Bare Bones Biology 334 – Religion as Metaphor

161002-fallcolor-asc_6646rs-copyJoseph Campbell*, our great student of comparative religion, said — it was probably before your time, but humans have changed very little in human time — he said: “The real horror today is what you see in Beirut, where you have the three great Western religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and because the three of them have three different names for the same Biblical God, they can’t get on together. They’re stuck with their metaphor and don’t realize its reference.”


Seth Lloyd**, a cutting-edge research physicist recently said: “Mathematics is a metaphor” that can be tested. Being able to test the result is good. More useful than poetry or visual imagery. (


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned my physics math lesson that describes speed (distance moved/time it takes), velocity (displacement/time) and acceleration (velocity/time). This is the mathematical metaphor — all very logical and testable until we get to acceleration, which requires us to divide velocity (displacement/time) by time (t), and the result unfortunately is a formula containing time (real linear time, like on a clock), squared. Clearly t2 is a metaphor for something, but what? Einstein’s formula at least makes sense, though its implications are far out. I have never gotten past t2.

Just memorize it you say? But why bother if it carries no information?



I want to talk about The Creation, and none of the above metaphors gives me a spark of clear understanding. I want my metaphor to push the right button of reality — to conform itself, and me along with it, to the true nature of reality; not to make technologies, but to a profound reverence for the miracle of Creation, as it is. Not as I wish it were.


But of course, no human can ever know exactly what it is. “Otherwise, what would be the value of faith?” Or reverence?


We can make scientific descriptions. We know the Creation of a human Life must begin with the necessary materials, and because these are supplied by Life


recycling itself, or by the sun, we don’t have to worry about it – energy to drive the work; an egg with food for the embryo; a spe

rm to complete the genetic code with instructions of how to grow; a mother to grow in; clean food, water and air for the mother and later the for the child; and a set of four-billion-year-old inherited instincts for both mother and child to be, grow, and do. The miracle of Life itself

All of this comes to the child from its historical environment (evolution) and from the now environment that generates and regenerates the air, water, and organic molecules it requires for its survival and for the materials of which it is constructed. And for the information that instructs it. Science? Or a miracle ?


Because of the environment, the human child is born with a specific environmental history, a brain that is ready and eager to eat up all possible information from the now environment so as to incorporate its own unique environmental experience with its own unique evolutionary history and its own unique quest — to fulfill its potential within the Life of Earth. A miracle indeed!


“The goal of the quest for yourself is to find that becoming point within yourself, which is fearless, and desire-less . . . This is the image of a plant growing; that’s the life force.”


“You don’t have to go out and die for anything, because it’s all right there.”

“When before a sunset or a mountain you pause and say ahh, that is a participation in divinity.”


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*Quotations from – Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. 1997. The Power of Myth. DVD, Public Affairs Television, Inc., available from Amazon. The wisdom becomes more precious with time.


**A wonderful overview of the science in Chapter Three, Programming the Universe, by Seth Lloyd. 2006. Vintage Books. Everyone should read this chapter (at least); it’s so hard to find authoritative summary mental images in our world that specializes in specialized reporting of the details – without their significant context.