One of the interesting characteristics of all humans
throughout time has been man's tendency to look to something higher
than himself. This tendency has caused man to invent gods to explain
natural phenomenon that he did not understand. When the volcano erupted
man invented a volcano god of some kind to explain a phenomena that he
did not understand. Today there are still people who believe that the
volcano goddess Pele will bring a curse on anyone who violates the
sanctity of the volcanic eruption. Lightning, thunder, dust devils,
eclipses, earthquakes, hurricanes, and a variety of other natural
phenomena have all had their deities invented by ignorant people to
explain what they did not understand.
Man's Addiction to Myth and the Bible
In modern times the inventing of deities to explain natural phenomena may have decreased but man's obsession with myth has not. Many people are mesmerized by magic of any kind. Claims of visits by aliens still flood the media, and movies and television programs on aliens, crop circles, wars in space, ghosts, and paranormal science still sell well. Super heroes continue to be a major attraction for children, and video games and DVDs exist in incredible numbers to continue to provide a steady diet of fiction and fantasy to children.
Atheists, agnostics, and skeptics would charge that everything about God is just one more example of mankind accepting myth to escape reality, and that faith in God is equivalent to believing in Casper the Friendly Ghost, Santa Claus, or aliens from outer space. For many people, this charge is disturbingly close to being accurate. Many people believe in some kind of a god to explain something they do not understand. As research explains these things, faith is shaken or destroyed. Modern stories built around apocalyptic literature like Daniel and Revelation tend to be very similar to ancient myths from the Greeks and Romans. They attract many readers who know nothing about the Bible, but as one man recently told me, "it is the best thing I have read since Stephen King." The entanglement of myth and our understanding of the Bible is a dangerous thing. The early Church struggled with it, and we continue to do so. We need to inform ourselves about some of the areas where this can and is happening, and make sure our children understand that while fantasy can be good entertainment sometimes, we need to know what is myth and what is not and to make choices in life on good information and not mythological stories.
Myth and religious belief are not the same thing. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition) defines myth several ways. One of them is as "A person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence . an unfounded or false notion." There are other ways of understanding or explaining myth, but what we have defined in our discussion so far fits this understanding.
Myth does not come from evidence. The same dictionary tells us that the archaic definition of religion is "scrupulous conformity: a cause or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith." Religion can be based on evidence, and in fact that is what this journal and the Does God Exist? work are all about. Most of the articles in this periodical deal with evidence and how we understand that evidence and what it logically leads us to believe. Our primary tool in this approach is science. Religion does not have to grow out of our imagination and our ignorance and in fact should not. The most destructive religions that have existed on our planet have in fact come about in this way, but many people believe in God because of the evidence they have studied and where that evidence has taken them. Believing in God because of studies in astronomy, mathematics, psychology, and sociology is not based on myth.
We need to understand that "looking to a higher power" does not mean embracing myth. Most of us know that a major statement in most twelve step programs involves in some way or another statements like "Learn to look to a higher power." Atheists have criticized this statement saying it is an admission of myth into one's life, but the concept involves learning not to depend upon one's own strength to solve the problems of life. It does not mean that some angelic being or mythological creature is going to swoop in and remove the obstacle that we are dealing with. Learning to depend upon a system of learning we did not invent is part of looking to a higher power. Using prayer and meditation as a way of working our way out of dependency is not embracing mythological creatures. Emotions can become a part of this process, and asking direct help from God can and is usually a part of it, but that is not a creation of our imagination or ignorance. The concept is to get free of ego, arrogance, and prejudice and look elsewhere for one's source of strength.
We need to be careful not to allow myth to make us misunderstand evidence or miracles. There have been those who have claimed that pictures found in the artifacts of the ancient cultures are proof that ancient people had regular and personal contact with dinosaurs. There are many such pictures all over the world with especially large numbers in Egyptian and Australian Aborigine drawings. Some look like aliens from other planets. Some look like angels, demons, creatures that are half human and half horse, snakes with human heads, creatures like Medusa, devils with multiple heads, and even insects with human heads and torsos. Does the existence of these pictures, pictographs, drawings and carvings mean that all of these creatures existed?
Mythological creatures always have stories associated with them, and the stories resemble the super hero stories of our day. These myth creatures lead to parades, carnivals, celebrations, festivals, and rituals. Sometimes man-made religions will pick up these stories and use them. Throughout Africa and the Far East we see mixtures of animism and Catholicism as people took their ancient myths and adapted what Catholic missionaries taught to include these imaginative stories.
It is important to understand that personal prayer to God is not an immersion in myth. When a person prays to God for help with a problem, he is not asking anyone else to believe or to participate in what is going on. No story is associated with private requests made to deity. If a person gets a positive answer to prayer, it would be necessary for that answer to be validated by looking at the evidence, but this is a far cry from some one individual making claims that demand certitude because of an unverifiable event.
We need to make clear that the Bible calls us to evidence and rational thinking, not to endorse myth as Truth. One of the unique characteristics of the Bible compared to other religious books is that it constantly calls mankind to evidence when man is asked to accept something as being true. The existence of God, for example, is certified by God in the Bible by referring man to the evidence that can be seen in nature. Psalm 19:1, for example, states that man's perception of God's existence comes in seeing His handiwork and wisdom in the shamayim and the erets. The shamayim refers to the cosmos as a whole, including all astronomical bodies that man can see. The word erets refers to Planet Earth and again is a reference to what man can observe. In Isaiah 40:26, man is asked the question directly, "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things ... ." The existence of God is given to man as something perceived through questioning what man observes. In Hindu tradition, the creation is explained in terms of a god cutting open other gods and pouring out their organs. The differences between the biblical and Hindu accounts are striking. In the New Testament, Paul called the people of Athens to what he called "the unknown God." His description of this God concept was that God was a being "in whom we live and move and have our being." He went on to say that this God did not live in temples or have any needs to be addressed by man. All of the myths and misconceptions of God by the Athenians were discarded (Acts 17:16-30).
In Romans 1:19-22 we are told directly that we can "know there is a God through the things He has made." Paul goes on to point out that the customs of his day to turn the concept of God to "an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things" were mistakes again discarding mythical concepts of the nature of God.
An atheist reading this discussion might challenge the notion that the Bible does not endorse myth as Truth by claiming that Adam and Eve, the flood of Noah, and characters like Samson are mythological stories. Adam and Eve are not presented in the Bible as super heroes. They have weaknesses and function pretty much as we do today. You can argue about how they communicated or what the forbidden fruit was, but it changed what they perceived and did not give them superhuman characteristics. Samson did some amazing things, but none of them were on a scale that is impossible to happen. The flood certainly happened and, while you can argue about its cause and extent, it is well documented in secular evidence.
A more difficult argument to handle against the Bible not being myth is the claim of miracles. Biblical miracles are never presented as a normal operative method of life's processes. The Bible clearly presents those situations where God interferes in the affairs of mankind as abnormal. When Jonah is swallowed by a great fish, the Bible tells us that this was a one-time event and never has happened again. It happened to one man for a purpose that is clear in the writing of the Bible. Every miracle done by Jesus Christ recorded in the Bible had a purpose and was a true miracle. Jesus is portrayed to us as the Creator (Colossians 1:16; John 1:1-10, 14), and His miracles offered support to that claim. This is a theological evidence and supports the incarnate nature of Christ. Stories about Jesus turning a playmate that angered Him into a toad are not in the Bible and, in fact, are a part of the mythological literature of the time of the New Testament, such an act would serve no positive purpose in telling us about Christ.
This may sound like a fine line, but it is a theologically important point. The Bible is not a scientific work even though it contains a great deal of science. It also has messages to convey in morality, philosophy, sociology, psychiatry, and history. The religious history of mankind is complex, but the Bible's version of it is markedly different. Let us approach it carefully, fair, and in an open way. When we do, we will find "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
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