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Origin Myths and Science


Having a sense of how scientists interpret data and use that data to formulate ideas about the world we live in gives you a “healthier” (and more skeptical) understanding of all information you encounter. That includes everything presented here and on TV and in the news and in Discover, National Geographic, People and Rolling Stone Magazine, Science, Nature, and MTV News, to name a few. Science, by its very nature, operates in fits and starts, backtracks, picks up new leads, and moves forward, constantly revising its ideas.



The Shasta Indians of northern California tell a story of how the Great Spirit created Mount Shasta, its rivers and all living things:

The Indians say the Great Spirit made this mountain first of all...He first pushed down snow and ice from the skies through a hole which he made in the blue heavens by turning a stone round and round, till he made this great mountain, then he stepped out of the clouds on to the mountain top, and descended and planted the trees all around by putting his finger on the ground. Simple and sublime!

The sun melted the snow, and the water ran down and nurtured the trees and made the rivers. After that he made the fish for the rivers out of the small end of his staff. He made the birds by blowing some leaves which he took up from the ground among the trees. After that he made the beasts out of the remainder of his stick, but made the grizzly bear out of the big end, and made him master over all the others...Afterwards, the Great Spirit wishing to remain on earth, and make the sea and some more land, he converted Mount Shasta by a great deal of labour into a wigwam, and built a fire in the centre of it and made it a pleasant home. After that his family came down, and they all have lived in the mountain ever since.

This story and the many like it illustrate the profound influence of nature on the lives of our planet’s earliest inhabitants. Whether merely to entertain or whether to fulfill some deeper psychological need, these stories provided an “explanation” for the world in which these people lived. They gave a sense of order and reason to the awe- and fear-inspiring creations around them. They created a framework for understanding how nature works.

In modern times, our goals are perhaps similar but with different means of seeking explanations. Science attempts to develop a set of rational explanations for natural phenomena based on a consistent and cumulative approach known as the scientific method. This approach rests on one important and distinct principle: that natural phenomena are repeatedly observable. Natural events or processes that are not observable—directly or indirectly—and/or that do not repeat themselves in an observable fashion—directly or indirectly—fall beyond the domain of science. An excellent treatise on this subject can be found at www.skeptic.com.


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