Myth, Appearance and Reality


Some of the great breakthrough realizations in human history are that the earth is not flat, that the earth is round and rotating, that the Sun does not revolve around the earth, that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and the earth along with other round bodies in space rotate around each other kept in correlation with each other by gravitational pull. These realities are different than the appearances.

We appear to be standing on a stationary earth that, for all we can see, is flat. The Sun appears to rise, cross the sky and set every day. It is no great leap to understand that the sun might move around the earth, though the perception of a flat earth persisted into modern times. The moon seems to move around the earth, and the Sun, like the moon, also seems to move around the earth.

Although we have known realities for centuries, we still talk in terms of the appearances. We talk about the Sun rising and setting. We describe the phenomena as sunrise and sunset. Someone unfamiliar with our colloquialisms might hear us speak and think that we are ignorant of the truth.

The appearances have a strong hold on us. So strong that they persist in our language and how we routinely describe things. Those appearances stubbornly refuse to leave our everyday speaking patterns.

What other appearances and corresponding realities exist that we have yet to debunk or lay hold of?History has proven that many appearances turn out to be false. Newton’s theory of gravity was a breakthrough scientific discovery, but it was not quite accurate. He did not see the whole picture. Einstein came along and corrected the appearance with his new perception of the reality.

One of those appearances is so persistent, in fact, that it has become memorialized in the definition of the modern scientific method. The scientific method is limited in its modern definition to natural and material evidence. The possibility of any timeless, space-less, non-material being, causality or reality has been excluded, by definition, from the scientific method.

That is understandable, of course, and makes perfect sense. Science is the study of the natural, material world. It is nothing more (or less) than that. Many people believe, however, that science is the only way of knowing things and that science, alone, defines reality – that the natural world is all there is because that is all that science can reveal to us.

(This reasoning is circular: Science is the study of the natural world, the natural world is all there is, so science is the study of all there is. Is the natural world all there is? Yes, says the naturalist, because that is all the science reveals to us. Is science really the study of all there is? Yes, says the naturalist, because science is the study of all there is.)

Though people throughout the history of time have posited immaterial realities through religion, myth, art and other ways, the appearance of time, space and matter is ubiquitous and so prevailing that modern scientists and very intelligent people hold that the perception is reality – the only reality.

Yet, the perception clearly does not explain all that we see. It does not explain conscious thought or love or beauty. Why do people create art, and why do other people enjoy it? Why is our kind so preoccupied with falling in love? How do we explain morality? Why do we feel we should help people in need when helping them does not advance our own material existence?

The prevailing perception is that our lives are set firmly in time, space and matter. Yet, there is a nagging sense that this is not all there is. Darwin called it his “inner conviction” which he trained himself not to trust on the theory that his conviction is derived from lower life forms, and, therefore, it can’t be trusted (begging the question: what of his intellect?).

Darwin’s distrust of metaphysical convictions might be attributed to the influence of colleague, Wallace, who got lost down the metaphysical rabbit hole of spiritualism. Sticking to the natural, material world, is “safe”. At least we can measure the rabbit holes.  Yet, it seems evident there is more than what meets the eye.

In days gone by, there was an eerie consistency to the rising and setting of the sun, though it seemed to rise and set progressively at different places across the sky. Still, this progression was predictable and patterned. The moon, too, mimicked the same predictable, though progressive, patterns, as did the stars in the sky when one studied them closely enough.

These were clues of a different natural and material world than the one we perceived. Likely there are other natural and material realities that we have yet to understand. Maybe, still, other realities (natural and otherwise) may exist altogether that we have only glimpsed and have yet to understand.

That is the fascinating subject of a mock historical “debate” between JRR Tolkien and his friend, CS Lewis, in the video that follows this piece. Tolkien posited that reality exists in the myth, and Lewis came to grasp the same idea with relish. They saw myth and religion as attempts to get at the nagging reality that we sense but do not fully or adequately comprehend. They saw consistencies in the myths and religions throughout human history that belie those truths that seem evident, that lie just beyond the reach of science.

Tolkien explains at one point in the video that we are like prisoners living our lives in a cell. We hear the sounds of the world outside the four walls of our cell, but we do not directly perceive or experience it. We see the sunlight coming in through the iron bars, and we feel it, but we do not fully grasp the reality of it. This is the lot of our current existence, as it is, set in time, space and matter, which are the dimensions of our cell.

CS Lewis would come to say that the religions and myths of the past and present were and are mere dreams of the reality that, when the time was right, appeared in space and time in human history in the form of Jesus Christ – God, who divested Himself of his “glory”, and entered into the story of His own creation.

Different translations say that, by becoming a man, God “emptied himself”; “made himself nothing”; and “stripped himself of his glory”. (Phil. 2:7) It is written that Jesus was, in human form, “the fullness of the Deity”; the “fullness of God”; the “fullness of God’s nature”; the “essence of deity”. (Col. 2:9)   Jesus was the Word made flesh, living among men (John 1:14) – by entering into His creation was God identifying closely with His creation, emptying Himself to become part of it, to experience it and to lead us toward the reality that we only sense like prisoners in a cell.

For Tolkien and Lewis – and for me – there is truth and reality in myth, and that truth and reality entered into time and space in the matter of Jesus Christ.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

C.S. Lewis


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One Comment on “Myth, Appearance and Reality”


  1. […] suggest, as do many other before me, that this longing for something that we have never fully experienced is evidence that there is something – some reality – other than what we know that we […]

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