Use the language of “myth” when describing certain parts of the Bible (e.g., Genesis 1-11) and you are sure to upset many Christians. Creation and flood narratives provide the foundation for the worldview of many sincere believers today. They struggle to see this language as anything but an affront to their cherished beliefs. No doubt many would prefer this language applied to evolutionary biology. But notice what happens when Michael Pollan does this very thing in his recently released book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation:
Like any such theory–indeed, like evolution itself–the cooking hypothesis is not subject to absolute scientific proof. For that reason, some will no doubt dismiss it as another ‘just so’ story, Prometheus in modern scientific garb. But, really, how much more can we expect when trying to account for something like the advent of ourselves? What the cooking hypothesis gives us is a compelling modern myth–one cast in the language of evolutionary biology rather than religion–locating the origins of our species in the discovery of cooking with fire. To call it a myth is not to belittle it. Like any other such story, it serves to explain how what is came to be using the most powerful vocabulary available, which in our case today happens to be that of evolutionary biology. What is striking in this instance is that classical mythology and modern evolutionary theory both gazed into the flames of the cook fire and found there the same thing: the origins of our humanity. Perhaps that coincidence is all the confirmation we can hope for. (p 62)
And perhaps Christians should not feel so afraid of seeing this language applied also to certain biblical texts. Far from an affront to sacred Scripture, this could prove to be one of the more affirming claims made on its behalf.
More on Michael Pollan’s important book: