Myth, Science and Religion

Religion begins as science, as an attempt to make sense of the world. The birth of religion marked the dawn of humans as rational, analytical beings. This was humans moving beyond the worries of simply surviving from day to day, and reaching that point in evolution where they looked with wonder upon the world around them and asked: How did this come into existence? What is it that controls the weather and other variables? By observing the natural world around them, the cycles of day and night, the seasons, the migrations of the animals, they would have concluded that these patterns suggested a grand design and order.

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An assumption would probably be made that all this was controlled by benevolent beings, but beings who might need propitiating occasionally to keep them sweet; the odd ritual here, perhaps a sacrifice of some sort there.

And if that was so, perhaps they could be propitiated in a somewhat greater way, to grant other boons?

It would not be long before someone claimed a channel to the gods to relay their desires and instructions, and so the priestly class would be born. Self-interest? Quite likely. After all, we see that in most religions today, so why not?

Religions then, over the years, spawned new religions, the spark being reinterpretation rather than inspiration.

We think we see echoes of old religions in myths. Myths are the fragments of history we know, combined with assumptions about how our ancestors acted and thought, frequently combined with scarce written evidence, which may or may not be biased or wholly inaccurate. When our written sources include stories of monsters and miracles, we should probably be advised to treat them cautiously.

Myth-makers frequently come with an agenda, although depending upon your point of view that is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are looking for a scientific analysis of the lives of our ancestors, it’s probably best to give myth a wide berth. Or at least to be very, very, careful what you take from it. But in a way, it does provide an alternative world view that many find preferable to both the stark realities of day to day life, as well as the cold dead hand of religion. After all, if you’re using your imagination, it’s easy to plan your myth-world much the way you’d like it.

And perhaps myth does offer us a way of getting inside the heads of those people, at least superficially.

One assumption we can make is that there would be similarities in the thought processes of those people, with the thought processes of us today. It is perfectly reasonable to assume they would react in similar ways to us, to pain and fear, to pleasure, warmth and cold. Our reaction to the unknown tends to be to populate it with characters or situations based on our experiences, and they probably did the same.

Stonehenge is aligned with the solar calendar. This we know. It’s science. And we know a considerable amount about the geography of the area around Stonehenge at the time it was built, through archaeology and science.

What we don’t know is how it was used. Just because it was aligned with the rising sun at summer solstice and the setting sun at winter solstice, does not mean we know what took place at those times. We assume our ancestors worshipped or venerated the sun there, especially at the time of the solstices, but we do not know that. Were there sacrifices? Did they hold special ceremonies connected with fertility or birth or death? Was it perhaps just like a club where they turned up now and again and got drunk and held orgies? It could be, since there is no hard evidence for anything.

Believers in ley lines also claim it is at the centre of an intricate system of lines connecting natural (‘holy’) locations with important (‘holy’) sites such as churches, wells and crossroads. Pseudoscience? Coincidence?

Our assumptions, though, lead us to think that because of the immense effort required to build the structure, it must have been an incredibly important site, and we are surely justified in concluding important ceremonies were enacted there.

Whatever they were.

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24 thoughts on “Myth, Science and Religion

  1. Very well written and absorbed while going through your analysis Mick. Like Vedas have been an integral part of ancient India and it lays downs many important aspects of how the religion is structured here, but sadly people are not aware of the roots. It was long ago predicted in Vedas that the Antares star was called Jyestha – which means the senior among all and it was later known as the biggest start by science, The Earth is called Jagat – Gat means motion, – so they knew Earth was moving 1000 years ago – so people had huge knowledge much before the modern inventions we have now as you referred to the Stone Henge – which is again a magnificent piece of architecture and consider the time it was built. Have a good weekend and keep writing.

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  2. This is a well thought and logical analysis on religion and the power called nature. I assume because many ancient God, goddess, and deities have animal form or connection with nature, mankind was attuned to it’s surroundings. Things changed over the years. Religion became medium to control people or to generate money.

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  3. Mick, you make me think! This is the first time I have seen science and religion juxtaposed this way, and it makes so much sense! I will ponder it more, and I’m sure I will see at least two other similar ideas cross my path now that my consciousness is awakened to the idea! Thank you!

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  4. Love the idea you articulated of Stonehenge having perhaps been a club. Never thought of it with that lens when I last visited it. We give such gravitas to everything and anything ancient–we forget our ancestors were also human and hopefully did not take everything too seriously. 🙂

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  5. Fascinating subject and one I’m so interested in. Religion and science sit so awkwardly alongside each other but there are so many common threads and links between them. I guess the bottom line historically is that small groups of people always looked to something to believe in to give them hope and a reason for being here.

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    1. Another way of looking at it is that at some point humans must have felt themselves to be at the mercy of weather / climate / big animals with lots of teeth and wondered why things happened that way, and what could they do about it?

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  6. Interesting that you open with religion beginning with science. I’ve heard it argued religion ends with science – religion creates myths to explain the “unexplainable”, then eventually science explains it via theory and experiment making the myth seem quaint. Still, religion seems to have more emotional appeal, and for some, that trumps science.

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    1. Perhaps it goes full circle in that way, Dave. I say it begins with science, because I’m certain that the myths created in religions began with observations and deductions about the natural world around our ancestors, which is the scientific way. Eventually, as you say, science overtakes these ‘theories’, but let’s not forget that most scientific theories also get overtaken by new ones over time.

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