Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Myth

I was sitting in a coffee shop in La Grande, Oregon, having a cup of cowboy coffee. A copy of the La Grande Observer was on the counter. As I shuffled through the thin paper looking for something of interest to pass the time, I came upon a headline that caught my eye. "It Is Time to Create a New Myth," it read.

It seems a traveling lecturer was coming to town and would be speaking at Eastern Oregon University. His subject was the death of the old myths - he meant specifically the old creation myths and superstitions - and the need for  new myth that would capture the minds of the scientific generation. It sounded like a topic of more interest in sophisticated Portland or Seattle than in a ranch and farming town in  the conservative half of the state. But I was interested. I read on.

Having finished, my first reaction was to take offense that someone would in such an offhand way categorize as a myth and unhelpful what I had believed true for more than forty years and what millions of people, great thinkers among them, had believed to be true over the millennia. And then to suggest that science provided something better, that was puzzling. I had considered through college what science had to offer, and I was not impressed. Nor were the disciples of science in my generation, the Timothy Learys who preached "Turn on, tune in, and drop out," the lost generation who like Ernest Hemingway in one way or another took a shotgun and blew their brains out.

Since then - this was the mid-90s - I have had occasion to think of this lecturer's ideas in more depth. I occurs to me now that modern intellectuals had already created a new myth. It was the myth of a wholly material reality. And it was being promoted in everything from high school science text books to popular programs on TV. It was, of course, being sold to us as "fact," but at heart it was myth.It provided us with microwaves to heat our nachos. It promised us liberation from the Puritanical mores of the past. And in the end it left us with no meaning to life.

It was a story that was intended to explain life. It was supposedly superior to the old myths in that it required no supernatural deities. Its deities were men and women of science. It was not even perceived as a myth. It was reality. And that is what made it powerful.

But that is true of all myths. They are not perceived as myth.They are true.

And that is why, on reflection, I like the lecturer's premise. This is a new MYTH,  this scientific materialism. It is a mythical story that attempts to explain a limited set of phenomena in an all embracing story. It is no more true than the myth of Thor.

The new scientific myth, of course, is accepted and defended vigorously as real reality by the modern myth makers. Oh, the details of the scientific myth may be true in a limited way, just as the thunder which the existence of Thor was intended to explain was true. But the story into which the details are woven is not. It cannot be.

If it were true that the material universe is all there is, a la Carl Sagan, it would be the most unimaginable myth of human history. And the most narrowly argued. Beside this new scientific myth, belief in Thor is sound and rational. But few of the devotees of the modern myth are able to see that. They go on proclaiming that it is the only truth that makes sense and satisfies the data.

And we, who know that the material universe is not all there is, play the game. We weakly reply that the material universe requires a originator. We use for evidence the same data the modern myth makers use. And we leave it there, as though that is sufficient to make our case.

That is a mistake. Reality consists of more. And the evidence for a larger reality includes data that the scientific myth makers ignore. It includes the interaction of God in human history. It includes prophecies fulfilled. It includes dreams that are more than dreams. It includes a spiritual side of man that is beyond the reach of physical science. It includes the amazing revelation of God in the Bible and in history in the person of Jesus.

To most of mankind throughout history these things are not anomalous or bizarre phenomena. They are as real as molecules and mountains.  It is only to those who limit the data to that which they can put under a microscope for which they are "superstitions" made up in the human mind. We who know better must not play by those rules.

I read a book a few years ago entitled I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. It was a good book, but it is an even better title because, the truth is, it requires immense faith to believe the modern scientific myth. It requires believing in the mindlessness of reality and that this mindless reality somehow created or organized itself in all its complexity and beauty from nothing or from some vague quantum fluctuations. It requires believing that the universe and our life within it makes no sense, when everything around us and the voice within screams otherwise.  It requires believing that mind, yes, the mind of people such as Einstein and Hawking and Socrates and Augustine is explained by mere matter - and an incredible, impossible amount of luck.

I don't have enough faith to believe that.

It requires that the art and literature that graces our lives and mimics the beauty - or pathos - of the world we live in, are nothing more than the doodles of apes grown unaccountably wise.

I don't have enough faith to believe that.

No. Such a myth is unimaginable. And I have the lecturer with a PhD in Joseph Campbell after his name who came to Eastern Oregon University to thank for reminding me that the story we have come to believe as real and "scientific" is actually nothing more than a myth. 

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