Earth and the natural order of the world around us has been a constant source of wonderment and awe throughout human existence. From our earliest ancestors 5 million years ago to the rise of our species some 200,000 years ago, the extraordinary mental capacity of early hominids such as Australopithecus and even more so with our species homo-sapiens-sapiens has given us, above all other inhabitants of Earth, the capability to explain the world around us. Throughout history this has been done in one of two ways. Either through mythology and other unfounded belief or through deductive reasoning and the scientific method, we have attempted to make sense of our existence and the inner workings of this universe. While the mythological approach was sufficient to our ancient ancestors, humanity has developed the skills, through science and technology, to move beyond unfounded belief and into a reason driven culture.
As little as 100,000 years ago, the skeletal system of our direct ancestors looked identical to our own. Although identical in appearance, their lives would have been dramatically different. With no real means of communication, the mental capacity of the human brain was somewhat bleak. After thousands of years of social cohesion, we finally began to develop traits that would be similar to those held by you and I. Around 50,000 years ago our species began to develop complex communication skills which lead to the development of a more complex social order. Around this same time modern humans began to migrate out of North Eastern Africa and started to inhabit other continents. Their adaptation to natural surroundings such as climate and food resources lead to the evolution of the different races found on earth today.
It wasn’t until some 15,000 years ago that our ancestors emerged from the last ice age, moving beyond the hunter gatherer existence that we had known for almost 200,000 years and into the Neolithic Period around 8,000 years ago. This is when we started to use pottery and complex tools, allowing us to develop permanent settlements where we could grow and irrigate crops as well as domesticate animals. This period lays claim to the first cave writings and the beginning of the religious myths of ancient Egypt and early Greek (Minoan) Mythology. These myths were created in an attempt to explain the aspects of this world that were not understood by our early ancestors.
Mythology is an attempt to explain the world around us, so where best to start, but in the beginning. In the Greek creation myth, Pandora (the first female created by the gods) is given a jar or a box and is told never to open it. Disobeying the gods, Pandora opens the box and releases all evils of mankind onto the earth, leaving only hope behind, which is meant to symbolize man’s free will. This myth attempted to explain how we got here as well as given reason to why the gods would allow bad things to happen to their most prized creation. In the eyes of our ancestors, all human life had sprung from the womb of the female. If the first female created had disobeyed the gods, it could be easily understood why disasters such as famine, drought, death and war would be allowed by the very gods who were supposed to look after us. Essentially, we had brought it upon ourselves.
Another Greek myth was that of Hades, also known as Hel. Hades was the god of the underworld who split his power with Zeus (the king of the gods) and Poseidon (the god of the Sea), dividing their power by 3rds, which was often used to symbolize the natural balance of the world. Being the god of the underworld, Hades was a greedy and vindictive god who would not allow any of his subjects to leave the gates of his domain, which were guarded by a three headed beast. Persephone, the beautiful daughter of Zeus, decides to seduce Hades to spite her father, eventually leaving earth to stay with him in the underworld. Because Persephone is not allowed to leave the underworld, her mother Demeter (the goddess of the Harvest) becomes upset and stops allowing crops to grow on earth. To solve this problem, Zeus pleads with Hades to make a compromise on behalf of humanity. Hades decides that Persephone can visit Earth only if she promises to return to the underworld for three months of every year. This myth was devised to explain why crops would not grow during the winter, a problem that would have surely plagued an agrarian society.
It is easy to look at these Greek myths and laugh at their ignorance, but what of current mythological ignorance? Today we understand the concepts of photosynthesis and how the earth’s climate can interfere with the growth of vegetation, but for the ancient Greeks, it took the elaborate story of Persephone. Today we can recognize the seasons as the cyclical movement of our earth around the sun, but as little as 400 years ago the Catholic Church threatened the lives of Copernicus and Galileo for saying so. We understand the orbits of subatomic particles as well as the orbits of planets far beyond our Solar system. We understand how much of this world works and we do so only by the means of scientific inquiry and the dismissal of mythological dogma.
Today the evolution of man is no longer based on a creation myth riddled in inconsistency. We can easily realize that the story of Pandora, or her much later Jewish equivalent Eve, is not a historical account of the creation of man, but a mythological attempt to explain our existence by an intellectually inferior people of our ancient past. Through the modern tools of science such as the mapping of the Human Genome, Radio-carbon dating of archeological evidence, Archeological dating through sediment stratification and the development of biological sciences, we can fully understand beginnings of our species without referring to the gods and goddesses for help.
The Age of the Renaissance pulled humanity out of the Dark Ages by way of free thinkers such as Copernicus, Galileo and Isaac Newton, all of whom were in danger of persecution by the Catholic church because they attempted to explain the world around them by way of reason instead of church doctrine and ancient mythology. What if these men were silenced completely by the church? Would we still find ourselves in the Dark Ages? Today we see the same type of persecution against the scientific community, especially in the fields of biology, where 99.9% of the most educated men and women in their field know and understand the concepts of evolution and 98% of them believe that Darwinian Natural Selection is the only known mechanism that could lead to this process. Although there is complete cohesion on this subject in the intellectual community, many people in the world today still attempt to cling to a mythological explanation, rather than the natural or scientific explanation that was developed through scientific inquiry and reason.
As the human race advances, we will continuously explain more and more of the world around us. As this happens, where will you be? Will you be like the ancient Greeks looking towards Persephone to explain the seasons? Will you be the Catholic Church denying that the earth revolves around the sun? Will you too cling to the ancient myths of our ancestors and teach your children (or even attempt to force the children of others) to beleive that “creationism ” or its equivalent “intelligent design” dispell the existence of Evolution? If so, what will the future inhabitants of this earth say about your mythological beliefs?