Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mythmakers: Some Responses to a Comment

       I've had some interesting comments by Neil Aplin on the earlier Mythmaker posts (see the comments here) and I need to respond, so here goes!  It was about time I wrote a new Mythmaker post!  This is rather hastily composed, but I'm going to post it today anyway (without a serious proofread).

       Mr. Aplin writes: "Just because man’s internal sense of right and wrong doesn't preclude the supernatural, it doesn't necessarily mean that the supernatural must therefore exist." 
       My response: Neither I nor the Mythmakers say that man's ability to discern what is right proves the existence of god or the spiritual, only that there can be no proof that god or the spiritual doesn't exist. That is Precepts No. 1 ("No one can know deity; neither can it be proven that it does not exist")
and 3 ("Since the purpose of deity for humans, or even whether it had a purpose for humans, is unknowable, it is incumbent upon humans to look within themselves and find the way to right action"). 
       I refuse to be a full-blown atheist, because I think a lot of them to be just as closed-minded and bigoted as the most hot-headed religionists. I find Richard Dawkins to be like that.  I don't even particularly like the term "agnostic."  These terms suggest fixed beliefs with no room for growth or development or change or novelty -- the very opposite of scientific! It seems to me that there will always be something beyond what science can teach us -- beyond the Big Bang, beyond what came before what came before that -- but we will never know its nature.  Therefore, it could come in any form.  That's why  we can write fantasy.  A true atheist couldn't write fantasy because it would go against his belief in the supernatural.  It would be a travesty to have spirit beings or gods working miracles in a book.  A true atheist should have a big book-burning and get rid of every allusion to anything spiritual that has ever been written.  Throw Tolkien on there, because his elves cannot be scienfically proved to exist!
       Mr. Aplin quotes me as saying "Myth and gods are .... a truth, which the individual recognizes by some instinct built into the genes."  But the full text of what I said is this: "Myth and gods are not science; they are faith-based. But by that very nature, they can't be proved to exist; they can be neither denied or proved true or real. They can only symbolize a truth, which the individual recognizes by some instinct built into the genes." "Symbolize" a truth is different from saying they "are" a truth.  When symbols are used, as in poetry or literature -- or myth -- it gives us a deeper insight into what is reflected or embodied.  By "built into the genes," I'm talking about the need of the evolved human brain to explain the world in which it finds itself.  I remember reading somewhere that there may be a genetic component to this need.  Non-human creatures don't seem to be able to explain the world through symbols or to have a need to do so (well, bower birds do have a certain artistic capability!) 
       Gradually these primitive symbolic explanations (such as Zeus hurling thunderbolts) become replaced with scientifically provable facts.  But again, there is always that point beyond which we cannot go.  Therefore, we can write fantasy or construct mythic systems -- we can satisfy our need for symbols by embodying the unknown in our personal creations, and by gaining deeper insight through those creations.  I consider all religious writing to be mythic in nature, including the Bible (or perhaps especially the Bible).  I'm not against religious myth; I'm only against dogmatic religious institutions that proclaim they have the one and only Truth and want to force the entire world to believe as they do.
       So -- maybe infinitely huge entities exist, inhabiting a plane of existence or a dimension we can't even conceive of (see my short piece "A Little Laboratory Work"), playing soccer with comets and using the entire universe as a laboratory.  Maybe malevolent beings lurk out in deep space -- beings who don't want us out there (that's in my Man Who Found Birds among the Stars).   
       And maybe there really is a big Termite Queen (see at left) who fills up the sky with the mighty creative force of her belly, lays the stars from her ovipositor, and occasionally meddles in her creation.  I can have this Goddess talk to the Seers among those who worship her, even though Earthers have become humanists and don't believe in her or any other god.  Or maybe humanity believes more than they realize.  Decide for yourself after you finish v.2 of TQ!

This is enough for now.  I've only touched on Mr. Aplin's remarks.  I'll get back to more of them at another time.


  1. Thanks Lorinda for taking the time to reply - really interesting, although I find Richard Dawkins fascinating to listen to - but each to their own, live and let live eh?

    Atheists not make good fantasy writers? - but some of the finest science fiction writers are atheist - not sure of classifications here, is science fiction classified as fantasy?

    Talking of classifications - how do we define myth? - is it not stories from ancient times that have no author and/or no historical basis? - again, I need your expert advice here.

    Thanks again | Neil

    1. I barely touched on your many points and I intend to write some more as time allows.
      Re Dawkins - I confess I have not read a lot of his works and I base my opinion on a joint interview with him and Francis Collins, where Dawkins comes off as really arrogant, close-minded, and insulting while Collins comes off as a spokesman for reason, civility, and open-mindedness (and nobody can deny he is a fine scientist, regardless of his religious faith). It's a wonderful interview. I printed out a copy; here's the URL (the interview itself starts on p.3): http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1555132,00.html
      No, science fiction and fantasy are not the same. SF, no matter how weird, has to have some scientific justification for what takes place. E.g., "Monster" is pretty much all SF. Fantasy is grounded in magic. I actually ran into an atheist on the web who expresses scorn for fantasy because of the spiritual element.
      My Termite Queen is SF in that I explain the nature of the termites, their world, space propulsion, etc., in scientific terms, but there is a strong element of fantasy in the termites' communication with their Goddess - the Highest-Mother-Who-Has-No-Name. And my Ki'shto'ba series is a realistic type of fantasy based on myth. It tells a story laid in a real world, but some of the things that happen can't be fully explained by science.
      So what is myth? I would say, ancient ways of explaining what we now explain by science (they could have a historical basis but it's been lost or changed, and they obviously had an author at some point - I don't believe that the finger of god wrote them! They mostly come from oral tradition.) But fantasy writers write the myth for the present and future, giving us symbolic guidelines to live by. That's what the Mythmakers are all about. I think I said something about that in "Monster." LotR is a modern myth. My fictional drama "The Valley of the White Bear" (which I might just write someday) is one of the premier Mythmaker myths of the future.