We live in one of the best times ever to be a religious believer. This was not supposed to be the case. The Enlightenment popularized the idea that religious belief would be replaced with some form of pure reason. Humanity would evolve beyond the superstitious imagery of his ancestors, and all truth would enter through the doors of science. Many believed our material understanding of the universe would advance in tandem with the decline of religious belief.
Now more than 100 years have passed, and with them a boom in science and technology advances, and still the reasons to believe in God are stronger than ever. Not only is religious belief still fundamental to human nature, but much of scientific advancement has strengthened believers’ claims. It has been deeply interesting to witness the evolution of belief surrounding science and technology.
I can recall the exact moment it became clear to me that many Americans had moved from a love for the natural sciences to treating it as a new kind of god. Lawrence Krauss’ “A Universe from Nothing” included a movingly poetic quote that practically jumped right off of the page and into the American lexicon:
The amazing thing is that every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way they could get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.
It is indeed moving, but for a very specific reason. Krauss uses traditionally religious language to convey a scientific truth. It is a moving truth, but it is also a sleight of hand to move a scientific idea into the realm of dogma.
This is not difficult for anyone who has even a basic understanding of theology to see, but as University of Chicago professor Rachel Fulton Brown writes, “If you drive out explicit theology from public education, you get not no theology, but only bad theology, theology never properly examined as such. It is a mistake not to teach religion as religion.” With this shift of science as the choice religion for the theologically uneducated comes a unique opportunity to witness firsthand the development of myth.
The Connections Between Myths and Christ
C.S. Lewis wrote some extensive apologetics regarding mythology. As an atheist turned Christian, he knew well the arguments against religious belief. Anyone who has seen Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous” knows some of those same arguments. Unfortunately for Maher, a simple reading of C.S. Lewis could have rendered his foray into theology moot.
In “Religulous,” Maher argues that mythology expressed some similarities regarding the death and resurrection of deities long before the events in Jerusalem around A.D. 33. He cites the Egyptian story of Osiris as one of a handful of tales that all but implicate the Christian narrative as bogus. In the book “Miracles,” Lewis draws a line between the gods of nature and Nature’s God. Osiris would fall into the former category. He saw the myth of Osiris as a primitive explanation of seasons, or what he called the Corn Kings, the harvest dies in winter but then returns in spring. The gospels contain none of those elements, but this does not mean there are not some connections.
For Lewis, it made sense that modern man could find myths that foreshadowed the life of Jesus. This does not only apply to the Old Testament, although those are obviously the most compelling, but stories throughout the world point towards the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we are to believe what the gospels tell us, these stories are as much a part of us as our DNA is.
The implications go well beyond corn kings. Throughout the primitive world, we see common creation myths, stories of floods, and those of a chosen few’s survival. The threads that bind these myths are much more difficult to reconcile by proximity alone than, say, some oral traditions migrating from Egypt to Jerusalem.
The Archetypal Myths Are Being Reborn Anew
What does this say about the adoption of science as the new religion among the religionless? For one, it lends credence to what Lewis observed in studying religion and the development of myth. In other words, we are beginning to observe the same stories entering the imagination of westerners with some expected technological tweaks. In the essay “Ghost in the Cloud,” the writer makes some concrete connections between the transhumanist movement and established Christian doctrine:
At this point, according to transhumanists such as Kurzweil, people who are merged with this technology will undergo a radical transformation. They will become posthuman: immortal, limitless, changed beyond recognition. Kurzweil predicts this will happen by the year 2045. Unlike his father, he, along with those of us who are lucky enough to survive into the middle of this century, will achieve immortality without ever tasting death.
But perhaps the Apostle Paul put it more poetically: ‘We will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.’
For this writer there is a clear eschatology that can make discerning one camp from the other extremely difficult. Replace the word “soul” with “consciousness” and we find the transhumanists are one savior’s death and resurrection away from eternal life.
Last summer Elon Musk said “The chance that we are not living in a computer simulation is one in billions.” Since then the idea that we are living in a program on the computer of a teenager has become fodder for serious debate among our illustrious intelligentsia. To a Catholic this discussion seems extremely silly and a clear violation of Occam’s Razor—the principle that the simplest explanation to any question is invariably the best—but all religions have to start somewhere. Judeo-Christians have a creation account. So do Native Americans, Hindus, Taoists, and the followers of Scientism. As it has often been said or written, “In the beginning…”
For a final account of the development of myth in science I will move from technology to climate. First note the sudden urgency with which our progressive counterparts have elevated the colonization of Mars to a high priority. For them, this may be the best solution to the calamitous global flooding that awaits our planet. If man does not repent from his sinful activity, the effects of climate change will be inescapable.
This will lead to melted ice caps, the worst storms in world history, and inevitably massive flooding that causes unimaginable casualties. Make room for pairs of animals on SpaceX, and we have ourselves the techno version of Noah’s Ark. This is a story of an enlightened minority who leave behind the wicked majority that refused to heed their prophets’ warnings.
Repent and believe. This phrase is often treated with utter contempt, but nonetheless is embedded in our hearts. Our foundational myths are such a part of our consciousness that to abandon them is to doom yourself to recreate them.
To Lewis, the reasons were obvious. We are thrust into a metaphysical love story with our Creator. He breathed this story into each of us at the beginning of time, and fulfilled it as the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is a great time to be a religious believer, but an even better time to be a Christian. While the disciples of the new religion fret over stories long ago told and await for the coming of their messiah, ours has already come and made all things new.