Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Myth taken

When I was in high school, a substitute teacher told the class something that was an interesting little tidbit of information. I accepted it, and it played a small role in my belief that Christianity is anti-science. It wasn't until several years after I became a Christian that I actually realized that it was not only false but ridiculous. What the teacher told us is that, prior to Modernity, people thought the human heart was located in the lower abdomen because you can feel a heartbeat there. It took modern science, with its discarding of religious sensibilities regarding dead bodies, to actually perform autopsies and discover, to everyone's surprise, that the heart is actually located in the chest.

I'm not sure if this really qualifies as a myth, since I've never heard anyone else say it. But it certainly plays into the conflict myth, and as a teenager, it cemented the general impression I had from society that religion (and Christianity in particular) is at war with science, and so is hopelessly unscientific. When I first started to seriously consider Christianity in my mid-20s, the one thing that stood in the way the most is that I thought becoming a Christian entailed abandoning science entirely. I honestly thought it would require belief that the earth is flat. With that, you can see why it was a long, hard road for me.

This reminds me of the beginning of C. S. Lewis's classic The Abolition of Man, which you can read online here. Lewis critiques a book on English prep for children by two authors (whom he refers to as Gaius and Titius) which essentially assumes the philosophical and highly contentious point that values are illusory. By assuming this rather than arguing for it they have bypassed the child's reasoning faculties and implanted in him a belief that will influence the course of his life -- not to mention the fact that the book was supposed to be about English, not deep philosophical issues. "The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all."

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