The first priestly classes had to appropriate the woman’s mysteries and the powers of the Goddess for themselves in order to gain power and authority over their people. We are witnessing a similar process going on with scientists like Richard Dawkins and their rejection of the old, mythical consciousness in favor of a new scientific one. Yet science is taking the explanatory power and structure of myth for itself.
There is plenty of beauty and significance in scientific narratives. They can even be awe-inspiring and breathtaking in their scope and size: the big bang, the evolution of life on Earth, the first humans migrating across the Earth. Surely there are epics written into our DNA and our fossil records that are just as striking as Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey. What is the difference?
For Dawkins, reality has enough poetry in it to fulfill our lives and give us significance. But what he does not realize is that the very scientific narratives he is espousing are, in their structure, mythical (not to mention, how his worldview defines what ‘real‘ is – The religious societies he is denouncing had a very different ontology of reality than we do. They weren’t merely trying to explain physical facts).
Whenever we tell a story, it takes the shape of myth. Scientific narratives are unconsciously mythical in their structure, because they are telling a story. It doesn’t matter whether science is always revisiting itself, because the narratives it perceives are mythical in their structure, and will always be. This has more to say about our psyche and our unconscious, which Dawkins does not seem to know much about.
So in a twist of irony, Dawkin’s new book is affirming that myth is inescapable. In his very attempt to replace it, he affirms that we need it in order to tell any story, whether it’s what we call “reality” or not.
We are not just dealing with an observable event in history which can be understood as a “fact,” but with large stretches of time in which facts are arranged according to a play of imagination. Whenever we call on the imagination to organize our reality, we call upon myth.
Whether or not these scientific initiatives can succeed in making us demonize the old guise in favor of the new is yet to be seen.