Reason and Faith in Ufology
For nearly twenty years, I have been researching UFOs. It has been the most challenging subject of my life.
Understanding ufology is like understanding any person of genius. Such people do not come to you. Beethoven, Charlie Parker, Rodin, Shakespeare, Tolstoy: they do not sacrifice their artistic vision for the benefit of random numbskulls demanding easy entertainment.
You must approach them. But you do not stroll in as if you own the place. You enter as a respectful student before a new Master. You take your time and, above all, you seek to understand.
Such is ufology. As you enter the temple, I suggest that you hold your preconceptions loosely, and be prepared to release them.
Unlike many others, I entered this field not from having been a UFO witness (although I did see what I believe was a UFO in 1999, the year before my first book was published). Rather, my motivation was sheer curiosity, the need to resolve something in my mind that would not go away.
That something was the stark contradiction of an apparent unexplained reality (with obvious military interest) and its complete denial within our world’s official structure of power. That is, everyone from major media representatives, academic leaders, political leaders, right up to the President. UFOs seemed to be everywhere, yet they were nowhere. They were orphans traversing the skies with no agency willing to acknowledge them.
I recall my feeling of excitement and naivete in those early years of research. Knowing full well that there were strong forces on the side of secrecy, I nearly convinced myself that, if only I could prepare the most airtight case, presented calmly and dispassionately, I might just fashion a weapon to crack the wall of secrecy. That was one of my preconceptions.
I knew I had not been the first person to try such a thing, but I felt my first book constituted a good effort. Yet, the wall of secrecy did not fall. It turns out that knowledge, while a necessary step toward “Disclosure,” is not sufficient. Proper action must follow, lots of it.
Into the Weird
With each passing decade, ufology grows in complexity. Consider how researchers of the 1950s and 1960s understood the matter of “flying saucers.” At that time, the phenomenon was believed, often quite literally, to be a case of human-looking men and (sometimes) women from another planet who had arrived in metallic craft, most probably Venus or Mars. There were a few descriptions of beings said to be operating these craft. Some were perfectly human looking, only much wiser and wearing jumpsuits. Others were “humanoid,” sometimes very short, others quite tall.
Even then, the variety of beings was confusing, if still somewhat comprehensible. After all, it would not be outrageous to suppose that a variety of beings were visiting Earth. Yet, somehow it did not seem quite right. Why would some aliens be ten feet tall, others only three or four feet tall, and those in South America all be short and hairy? It would not be a stretch to argue that cultural preconceptions, or even hallucinations, were involved, even if considering there might be an important truth at the core of such claims.
Since then, encounters have become stranger still. Through the 1970s, 80s, and beyond, reports of “grays” surfaced, along with insect-like creatures, reptoid-like creatures, and — as in the early years — completely human-looking beings. In the case of this last group, although they often looked like supermodels, they did not act or seem human like the rest of us. Telepathic claims became more common, too, to the point where today you would have to work very hard not to encounter such claims. Along with this has been a pronounced emphasis on beings that are not even physical, but somehow spiritual or “interdimensional.”
Such variety is enough to cause any reasonable mind to wonder, how can all of this make sense?
But it is not simply the variety of these beings that may confuse us. It is their actions.
Recognizing that the lion’s portion of UFO sightings are conventionally explainable, there are still an enormous number of reports. In North America, this number exceeds 10,000 per year, (judging from the databases of MUFON and the National UFO Reporting Center). Go through some of them. You will find some truly incredible encounters, some of which have received good follow-up examination.
And yet, very few of even the best sightings have lasted long enough to affect our broader cultural consensus. In only a very few cases have there been mass sightings of actual alien beings during daylight. The 1994 Zimbabwe school children encounter comes to mind, and it’s certainly compelling. But even here, we are talking about children, and in the minds of most adults, there will always be certain doubts about what even intelligent, articulate school children have to say on this matter. You never know.
When encounters with alien beings are reported in an articulate manner by seemingly credible people, we can ask, what are these beings doing? How do their actions make sense? Where do they go when they depart? What is their infrastructure like? What kind of culture? Do they hope and dream? Do they have fears? Do they despise us? Do they love us? I have asked such questions many times. Perhaps they simply live here and cannot easily communicate with us or otherwise enter our reality. Even so, many of their actions simply fail to make much sense. Of course, this is one reason we refer to them as alien.
Coming to Reason
Yet, despite the illogic of the phenomenon, despite the incomprehensible nature of so many encounters, there remains an undeniable reality: thousands upon thousands of reports, and witnesses numbering in the millions.
Accounting for the fact that 90 percent of UFO sightings have been and are explainable, there are too many that are not. Enough of these are confirmed encounters by the United States military, encounters that generated reports, were classified as secret, and were hidden from the public until revealed by the unexpected Freedom of Information era of the 1970s.
Such reports remain unanswerable, and are unanswered. They constitute the core of the mystery, at least insofar as this is a public policy issue.
To give one example of many more that I could give (and have given elsewhere many times), how do we make sense of an FBI document from January 31, 1949, in which the reality of the flying saucer phenomenon is discussed as something “considered top secret by intelligence officers” of the Army and Air Force? This, at a time when government spokespersons had been assuring the public that it was all a combination of hoaxes, hallucinations, conventional aircraft, and misidentification of natural phenomena.
The memo answered this clearly enough: these objects were dangerous. Furthermore, they were up to something. It mentioned how, during the summer of 1948, a commercial airliner had nearly collided with a large object traveling at thousands of miles per hour. It also explained that:
“recent observations have indicated that the unidentified phenomena travel at the rate of speed estimated at a minimum of three miles per second and a maximum of twelve miles per second, or a mean calculated speed of seven and one-half miles per second, or 27,000 miles per hour.”
The memo noted furthermore that several times “a definite vertical change in path was indicated.” Whatever these things were, they were not only incredibly fast, but had maneuverability that was off the charts.
But there was much more within this classified memo. It described incursions of unknown objects over Los Alamos throughout December 1948 (on the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 20th, and 28th). The witnesses of these “unexplained phenomena” included Special Agents of the Office of Special Investigation, airline pilots, military pilots, Los Alamos security personnel, and private citizens. A few sightings were of multiple craft, and analysts had rejected the notion of meteorites as an explanation. Some wondered whether or not the objects were Soviet in origin, but this seemed to be a stretch.
An interesting memo, and one of many. On the basis of reason and logic, we can conclude that there is a reality to the UFO phenomenon that is interesting and powerful.
A Matter of Faith
But how does faith enter into the picture?
Well, think about it. In our daily lives, actual UFOs don’t normally intrude upon us. For over 30 years of my life, I was nearly oblivious to them. If, tomorrow, I chose to ignore UFOs for the rest of my life, I could do it and carry on just fine. There are many people in the world who have had sightings, but many more have not. For most of these people, this is a topic that is just not real for them.
Of course, some of us are persuaded by the evidence. In such a case, without having had an experience that makes it a rock-solid reality, something you feel inside your bones, you must walk a fine line. On one side of that line is knowledge. That is, knowledge of a UFO reality.
But on the other side of that line are questions. Questions and an uncertainty of whom and what we are facing. An uncertainty of the ultimate meaning of it all.
This is where faith enters. Not because we want to have faith in statements from gurus, statements which have no basis in fact, which do not deserve our adherence or belief. There is so much of that, these days — the unsettling development of a kind of Messianic Ufology.
But that is not the kind of faith I am talking about. What I mean is a faith that strengthens you through days of uncertainty. Anyone who has spent enough time in ufology has had days like that.
It’s not a faith that there is a reality to UFOs, since the historical evidence shows that there is indeed a reality. You don’t need faith when you have knowledge.
The faith I am speaking of is one that allows you to believe that, somehow, you yourself will attain a better understanding of this subject. That you are on the right path. Yes, I think that’s the faith.
A Brave Light in the Darkness
We’re not the first people to be like this. Explorers and free thinkers throughout history have had to employ reason and faith simultaneously. Do you think Columbus, during those long weeks going across the vast unknown ocean in his tiny little boats, did not have occasional quiet moments of doubt? Or any scientist who has developed a new concept, or any inventor who has built a new product, or any thinker who has developed a new theory of society or psychology — do you think for a moment that they, too, did not have moments of doubt? Moments when they wondered whether or not they were on the right path?
It is during those moments of doubt when faith can come to the rescue.
Clearly, I do not mean blind faith. Faith is more than mere wish fulfilment and the creation of fantasy to patch and prop a worldview that dispenses with reason, logic, and science. But when you are on a path that does have support from important facts, when you have employed your reason, critiqued your own ideas mercilessly, and have still come back to a knowledge that there is validity in what you are doing, then you must push aside the multitudes who are telling you how wrong you are. You must press forward.
Remember. You may be a minority of one, surrounded by shouts that denounce you, ridicule you, and seek to silence you. Yet, if you pursue truth, if you value justice, if you seek goodness in this world, never let them silence you. Be strong. Have courage. You will find more inside you than you realize.
There are mysteries enough in this world. I believe that divining the answers to all of them is probably not part of humanity’s destiny. We delude ourselves into thinking we can attain omniscience, that we can be as the gods. That, my friends, is hubris, a very bad thing.
But faith that we can unravel some of these mysteries, that we can shine a light ahead and move forward, despite the darkness that so often seems to engulf our world, is a most necessary quality for the gentle warrior of truth that all good people seek to be.
In this sense, faith — let us say, courageous faith — plays its part, just as reason does.
In the work of any great mystery, reason must lead. We must consider the facts and develop theories that conform to what we know. But within ufology, that most stern and inscrutable taskmaster, even the most dedicated students sometimes find themselves groping in the dark. We don’t have all the answers. As I like to say, and as one of my favorite authors has written, we must become comfortable with uncertainty.
If we are to press ahead, we need faith in ourselves and in our ultimate destination. That is, the truth. That’s what it’s all about.
RMD-Feb 6, 2013
(This was adapted from a chat I gave during one of my recent radio shows, at )