Mythic Truth

“Myth embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be stated in words.”  I recently came across this quote from Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.  Coomaraswamy was a philosopher and metapmhysist from Ceylon, and like many eastern thinkers had a more holistic view of the world than western rationalism.  We’re taught from a young age that myth is something false, not true.  This colloquial use of the word is so common that those of us who’ve specialized in myth slip into it during everyday conversation.  Words, however, have uses rather than meanings.  Coomaraswamy was engaging this reality in the quote above.  Words can take us only so far in exploring reality when we have to break into either formulas or poetry.  Although they are under-appreciated poets are the purveyors of truth.

Having studied ancient mythology in some detail, it became clear to me as a student that these tales weren’t meant to be taken literally.  Instead, they were known to be true.  It takes a supple mind to parse being true from “really happened,” as we are taught in the western world that on what “really happened” is true.  In other words, historicism is our myth.  Meaning may not inhere in words, but when we use words to explore it we run up against lexical limits.  Is it any wonder that lovers resort to poetry?  On those occasions when I’ve been brave enough to venture to write some, I walk away feeling as if I’ve been the receiver of some cosmic radio signal.  We have been taught to trust the reality of what our senses perceive.  Myth, and poetry, remind us that there’s much more.

The Fundamentalist myth is that the Bible is literally true.  If they’d stop and think about it, they’d realize the mockery such thinking makes of Holy Writ.  The Good Book doesn’t look at itself that way.  In fact, it doesn’t even look at itself as a book—an idea that developed in later times.  The time and the cultures that produced the Bible were cool with myth.  They may not have called it that but the signs are unmistakable.  Ananda Coomaraswamy knew whereof he wrote.  The closest to absolute truth we can come takes us to the end of declarative, factual writing.  Scientists writing about the Big Bang devolve into complex mathematical formulas to explain what mere words can.  Myth is much more eloquent, even if we as a society, dismiss it along with other non-factual truth.

Mythisotry

Positivism takes no captives. I’m not talking about the philosophical system—not necessarily—but about the phenomenon of assuming absolutes are available for human consumption. Some physicists, for example, assume that because our five senses can detect reality only the perceptions of those senses can be considered real. Material. Nothing more. Nothing less. A similar view plagues those who believe history is the telling of “what actually happened.” No historical event has ever been fully explained. All stories are told from a perspective. This is particularly dangerous when religions get involved. Many mistake historical veracity for “truth.” If it didn’t occur just as “the Bible says” then we should throw out the whole shebang. No point in believing in half truths. This is a myth.

This point was reinforced when a friend send me an article about the production of “The Hollow Crown” on the BBC. Apparently a local politician tweeted that having a Nigerian of Jewish descent (Sophie Okonedo) play Margaret of Anjou, a French queen, didn’t match history. As proof he provided a downy white Medieval illustration of the queen. In a rare moment of academic cool, an historian quickly pointed out that the illustration came from a manuscript that claimed Margaret descended, Leda-like, from a swan. Her whiteness, thus, belonged to her avian DNA. As the story makes clear, history is the modern mythology. We assume we know what happened, but we will only ever have part of the picture.

582px-Leda_mosaic_crop

Prejudice seldom worries about historical accuracy, unless, of course, it helps to uphold the bias. I used to caution my students about taking history as a statement of fact. Certainly there are events with factual elements, but when everything is interconnected we can never untangle precisely what happened. When we “believe” history, we are choosing to accept a certain viewpoint of things. One person’s manifest destiny is another person’s genocide. Peculiar institutions are very peculiar indeed. History, as we’ve come to know, reflects the point of view of the historian. It must be read and evaluated as the opinion of the writer and not as the absolute truth. For me, I rather like the idea that some people are descended from birds. It certainly helps to make more sense of what I see in the behavior of those who claim to be making history today.

Same Old Story

Once upon a time fairy tales were considered appropriate only for children. Unlike myths, fairy tales are frequently oral (yes, there are oral myths but this is not the place to discuss technicalities) and have origins that are obscure. A friend recently sent me a story entitled “Phylogenetic analyses suggests fairy tales are much older than thought” by Bob Yirka on phys.org. Using phylogenetic analysis, researchers have traced some fairy tales back thousands of years, into the Bronze Age of the ancient Near East. This will no doubt surprise some analysts who supposed fairy tales were a more recent, European invention. The tales change with time and distance, no doubt, but the basic story is very deeply rooted in who people are. Fairy tales are adult fare, after all.

I tried to make this point in an academic article that was rudely rejected by the journal Folklore some years back. I mean “rudely” literally. I’ve had academic articles rejected before—many of us have—but the letter that came with this one was insulting. My “error”? Suggesting that the story of the musician who travels to the underworld came from ancient Sumer. The article had its origins in my wife’s reading of the Mabinogion. The story of Bran’s head being washed down the river still singing reminded me of an Edinburgh ghost story the tour guides used to tell right outside our window. You’ve probably heard similar: a tunnel is discovered, a musician (a bagpiper, since this was Scotland) is sent down while playing so that those above can follow the sound, but the musician never emerges. I traced the story through the Celtic tradition of Uamh ‘n Òir, the cave of gold, through Bran, Orpheus, and finally back to Ishtar’s descent into the underworld. It was a fun piece, but serious. It ended up published in a Festschrift to a scholar with a noted sense of humor.

Photo credit: Kim Traynor, Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Kim Traynor, Wikimedia Commons

The fact is, traditional stories often go back very far in history. We haven’t the tools to trace many, nor can the results be taken for Gospel, but the implications can. People are storytellers by nature. We find meaning in what would today be called “fiction.” Too often I’ve had to hang my head in embarrassment when admitting to a fellow academic that I read (and sometimes write) fiction. It is something, however, that ancient mythographers and folklore singers would have understood. We can be academic some of the time, but we are human full-time. And telling stories is something that predates even the Bronze Age. Of that we can be completely certain. And they lived happily ever after.

And a Literate New Year

One of the most common criticisms of religion, among its detractors, is that it is “uninformed.” I suspect that this is intended to critique the education of those who adhere to religion. It is not too often, however, that you see those who disdain religion giving credit where credit is due. Reading, for example. Although reading has changed in its accidents and character over the millennium, it remains the case that texts—what would eventually evolve into books—were originally a religious creation. Once writing moved beyond keeping track of things like how many cattle a person owned, and grew into literature, that literature was based on religion. We recognize many of these stories as myths today, but that does not devalue them. They are our earliest stories. For many literate people throughout history, their initial reading material was the texts of their religion. One of the purposes behind public education was to teach children to read the Bible. Religion and reading naturally go together.

Now that a new year is upon us, many websites are offering reading challenges for the new year. Long ago I gave up on resolutions. I figured if I noticed something wrong in my life, I wouldn’t wait until January to fix it. Nevertheless, the start of something new is inspiring and full of hope. So it was when my wife showed me Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge, I gladly accepted. Like many reading challenges, the goals are based on about a book a month—twelve titles for the year. My personal goal is to get over one hundred books read this year, but I like the challenge to read particular kinds of books. On this particular challenge, for example, are books that intimidate you, or that you’ve previously abandoned. Books, such as many of us have, that we own but have never read. Although we may not know what it is yet, a book published this year.

Apart from being a kind of religious activity, promoting literacy is surely one of the best ways to address social ills. Those who read learn to consider the viewpoints of others. I disagree with a great deal of what I read, but I would not wish not to have read it. “Iron sharpens iron,” as one old book says. To put it in modern terms, the only stone hard enough to cut diamond is diamond. Reading material that engages critical faculties is like that. Even so, reading books that are simple or fun also offers bonuses. A guilty pleasure read is one of my favorite rewards. For our own sakes, for the sake of the world itself, I hope that everyone takes up a reading challenge, no matter how modest, as a way of celebrating a new year and, I truly believe, a better tomorrow.

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Tales of Wonder

OnceUponATimeI knew of fairy tales as a child, but I recall them mostly being mediated through the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, just before bath time.  I don’t recall experiencing them in written form, and although I may have experienced them as narrated versions from time to time, my memory is mostly of the animated variety.  I’ve been reading about fairy tales lately since folklore clearly relates to many sacred narratives.  My most recent book on the subject is Marina Warner’s Once Upon a Time: A Short History of the Fairy Tale.  Like most of Warner’s books, this is a unique telling, one which takes into account modern and some post-modern concerns.  Addressing what fairy tales tell us about the supernatural, gender, psychology, and growing up, this is a little book with big thoughts.
 
Unlike the polished literature of the elites, fairy tales come from the folk, the common person.  In this sense they are often truer than the establishment version of things.  Life can be violent and magical, and nobody raises an eyebrow when something supernatural occurs.  These tales often contain uncomfortable truths.  Fairy tales may help children to cope with eventualities, but they also unsettle along the way.  Rare is the tale where someone doesn’t die before it’s all over.  Like many disenchanted adults who’ve discovered the promises society makes to be false and hollow, I find returning to fairy tales as an adult somewhat therapeutic.  Long ago in a land far away often sounds much better than here and now.  Nor is it pure escapism.
 
As Warner points out in the very final thoughts of the book, fairy tales have come to be treated as scriptures.  Like scriptures, they turn into myths.  Myths may be retold, deconstructed, reassembled, and applied to many situations to inform us of the human thing to do.  We sell ourselves short by not recognizing the other scriptures that wisdom has provided down the ages.  While most of the folk wisdom we have preserved in the canon of fairy tales don’t go back to the Bible, they do retread some of the same territory.  By calling some of it scripture and other secular, we might miss that very many of the truths are similar indeed.  The assumption that growing up means leaving truths of childhood behind may, on occasion, bear reexamination.  If we look closely at our fairy tales we may discover that we should keep them close at hand, no matter what our age.

Doubt No Alleles

Image credit: Zephyris, Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: Zephyris, Wikimedia Commons

DNA. Is there anything it can’t do? For many decades anthropologists have built painstaking methods to trace developments in human culture. Those of us who’ve studied linguistics in any fashion remember well the many times instructors corrected our false cognates and pointed out family trees of languages that showed who came from whom, based on subtle shifts of orthography or some other aspect of philology. Entire careers could be made in ancient Near Eastern studies by shuffling around the way words were formed and speculating about how they influenced one another. Then DNA. A recent story in the New York Times demonstrates that DNA studies now tell us whence came the Europeans. Among the three groups that eventually settled in Europe were agriculturalists from the Near East, coming along at just about the same time as the Sumerians show up in southern Iraq. They joined the hunter-gatherers already in situ. Their languages, however, did not dominate as a third group, from western Russia showed up and gave (according to DNA) many of the groups their base languages. And here I thought Latin and Greek and Anglo-Saxon had something to do with it.

No doubt we’ve benefitted much from learning about DNA. We can fight diseases that were mysterious, if not divine, in previous centuries. We can learn how closely we’re related to other animal species, or even the neighbor next door. Sneaky fathers can be determined with a precision that sometimes puzzles, such as the recent story of twins who had different biological fathers. Without DNA such a thing could only have been a myth. I wonder, however, what we’re losing in terms of humanity. I suppose we’ll still need a few archaeologists to dig up the remains for scientists to date. And many traditional cultures will still insist that the human remains uncovered be reinterred and not probed and prodded, even after death. We’ll call them backward and superstitious. We’ll consult the genome and decide who to marry.

Meanwhile some hopeless romantic will insist on sitting off in a corner and composing sonnets to the woman he irrationally loves. Looking at the nighttime sky, he may compare her to the beauty of the moon. We know it is a lifeless rock trapped in our own gravity, mechanically reflecting the light of a burning ball of hydrogen and helium 93 million miles away. And if she’ll run this cotton swab across the inside of her cheek we might well be able to tell if she’s a good choice for mating purposes. We’ll also be able to determine the origins of her ancestors and remove a great deal of the mystery about her—there! Won’t that be better than having to woo her and find all that out for yourself? And when your children grow up you’ll point them to the STEM disciplines, since that is the only direction in which there is any human future. And the anthropologists can join scholars of religion as we wait for someone to put the soup in our bowls.

Pillars of Science

I sometimes wonder if science would have the appeal that it does, if it didn’t have religion to shock and awe. I’m thinking of not only the fact that The Humanist magazine quite often has a focus on religion, but even websites, irreverently named to make the sensitive blush, frequently use it as a foil. My wife likes the site now more commonly known as “IFL Science!” Web acronyms have taught us what the second of those letters denotes, but perhaps because making the name more family friendly leads to more hits, it’s been muted a bit. In any case, the most recent post I’ve seen has to do with that marvelous Hubble image of interstellar gas and dust columns where stars are being born, know as “The Pillars of Creation.” Apart from the stunningly beautiful images, I’ve always been taken by the way that implicitly or even subliminally, concepts of deity lie behind this scene. When the image was first published, I remember staring at it in rapt fascination—here we had stolen a glimpse into the private chambers of the universe. We were seeing what, were we in the midst of, would surely prove fatal. It is like seeing, well, creation.

Eagle_nebula_pillars

Creation is enfolded in the language of myth. Reading the description of this great, gaseous cloud, we are told of the tremendous winds in space (what I had been taught was an utter vacuum) where dust is so hot (I was taught space was frigid) that it ignites into stars, like a silo fire gone wild. It’s like witnessing the moment of conception, although Caroline Reid tells us the dust will be blown away in 3 million years. Perhaps ironically, scientists are scrambling to study it before that happens. Or before that will have happened. At 7000 light-years away, it will have been gone as long ago as Sumerians first put stylus to clay before we know of it. We still have a couple million years for a good gander. And the Sumerians, the first writers of which we know, were writing stories of creation.

It is really a shame that science has, in general, such an antipathy towards myth. As scholars of biblical languages, indeed, nearly any language, know, the language of myth and poetry is especially useful when standard prose breaks down. “Wow!” is not a scientific word. Nor is “eureka!” What other response, however, can there be to seeing the act of creation with our own eyes? Meanwhile there will be those who use science to belittle the worldview of the myth maker and and thinker of religion. Our world, it is widely known, is that of superstition and ignorance. We are those who think only in shallow pools and deny the very reality that is before our eyes. That reality can be full of stunning beauty, but were we to describe it in terms empirical, we might have to keep the interjections and useless adjectives to a minimum.

Quantum Uncertainty

Physics has moved beyond the point of comprehension for the average citizen, if I might be permitted to class myself as that. I got the concept of the atom, although I always wondered about the spaces in-between. No god-of-the-gaps there, but it didn’t fit with experience that everything was full of holes. An article my wife sent me now has me wondering if I’m a hologram. Physicists began to lose me with quarks—I can understand atoms being made of something, but what of ups and downs and leptons every way to Sunday? Then string theory. Then those particles that can be two places at once, until you look. And now I’m being told that The Matrix may be more fact than fiction and quantum uncertainty rules the day. Indeed. Physics tells us what we’re really made of. Religion used to tell us what it all means. That precarious balance seems to have tipped and religion has no other role than to motivate violence and science will save us. Help me, Neo!

I can’t even figure out my taxes any more, let alone what the universe is made of. How we could all be jittery two-dimensional particles is unclear to me. Well, the jittery part I get. I was never really satisfied being limited to three dimensions of motion. Is it ever clear which way is really forward? Height and depth seem terribly geocentric, and even a circle could be divided into more than 360 degrees, a legacy of our Mesopotamian forebears. Spheres—my primitive view of atoms—only touch at the edges. I think there must be something more. Then comes the math. The truth is in the numbers, it seems. Glad I have a calculator.

Although I don’t have the weak nuclear force at my disposal, I have tried to build with marbles many times. You can’t build upward without the bottom row rolling away. Perhaps in our world spheres just don’t balance that way. They don’t hold together. Pixels, however, have edges. They seem to fit together more fully, but leave the universe full of jagged edges. That fits much better with my experience, I guess. Shards of reality lie all around me. Religion used to be the way of putting the pieces together, but, I’m told, that’s all a myth. Instead we have a universe that the average person is incapable of understanding, and that seems to be held together by forces that are fully explainable only by math. Once upon a time, Hell was a mythical, fiery place underfoot. Now it is a universe of formulas and equations that are held together only by quantum uncertainty.

"HAtomOrbitals". Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HAtomOrbitals.png#mediaviewer/File:HAtomOrbitals.png

“HAtomOrbitals”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HAtomOrbitals.png#mediaviewer/File:HAtomOrbitals.png

Myth of Jerusalem

As I stood atop the Mount of Olives watching the sun set over Jerusalem several years ago, I had difficulty believing I was actually there. For a working class kid who’d only ever been to Canada before (and only because we lived not too far from Niagara Falls), this was a moment like a scene from the Bible itself. Jerusalem is a city of myth and dream, and it represents just how seriously mythology may be taken. A new book, Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World, by James Carroll, was reviewed in Sunday’s newspaper. I have not yet read the book myself, but a couple of lines from Tom Mackin’s review leapt out at me: “Jerusalem is as much a symbol as a reality. Because most Orthodox males spend their time studying the Torah, they are unemployed. Piety brings poverty.” This is editorializing with parsimony.

Those of us raised to believe that pursuit of the highest calling of humankind is that of seeking the divine often end up forced to live the consequences. This pursuit does not pay, unless one is willing to sell one’s soul to become a televangelist. Unemployment has a way of sharpening one’s focus. The message repeatedly heaped upon you by society is that you have nothing of value to contribute. True, religious founders often declare the ineffectual satisfaction of lucre, but then, most of them didn’t have a child to put through college. Having spent nine years after high school studying the Torah (and Prophets and Writings and documents written long before any of this), I see now what could not be seen then.

When I watched the sun set over Jerusalem with some friends, a stray cat wandered over, looking for affection. Or, more likely, food. I had some scraps that I shared with the hungry kitten when it unexpectedly bit my finger and scampered away. My friends, concerned for rabies or some other infection, rushed me down the Mount of Olives and into the Holy City seeking a holy pharmacy. Little did I know at the time that a myth was being enacted at the expense of my aching finger. Acts of kindness are rewarded with the hand that feeds being bitten. I had to come down from the mountain, earn a doctorate, and be dismissed by well-groomed evangelicals before I could finally see that the symbol was the same as reality. I need to read this book to restore my faith in mythology.

More and less than it seems

Father Abraham

“Father Abraham had seven sons; seven sons had Father Abraham.” So began a camp song that I learned many years ago. The song always confused me because, no matter how I did the math, Abraham did not have seven sons. Abraham has a way of causing confusion. The story of Abraham contained in Genesis is complex and perplexing. He is presented as a man who experiences extraordinary occasions and then doubts what he learns from them. He is wealthy and timid, yet leads troops against an alliance of five armies. God speaks directly to him, and he remains in self-doubt. He always does what he is told, although he takes initiative once in a while as well. As Genesis tells it, he is the father of Ishmael and Isaac (and six others).

Historians have a somewhat different assessment. The only evidence we have for the historical existence of Abraham is Genesis. Although other ancient documents mention Abraham they clearly received their information from either Genesis itself or its oral sources. A prince powerful enough to route five kings might merit a reference in some clay annals somewhere, one might expect. Yet history is silent. Most historians require either multiple-source attestations or official, non-literary documents to support the historicity of ancient characters. Abraham simply doesn’t qualify. Those Genesis stories are foundation myths just like those common to all cultures. They represent self-understanding, not necessarily actual origins.

Nevertheless, religiously minded debates continue to flair around him. Abraham, through Isaac, is considered father of the Jews. Christians, courtesy of Paul, consider themselves adopted children who inherit over the natural born. Muslims sometimes trace their ancestry to Abraham’s first-born, according to Genesis, Ishmael. Abraham does not exit the stage as a single man, however. He bears in his person the promise of land, a very real commodity, granted by God himself. So the story goes. We have little trouble declaring other ancient (or not-so-ancient) characters legends or myths when they have no direct bearing on the historical origins of religion. Wars are not fought over Heracles or Theseus, after all. Because of Abraham’s inheritance, however, as the singly chosen ancestor receiving the divine favor, all major monotheistic religions wish to claim him. They are often willing to kill to make that claim real. Myths do have serious real-world applications. And I still haven’t figured out that bit about seven sons. Three seem to be far more than enough.

Abraham at sixes and sevens

Truth in Fiction

In my more optimistic moods, I like to think of myself as a literary sort. Not constrained by the narrow confines of academia’s hallowed — and often hollow — halls, I have spent much of my life reading literature. I can’t say what started me on this track; my parents were not readers and the small-town school I attended encouraged little beyond subscribing to MAD Magazine. When I stumbled onto the literary giants, I was hooked. There are still great writers I have yet to explore, but one that I only really discovered at the prompting of my wife is Mark Twain. I’d of course known who he was. In my youth I never read any of his books. Then on a fateful, if carefully planned out, trip to Hannibal, Missouri to dig geodes during my geologist phase, we were rained out. The geode farm was closed. Sullen beyond shattered rock-hound dreams, I was at my wit’s end (not a long trip) when my wife suggested we not waste the miles we’d traveled, since Hannibal was also the boyhood home of Mark Twain. While there we bought souvenir quality volumes of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Upon returning home, I read them non-stop.

While on vacation last week my wife was discussing her literary pursuits with her family and it emerged that the full, uncensored, autobiography of Mark Twain will begin its public appearance in November of this year. One of the topics to receive his attention is religion. Twain was a Christian, insofar as any Presbyterian can make that claim, but he was critical of formal religion. A quote purporting to be from his autobiography runs: “There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing, and predatory. The invention of hell measured by our Christianity of today, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the deity nor his son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilled.” A bit caustic, but honest. When the books come out, I’ll be able to check it for veracity.

One of the things I value most about Mark Twain was his ability to hit his readers without giving away that they’d been hit. He accomplished this through a brutal honesty, often cloaked in fiction. When I explain myth to my students I tell them that it is an attempt to clarify the truth through story. Modern people tend to be fixated on historicity and sometimes miss the importance of a story because “it never happened.” If Huckleberry Finn never navigated a raft down the Mississippi, it would not affect the truth of the story or the insight of the author. It seems to me that with a writer so honest we would do well to consider what he had to say about his own religion before unsheathing our swords and rattling our sabers.

Dinosaur Ark

Over the weekend I had a detailed comment left on my post about the discovery of Aardonyx celestae, found here. Since the comment is a lengthy rebuttal, my answer begged to become a post of its own, so I present it here. The first remark I have to make is that my commenter wrongly suggested two problematic assumptions: I “don’t care” about correctly representing Creationist viewpoints and that I “ridicule Christians.” For those many students who have taken my classes over the past 17 years, it is always clear that I respect all religious viewpoints; in fact, empathy is generally cited as one of my main characteristics. I vehemently defend the rights of individuals to believe the religion they believe to be right – e.g., I do care. As for the ridiculing Christians concern, I ridicule no person. I will, however, point out viewpoints that are ridiculous, “Creation Science” being one of the most obvious. As is clear to anyone who takes the time to survey Christianity, the large majority of Christians in the world have no problems with evolution. A small but vocal sub-sect of the religion, mainly based in America, is the main Christian group that supports Creationism.

My theological assailant tells me that the Hebrew word for “kind” in the Noachian account is “min” (the root, marked as “dubious” in the standard lexicon, is myn) and that it is “much broader” than the word translated “species.” The problem here is that the ancient Semitic viewpoint has been left unaddressed. For the ancient Israelite dog was dog and wolf was wolf, and ne’er would the twain meet. Arguing that a limited evolution has taken place in order to make room on the ark is a fatal flaw to the position. Once it has been admitted that the Noah story is not literally each and every species known, it is the equivalent to the ark springing a leak mid-deluge. The commenter’s examples of animals breeding only “within their kinds” is also problematic. Such “kinds” are not recognized by “nature” and numerous examples of viable offspring crossing species have been recorded. Nature simply doesn’t abide by the neat and tidy categories that the ancient Israelites recognized. Suggesting that two sauropods were all that was needed on the ark to produce everything from Titanosaurus to Anchisaurus is a stretch for even “day-age” theorists since the genetic differences between them are as immense as their body size differentials. This slippery use of the word “kind” has all the imprecision of a god-of-the-gaps.

Did God say to take seven pair of each clean animal? My Bible reads “two of each kind” in Genesis 6.19. But wait, the story changes in Genesis 7.3. Could it be that we have two separate sources (or “kinds”) here? My commenter does not inform me where the fresh-water fish came from; after God blew the water out of the cosmic dome (Genesis 8.1) they must have had time to evolve while the salt leeched out of the low-lying basins left behind by the flood and its marvelous geography-forming power. Good thing Noah had plenty of fresh water on the ark!

“Take time to consider what scientists have already said on the issue,” my debate partner adjures me. That’s just the problem, however. I do read what the scientists say. And all of them who write without a Genesis bias tell me that the ark story is not scientifically feasible. More than that, being a life-long Bible reader, I came to that conclusion as well, based on the genre of the story (myth). I never claim to be the first to find contradictions that prove problematic for the Bible – I simply try to make my readers consider the implications of the fact that such contradictions indeed exist.

What I find so interesting about such criticism is that the author of the comment has not tested his/her hypothesis about what I actually believe. On principle I do not share my personal religious beliefs on my blog, just as I do not share them in the classroom. What I believe is immaterial to the issue of Creationism; in this issue the facts speak for themselves. The fact is “Creation Science” is science fiction.

Our Myth of History

“Myth” is a difficult word to define. In the ancient world, however, reality, or truth, was expressed in terms of myth. Today we assume that myth is “untrue” or false. This dichotomy often leads to an unfortunate undervaluing of ancient texts and stories. At root the problem is that we are on the far side of a paradigm shift. This podcast addresses the question of how we might try to understand myth in a way that fits with the modern outlook. Since historical veracity is the modern paradigm, it stands to reason that history has become the mythology of present-day thinkers.