In the battle of prophecy vs. science, prophecy has the initial upper hand. It works quickly, with flashes of inspiration that deliver promises of amazing things. The trouble with prophecy, however, is that its predictions tend to be so weird and vague that they cannot really be tested. Consider the promise of Nostradamus about the eagle:
Through the fifth one and a great Hercules
They will come to open the temple by hand of war:
“One Clement, Julius and Ascanius set back,”
“The sword, key, eagle, never was there such a great animosity.”
Some people have great faith that the ramblings of Nostradamus are based in some sort of prophetic power, but honestly, how can anyone be sure what these words mean, much less test whether they are reflected in some sort of historical event?
Science works more slowly than prophecy because its practitioners must be more clear in their thinking. However, science eventually delivers much more powerful results. Sometimes, it can even confirm ancient legends.
Such is the case with the gigantic human-hunting super eagle of New Zealand. Legends from the indigenous population, the Maori, tell of Te Hokioi, a giant eagle that could hunt and eat human beings. Now, science has confirmed that this eagle probably did exist, though it died out about 500 years ago. Scientific analysis of the remains of what is known as Haast’s eagle show that it would have been easily capable of attacking, killing and carrying off human children. The eagle had a wingspan of over 12 feet, and was twice as big as the largest eagle alive today, the Steller’s sea eagle, matching the tales of Te Hokioi.
Scientists have also been able to perform mitochondrial DNA analysis of material extracted from Haast’s eagle bones, determining that the extinct species is most closely related to much smaller kinds of eagles. Those old eagle bones were found despite the likelihood that Haast’s eagles were probably extremely rare even when they were at their height, with only an estimated 1,000 breeding pairs.
Researchers’ ability to find those centuries-old eagle bones, preserved well enough to still contain useable DNA, makes me question why cryptozoologists have been unable to recover any DNA at all from the animals they claim are still alive today – animals like the orang pendek, a bipedal ape that legends say is living in the forests of Sumatra. An expedition of cryptozoology enthusiasts is currently heading to Sumatra to try to find evidence of the orang pendek, but the latest news is that the expedition has failed even to get a message through to its home base in the UK that it has arrived in Sumatra at all.