When we think of mythology, we often think of the gods of antiquity, Zeus (Greek), Jupiter (Roman), Odin (Norse) and associated stories. But college professors will relegate Judeo-Christian teachings, particularly the Bible, as mythology too. Modern orthodoxy and political piety suggests that God, gods, or the supernatural is more or less a figment of the past; the modern intellect does not subscribed to such fairy tales, legends and myths.
But is the enlightened man of modernity void of religion, mythology or unscientific belief?
Here I document some of what I deem the pantheon of modern mythology—stories crafted out of whole cloth to explain the universe or the human condition—things discussed in the patois of modern parlance as factual despite any shred of substantiating evidence.
Modern Creation Myths
Ex nihilo factus est
The “myth” of creation as accounted in Genesis is unique in the creation stories of antiquity in that no other deity but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob created the universe ex nihilo; all other myths fabricated the world out of existing content—that is until now. Stephen Hawking, famed physicist and modern high priest from Oxford University asserts that the universe was created ex nihilo without a primary cause. In essence, the laws of physics are sufficient for explaining the cause and origin of the universe and not some unnamed deity. But then, I ask, who or what created the laws of physics?
Because the universe is ever expanding, nay accelerating, the once sacred idea that an expanding and contracting universe ad infinitum being sufficient to explain the fortuitous anthrocentricity of universal constants—this idea is now relegated to, well, myth. So the idea that, after countless cycles, Earth happen to hit the jackpot to support rare sentient life has been replaced by the mythological world of the multiverse.
The basic idea of the multiverse is that event pathways are infinite from point to point or moment to moment each possibility constituting its own universe. I may decide to continue writing this essay or get coffee. In one universe I get coffee whereas in this universe I continue writing—and that’s just two universes. In a third universe I may have never started to write or even existed. The “Mirror, Mirror” episode of the old Star Trek series was a primordial illustration of these parallel universes where Spock is logically evil and the federation is governed by sex, power, ambition and murder. By the same reasoning, somewhere in a parallel universe Bill and Hillary Clinton are pious missionaries.
The problem with the multiverse hypothesis is that it exists on paper, perhaps even as a mathematical model, but is not scientific in any way and has been criticized as such. So why are Christians ridiculed for their belief in the parallel universes of heaven, hell and purgatory, but the modern man is given scientific accolades for his belief of the mythological multiverse? Go figure.
Systems of Belief
Fill in the blank: “One day science will _____.” We may believe that scientific research will cure cancer, fix global warming, end hunger, or, as Benjamin Franklin failed in his documented pursuit, have farts smell exquisite. There is an unquestioned and accepted belief that, given enough persistence, money and time, science will solve all questions and mysteries. But where does this faith come from and why do we have it? Why should we believe that the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest could supply humanity with new and potent pharmaceuticals? Why should we even believe that plants are medicinal to animals at all? Is that scientific or fortuitous?
The origins of such belief is based in medieval theology from the likes of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. The spiritual economy of orthodox Christianity was, in the classical sense, a science in which truth could be extrapolated from revealed and (at least then) undisputed principles—think Euclid’s Elements. So then, if the God of salvation was also that of creation, one expected regularity, order and law to govern the physical world as well. Sure enough, they do, and there is good reason why modern science and technological advancement emerged predominantly in Western Christian civilization despite being centuries behind civilizations like China and India whose mythological cultures were capricious and unpredictable.
Some Scientific Myths
And sometimes our belief in science leads us to believe in “scientific” myths. Agreed that science is also responsible for debunking these myths but it just goes to show that so-called rational people championing the cause of reason are as dogmatic and fundamental as anyone else. In addition to the static universe myth, consider a few more myths debunked over time:
Rationality of Numbers – the ancient Greeks, namely the Pythagoreans, believed all numbers could be expressed as the ratio of integers—a.k.a. rational numbers. But then the unspeakable happened—when such a number could not be found to express the hypotenuse of a right triangle with a base and height of unity, it was an act of apostasy to admit that the square root of two was not nor could it ever be rational. Hence, irrational number were born and we know a few by name: pi, e, phi and the square root of two. By the way, the man of the Pythagorean order who disclosed this heresy was ex communicated by strangulation.
Aether – When electromagnetic energy exhibited wave properties, it was surmised that, like sound and mechanical energy, light required a medium through which to travel. Scientist called this fluid the aether after the mythological element. Good thing since it was discovered at the end of the 19th century that electromagnetic waves traveled through vacuum and the existence of aether was as mythical as its namesake.
The Quintic – the famed quadratic equation of high school math had a closed form solution known since antiquity. Bumping things up an order, the cubic equation was not found to have a closed form solution until the 16th century. And yet, within the same period did the same group of Italians discover the solution to the fourth order quartic. It was just a matter of time before the fifth order quintic and, perhaps, all high order of polynomial would be solved. Alas, it took several centuries before Galois determined that all polynomial equations from the quintic on up have no such solution.
Remember Piltdown man? The missing link between humans and our knuckle-dragging ancestors? Ever so quietly, Piltdown man became Put-down man after it was determined that the fossil was a fraudulent combination of human skull and animal jawbone.
And how can we forget Archaeoraptor of recent memory? This missing link between reptile and bird species was pushed by National Geographic Magazine as proof-positive evolution is the creative force in the universe, and, by implication, not some silly supreme being. Even as they unveiled the fossil find, there was doubt in the scientific community regarding authenticity but why should that stop the faith-based institution that is Nat Geo? Peer-review, schmeer review!
Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life
Anthropocentrism was given a punch when Copernicus set forth the idea that the Earth revolved around the sun instead of the other way around. So then, if we aren’t the center of the universe, sola fidelis, there must be other life forms with bigger breeches than ourselves—right?
Sounds plausible, and I don’t disagree. But I do see that the search for such life is motivated by faith. The Fermi Paradox gives pause to this plausibility. The paradox basically states if intelligent life exists somewhere in the universe and they do, in fact, have breeches that are centuries if not millions of years bigger than our arrogant human race—wouldn’t we know it by now?
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI, has been a program to search the heavens for some sort of information filled electromagnetic signal to affirm this belief. And after decades of searching for such a pattern the results are zilch-not even a sniff. So then there is about as much proof that we are alone in the universe then there are separated brethren somewhere in the vastness of space. A recent article on the web reveals the woeful results of this endeavor to date.
Fundamentalist Christians are routinely lampooned for not seeing how evolution explains the diversity of life and commonality among animal species including morphology, vestigial organs and atavism. And maybe the derision is deserved. But begin to suggest that evolution can also explain key differences between the genders or differences between the races and all hell breaks loose. Already feminists have bought into the myth that women are just like men or even better at being men than men. And if a sports broadcaster is to make the obvious comment that men of African or Samoan descent are genetically predisposed to dominate athletic endeavors, she is denounced as a racist.
It may be that modern man no longer bows down to Molech, Asherah or engages in astrolatry but that does not mean she is without idols. They’ve just been replaced with modern equivalents
- Consumerism – emptor ego ergo sum. The Kardashian and the others we must keep up with.
- Comfort – namely, creature comforts: big houses, luxury cars, second homes, the best of everything.
- Convenience – in which people are disposable when our orthodoxy is interrupted by pregnancy, infirmity or general lack of utility.
- Power – the highest good, especially if you work on Capitol Hill.
- Prestige – that comes with money, professional degrees, universities, good looks and the usual boasts at dinner parties and bumper stickers with alma maters.
- Pleasure – don’t let discipline, frugality and work get in the way of a good party.
In the precious name of Science
No doubt there are numerous stories, legends, prophecies, and rituals related to the mythology of modernity and its pantheon of gods. So remember that the next time a professor tells you that Christianity and the Bible are concocted myths. What concocted myths do they believe? This will continue as man is and always will be a religious creature whether orthodox, spiritual but not religious, or downright godless. In any case, there is no such thing as a spiritual vacuum. Believe it.