I. Reason vs. Myth – II. Reason and Imagination. 1. The Concern of Epistemology for Myth. 2. Myth as Intellectual and Cultural Driving Force. 3. Metaphysical Insufficiency of Scientific Rationality. - III. Myth and Contemporary Science. 1. The Presence of a Language Related to Myth in Some Models Used by Cosmology and Quantum Mechanics. 2. Biological Evolution as a “Narration.” – IV. Myth, Religion and Faith. 1. The Triumph and Survival of Myth. 2. Myth and Biblical Language. 3. Concluding Remarks.
With the passing of time, scientific progress succeeded in relegating to the background what is commonly called "myth," a term that connotes not only the sum of ancient “tales” which lie at the base of culture, but also the intellectual attitude that governed mankind’s original rapport with reality. The rationalism tied to classical science stigmatized myth as “infra-scientific,” hence, incapable of revealing any sort of truth. Myth was considered precisely a mystification. In our day, thanks to developments in the natural sciences, with the modification of certain conceptions and the introduction of new ideas, the perception of myth’s value has changed. The human sciences as well have altered the contemporary notion of myth by rediscovering the importance of traditional culture. Even philosophy, which occupies itself with universal spiritual experience, has cultivated a respectful relationship with myth. All this has lead to a new appreciation of the value of myth, without in any way detracting from the defense of reason before the shifting manifestations of the irrational.
I. Reason vs. myth
The devaluation of myth was properly the work of positivist philosophy, especially in the form expressed by Auguste Comte (1798-1857). This view was – and is – largely shared in many scientific circles. In his reflection on the history of thought, Comte subdivided the adventure of the human spirit into three stages through which reason passed on its way to full maturity in the modern age (see Positivism). In the "mythological" or "religious" stage, according to Comte, thought was as yet the prisoner of images, and room still remained for divine arbitration. The following "metaphysical" stage entailed the emergence of reason, but the total confidence accorded to reason was in some way blind, leaving the human spirit prisoner of a certain anthropocentrism.
Reason finally reached full maturity in the "scientific" age when it became an adequate instrument of knowledge whose awareness of its own limits permitted it to lay claim to objectivity. The philosophical formulation suggested by Comte dominted the greater part of European thought and social behavior; the militant attitude of the laity interpreted it almost verbatim. The progress of university science and world conquest found their justification in the triumph of rationality over religious representations and myths. In the realization of progress, European colonizers referred themselves to the use of reason as much for education as for economic and administrative development. Scientific knowledge was taken as the model for every kind of knowledge. Such a classification was subsequently inherited in part by critical philosophy. However, recognizing the complexity and the value of the human spirit, critical philosophy did not fall into the same simplistic interpretation: according to Kant (1724-1804), in fact, knowledge resides essentially in the judgement which, in turn, is based on positions or postulates that do not leave themselves restricted by the hegemony of rationalism or its claim to perfect objectivity.
The 19th century rationalistic attitude, broader than simple positivism or scientism, followed steadfastly what had already been accomplished at the dawn of western thought. From this perspective, science is constructed in opposition to a religious vision of the world. A nature populated by divinities or mysterious forces, understood in an anthropomorphic way, is subject to the arbitrariness of good and evil spirits. This view of the world leaves wide scope for the unforeseeable while discouraging any rational effort at prediction or codification. Contrariwise, to imagine a law (nómos) written in natural phenomena, frees the spirit and gives precedence to reason (lógos). This was the accomplishment of the Greeks at the dawn of western thought in their formulation of the ideal of the City and knowledge based on the analysis of facts and their coherent application to theory. From this perspective, as much political as scientific, the metaphysical idea of "nature" (physis) took shape as the capacity for autonomous action, being regulated and balanced by a principle of order. Also formulated was the notion of "essence" (ousía) which, given its invariability, could serve as the origin of secure knowledge based on universal principles (archaí) accessible to the intelligence by way of a language that was itself subject to logical rules.
The myths appeared, then, as great tales in which forces independent of the rules recognized and shared by human beings intervened. With time, myths became not only useless, but even, in the words of Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962), an “epistemological obstacle.” Plato (428-348 B.C.) maintained that myth does not derive from science, but from opinion, and is a barrier to the rational interpretation of phenomena. Moreover, he criticized the ancient tales on account of their immorality. For Plato, truth and error are not only of the speculative order, but relate to virtue. He opposed myth (mythos) to argumentative discourse (lógos). Thus, while a “tale” (the poet’s word) is satisfied to delineate contingent events, “science” (the word of the philosopher and sage) looks to reason or the cause of things.
The Socratic/Platonic rupture that inherited and crowned the work begun by the early “physicists” (physilógoi) was later taken up by Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), in whose thought reference to myth was practically nonexistent. Aristotle placed great importance on the concept of nature. From the beginning, his scientific ideal was characterized by the distrust of myth, as testified by his particular attention to the ways of expressing and reasoning. Myth, for Aristotle, is a form of expression that retains pedagogical value as a means of integration into the City and participation (mímesis) in its life, but must be interpreted in an allegorical way. This tradition would later be developed by the Stoics, who saw in the ancient stories a distorted way of reporting reality: one can “say” what belongs to reality, however, only within a rational system.
Science constructed the ideal of a knowledge capable of predicting, by means of calculation, the movement of the celestial bodies, eclipses, and the celestial conjunctions, relegating guesswork and magic to the margins of knowledge. Biological phenomena were explained by means of the constitutive element of vital influence (the pneûma of the medical schools of Alexandria). Work such as the construction of houses, palaces or temples, the rigging of ships, and the realization of war machines, were all regulated by the demands of proportion and balance, fruit of rigorous calculations. Thus the term "science" came to define the dominion of man over nature by means of reason (Gr. orthós logós; Lat. recta ratio), finally displacing that term from the terrain of myth. As allegorical keys, myths were not ignored, though they were held to be imperfect, a mere hint of that which was now scientifically known. Myth, then, appeared as the fruit of the imagination, reserved for religious discourses and the instruction of children, in which case it contributed to social integration and the maintenance of City values.
For this reason, the entry of Aristotelian thought into the highly religious society of the Middle Ages gave rise to a crisis which once again put into play the victory of reason over imagination or the world of emotions. In respect to logical rules that presuppose the use of propositions, the ideal of reason had achieved a distinction between principles and conclusions, as well as precise arguments on the content of propositions. This ideal was taken up again in the Renaissance and the age of scientific development, classically understood, when mathematical procedures were perfected to the point of being able to describe and unveil the intimate secrets of nature. In this long historical passage, science was hailed as the triumph of reason and victory over myth. In effect, mythological tales recount events unknown to human experience: animals speak, beings transform themselves, necessary physical consequences are eluded or modified instantly by words or thought alone. In myth, the principle of non-contradiction is not always guaranteed; narration does not respect those links of space and time proper to human life and founded on the common experience of the unfolding of time and daily work. For these reasons, the ideal of scientific knowledge was characterized, soon after its birth, by a definite distrust of mythological language: the scientific spirit had no difficulty declaring that narrated facts are untrue simply because they are impossible.
The founding metaphysical direction of scientific method was encouraged by the continuing success of its applications, notwithstanding that the thought of scholars was not always homogenous and still preserved at times conceptions that were in a certain sense religious. Thus, Isaac Newton (1642-1727) constructed the first great rational system of the world as a whole, bringing to fruition what had been begun by Galileo and Kepler. But his attention was attracted also by alchemy and the numerical relations that appear in the language of the Apocalypse. Descartes and his disciples (faithful when in need to Aristotle), refuted the obscurity, we could say, the impertinence, of the concept of action at a distance, and realized the foundational exigency of science: a language completely void of every reference to the sacred and to mystery.
The birth of chemistry with Lavoisier (1743-1794) confirmed this conclusion: the language of myth is not appropriate for describing the true cause of the transformations and proprieties of bodies. The classification of substances must adhere to the rigorous analyses of chemical activities and not to simple analogies noted in the field of biology. In its turn, biology was born as an exact science founded on the measurement and determination of quantitative relations, as for example, the measurement of temperature and that of temperature exchanges with the external environment. Experimental medicine was kept at a proper distance from tales that explained the geneses of living forms in terms of the intervention of agents and principles extraneous to nature and inexpressible in scientific terms.
The triumph of science in the 19th century, then, incited the philosophy of knowledge to favor the use of reason just as it was employed in the mathematical organon of the exact sciences. From this perspective, thought cannot be truthful without passing through logical deduction, whose propositions are the object of an appropriate formalism. Facts have to be submitted to an experimental verification which records them with the rigorous detachment of objectivity. Epistemological work confirmed this philosophy. The order of knowledge tends toward transforming metaphysical thought into a generalized rationalism in which concepts intersect logically and examine reality according to their own internal exigencies. Epistemology is attentive to the growth of the understanding of reality. For experts in pedagogy who strive to design academic programs introducing students to scientific reasoning, the development of the intelligence ought to lead to the domination of reason, according to the logical/mathematical model. Evolutionary psychology preserves this perspective even to our day. Myth, considered a kind of infantile knowledge, gives form not only to the thought of children, but also to primitive cultures untouched by progress. At the same time, the critique of myth was extended to all religious language in kind, and to the expression of theological faith. The Christian message was accused of allowing itself to be held prisoner by an emotionalism that projected onto realty the intimate convictions of the subject, without bothering to verify them, hence lacking any objectivity. Thus, myth became an object of study for sociologists and psychologists, a gate of access to the investigation of the archaic and unconscious (FREUD).
This negative view of myth continues to hold sway today over western culture, faithful as it is to its agenda of “secularization.” It is important, therefore, to point out a certain change that has come about in the appreciation and evaluation of myth.
II. Reason and Imagination
The new approach to myth is based on three types of argument: epistemological, cultural, and metaphysical.
1. The Concern of Epistemology for Myth. The most fertile criticism of the contempt of all that does not come from a reason reduced to pure mathematics was that formulated by Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Pascal recognized the great value of the new science (of which he made ample use), but emphasized at the same time that every line of reasoning is based on principles, and every demonstration is based on terms and concepts; these, in their turn, are based on others, and so forth. Pascal called for the acknowledgement that every understanding rests on “primary determinations,” often admitted in an implicit way, without being put in discussion by the experts of a specific discipline. In this perspective, critical thought considers similar choices such as beliefs or primary intuitions which cannot be expressed adequately by means of scientific language. The admission of knowledge’s radical incompleteness is a characteristic of mature reason: of a reason, that is to say, capable of critically considering its own foundations.
In the course of the 20th century such thinking was taken up again with the intention of founding the mathematical sciences on logic. It was soon clear that this all-embracing project was unrealizable, as demonstrated in the rigorous, logical form of Gödel’s celebrated theorem. Scientific reasoning cannot be “self-founding”: it bases itself on that which partially evades reason, on intuitions or postulates. Contemporaneous attempts to reach a “theory of everything” are vain. These considerations allow us to affirm that an all-encompassing and universal discourse, as that which is found in myth, is not at all extraneous to scientific knowledge. Notwithstanding the difference existing between scientific and mythological discourse, it cannot be denied that myth may even have had a fundamental role in the development of scientific thought. Hence, myth is rehabilitated on the epistemological plain. Scientific creativity, for example, is not reduced to pure rationality; if it were, it would surely be impoverished. Certainly the exigencies of verification and testing are essential in every scientific procedure, but these activities serve as a control and are, in some sense, secondary. The creativity of the spirit is not exhausted in the rigorous, expository course of a demonstration.
2. Myth as Intellectual and Cultural Driving Force. In the second place, time has proven that it is not possible to realize any scientific work without recognizing certain basic “values”. The sociology of knowledge has demonstrated dependence on paradigms that have a cultural, globalizing value. The steady advance of science was favored by the ideal of progress, an ideal possessing some mythical value. Hence, modern science can rightly consider itself the daughter of the myth of progress.
The study of the foundations of the development of modern science show that this development was preceded at the dawn of the classical age by certain convictions orienting the European spirit toward world conquest. These convictions were found in the so-called “utopian” texts, named thus after the title of Thomas More’s (1478-1535) first book. Thomas More, Francis Bacon, François Rabelais, and Tommaso Campanellla projected into the future an ideal model of civilization. Their works rested on popular thinking and opened up the prospect of an ideal of theoretical and practical reason: they gave strength and legitimacy to the actions of the spirit, to medical art, and economic and political activity, but also to the ideal of science, attained theoretically in the educative system, and in a practical way in the organization of work and of industrial production. In the disenchantment of contemporary culture, the character of the “founding myth” can be noted in the discourses on reason which would be taken up again later by the Enlightenment or the rationalists, from J.A. Condorcet to J.E. Renan.
Any argument denying reason its proper dominion is perceived as a danger. The destructive fruits of irrationalism are such as to provoke a reaction against every kind of nihilism. Today scientific reason feels the need, along with the call to progress, not to lose the dynamism inscribed in its origins. Scientists are seen as one source of this dynamism. For this reason, in reaction against certain “wild” forms of returning to the sacred that would destroy the human spirit, scientists seek to renew an alliance with monotheistic theology that recognizes the value of reason and is willing to open itself to verification and dialogue with the sciences. Catholic theology, in its turn, has recovered a significant role in the foundation of scientific thought, whose development, as demonstrated by Pierre Duhem (1861-1916), is tied essentially to monotheism.
3. Metaphysical Insufficiency of Scientific Rationality. The third motive for the re-evaluation of myth is of the metaphysical order. The classical ideal that rejected myth as a perverse fruit of the imagination, considered as an evil power, proved to be too naïve. A more profound knowledge of matter has shown that philosophical ideas which in certain epochs were able to explain the various modes of rationality became insufficient: determinism could not describe the relations and the interrelations between the ultimate components of nature, and the notion of a “clear and distinct idea” came to be set aside. According to a famous expression, “reality is veiled.” It comes to be known little by little, and the more we know it, the more we recognize that we are enfolded in mystery. This perspective highlights the precarious character of many of the things we know and invites us to consider that the ideal of a transparent scientific language, an ideal that permeates classical science, remains utopian, since reality is much richer than our representations, and whatever new knowledge we acquire always poses even more difficult questions.
For these three reasons, myth has ceased to appear as something contrary to rational discourse. On the contrary, it has formed with it more intimate and subtle ties – something that could not have been imagined during the age of the triumph of scientism.
III. Myth and Contemporary Science
The new rapport between mythos and logos is evident in three areas of fundamental science: cosmology, physics, and biology. It is worthwhile to examine these three spheres where the relation between the two languages, scientific and mythical, is not exclusive but complementary.
1. The Presence of a Language Related to Myth in Some Models Used by Cosmology and Quantum Mechanics. The image of the world furnished by contemporary science often presents an all-encompassing perspective. Departing from the standard cosmological model (usually linked to the image of the Big Bang), cosmology proposes a complete history of energy, matter, and life. This Weltanschauung is presented as a great story that, departing from a certain initial singularity, explains the present and opens the future to interrogation. This “historical” presentation is based on observations that depend, in strength and diversification, on various instruments that work not only in the range of optic radiation, but also in other zones of the electromagnetic spectrum. The results obtained are based on the awareness of fundamental applied physics with success both at the intimate level of matter and in the study of the higher energies. The articulation of the infinitely great and infinitely small carried out today by astrophysics lays the groundwork for a coherent presentation of the world, considered as a true universe, unified by laws expressed with mathematical models. The presentation of results places attention on the limits of the observable and the threshold of the validity of physical theories. Scientific concepts are pushed beyond themselves with the end of fashioning theses that anticipate results from observations or from the same theoretical constructions. In such a way cosmology finishes by re-aligning itself with ancient cosmology such that elements of what was at one time considered a mythological discourse are appearing once again.
Some, such as Edmund Whittaker, have drawn from the standard model a sort of "concordism" with religious teaching, wanting to identify the initial singularity of these cosmological models with the first words of the Book of Genesis ("In the beginning God created..." Bereshit bara’ Elohim). It is important, however, to accept with reserve some presentations of scientific results since the “translation” of a theory into a universal discourse often hides certain areas of ignorance and reconstructs a myth that cannot thereafter avoid being transformed once again into an epistemological obstacle. Silence, thus, covers what is unknown and an illusion of absolute knowledge is offered, sometimes colliding with religious themes.
Also, the way in which certain results of quantum mechanics are presented seems to signal the return to a religious view of the world, as indicated by the break with a deterministic vision of natural phenomena. The ultimate essence of matter leaves space for the unforeseeable since quantum mechanics presents the results of its calculations by means of a mathematical language that expresses uncertain phenomena. The rupture with determinism has lead some to read in the substance of matter the legitimization of a “spiritualistic” vision. Terms such as energy, actions, awareness, or freedom are interpreted within a cosmogenesis permeated by sacredness. The scientific ideal ceases to be characterized by rationalism, becoming instead a sacralization of nature. Nature – written with a capital “N” – is seen as a maternal power, a source of renewal (natura naturans is a natura mater). In this way, the cosmological discourse is accompanied by religious themes deriving from oriental traditions (the “dance of Shiva,” the idea of a “universal consciousness,” etc.). At times, these notions are only an ornamentation to discourse, but for some the legitimization of scientific work by reference to the sacred is very important. Scientific results may evoke a new Concordism with the ancient religious myths that express pantheistic monism. Matter is seen invested by a dynamism that explains how the world is “set in motion” according to an order or universal law possessing absolute value. The reduction to immanence of a principle that would have to act in a transcendent manner is considered by some as a way of returning to the great theme of finalism.
2. Biological Evolution as a “Narration”. Thirdly, this time in the biological sphere, the theory of evolution proposes a continuous and progressive history of the transformation of species according to a relentless development that overcomes challenges originating from restrictions, internal and external, of an ecological, geological, climactic or geographic nature. The theory of evolution offers a unified vision of the progressive emergence of the complexity of an ever more efficient organization of the various organisms. Also, this scientific idea is not infrequently presented within expressive contexts of a mythic character.
The glance that man turns on his distant past brings him back in touch with that archaic spiritual state that is typical of the origin of myth. In fact, prehistory is imagined as a period in which hunters lived in a kind of happy Eden where life flowed along tranquilly – a view modernized in the idea of a golden age. At the same time, the rusticity of the first realizations of objects and instruments evokes the notion of a natural state, almost innocent – a view rediscovered in the medieval discourse on Paradise. Representations containing references to sexual behavior have given rise to a dream world in which there were no restrictions on the life of a couple, nor difficulties for the survival of children – a re-actualized version of myths regarding sexual innocence in the face of a morality imposed by a society based on precise rules. Similarly, catastrophic theories that have brought about a reconsideration of gradualism, typical of the theories of synthesis, re-align themselves with those Gnostic visions that favor the notions of fall and alienation.
All these myths are at the same time the fruit of an historical reconstruction, a manifestation of the unexpressed desire to seek a perfection realized in history. It appears evident, then, that the strict separation between science and myth, in place from the moment the intellectual climate was dominated by rationalism, is in fact illusory. There exists a complementarity between science and the founding ancient narratives. What is necessary now is a work of discernment.
IV. Myth, Religion and Faith
The return of the presence of myth in science invites us to recall some foundational elements of scientific thought. Departing from the 17th century, science acquired a great power to “explain the world” thanks to a transparent, precise language, like that used by mathematics, in which clear and distinct ideas reign. The success of scientific results, as much on the theoretical as the functional plain, has confirmed not only the value of practical reason, but above all that of the metaphysics of being in the purity of the Logos. Such success should not let us forget that, in its process of development, classical science, linked typically with Descartes and Newton, has conducted a contemporaneous battle on two fronts: first, against an academic tradition of the Aristotelian type; second, against the hermetic tradition reassumed during the Renaissance.
1. The Triumph and Survival of Myth. The Aristotelian tradition that dominated medieval university teaching, after having born its fruits, became rather rigid and seemed chained by the preeminence of text over observation and qualitative evaluation over measure. Against such an exacerbating tradition some daring innovators made their appearance. Referring themselves to the authority of the ancients, they reevaluated the role of numbers and geometric perfection with the intention of giving essences new rigor, modifying the sense itself of the word “concept.” This aspect of their efforts is well noted. However, the other front of the scientific dispute should not be forgotten, that tied to the success of the new ideal of thought: the rejection of hermetism.
This term, that in reality defines a certain spiritual attitude, refers properly to Ermete Trismegisto, an almost legendary person rediscovered by the erudite scholars of the Renaissance, whose influence was felt in medicine and alchemy. In hermetic practice, arguments of a globally significant value were developed in reference to entities. The language was that of analogy between the form and the play of the elements. Natural elements, it was believed, enjoy a certain autonomy and possess the intentionality and will proper to living beings and human persons. Classical science broke with such “spiritualizing” of matter to replace it with the abstraction of mathematical laws. After Kepler, it was no longer necessary to suppose the existence of angels or divinities to preside over the movement of the stars and planets since it was sufficient to use the forces described by rational mechanics. This victory, however, did not put an end to the relationship we human beings have with our imagination. Rather, a distinction had to be made between the fruits of the imaginary and that activity of the imagination that derives from the imaginative and expresses the creativity of the spirit.
The relation between science and myth is not limited to the theoretical aspect of thought. Applied science, or technology, also has ties with myth, both for what it produces and in its development. The language of applied science was created by progress; its investigations are validated by a preoccupation with results. To earn credit, research laboratories give preference to those themes that have a certain social and political importance. Hence, the dominant themes of social and political discourse are always inspired by the “myth of progress”: health, agricultural development, abundance of consumer goods, quality of life, victory over geographic limitations, conservation of the purity of nature. Even technological objects are invested with mythical power: the computer, for instance, owns these powers when it presents its results. Daily life bears continual witness to this dynamic. Also, scientific language produces myths, and does so under its veil of being the font of the truth, even when it does not tell the truth. Truth, to be such, must not confine itself to listening to only one source of knowledge, because it cannot be other than symphonic.
Science, taken in its widest sense, also produces certain works that are born from the purely imaginary, works that we call “science fiction.” Science fiction novels have an important role in the structuring of the imaginary. Jules Verne, for example, is one of the typical heroes of modernity; his numerous successors today know how to utilize the paradoxes of the new physics to heighten the contrast with common sense and lead the spirit beyond the immediate. In these novels we rediscover the fundamental structure of myth (see Cinema). We find there the determination of a territory in very simple geometric form (circle, square, or pyramid), or more complex form (labyrinth), where a universal drama unfolds in which benign and evil powers confront each other. There follows a chain of events in which heroes pass through initial trials that suppose a certain amount of know-how to dominate space and time. In this context, the sacralization of numbers indicates a return to the Cabala and the recognition of the esoteric. These rules are presented today as a source of truth, but this is pure illusion since their “sacredness” refers to the truth only in an indirect way, in the measure in which these numerical relations were used to express the profundity of the soul and the mysteries of the unconscious. The use of biblical language, however, is different in that numerical reference expresses a relation with God and maintains its reference with history.
2. Myth and Biblical Language. In times past, biblical texts were read as if they were detailed, historical accounts of events that took place at the beginning of the world and of human history. Such a reading was favored by some of the Fathers of the Church, such as Basil the Great and Augustine of Hippo, without ignoring the figurative value of the events related. Others, such as Origen, developed a type of allegorical reading. Scientific discoveries showed that a reading of the Bible in which historicity is so understood leads to errors and confusion. Since the birth of science, such “historicizing” readings of Genesis were considered an epistemological obstacle to the progress of scientific research. This conflict embarrassed believers and put them on the defensive, as happened in the case of concordism.
In the face of the protracted effort of scientific progress, some theologians, such as Karl Barth (1886-1968), sought an interpretive plan that could be shared by both science and faith. The project of demythologization (Entmythologisierung) owed to Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) realized a separation between the salvific message of the biblical text and the forms of its linguistic expression. Such a plan, however, derived from a scientistic conception that considered myth merely a work of fiction. Apologetics, then, refuted the use of the term myth when referred to biblical stories since it indicated something that did not respond at all to the reality. More recently, changes in the understanding of myth and its value have rendered this position obsolete. We can acknowledge that the Bible uses mythical language as a linguistic tool to express the content of faith, especially in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, and that such a usage is necessary and legitimate.
The first chapters of Genesis seek to confess faith in one God, creator and provider. The inspired author wants to say that everything that exists was made by God, Lord of history. Scientific and literary learning that places the text in its cultural context shows that it is not merely the report of a witness, but the result of a sapient, inspired reflection, put into writing on the basis of the author’s own experience. To accomplish this task, the sacred author uses the knowledge available in his day – which certainly appears limited in respect to our own time – and puts it at the service of a confession of faith. The cultural distance that separates us from the text obliges the theologian to make a distinction between “origin” and “beginning.” In fact, these two terms must be distinguished. The term “beginning” indicates that which is at the start of a temporal process and pertains to the logic of duration. The term “origin,” however, indicates a causal relation which is not limited to a moment of the temporal process, but is co-extensive with it. A beginning is homogenous with a process, while an origin transcends it. It should be said, therefore, that the biblical text means to express the “origin” of things, and is, hence, independent of the description of the “beginning.” Faith in a creating and provident God accords, then, with descriptions that differ among each other, be they scientific or naïve. The Bible does not canonize, therefore, any cosmology.
The difficulty comes from the fact that the origins of the world and of man cannot be expressed without the help of human language, a language tied to time. To speak of the origins, the author is obliged to construct a tale according to “temporal duration” and, hence, speaks of the beginning. For this reason, it is not always easy to distinguish between beginning and origin. It is not difficult to understand the difficulty of many believers when they do not know how to differentiate between the creative act and a “description of the beginning” as part of a tale transmitted from one or the other culture. The conflict between science and faith often arises from such a difficulty.
Finally, the biblical author’s concern to speak of God’s transcendence and His total lordship over space and time, over all beings and their history, causes him to use certain expressions removed from daily experience: the language that seeks to “explain the origins” distances itself in a legitimate way from descriptions tied to human actions. This “surpassing of the ordinary” also regards the distance between biblical language and philosophical language which prefers to make use of the concept. The linguistic reach expressed by the various literary forms such as myth, epic, poetry, or paradox, is at the service of transcendence, in a play of metaphor that invites the spirit to go beyond the immediate. Such playfulness must be controlled by reason, by the meaning of the transcendence of the one God, and by the perfect simplicity of His being (see, on this poit, Analogy).
3. Concluding Remarks. In the face of a revived recognition of the value of myth – a myth that can develop along with science – a prudently critical perspective should be maintained. The attitude that permitted the foundation of science should be conserved. In the first place, reason (lógos) need not be disparaged; rather, its promotion should continue, especially in regards to education in the areas of language and argumentation. At the same time, a lively awareness should be maintained by individuals and institutions concerning the limits of scientific reasoning. A certain vigilance is required that will ensure the recognition of scientific rationality as a source of true knowledge, without at the same time negating the existence of other sources equally capable of gaining access to the truth. Finally, any regression to the confusions of “sacralism” or a lazy Concordism must be avoided. A lively awareness of God’s transcendence, which prevents the reduction of the divine being to a “being of the world,” makes possible the use of the language of myth without remaining prisoner to its literal meaning. One can make the most of the imagination, without falling into the trap of the imaginary, thus according a proper place to religious language at the service of faith.
Current developments show that one should take into account history and recognize that it was really a faith in one God, separated and transcendent, which made possible an escape from the sacralization of the elements and favored the development of science. The desired syntheses will not be only an extension of scientific discourse. There is space for a harmonious conception of truth. And there is the necessity of carrying out a sapient enterprise.
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