For the past three days this week I’ve noticed the same, out of the ordinary, thing during my morning walk to the bus stop. On a nondescript corner of a Dallas street, in the gutter, is a dead squirrel. The first time I saw him he was really cute. He looked like he was just sleeping off a drinking binge. I imagined one of those little bottles of booze you sometimes get on airplanes, in his little hand. The squirrel was laying on his back and his head was kicked back revealing his fuzzy neck and his mouth was slightly open with a tongue sticking out. As dead squirrels go I thought he was adorable. I didn’t dwell though. I didn’t pick up a stick and poke at it. I had to get to the bus stop so I didn’t interact with the dead squirrel at all. I just kept walking, but the image of this cute little tragedy is embedded in my mind, especially since no one else has interacted with this poor thing either. It’s just laying there in a gutter on the corner of a rather busy city street. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed the poor thing, but like me, apparently no one else has the time or the resources to safely dispose of the carcass. So there it sits.
I saw a squirrel. It appeared to be dead. That works for me. I moved on with my day.
As I got on the bus and drove away, I remember my thoughts lingering on that squirrel, and I mused with a smirk that I never actually investigated. I didn’t bother to take the time to verify my own assumption that this squirrel is in fact dead. I just glanced at it. It wasn’t moving. It was in a gutter. The most likely scenario was that it tried to run across the street and got hit by a car, and where I found it was where physics left it.
This is what many refer to as a belief. I’m not one of them. I’d probably cite this example as more of a fact, even though I haven’t bothered to prove it. I could prove it if I had the right safety equipment. Like a full hazmat suit to protect me from any contagions the dead carcass might be carrying, and a laboratory where I could dissect the thing. I’d need a team of knowledgeable scientists to run tests on the creature to make sure that its dead and determine just how it died. I probably shouldn’t call this a fact. I should call it an opinion, because I’d have to verify my opinion in order for it to be a scientifically valid fact. However, I don’t have the resources necessary to confirm my assumption, and the fate of this squirrel is not important enough to me to try and get those resources.
I made no effort to confirm my assumption about my observation. I saw a squirrel. It looked dead. How do I even know it’s a squirrel? Well. It looked like one. How do I know it’s not a dog that just looks a lot like a squirrel? I didn’t do a DNA test on it. I could be totally wrong. It looks like a squirrel, so that’s what I call it. I could be wrong. I doubt I am, but how do I know?
It looked dead cuz it wasn’t moving. Is that enough to qualify dead? I didn’t stop to check it’s pulse. I didn’t check to see if it was breathing. I didn’t shout at it as I walked by to see if it stirred. I didn’t even bother to poke at it with a stick. So how do I know it was dead?
I saw a squirrel. It looked dead. Based on my current observations, that’s good enough for me, but I’m fully aware I can be wrong, and if reality presents more evidence that contradicts my current assumption, I’d be welcome to entertain said new evidence. I doubt any is forthcoming that will change my current opinion.
On the way home today, it had begun to show signs of wear. It’d been raining, so the squirrel was partially submerged in rainwater running past it towards the nearby drain, and for the first time I noticed a little redness here and there. I think some truck had gotten too close to the curb, cuz it looked like the squirrel had been run over at least one more time, adding insult to injury. It’s possible some birds have been exploring it, but not much effort has been made to cut into the pelt. I haven’t noticed any bugs on it yet, but if it’s still there tomorrow, that’s probably going to be next. It hasn’t started to stink yet either, but after a good Texas rain, that sun’s gonna beat down on it.
But one day, it’s gonna just be gone. It will disappear. I doubt I will be present when some city worker or other Good Samaritan comes along and disposes of the little beast. One day I’ll walk by and it won’t be where I last saw it, and when that happens I could make an assumption about what happened to it. The most likely scenario is that a government worker took it. Another possibility is some very hungry homeless guy who likes to eat roadkill took it.
These scenarios are more likely than this: the Abrahamic god loved this squirrel so much, it came down to Earth, poked at the squirrel with a stick, and now the squirrel lives in heaven on Jesus Christ’s lap as a well-behaved pet. There are some people who would be more willing to believe that last bit about the squirrel living on Jesus Christ’s lap for the rest of eternity. Even though that’s not at all likely, it’s the scenario they’d prefer to believe.
That’s good enough for them, but it’s not good enough for reality.