When we examine mythology, we notice that all religions share universal mythical themes; resurrection, saviors and heroes, Gods, supernatural occurrences, and more. We all share common myths painted with epic colors of tribal folklore.
These cultural legends are at the foundation of our Human evolution.
Without myths, we would have no art, no culture, no philosophy, no religion, no science… and no bedtime stories.
Without myths, we would have never been provoked into asking the existential questions we needed to understand ourselves. These questions gave birth to philosophy, and in time, formed the different religions that we identified with, geo-culturally, to this day.
It would be a grave mistake to equate myths with fairy tales in a derogatory manner.
Neither are pointless, as often many of my atheist colleagues seem to think. I have stated this before; religion was beneficial to our evolution, a tool to our progress. What we could not understand empirically, we filled the gaps with grandiose claims, both comforting and terrifying. Religion was the needed tutor to our civilizations—it even started the scientific process. For that, we can only be grateful.
As an atheist, I have often dismissed myths as useless—but I have been corrected on this. So, why do we so often encounter the rejection and contempt for our myths, as if our epistemic progress did not depend on it?
The problem began when scientific curiosity and the evidence it presented started contradicting the long-believed religious myths of our different cultures; the tales that truly helped us relate to our human progress. These newly found observations and quite unacceptable empirical clues contradicted our deepest identities, and continue to do so.
The more precise the tools of investigation, the less our Gods and myths made sense in the context of what we were learning:
—The Earth turned out not being the center of the Universe, nor flat. The stars were not created after our Earth as the scriptures stated. Shockingly, the now observable universe was not created with us as the center of attention (we are not even in the center of our comparatively small galaxy). Perfection (fine-tuning) is a myth too, and the stars were not “fixed” to a watery firmament. Our culturally influenced gods were simply human-like in their jealous egos. They were misogynist, promoting nationalism rather than unity, taking sides in wars, while chaos was and still is everywhere around us, unplanned and often destructive.
Most of us had to reconsider the literality of our beliefs. Some of us refuse to.
Still, “curiosity killed the cat”, as the adage goes.
Of course, there are plenty that will not agree with me here.
Mythology has a strong hold on our cognitive bias. In fact, it has made a comeback in force these past decades with flat earth revisionists, the Geocentric model, creationism…etc.
In spite of all our scientific progress, myths still have a way to make us feel good. My aim in this article is not to take that away from anyone. I am writing to share my journey, my process. I make no conclusions closed to correction. I’m here to learn.
—I am not a professional philosopher, nor a scientist. I’m just a thinker on a quest for Truth, hoping to avoid as many untruths as I can.
I realize I will die mostly ignorant. But the little I have and will discover fills me with joy—something worth sharing without imposing.
We all stand on the shoulders of men and women that we consider our trusted sources.
—We must all, at least, acknowledge that whether scientific, philosophical, mythical, or religious, all books and scrolls are written by men; imperfect humans with limited understanding, open to correction and further evidence, even if some today are closed to such a process.
We need to talk about WHY we accept or refuse any given source. What our standards for evidence are—and if we honestly apply those paradigms to all other claims… or just ours. In other words, we need to be consistent in our convictions and also share HOW we know what we claim to know. This is epistemology 101.
For me, it’s easy to get distracted and pulled into a theological argument. One must be careful to remember that theology is the study of the nature of God—which upon empirical and logical evidence does not exist outside of philosophical arguments.
—This is an epistemological problem, and it’s getting worse with the return of scientific denial, like creationism and flat-earth claims I mentioned earlier. We see cognitive bias pollute our progress, and it has started a trend backward.
This is obvious with how Arabs lost their place in science because of the fundamentalists of Islam**—when they used to be on top of mathematical progress!
Now, Christianity is following the trend, attempting to limit our acquired freedoms in politics and scientific research for faith-based fundamentalism. This is an alarming time for progress.
This is why I fight Faith and promote critical thinking and scientific advancement. But, let’s face it, it is extremely rare to see someone abandon myth for fact, even when it bites us in the face. I know, I held on to my myths and fought for them until I had to face the evidence and correct my epistemic paradigm.
—Having served as a Bible teacher/student for over 3 decades, I get distracted, led by red-herrings related to Biblical inner issues. I have to fight the tendency to argue what the Bible means intrinsically. It’s important to pull the discussion back to the real issues, one being the validity of theology altogether.
I have only lately decided to avoid repeating ad-nauseam the inner arguments within scripture to privilege the discussion on the validity of the Bible and religion itself. I know the arguments for having used all of them. (I never see a new argument surface. Like ever!)
Consequently, I repeat, we need to talk about why we accept our sources of trust; and what our standards for evidence are—and if we honestly apply those paradigms to all other claims… not just our own. That’s a tough one!
About the “what-ifs” on future tools that could prove those ancient supernatural claims (I hear that a lot, as if admittance of not knowing everything is evidence that a claim will be proven true later), we have an expression in France that goes like this: “With ‘what-ifs’ we could fit Paris in a bottle.”
It’s an amusing adage but it’s true that we can’t work with tools we don’t even know exists. Empirical reality and our 5 senses are all we have, at least for now.
There is zero evidence to the contrary.
Even consciousness is a biological phenomenon as far as we know.
A damaged brain = an impaired consciousness.
No biological brain =no consciousness.
There is as much evidence for an after-life consciousness than the is one for pre-life, before birth. (I will expound on the soul subject in a later article.)
—Any other claims are just in the realm of imagination, myth, and philosophy.
It’s fun to imagine, even comforting to accept as truth. But these are claims supported with no other evidence than the words written by the men we must first trust to believe, way before giving credit to the gods they wrote and claimed to exist. Pure logic.
* see footnote
Science has helped us live longer, has revealed so much about our past evolution. Science is a work in progress. Science is not an entity, it’s a method. It has made leaps in knowledge in just the past 150 years—while old religious writings and philosophies made supernatural claims for thousands of years without any supporting empirical or logical evidence, and even often against such evidence. The only reason science does not have the winning odds here is because we are emotional beings, and myths precisely address our emotional needs.
All of the above does not dismiss the incredible usefulness of myths in our human history. Myths still comfort so many of us today. They are essential to our cultures, even to our upbringing. But we must not forget that while they inform us on our cultural beliefs, they are rarely, when not loosely, rooted in historical realities.
We all have to walk this journey of Life. May we all find our own path, believing as many truths as we can. And hopefully, make this journey one that will lead our children to their own paths with a goal to progress and learning.
Love & Peace to you all.
“A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.”
* Footnote on a logical paradigm:
I wanted to add an illustration relating to how absurd it is to make the claim that God is real because He has revealed himself thru scripture. (Bear in mind this is only an illustration to make a point, it is not to be extrapolated ad nauseam.)
This circular claim is taking everything backward.
Let’s say I wrote a book claiming the existence of Bigfoot and stated I knew first hand because he was the one that told me his own story—I just reported his own words in my book about him.
Would you believe in HIM and say he is the true Bigfoot because he is the one that directly dictated these “facts” to me, the humble writer?
—Or would your sense of logic question my credibility rather than presuppose I was telling the truth about Bigfoot and his story? Would you question the written claims I made?
I’m not even arguing about the existence or non-existence of Bigfoot here—I’m just pointing out a flawed epistemic construction. That’s what epistemology is all about.
See the issue?
** Thank you makagutu for correcting my use of the word “Islam” when I should have said “Arabs”. I corrected. 😉