Myths: Fabrications or Symbols?

On the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo pictured the creation of the first human being as an old man channeling life to the first man, Adam, through his creative finger.

Some viewers may still take this picture literally, at least in their residual imagination. Critics complain that such literalistic belief is not compatible with traditions which hold that God is infinite, existing both everywhere within and beyond the universe.

A second group of critics goes further. They point to scientific evidence that the universe emerged and still emerges explosively from what was once a tiny singularity: a pre-nuclear plasma which was unimaginably smaller than the components of a single atom. In their apparently scientific assumption, both the Sistine view and any other positions about a divine source of the universe are fabrications, unsupported by evidence and comparable to propaganda or self-deception. Like propaganda, belief in a divine source is often bolstered by long and broad “collectivities” of believers. Like self-deception, it is nurtured by repetition and by misguidedly wishful emotional preference.

A third group envisions both the Sistine painting and less literal perceptions about divine creation as mythological, meaning symbolical statements about search and direction toward ideals. If the origin of such symbols cannot be confirmed historically, neither can they be falsified. They may derive from a trans-rational belief or sense of intelligent design entangled with galactic collisions and volcanic explosions which seem only problematically intelligent. A later post here will consider whether this means that such symbols are really passed on by repetition, indoctrination, and self-deception.

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