By John B. King, Jr., Ph.D.
The objective of the present article is to compare the worldviews of ancient mythology and modern science in order to show the deep mythological structure of the latter.1 Such a comparison is both interesting from an academic point of view and has great apologetic value. In particular, since opponents of Christian theism have tended to dismiss Christianity as mythological and unscientific, establishing the linkage between mythology and modern science returns the charge upon these naturalistic detractors, thus providing both defensive and offensive value. To this end, therefore, it will be shown that, unlike Christianity, ancient mythology and modern science share deep philosophical structures and that Christianity, by contrast, presents a distinct and demythologized view of the cosmos. To begin this discussion, it will be necessary to consider some implications of God’s triune nature.
Formal Considerations (Philosophical Structure)
Because God is a triune being, God is eternally one and eternally three. Accordingly, within God’s being the one (unity) and the many (particularity) are coeternal, equally ultimate, and mutually conditioning. Moreover, since God’s image is necessarily impressed upon His creation, the one and the many are equally derivative within the created order and thus equally basic to a Christian epistemology. However, when God’s triune nature is denied, one loses the metaphysical basis upon which unity and particularity harmoniously relate and is, therefore, driven to one of three basic philosophical frameworks: radical particularity, radical unity, or a dialectical tension between unity and particularity. Consequently, since these limited options are quickly exhausted in human thought, mythology, and science necessarily utilize the same basic paradigms and, therefore, share common philosophical structures.
If the first option (radical particularity) is chosen, the universe is conceived as an aggregate of disconnected parts (or events) subject to no unifying law and, therefore, driven entirely by chance. As a result, the universe reduces to a sea of brute particulars, involving a radical conflict at each and every point. On the mythological plane, this is the worldview of ancient polytheism (such as Babylonian mythology) in which the various gods battle one another for supremacy. On the scientific plane, this outlook becomes manifest in Darwinian evolution and the survival of the fittest. Thus, due to a common rooting in chance, Darwinism and ancient polytheism share a common mythological structure with both views positing an upward evolution from the waters of chaos. Needless to say, for such a viewpoint, the lack of an objective order destroys any basis for human knowledge.
If the second option (radical unity) is chosen, the universe is conceived as a seamless whole devoid of concrete particulars and thus devoid of any real tension or mechanism. Accordingly, in this perspective, the universe reduces to a blank and amorphous unity, which erases all distinctions and thereby eliminates the uniqueness of each and every event. On the mythological plane, this is the view of Vedantic Hinduism in which the various particulars be they gods or daily events are reduced to phenomenal manifestations of the Brahman, the all-pervading, universal spirit. On the scientific plane, this is the view of Einstein’s unified field theory which attempted to collapse all events into phenomenal manifestations of a single deterministic field. Thus, due to a common monism, Einstein’s field theory and Vedantic Hinduism share a common mythological structure with both views reducing events to surface phenomena of underlying deterministic (and cyclic) fields. Needless to say, for such a viewpoint, the lack of objective differences destroys any basis for the observation and correlation of discrete particulars (i.e., data). This lack of distinctions also produces a confusion between the subject and object of knowledge. Thus, scientific data becomes both illusory and subjective due to a lack of discreet objects and subjects. Since scientific theories are thereby stripped of their substance and reduced to a mind game, the basis for a meaningful science again vanishes.
Finally, if the third option (dialectical tension between unity and particularity) is chosen, the universe becomes the product of an eternal struggle between order and chaos which operates through a dialectical tension. Thus, such a theory posits a fractured universe which derives from the interplay of antagonistic forces. After all, in such a universe there is a basic tension at each and every point as order seeks to mold the chaos, and chaos seeks to burst the forms of order. On the mythological plane, this is the worldview of Taoism in which the events of life arise from a dynamic struggle between yin and yang. On the scientific plane, this view is encapsulated in the Copenhagen interpretation (i.e., complementarity) of the wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics. Thus, due to a common dualism, both Taoism and the Copenhagen School of quantum mechanics share a common mythological structure in which events reduce to a dynamic struggle between order and chaos. For such a viewpoint, of course, the presence of two equally basic, independent, and antagonistic principles destroys any unity of conception. Moreover, since this position is simply a schizophrenic composite of the two positions outlined above, neither of these principles (order or chaos) could provide an adequate basis for knowledge even when taken by themselves. To the extent that chaos dominates, concrete reality opposes all order, and to the extent that order dominates, such order dissolves all concrete reality. Thus, even if one could escape the tension of these opposing principles, he would still be faced with the alternative of knowing nothing about anything (chaos) or else knowing everything about nothing (order). Needless to say, the basis for a meaningful science vanishes completely on such premises.
As should be evident from the preceding discussion, ancient mythology and modern science share common philosophical structures. Thus, despite its pride in rationality and objectivity, modern science is simply a repackaging of ancient myth. The reason for this identity is simple. When the Trinity is denied, one’s thinking is driven toward one of three basic philosophical frameworks, and since these limited options are quickly exhausted in human thought, science and mythology necessarily utilize similar paradigms.
Material Considerations (Cosmic Impersonalism)
However, the connections between science and mythology run deeper than the formal considerations of philosophical structure and extend to a material identity as well. In particular, when science and mythology are substantively considered, both are seen to posit an ultimate impersonalism (cosmic impersonalism). After all, in its attempt to personify nature, mythology necessarily confuses God with creation. Accordingly, since God is thereby made dependent upon a finite and impersonal world, what mythology actually achieves is not the personification of nature but rather the ‘impersonification’ of deity. Since mythology is therefore fundamentally impersonal and naturalistic, modern science is simply a more consistently impersonal species of myth. When the reason for this common impersonalism is traced to its root, it is seen to derive, once again, from a rejection of the Triune God. Thus, in addition to the formal similarities of philosophical structure, the material identity of cosmic impersonalism also springs from a denial of the Trinity. To demonstrate this point, it will be necessary to examine some deeper implications of God’s triune nature.
In this regard, the primary consideration is the recognition that God’s triune nature establishes His infinite personality and thus a philosophy of cosmic personalism. Because God is both one and many, He has community within His own being and is both personal and rational. Since the Triune God can compare (oneness) and contrast (many-ness) within His being, He is internally benchmarked and thus internally self-defined. Accordingly, since God defines Himself in terms of Himself alone and not in relation to a finite, impersonal world, He does not become dependent upon such a world and is not thereby reduced to a finite, impersonal level. On the contrary, since God emerges as an infinite person, He possess infinite knowledge and power and is capable of affecting a rationally ordered creation. Thus, by preventing a mythological confusion between God and creation, God’s triune nature guards His infinite personality and simultaneously establishes a demythologized and well-ordered cosmos. So understood, God’s triune nature establishes the necessary and sufficient basis for an objective science grounded in an ultimate cosmic personalism. Given this fact, the denial of the Trinity not only accounts for the common philosophical framework (formal identity) between mythology and science, but also accounts for their common impersonalism (material identity). Thus, modern science is mythology due to its identical combination of formal (philosophical structure) and material (cosmic impersonalism) characteristics.
That impersonalism is the hallmark of mythology can be seen from the fact that in every case considered above, concrete personal existence derives from abstract impersonal principles. After all, despite the surface differences between the various mythologies, they are merely different variations upon the impersonal themes of being (spiritual unity and order) and nonbeing (material plurality and chaos). Thus, in Babylonian cosmology there is an upward evolution from nonbeing to being as the feminine waters of chaos give birth to a masculine spiritual order. In Hindu mythology, by contrast, there is a downward fall from being to nonbeing in which a masculine spirit produces a feminine material world through a process of differentiation. Finally, in Taoist cosmology, there is a continuous struggle between being and nonbeing with a masculine heaven and a feminine earth locked into an eternal, procreative tension. In all cases, however, the underlying principles are abstract and impersonal with the adjectives “masculine” and “feminine” providing no more than a poetic overlay. In short, regardless of which theory is chosen, personality has no rooting in such a universe and, therefore, reduces to an epiphenomenon. Consequently, since modern science moves in terms of these same philosophical structures and imbibes the same cosmic impersonalism, modern science is mythology.
Historical Considerations (Theological Degradation)
Moreover, beyond this thematic and topical analysis, the common impersonalism of mythology and science can be seen by considering the historical development of mythology and thus its gradual transformation into the latter. To begin this discussion, it will be helpful to consider the work of the world-renowned historian of religions, Mircea Eliade. According to Eliade, archaic cultures evidence a devolution from monotheism to polytheism in which the new gods are identified with immanent forces in the universe (Eliade, 118-128). Initially, these primitive peoples worship a personal god who is a celestially structured supreme being, in other words a god of the sky or the heavens. However, over time the supreme being becomes more remote and less important as a result of man’s increasing preoccupation with the immanent “natural” forces of his daily life. As these forces become progressively more important, man divinizes them with the result that his religion degrades into a crude and impersonal polytheism:
We may add that the same situation is found in the religions of more civilized peoples, that is, of peoples who have played an important role in history. The Mongol name for the supreme God is Tengri, which means sky. This Chinese T’ien means at once the sky and the god of the sky. The Sumerian term for divinity, dingir, originally meant a celestial epiphany clear, brilliant. The Babylonian Anu also expresses the idea of sky. The Indo-European supreme god, Dieus, denotes both the celestial epiphany and the sacred (cf. Sanskrit div, to shine, day; dyaus, sky, day; Dyaus, Indian god of heaven). Zeus and Jupiter still preserve in their names the memory of the sacredness of the sky. The Celtic Taranis (from taran, to thunder), the Baltic Perkunas (lightning), and the proto-Slavic Perun (cf. Polish piorun, lightning) are especially revealing for the later transformations of the sky gods into storm gods.
There is no question of naturalism here. The celestial god is not identified with the sky, for he is the same god who, creating the entire cosmos, created the sky too. This is why he is called Creator, All-powerful, Lord, Chief, Father, and the like. The celestial god is a person, not a uranian epiphany. But he lives in the sky and is manifested in meteorological phenomena thunder, lightning, storm, meteors, and so on. This means that certain privileged structures of the cosmos the sky, the atmosphere constitute favorite epiphanies of the supreme being; he reveals his presence by what is specifically and peculiarly his majesty (majestas) of the celestial immensity, the terror (tremendum) of the storm.
The history of supreme beings whose structure is celestial is of the utmost importance for an understanding of the religious history of humanity as a whole. We cannot even consider writing that history here, in a few pages. But we must at least refer to a fact that to us seems primary. Celestially structured supreme beings tend to disappear from the practice of religion, from cult; they depart from among men, withdraw to the sky, and become remote, inactive gods (dei otiosi). In short, it may be said of these gods that, after creating the cosmos, life, and man, they feel a sort of fatigue, as if the immense enterprise of the Creation had exhausted their resources. So, they withdraw to the sky, leaving a son or a demiurge on earth to finish or perfect the Creation. Gradually their place is taken by other divine figures the mythical ancestors, the mother-goddesses, the fecundating gods, and the like. The god of the storm still preserves a celestial structure, but he is no longer a creating supreme being; he is only the fecundator of the earth, sometimes he is only a helper to his companion (paredros), the earth-mother. The celestially structured supreme being preserves his preponderant place only among pastoral peoples, and he attains a unique situation in religions that tend to monotheism (Ahura-Mazda) or that are fully monotheistic (Yahweh, Allah). (Eliade, 120-122)
It is useless to multiply examples. Everywhere in these primitive religions the celestial supreme being appears to have lost religious currency; he has no place in the cult, and in the myths he draws farther and farther away from man until he becomes a deus otiosus. Yet he is remembered and entreated as the last resort, when all ways of appealing to other gods and goddesses, the ancestors, and the demons, have failed. As the Oraons express it: “Now we have tried everything, but we still have you to help us.” And they sacrifice a white cock to him, crying, “God, thou art our creator, have mercy on us.”
The divine remoteness actually expresses man’s increasing interest in his own religious, cultural, and economic discoveries. Through his concern with hierophanies of life, through discovering the sacral fertility of the earth, and through finding himself exposed to religious experiences that are more concrete (more carnal, even orgiastic), primitive man draws away from the celestial and transcendent god. The discovery of agriculture basically transforms not only primitive man’s economy but also and especially his economy of the sacred. Other religious forces come into play sexuality, fertility, the mythology of woman and of the earth, and so on. Religious experience becomes more concrete, that is, more intimately connected with life. The great mother-goddesses and the strong gods of the spirits of fertility are markedly more dynamic and more accessible to men than was the Creator God.
And yet their worshippers’ primitives and Hebrews alike had the feeling that all these great goddesses and all these vegetation gods were unable to save them, that is, to ensure them existence in really critical moments. These gods and goddesses could only reproduce and augment life; and they could perform that function only during normal times; in short, they were divinities who governed the cosmic rhythms admirably, but who proved incapable of saving the cosmos or human society in moments of crisis (historical crisis among the Hebrews).
The various divinities who took the place of the supreme beings were the repository of the most concrete and striking powers, the powers of life. But by that very fact they had become “specialists” in procreation and lost the subtler, nobler, more spiritual powers of the Creator Gods. In discovering the sacredness of life, man let himself be increasingly carried away by his own discovery; he gave himself up to vital hierophanies and turned away from the sacrality that transcended his immediate and daily needs. (Eliade, 125-128)
As can be seen from Eliade’s discussion, pagan religions degenerate into polytheism in an attempt to fill a void left by an overly transcendent god. In particular, since such a god is thought to lack immanence and hence relevance, this transcendent god is pushed into the background and replaced through an attempted divinization of the more immanent and concrete forces in the world. Moreover, since these immanent forces remain natural and impersonal, they lack the “subtler, nobler, more spiritual powers of the Creator Gods” and therefore become subject to human manipulation through magic, the pseudo-science of the ancient world.
However, as the philosophical development tends toward a greater and more conscious impersonalism, these so called “divinities” are later collapsed into phenomenal manifestations of impersonal fields. Thus, in India the crude polytheism of the Vedic period (2000 – 1500 B.C.) gave way to a more philosophical monism of the Upanishads (800 BC 500 A.D.) and of such later writers such as Sankara (eighth century AD) and Ramanuja (eleventh century AD).
P.T. Raju writes:
Taking both geography and history into account, it is now the practice of writers to trace Hinduism to the Mohenjo-daro civilization (4000-3000 BC), an adequate picture of which is still not easy to give. All that is assertable in a general way is that the civilization very likely knew some form of yogic meditation, that it had some form of Shakti (Mother Goddess) worship, and that it had the cult of animal worship also. The Aryan tribes began invading India sometime between 2000 and 1500 BC, conquered the early settlers, driving them toward the South, and then conquered the South also. At the same time, they began to superimpose their own religion on the religions of the conquered, which were many, as the different tribes followed their different religions and worshipped different gods and goddesses. In this process of superimposition, the religion of the Aryans themselves began to be transformed. The gods of the non-Aryans, like Shiva, became identified with the gods of the Aryans, like Rudra, through similarity of forms and functions. But the original Vedic gods continued to occupy a higher place than those of the non-Aryans. When the Aryans finally established their monotheism of the Brahman, this pure demythologized religion was given the place of the highest prestige, and ritualistic, were interpreted as subsidiary to the worship and realization of the Brahman.
The evolution of the worship of the Brahman reveals an interesting development of the religious life and thought of the Indo-Aryans. They were first polytheists, worshipping through sacrifices (not necessarily animal sacrifices) to gods such as the Fire-god, Wind-god, the god of death, the Dawn, Varuna the god of the Waters enveloping the world and ruling in the highest heaven, the god of clouds called Indra, and so on. They Aryans were what are philosophically called hylozoists, consubstantiatists who made no distinction between spirit and matter, or animatists who worshipped the natural forces as living, thinking beings like themselves without distinguishing between the animating and thinking spirit and the body. This religion may be called animatism as distinct from animism, in which man distinguishes between spirit and body and worships the former. Both animatism and animism are forms of polytheism. But the latter, when the spiritual conception is enlarged, elaborated, and developed into that of the Brahman, can become monotheism or even monism. The idea of the anima in a body is found in the concept of presiding deity or simply deity of the earth, sound, eye, and so on of the Upanishads.
Next, as logical development of religious thought and practice, we find what Max Muller called henotheism or the worship of each one of some of the gods as the highest and supreme. This tendency shows the Indo-Ayran mind was wavering between one god and another in the attempt finally to fix one as the Supreme. Such gods are Varuna, Prajapati, and so on. From this henotheistic conception of the Brahman, which was taken by some religious thinkers like Guadapada (c. sixth century), and Sankara (eighth century), as nonpersonal and monistic. (Raju 2,3)
On the basis of the preceding discussion, the historical development and philosophical trajectory of mythology can be readily assessed. As shown by the respective works of Mircea Eliade and P.T. Raju, mythology is seen to degenerate from a personal monotheism through a crude polytheism to a more abstract monism (or dualism) and thus toward an increasing impersonalism. In terms of this orderly progression, therefore, there is only one development consistent with the internal logic of mythology, namely the impersonal world of modern science. Consequently, when considered from the perspectives of philosophical structure, impersonal content, and historical development, ancient mythology and modern science are seen to be identical in all vital and crucial respects. Thus, modern science is mythology since it partakes of the same philosophical structure, is animated by the same impersonalism, and forms the logical telos of mythology’s historical development.
Consequently, it is both hypocritical and short sighted for modern scientists to dismiss Christianity as myth. After all, since modern science is the most rigorously consistent form of mythology, such a change reveals a profound lack of awareness. Moreover, such a dismissal is also short sighted since it is precisely Christianity which sets forth the demythologized world upon which true science depends. However, in setting forth the cosmos as ultimate, modern science implicitly divinizes the universe (i.e., produces a mythological confusion between God and creation) and therefore sets forth an ultimate impersonalism. In so doing, it destroys the personal basis for a rational cosmic order and a receptive human mind, both of which are essential to the scientific enterprise.
In Christianity, by contrast, God’s triune nature ensures that God is self-dependent and therefore independent of the created order. God’s infinite personality is not reduced, nor is the creation divinize by a mythological confusion between God and creation. God remains God, and the cosmos remains the demythologized product of His handiwork. It is rationally ordered as a result of God’s fully conscious (omniscient) and all powerful (omnipotent) personality. Moreover, since man is created in God’s image, it is precisely God’s infinite personality which establishes man’s finite personality, and thus a receptive, scientific mind. Accordingly, science works precisely because Christianity is both true and personal. Given this fact, the long-term health of modern scientists to renounce their current mythology and embrace the Triune God.
May God be pleased to grant such repentance for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
- Frutjof Capra, The Tao of Physics (Boston: Shambhala, 2000).
- Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harvest, 1957).
- P.T. Raju, The Green Asian Religions: An Anthology (New York: Macmillan, 1969).
In the years since R.J. Rushdoony wrote The Mythology of Science, the apologetic target has shifted somewhat. Previously, apologetic encounters with scientists centered around the philosophy of Western materialism. Today, however, Eastern spiritualism is gaining an increasing foothold in the scientific community. Indeed, while a strong current of Western materialism still remains (as evidenced by the never-ending search for “fundamental particles”), there is an ever-growing tendency to interpret the results of cosmology and quantum mechanics in terms of various fields. Moreover, since these fields are thought to be nonmaterial, and all embracing, the attempt is often made to harmonize these field interpretations with Eastern spiritual concepts. Thus, due to the fact that the apologetic target has broadened somewhat, a broader approach will be needed in future discussions of faith and science. It is the problem in order to highlight some of the necessary considerations involved in a broadened apologetic. For the reader wishing to learn more about this new trend in science, Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics is strongly recommended since it is masterfully written and constitutes perhaps the first popularly written synthesis of physics as Eastern mysticism.
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