Overview:

Smartphones have created video evidence for many claims both unknown and underappreciated, but they've failed to support religious beliefs.

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[Previous: The boring conspiracy]

Conspiracy theorists didn’t reckon with the smartphone.

Tens of millions of people carry hi-def, internet-enabled video cameras everywhere they go. If something newsworthy happens, it’s very common to see a mob of people with their phones out, recording it from multiple angles. Then there are the dash cams, doorbell cams, body cams, trail cameras, public surveillance cameras, and many more recording us 24/7.

All this begs the question: Where are the videos of Bigfoot?

If any large cryptid existed—Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Chupacabra—it’s not plausible that we’d have no video evidence by now. We shouldn’t still be relying on blurry pre-internet photographs. There should be 4K video clips on YouTube. The same goes for UFOs, ghosts, and all the other paranormal phenomena that have floated along the fringes of our culture through the decades.

You’re telling me we couldn’t get at least this much evidence of Sasquatch? (Credit: NPS/M. Whalen, public domain)

For that matter… where are the miracles?

In medieval times, there were innumerable stories of saints like Christina the Astonishing, who could supposedly levitate in the air or stand in flames without being burned. The same goes for all the conflicting miracles that every religion claims for its own: statues that move, speak, or glow; talking animals; healings and resurrections; demonic possessions and beatific appearances.

If such wonders happened today, they’d be easy to document. How strange, that they’ve all become shy just when we have the ideal tools to prove their existence!

Not only have camera phones failed to back up the claims of existing religions, it’s possible that they could squelch the birth of new religions. Most modern churches locate their miracles safely in the past, where they’re immune to disproof. But if a new faith emerged today, led by a guru or prophet who claimed divine powers, too many people would ask: Where’s the video evidence?

Thanks to the smartphone, we’ve grown accustomed to a higher standard of proof. Word-of-mouth accounts just won’t cut it anymore, and that could prevent new religions and cults from gaining a toehold.

However, while miracles remain in short supply, camera phones have furnished proof of many unknown or underappreciated facts.

They’ve recorded countless instances of police brutality, such as the murder of George Floyd that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. They’ve captured candid comments by politicians that may have swung elections, like Mitt Romney saying 47% of Americans are lazy freeloaders.

During the Arab Spring and other popular uprisings, camera phones were invaluable tools of citizen journalism. They recorded protests, crackdowns, beatings and violence, in defiance of government censorship.

In the Ukraine war, camera phones have given us unprecedented real-time views of the battlefield. They’ve documented the scale of Russian losses, allowing independent observers to cut through Moscow’s propaganda.

And camera phones have supplied smoking-gun proof of crimes—sometimes created by the criminals themselves. During the January 6 insurrection, for example, hundreds of Trump supporters have been identified, charged or convicted based on videos they helpfully took of themselves and their fellows breaking into the Capitol, assaulting police officers, vandalizing and looting congressional offices.

Ubiquitous surveillance has its downsides. Privacy, in many ways, is becoming a thing of the past. We’re all under a white-hot glare of digital scrutiny almost everywhere we go. Our mistakes and bad decisions can be etched into the internet forever, whereas previous generations enjoyed a greater expectation of anonymity. Stalking, revenge porn, and other crimes of surveillance and voyeurism are easier than ever to commit.

On the other hand, more and better access to information is generally a good thing. It levels the playing field, turning everyone into a journalist poised to report on the lies and misdeeds of the powerful. It supplies proof in countless cases that would otherwise have been he-said-she-said, which is good for the innocent and bad for the guilty. And it’s made fads, fallacies and false beliefs of every kind seem more hollow than ever.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...