theory of the day: humans as mythmakers

If there is one thing that humans do, it is create myths. Humans tell stories not just to explain the natural phenomena they see around them, they do so to create a world out of the nearly infinite number of poorly-understood processes and relationships that surround them. They tell the stories to place themselves–just as mysterious as anything else in the booming, buzzing world of stimuli that surrounds them–into a world that is at least in part understandable, graspable, and livable. By telling stories, they take things that are inherently not graspable–birth, death, justice, love–and create a place for them within the rest of the world, so that even though they are not knowable, at least there is somewhere to put them.
Humans create their worlds through myths by pinning them on certain constants. In the past, one might say that pantheons of gods provided these constants. The world was understood according to the personalities and family relationships between a group of metanatural beings. These beings were dialogically understood by and explicated real personalities and family relationships, which made up the entire social world and through which the natural world was ordered.

Today, humans are still mythmakers, and the pantheon of “gods” to whom we pin our myths (and thus create our world) is known as science. This is not to say that science is no better than the gods at explaining reality, but rather that people use science (or their ideas about science) in the same way that they used the gods in constructing myths and a coherent world. Thus, a worldview based on “science” is not necessarily any more true, “scientific,” or rational than one based on the gods.
One of the most fertile fields for mythmaking is evolution. There are a number of reasons for this: evolution, like religion, deals with ultimate things and therefore is an extremely compelling topic for humans. Evolution also has some indications for how humans ought to live their lives, like religion as well as philosophy; and hence is quite tempting to humans who are innate moralizers as much as they are mythmakers. Finally, people really don’t understand evolutionary theory, but they think they do: this gives them quite a bit of leeway in adapting what they think evolutionary theory is to whatever point they want to try to make. Watch how people try to explain anything about humans: from psychological illnesses to personal preferences, they will try to link it to evolution somehow, but these links are derived from a feeling that everything about the world must somehow be explained by evolution, rather than a real, demonstrable, explanatory argument. This is storytelling, not science.
Everyone believes in evolution now, everyone. Creation scientists believe in it so strongly that they can’t argue against it except in its own terms. The only way anyone can not believe in evolution is if they have a completely false idea about what it is, or if they make a determined effort not to believe something that they know, intellectually, to be true–which is inherently irrational. But even in those cases, the theory is there, concepts from it trickling down from those who do understand it through the filter of those who partially understand it, and thus making up some of the building blocks of how we see the world, whether we know it or not. This is because the scientific method is the dominant paradigm of the age. It has thoroughly colonized our minds so that to reject any of the generally accepted products of it is to deny the efficacy of the way our minds work and how we understand the world to work; so that there is no longer any reason to believe that a baby can’t give birth to its own mother or that a television doesn’t work by magic–unless one creates a new myth to explain how these things work, and thus ensure intellectually that this is the way they will work.
There is nothing wrong with science, and there is nothing wrong with the fact that it is the way we all see the world. But in order to make sure our worldview is our servant and not our master, we must remember the following:
1. Science is the dominant paradigm, not the Whole Truth. It explains the natural world in a marvelously coherent and consistent way, but does not provide satisfying answers to everything that humans need and want to know about themselves, their relationships with other people, such issues as how to be happy and live a good life, and how to deal with the fact of death.
2. Science is not infallible, because humans are not infallible. Humans will consciously or subconsciously impress their preconceived beliefs and judgements onto the scientific process and scientific outcomes.
3. In order for science to be a good tool, we must use it properly. We must really understand the scientific process and the information and theories it produces before it is of any real use to us. Linking our theories to some scientific fact or theory with vague, unexamined “it must be that this is what happened” kinds of stories is not enough.

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