Sunday, June 08, 2008
Tales of Creation
Jim Chen, dean and professor of law at the University of Louisville, has an article entitled "The greatest story ever told" at Jurisdynamics, one of the several excellent sites he has has founded, including The Scientific Lawyer and Biolaw.
Humanity, so it seems, demands a story of origins. If we need a creation myth, and the emotional reality of human existence evidently demands no less, then let's tell the greatest story ever told: the real story of earth, from its Hadean origins to the sixth great extinction spasm of the Phanerozoic.It happens that I am just reading E.O. Wilson's On Human Nature, where he makes much the same point:
[T]he evolutionary epic is probably the best myth we will ever have. It can be adjusted until it comes as close to truth as the human mind is constructed to judge the truth. ... [T]he mythopoetic requirements of the mind must somehow be met by scientific materialism so as to reinvest our superb energies.I am not sure that science can actually work as a substitute for myth. For one thing, science lacks the certainty that religious people seem to crave and myth provides. Still, there is nothing wrong in playing to the grand sweep and epic subject matter of science.
After all, there is a grandeur in this view of life ...
But mythology is not just about explaining natural phenomenon. It also tends to reveal universal human truths which retain their meaning long after people abandon them as descriptions of literal events.
Science needs to give people an understanding of our place in the cosmos and hence add meaning to our lives before it will replace religious explanations.
I'd say that is a minimum condition for science to assume myth's function but, even then, I'm not sure it will ever replace myth completely.