One of the books I have been reading in recent weeks is Scientific Mythologies by James A. Herrick. His premise: that science and science fiction mutually influence each other far more than most of us realise and that together they are shaping a powerful new mythology, a mythology that shapes our dreams for humanity, a mythology that feeds into the search of many for a new spirituality.
As an avid science fiction fan and long term student of new religious movements I know exactly where he is coming from and am enjoying the book and its insights, particularly his emphasis on story. The book could have been better. I wish Herrick had moved beyond observation. I wish Herrick had explored how we might, as Christians, more fruitfully engage and develop a positive apologetic response. And on that score you may want to read this critique by James F McGrath over at Amazon. But overall I would recommend it.
But before you read more on what others have to say, you just might want to hear from Herrick himself. I see today that Christianity Today have just launched an article by him, entitled Sci-Fi’s Brave New World. And there’s a related article, The Men Behind The Myths, that you may find interesting too.
3 thoughts on “Scientific Mythologies”
Interesting, but kinda old-hat. This is, essentially, literary theory applied to science.
You can think of narrative as a kind of thought experiment, where practitoners work out the implications of what they do. When religious people do it, we call that “myth”. When scientists do it, it’s “sci-fi”.
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I use myth in the more anthropological sense, as stories which give meanings to our lives, irrespective of whether they are historically grounded or not.
In this sense, the Anzac Legend is a foundational myth for Australians. Its not a though experiment, Gallipoli happened in history. But for Australians it mythological potency, it has become more than mere history. I gather the pilgrim father and wild west stories have similar potency for Americans. To call them mythological is not to call them untrue. Rather, its a comment on their potency. C S Lewis said the same for the story of Jesus, its historicity makes it no less mythologically potent. We can acknowledge it as mythological even as we affirm it as historical.
This puts a different spin on scientific myths. We’re not sure whether alien civilizations exist, whether our destony is to one day live among the stars, whether we’ll enhance ourselves transhumanistically. It may turn out true, it may not. What matters is how these stories shapes our dreams and our lives now. Twenty years ago hand held communicators were a mere dream in the eyes of Gene Rodenburry. Now they shape the social lives of all of us profoundly. These stories have power. What place has the resurrection story amongst these dreams for human transcendance? What are the connection points? I think those are questions worth pondering.