Is myth more comforting than reality?
by Quinn O'Neill
For parents wishing to introduce their children to a scientific worldview, two new books may make the job a bit easier. Daniel Loxton’s book “Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be” recently won the 2010 Lane Anderson Award in the young reader category. It was also a finalist for the Silver Birch Award and is in the running for a third Canadian book award for children’s nonfiction. For the curious, the National Center for Science Education offers an excerpt here. The other book, Richard Dawkins latest, “The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True,” makes a clear distinction between myth and reality while explaining a range of natural phenomena. Both books are aimed at kids in the 8- to 13-year-old range but could certainly be understood and enjoyed by those much older.
Introducing children to current scientific thinking about human origins and other natural phenomena may seem like a no-brainer for many parents, but for others the idea may not hold much appeal. Jeremy Paxman interviewed Dawkins on the subject of myth and reality and raised what I think is an interesting question: are myths more comforting than reality? Or perhaps we should ask instead, "are delusions more comforting than reality?" since myths generally aren’t comforting unless one believes that they’re true. I think the answer is both yes and no.
On a psychological level reality isn’t comforting at all. We are, as Paxman points out, insubstantial specks in the cosmos. A scientific worldview would tell us that we have no divine purpose, we weren’t created by a kind and loving god and there’s no guardian angel watching over us prepared to step in to prevent traumatic events. We or our loved ones could be mangled in a freak accident or develop a horrible illness at any time. We live in an unpredictable and uncontrollable world full of suffering and injustice, where bad things happen to good people for no reason at all.
Reality isn’t always easy to deal with and delusion can help people to cope with feelings of uncertainty and helplessness. Comforting delusions can take a wide range of forms like good luck charms, superstitions, and astrology. Perhaps the most pervasive and personally aggravating example is prayer for divine intervention.
Requests for my prayers routinely go through my facebook newsfeed as if some critical mass of praying people will bring about a desired outcome, like the return of an abducted child. Prayers for very reasonable things, like food and relief from pain, go unanswered all over the world every day, but if we could just get everyone on facebook praying for this child's return, surely we could make it happen. Because maybe God’s watching over the rape of the abducted child right now and he’s willing to intervene but he’s holding out for just a few more Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be? Somehow I doubt it. There seems to be no rational way to reconcile a kind and loving, interventionist God with the observable horrors of the world we live in.
Read the rest here.