Sunday, March 12, 2006

Discussing Creationism Part V

In this series about Creationism in which we are currently examining Noah and the flood, the issue of mythology needs to be addressed:

What is a myth?

Answers.Com defines a myth as:

1. A traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people, as by explaining aspects of the natural world or delineating the psychology, customs, or ideals of society: the myth of Eros and Psyche; a creation myth.
2. Such stories considered as a group: the realm of myth.
2. A popular belief or story that has become associated with a person, institution, or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal: a star whose fame turned her into a myth; the pioneer myth of suburbia.
3. A fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology.
4. A fictitious story, person, or thing: “German artillery superiority on the Western Front was a myth ” (Leon Wolff).

Myths are fictitious stories which arise from the oral traditions of ancient, primitive people. It is possible that oral traditions which weren't immediately written down and superstitious beliefs can distort facts but this does not mean that all ancient accounts are false and are to be classified as myth. Some stories, such as the Greek and Roman myths, were written as allegories by intelligent men with great understanding of human nature but they helped add to the belief that all accounts from antiquity are allegorical and not be taken as truth.

The following is a list of what makes a myth, from About Com:

A myth is a story containing within and having about it certain identifiable characteristics. These are, specifically, that:

* It is a religious story, no matter from which culture and will therefore involve the existence and activities of a supernatural being, such as a god, a demigod, a goddess, or several such entities;
* It will seek to explain at least some aspect of the origin or manner of things (where people came from, how rainbows first came to be, why whales have blow spouts, why people and animals feel hunger) if not of the very universe itself;
* It is not an isolated tale but connects up in some significant way with other similar stories within a culture, involving other deities who collectively form a pantheon;
* Its authorship is communally shared, that is, attributable to no single person, and it came into existence through oral tradition, and therefore usually has more than one version;
* It is believed to be essentially true by those in the society for whom it is one part of a cultural mythology.

The Biblical accounts of Creationism and Noah certainly meet all these criteria but remember, this classification system is devised by man. This list presumes that all early accounts are false and that it is only that society from whom it originates that considers it true.

In mathematics, it is easy to check the computations for mistakes, but to examine an argument, one has to look at the premises, one at a time, to check for truth or error.

An important but often overlooked premise that is inherent in every man is their religious belief. A well meaning and intelligent man,Joseph Campbell, is a world renown scholar on mythology. He teaches that the Bible is a "tribally circumscribed mythology." He is also an atheist. His beliefs cause him to interpret the Bible in a certain way. The idea that scholarly men are impartial observers is often a fallacy.
Christian beliefs also may lead to conclusions which are contrary to the non-religious man. These differences of premises can both lead to different interpretations of the facts.

So when looking at these arguments, on what is a myth or what does this ancient document really mean, it is necessary to keep these differences in premises in mind.

Do you have any ideas to add regarding the definition of mythology?

Discussing Creationism Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV


Anonymous said...

Joseph Campbell wasn't an atheist. Rather, he concluded from his extensive comparative studies of the mythologies of mankind that there are deep spiritual truths common to all times and cultures underlying the myths.

The claim that myths are "false" is associated with a particular modern usage of the term. In academic discussions of mythology it is NOT assumed that myths -- in the proper sense of religious stories pertaining to origins, supreme beings, supernatural occurrences, etc. -- are false.

It IS generally assumed, however, that myths are not LITERALLY true. E.g., the stories in the book of Genesis.

Carol said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thanks for your comment. It sounds as if you have studied mythology. I am glad someone sent you my way.

You have stated that Joseph Campbell was not an atheist yet in some of the sites I visited, he was referred to him as such. Eg.
Send 2 Press
Solving Light Books

As well, there are numerous quotes that show that he did not believe that God was real but only a metaphor.
"What gods are there, what gods have there ever been, that were not from man's imagination?"
-- Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By (1972), quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

"God is a metaphor for that which trancends all levels of intellectual thought. It's as simple as that."
Joseph Campbell

Where are your sources that say differently, Anonymous?

To say that myths are not considered
by academia to be "false" then to say that they are not to be understood literally is double talk made by some to prove that the Bible accounts are not true.

Thanks for your contribution.

radar said...

There are any number of flood myths found in the world. Thing is, many times a myth is a true story that is changed mightily during the re-telling. The story of the Ark in the Bible is entirely plausible, in fact the dimensions of the Ark are exactly like ocean liners today. The space in the Ark would fit all the animals necessary, including foodstuffs, and the crew would be sufficient to provide feeding rounds, such as they might be.

I believe that the myths concerning a flood and a boat are the re-telling of the original true occurence. Oddly a number of these myths are about a character called Noah, Noe or a similar name.

Carol said...

Thanks for visiting Radar,
Some of what you mentioned, I hope, Lord willing, to talk about on Sunday.
I haven't read a lot of the different flood stories yet. I have been focussing on Gilgamesh.
Hope we can talk again.

creeper said...

Radar said:

"The space in the Ark would fit all the animals necessary, including foodstuffs, and the crew would be sufficient to provide feeding rounds, such as they might be."

It's impossible to make such a claim without knowing what animals would have needed to be on the Ark to explain the variety of life around us today.

Here are some assumptions we can make in thinking about the plausibility of Noah's Ark.

1. We can see the world around us today, and we have a fairly detailed idea of the variety of life around us.

2. Approx. 2348 BC, all life on Earth was wiped out except for what could fit onto Noah's Ark.

(Incidentally, claims regarding marine animals surviving because "they could swim" need to be taken with a grain of salt (ha!), because of their reliance on certain ranges of salinity (saltwater, freshwater etc.).)

So how can we plausibly find the bridge between 1 and 2? We don't know who or what or how many animals were on the Ark. What we can do is work backwards from what we do know for sure, which is what is around us today.

So we can try to figure out what the "kinds" are, given the speed at which life can evolve, and work backwards to come up with a reasonable scenario of what needed to be on planet Earth right after the flood to result in today's world.

Only then can we come to a fruitful discussion of whether whatever number of animals, plants etc. would be required can actually fit on the Ark.

And then we can move on to the next vexing question: how could these animals have possibly moved to all the different continents (freshly separated after the flood, and now separated by water and, according to some claims, moving away from each other with impressive speed) in such a way as to explain the distribution of the variety of life that we see around us today?

There is also another, more manageable question we can ponder in the meantime: how quickly would it have been possible for Noah's family to evolve into the different races we know today? And do we still see the rate of evolution that this would require around us today?


"This list presumes that all early accounts are false and that it is only that society from whom it originates that considers it true."

I'm not so sure about that. Early accounts are not automatically presumed to be false or mythological (which are hardly the same thing, by the way). There are for example the writings of Diodorus Siculus, and the Turin Royal Canon.

What seems to me to be missed by someone who is annoyed by parts of the Bible being considered mythological is this distinction between literal truth and spiritual truth, or the insinuation that something not being literally true meaning that it is false, which in the case of myth is not the point - the point is the spiritual truth.

Getting hung up on whether something is literally true in defiance of evidence plainly pointing against it and as a result not appreciating the spiritual truth of the myth is a real shame.

Carol said...

Hi Creeper,
Obviously you have studied this issue before. Good! I appreciate hearing your ideas.

I understand what you and many others say about the flood account ie that it is not literally true and only an allegorical account.
Although, there is deep spiritual significance to the story, the Bible itself does not treat the account of Noah as figurative or mythological but as a literal truth. I hope to get to that point at a later date.

I hope that you and other interested parties will contribute in the future as well.

daily beard said...

Hi there,

Modern Science is a story in the same way the bible is a story. Fine, we all like stories. I really don't want to rain on anybody's parade if they are interested in praying every day. But then, why rain on anybody's parade if they want to read Darwin every day either?

It's stronger to say Yes to what you love with your whole heart than say No to what you don't love.



Everything is so mysterious. I really just don't know anything about anything, but that is okay.