A new television program filmed as a documentary recently aired on the Animal Planet cable channel. Viewers of Mermaids: The Body Found are introduced to several lines of evidence that supposedly demonstrate the existence of mermen and mermaids. Through dramatic “re-enactments” portraying scientists and eyewitnesses studying videos, audio recordings, cave paintings, and a mysterious body discovered in South Africa, along with computer-animated scenes showing the evolutionary development of these creatures, the program treats the subject with the same seriousness as we would expect in a documentary of a known animal. The press release on the Discovery Channel’s website (a sister network of Animal Planet) promises that the program is “so compelling” and the evidence for mermaids is “so credible.”
According to the program, the following evidence strongly suggests that humans share an evolutionary history with mermaids. Consider the following points mentioned by the narrator:
- “We can control our breathing at will, like marine mammals. And we can hold our breath longer than any other terrestrial animal.”1 The current world record is held by free-diver Peter Colat who recently held his breath underwater for 19 minutes, 21 seconds.
- “Evidence of our aquatic past is still a part of our present. Human babies instinctively hold their breath when immersed in water.”
- “Unlike nearly every other land animal, we are practically hairless; hair creates drag in water.”
- “And just like other marine mammals, we are born with insulating fat distributed throughout our bodies. This keeps us warm in water.”
- “The transition from land to sea has happened before. Whales . . . evolved from a wolf-like ancestor millions of years ago.” The alleged evolution of whales involved creatures known as mesonychids, Ambulocetus, and Pakicetus.
- Only 150,000 years ago, a group of brown bears split from their group and evolved into a new species: polar bears. Polar bears can hold their breath and have developed webbing in their paws. “They are becoming a marine mammal.”
Mermaids advanced an idea known as the “aquatic ape hypothesis” (AAH), called the “aquatic ape theory” in the program. First proposed by a German pathologist in 1942, the idea has been met with much skepticism in the scientific community, although it is supported by a respectable number of laypeople. This view claims that our alleged ancestors went through a watery stage in our evolutionary development where, according to the show, “our ability to walk fully upright first evolved, wading in the shallows where food was easily found.” Our supposed ape-like ancestors started living near the oceans, and the narrator informs viewers that “this is where our advanced intelligence began to develop” thanks to the “brain-building nutrients” like iodine and fatty acids so abundant in the shellfish gathered there. Due to earthquakes and volcanic activity along the coasts, “some of our ancestors pulled back, heading inland, [but] others did not . . . If our distant ancestors spent time living in the sea, is it possible that one group split off from the rest? And rather than retreating from the water, did they go deeper in?”
At times, the broadcast offered an alternative to the AAH. Rather than being in our supposed evolutionary lineage, the mermaids were portrayed as distant cousins—that is, both humans and “merpeople” split off from our alleged ape-like ancestors.
So should Disney fans start rejoicing? Will we soon get to meet Ariel and King Triton (from The Little Mermaid) or Syrena (from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides)? Not so fast. You see, the program is a hoax. It’s science fiction. While most viewers likely picked up on this fact early in the show, some were taken in by it, as evidenced by the Internet “buzz” about it. Viewers had to wait until the closing credits to see the following words:
None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated or associated with it in any way, nor have they approved its contents. Any similarities in the film to actual persons, living or dead, is [sic] entirely coincidental.
The website for the show acknowledges that “the film is science fiction,” but it adds that it is “using science as a springboard into imagination.” At the same time, the press release is carefully worded so that it sounds like the evidence in the program is entirely legitimate, but the producers left enough “wiggle room” to claim they were up front about the show being make-believe. Consider the following paragraph from the Discovery Channel website.
Mermaids: The Body Found is a story that imagines how these real-world phenomena may be related. In this story, startling amateur video and photographic evidence, as well as additional audio recordings, suggests whales weren’t the only creatures affected by the Navy’s sonar. The film follows the two scientists who tracked the whale beachings for years and delivers first-hand, on-camera accounts of what they claim to have discovered in the aftermath of one particular beaching. Their story is nothing less than fantastical: they claim to have found the remains of a mermaid.
The “mockumentary” or “docufiction” genre of filmmaking has been growing in popularity. For example, The Blair Witch Project (1999) and The Fourth Kind (2009) give the viewer the impression that they will see real-life footage portraying disturbing events dealing with ghosts and alien abductions, respectively. Mermaids: The Body Found is in a lighter vein similar to other mockumentaries aired on the Discovery Channel and related networks, such as Dragon’s World: A Fantasy Made Real and The Future Is Wild series.
Viewers usually appreciate the special effects in these programs, and many enjoy imagining what could have been or what may happen in the future. However, there is a real danger to these programs because they are often used to promote another agenda within the context of the fictitious story. Mermaids contained numerous references to evolution, portraying man as just another animal who evolved through random processes over millions of years. By contrast, the Bible teaches that man was specially created in God’s image on Day Six (Genesis 1:26–31), the same day as the other land animals, just 6,000 years ago.
Science fiction has often been used as a vehicle for promoting evolution and other anti-biblical ideas. Generally imaginative and entertaining, this genre blends scientific terminology and ideas with concepts that essentially attack the truth of Scripture. Consequently, Christians who choose to watch these types of films or read science fiction books must constantly be on their guard against the subtle and often not-so-subtle attacks on their faith.
Another theme woven throughout Mermaids is the idea that the U.S. Navy is to blame for the strange occurrences of multiple whales beaching themselves. The Navy has allegedly been illegally testing some form of underwater sonic weapon that kills whales, and of course, the unfortunate mermaids traveling with them. Throughout the hour-and-a-half production, the “scientists” accused the Navy of illegal and shady activity and the U.S. and South African governments of conspiracy and cover-up.
I suspected the program had ultimately been produced as a sort of “save the whales” campaign. My suspicions were largely confirmed near the end of the show. After commenting on how modern humans “displaced” or wiped out Neanderthals and would do the same to mermaids if we discovered them, the main character, expressing concerns about “animal rights,” said the following:
We’re not so good at co-existence. Sometimes other responsibilities supersede science. My, my only goal is that the Navy stop their sonar testing, that court inquiries open into their activities that then lead to court orders to stop it. That will safeguard the whales, and it will safeguard them [mermaids] too. Mermaids have persisted only because they can hide, and I hope they stay that way. I hope they stay hidden. I don’t want to hunt them anymore, because they don’t want to be found.
It sounds funny to hear someone talk seriously about mermaids in this fashion, and many people will just write the program off as a joke. We should be good stewards of the environment God has given to us, which would include protecting whales from extinction, but we must keep the biblical perspective on this matter.
Finally, there was one line near the end of the program that needs attention. The main character said, “Nature doesn’t lie, so look to nature.” In context, he was talking about how dolphins have worked synergistically to help fishermen catch fish. He argued that they must have learned how to do this from the mermaids. However, look at the quote again—it captures the thinking of secular people and even of many old-earth creationists in certain areas of study. “Nature doesn’t lie, so look to nature.” This is reminiscent of statements made by progressive creationist Hugh Ross, who regularly argues that nature can be likened to a sixty-seventh book of the Bible.
Christians would do well to change the word “nature” to “God” in the above quote. “God doesn’t lie, so look to God.” Nature is under the Curse brought on by man’s rebellion against his Creator. While we can still see God’s handiwork in creation (Psalm 19:1), we must rely on what He has revealed to us in His Word to truly understand our fallen state and desperate need for His salvation, which is freely offered through the sacrificial death and subsequent Resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1–4).