were wrong in their own beliefs and opinions, or that they were unable to accomplish something within the field that others could do, that too has a direct effect on a person. Therefore, they will not want some of those claims to be true. Some may not want Bigfoot to exist at all, and will sometimes desperately try to hold onto their presuppositions; hence the claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

The burden of proof lies with the individual making the claim. True enough. The fallacy is found within the proof that is demanded of the one making the claim. The burden of proof may only be fulfilled by evidence. The types of evidence are testimony, documentary, physical or real, digital, exculpatory, scientific, demonstrative, eyewitness identification, genetic, and lies. The classification or genre of the claim itself determines which of these could be used to fulfill the burden of proof. Not all apply in any given situation, given that different situations allow for only certain types of evidence to even be possible.

When defending a claim and dealing with the notion that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” address the following issues:

Will their presuppositions allow unbiased examination of the evidence?

In the specific situation, what would qualify as “extraordinary evidence?”

What is the criteria being used to determine what “extraordinary evidence” is?

Is the criteria being used for “extraordinary evidence” reasonable for that situation?

Published in: on February 15, 2010 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment