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A central question of this book is, how can we believe in a particular religion today, and still be intellectually honest, scientifically accurate, and open minded? Given the advances of modern science in explaining the physical world, can specific religious beliefs be in total harmony with the reality known to our rational minds, while avoiding superstition? Blind faith is not enough any more, if it ever was, which I doubt; and I believe it is important to maintain a harmonious balance in our minds, avoiding the schizophrenic option of splitting our minds into two halves, one half operating with a rational, scientific world view, the other half with an incompatible religious world view that appears to be more like magic than reason.
In this parts of this book, I have compared the great religious ideas of earlier eras, going all the way back to the earliest myths of which we are aware, to the great scientific theories of our own time. For, in reality, even these earliest myths were noble theories about how the world worked, how it originated, and how people should best behave in order to optimize successful outcomes. I believe that even these very early myths were the result of evidence and revelation. Just as no scientific theory is ever completely final, but is always subject to new revision based upon new evidence and the advancement of new and better theories, so these early myths were not final and complete explanations. But they were noble, useful relative truths for their time and place.
Now that we have the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, we do not regard the theories of gravitation and mechanics advanced by Newton as being untruths! No, we see Newton's theories as excellent and useful, but as being updated to account for more subtle and fine effects, by the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics. These twentieth century theories are also just as susceptible to being revised and replaced, and no one would be particularly surprised if that someday happens; but still we would continue to regard relativity and quantum mechanics as intellectual milestones on the high road of human endeavor, to be revered and indeed probably still used for some time to come, for some purposes, just as we continue to use Newtonian mechanics for everyday physical computations.
Now, as it is a main theme of this book that religious ideas and thinking also involve the use of best effort theories and progressively unfolding understandings and revelations, I have sometimes used the word "myth" to describe religious and spiritual theories in general. Please, make no mistake about my purpose in doing so. My intent has been to weave a tale describing why and how I fully believe that religious ideas and theories are just as true in every sense of the word as any physical or scientific theory. When used by me in this way, the word "myth" intends no disrespect at all, far from it; in fact, the word "myth" connotes a noble effort to synthesize religious truth in precisely the same way as the word "theory" denotes the same for scientific ideas. For scientific theories are "true" in many cases, but only relatively so. They are always subject to improvement and updating as our ability to understand and comprehend improves and grows.
Religious imagery is underestimated. Myth is a symbolic, interpretive, theory of explanation of very real and important concepts. The reality of these concepts resides in another world, a world of mind, consciousness, and awareness. This world of the mind is the most real world to which we mere humans have access, and thus God often speaks to us in its language. When looking far backwards in time, the language of this religious imagery is often called mythic; but I suspect that those contemporaneous with the mythic creations were often fully aware of the symbolic character of the language they used, but they were far more interested in the profound truths explained and explored in these allegories. Today, we understandably hesitate to call our more recent religious ideas myths, because we are fully conscious that they express some of the highest truths of which we know. But the religious imagery and symbolism we use is related back to the most ancient of myths. Since religion and science are both progressively unfolding, our own ideas may look quite different (primitive?) to a civilization 10,000 years hence than they do to us today, but I hope and I believe that those looking back from the far future will be able to see the noble insights and cherished memes and values of our own day as being intrinsically worthwhile and beautiful.
If this amounts to an attempt at rehabilitation of the word "myth"
so be it.