Myth Makers’ Challenge

24 09 2010

I took nearly two decades to get the joke.  When I finally did, I had to laugh at the sky, for all it was worth.  The man who pulled the prank was memorable enough, with his large light beard that couldn’t make up its mind whether to be blond or gray.  Add to that the stark contrast of his leather pants and his blouse with little flowers printed on it.  He was man enough to make a floral print blouse look masculine.  He was a big hefty man with a twinkle in his eye like merry old Santa Clause, which I later realized was the mirth from beguiling a group of children.

On the ground a circle had been drawn with a stick around a group of objects.  The man told us he had placed them there, and he offered us a prize, a token that was part of a larger game, if we could look at the clues within the circle and tell the story behind what had happened.  Everything we needed to know was within the circle, and we were not to enter that circle, lest we disturb the evidence.  One of these pieces was a tomahawk, firmly stuck in the ground.  Near it was a bear trap with a scrap of an animal’s fur trapped tightly within its jaws.  There may have been other clues, but these were the ones I remember best, because they were most central to the story which I had developed about the scene.

My idea was that a man had set a trap, which then trapped an animal.  When the trapper returned to his trap, he found the animal struggling for freedom, so he took his tomahawk and was about to kill the beast, when it made a valiant effort to tear itself free, leaving a chunk of its flesh behind.  In his haste, the man dropped his weapon and set off after the animal, to catch it with his bare hands, if possible.  Otherwise, he would have taken it with him.

I remember another boy’s story, that a trapper was visiting one of his traps when he was attacked by a bear, causing him to drop his weapon and flee the scene.  Everyone had a different story to tell.  Each looked at the evidence contained within the circle and conjured an explanation for it.  Then, we all waited patiently for the man with the beard to tell us which one was closest to the true story.

His shoulders bounced with his silent laugh, as he gave a sideways glance at a friend.  “What do you think the true story is?  Do you really think that’s it?” he coached us.  Then he asked us, “Do you think there really is a true story?”  I didn’t get it.  He seemed to be suggesting that all of the ideas were equally true.  Choosing his words carefully, he asked us, “Do you remember what I said in the beginning?  I said I put a few items into a circle on the ground, and I wanted you to look at the evidence and tell me the story of what you think happened.  So far, none of you has even come close to the truth of it.  Look again and see if you can tell me what happened.”

In response, I believe he got a lot of blank stares from some vexed children.  I looked at the items within the circle yet again, wracking my mind to figure out what story they were supposed to be telling, but the one I had was already the one my mind had settled upon.  We begged him for the “true” story, and he eventually relented, giving none of us the desired prize.

“You want to know the true story?  I already told you the true story!  Do you want me to show it to you?”  he exclaimed.  “First, I came over here and stuck the tomahawk in the ground like this, ” he said, pantomiming the act of slamming the small axe into the ground.  “Then, I came over here and opened the bear trap just enough to put a piece of fur in it, which I laid down, here.  Then I drew a circle around it like this,” he said, retracing his movements every step of the way.

Of course, we all felt cheated.  We thought that we were supposed to find the story behind the evidence, which we had taken to mean the intended fictional story, otherwise known as the “true” story.  We didn’t realize that the true story was exactly what he had told us at the beginning: the objects got into the circle because he put them there.  If we had taken him at his word and simply told him what he had told us, then we would have guessed it correctly.  Had he merely invented a story to suit his fancy, he would have judged our fictional tales against his own fictional tale, which would have been just as valid as comparing ours against each other.  Evidence never really points to anything but the truth, though we might try to make it look otherwise.  Therefore, he would have been wrong in suggesting that his own tale was the truth behind the evidence.  The only truth that the evidence pointed to was that someone had put a few items on the ground and drawn a circle around it.  The answer was so obvious that we missed it completely.

In the beginning, God drew a circle, called Earth, or the Universe, and he placed several items into it.  He told us outright that he had simply put these things there, and then we proceeded to invent stories as to how these things really got there.  We overlooked the simple explanation, the one that was told to us originally, and we tricked ourselves with our own fancy tales.  When told that we were wrong, that all of these things were simply put there, we took the truth to be a cop-out explanation of the evidence.  The fact is, a simple creation story is just too plain to capture the imagination.  It’s not the sort of conclusion that the imaginative and inquisitive mind looks for.  Yet, it is the truth.  A “true” story of any other kind is not really true.  One version is as good as another, and possibly better than the official version, so long as none of them is the truth.

Science is really good at studying things that generally happen, but it makes a foolish effort to play at writing history.  I can say that dogs tend to bite invaders who climb over the back fence.  If I see a man climb a fence, then I might say that he got bit because he was an invader.  However, if the man was entering his own yard after accidentally locking himself out at the front door, whereupon he discovered that his neighbor’s dangerous animal had dug under the fence into his own yard, then what we have is a story that is entirely possible, but not a matter of common occurrence.  The evidence still points to the truth, but it does not cause us to find the truth, because it points to something less likely.  In fact, the less common the event, the more likely it is that the evidence points us to the truth while directing us toward a falsehood.  In the case of the origin of life or the origin of existence, itself, the event is so unlikely that it happened only once, and we have not observed it to happen again.  In this case, neither the dog, nor any other animal, has ever bitten anyone, and no one has ever been locked out of his own home, or, for that matter, even owned a home, so we might never conclude the truth when the unique situation actually occurs.

The fact is simply that every single one of us is a natural-born myth maker.  Every civilization has looked at the world around them and invented a story about how it came into existence.  The nature of that story depends entirely upon the nature of the one making that myth.  Whether a giant god died and became the Earth, or some team played with a fiery football and got it stuck on the sky, or whether a giraffe’s neck got long from struggling ever to reach the highest leaves of a tree, these are all fables, as is the fable that some rudimentary ape climbed down from a tree and started a fire with two sticks.  We think that other cultures have silly stories, but we take ours to be the truth.  In the end, Darwinism is no better than Aesop’s fables, or else it is worse, because we are dumb enough to actually believe it.

It’s the myth makers’ challenge.  God filled the Earth with a bunch of stuff and had us set about making history.  In the end, we wrote many stories that all sounded better than the truth, and the truth was what he told us in the very beginning, that he simply put it there.  It was too simple to be understood.  It felt like a cheap story from a bad storyteller, and we felt cheated.  It wasn’t supposed to be that obvious.

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