The Scientific Revolution: Mythos to Logos
The shift from mythos to logos is achieved by approaching traditional beliefs and representations with new reason and modern scientific ideas. Mythos refers to ideas based on faith rather than the reason of logos . Galileo Galilei, philosopher and scientist, defends physical science and theology by declaring that both should be valued equally, as both are important and correct. In the early 1600s mythos dominated the points of view of the educated as well as the uneducated. Galileo broke away from the traditional, comfortable chains with which the rest of society constrained their minds.
His primary concern was being able to freely practice science without enraging the Church. Galileo argues, “…that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages but from sense-experiences and necessary demonstrations..
.” (Galilei 186). Religion, Galileo states, has no place in areas, such as science, that demand reason and factual evidence. In contrast, he insists that the Bible requires interpretation, “I think in the first place that it is very pious to say and prudent to affirm that the holy Bible can never speak untruth—whenever it’s true meaning is understood” (Galilei 186). Galileo does not argue that mythos should be disregarded but rather that logos and mythos are two completely different ways of explaining the world and cannot be pitted against each other fairly without being irrespective to some part of each view.
Conclusions relating to the world must be drawn from observation and sense-experience whereas the Bible requires interpretation for a proper understanding . Rene Descartes believed that logos was Supreme, which was an idea that was ahead of its time . He wrote of four precepts regarding how to approach a problem and organize it so that one can arrive at the truth. Descartes begins with never accepting “..
.anything as true which I could not accept as obviously true” (Descartes 193). Then he breaks down complex problems into more understandable part and then approaches each of these parts of the problem in logical order and finally “make my enumerations so complete and my reviews so general that I could be assured that I had not omitted anything” (Descartes 193). Descartes makes a formula he can apply to all problems, but he makes the final step so general that it can encompass all possibilities. In doing this, he has shaded for himself a gray area in which nonscientific philosophy may be acceptable. Like Galileo, Descartes’ fondness for logos does not lead him to completely disprove mythos .
Bernard de Fontenelle depicts how those who once relied solely on mythos are now willing to learn about and accept modern reason. In late 1600s art begins to reflect the new logic that is overtaking old philosophy about the world. Fontenelle’s painting, Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, shows the willingness of a mythos believer to learn about the modern way of thinking. The woman represents aristocracy and Christianity–for Fontenelle both are mythos. The woman is attentive, eagerly listening to the heretical logic concerning the planets and their orbits around the Sun rather than Earth. By painting her as a youthful woman, Fontenelle implies that the young are the ones open to modern ideas.
She represents the people who follow the Church’s teachings but are willing to entertain the concepts the man, who personifies logos, introduces . John Locke values the logical means of sensation and reflection in order to obtain truth in order to stop blindly relying on unjustifiable ideas. Locke and Galileo both agree experience is necessary to understand the world. Locke states that it is “from EXPERIENCE…
that all our knowledge is founded…” (Locke 194). True knowledge is found through sensation and reflection rather than tracing other people’s opinions and ideas.
However, Locke, like Fontenelle, is further along in his reliance on logic than Galileo was during his time. Using reason Locke attempts to prove mythos is evidence based and justifiable. He concludes, “According to reason are such propositions whose truth we can discover by examining and tracing those ideas we have from sensation and reflection; and by natural deduction find to be true or probable…
Thus the existence of one God is according to reason…” (Locke 194). Unlike Galileo, Locke tries to justify the existence of God using logic.
Everything must be approached with reason . William Blake questions modern scientific ideas and traditional faith by painting human figures with accurate anatomical detail as slaves to new logic and reason. In Newton, Blake paints Sir Isaac Newton as a sentient being using logic, but with an appearance that reflects on mythos. His robe is falling off his shoulder as he uses a scientific instrument while he sits with his back to a reef textured with creative perspective and focuses on his logical work. Blake feels that embracing logos will mean turning one’s back on the wonders that reason cannot explain.
In his other painting, God As Architect, God himself is a scientist who practices with the same scientific instrument Newton uses. Blake paints God’s body with accurate anatomy, muscular, not soft and round as in mythos paintings, but sharper and clearer. Not only is God using more scientific methods for creating the world than was previously believed, his body is scientifically correct. Blake is making a statement against the creationist, mythos-oriented concepts. Blake does not perpetuate logos or mythos, but his own world view .
Thomas Paine’s letter to his friend who cherishes mythos over logos argues that the Bible is not an accurate representation of God and yet people believe that it is due to their upbringing. Paine states that he is a creationist, believing that God is wise and good, having created the universe and everything around them. As Locke did over 100 years before, Paine applies logos to religion. He writes, “You may have an opinion that a man is inspired but you cannot prove it, nor can you have any proof of it yourself, because you cannot see into his mind in order to know how he comes by his thoughts; and the same is the case with the word revelation” (Paine 197). Paine is committed to logic and proof which he takes from “the works of God” which he observes (Paine 198).
Paine rejects the Bible’s representation of God during the time when the shift from mythos to logos is nearly complete . During the Enlightenment logos began superseding mythos as scientists, artists and philosophers began to question traditional faith based ideas and form their own opinions. Galileo Galilei asserts that sense experience and observation is the proper way to look at the world while the Bible should be approached with a more philosophical mindset that interprets deeply rather than superficially. Descartes creates a formula that approaches everything with logic, yet still leaves the process general enough that it does not exclude possibilities. Bernard de Fontenelle illustrated the readiness of a mythos oriented person to learn about the modern way of thinking and the willingness of a philosopher to explain the new perspective. Locke approached all problems with modern logic, trying to use this new reason to justify the existence of God.
William Blake rejects both the modern and traditional authorities, choosing to follow his own mystical and creative outlook on the world. Thomas Paine claims that the Biblical interpretation of God was inaccurate; in Paine’s view God is fundamentally good, which justifies his complete rejection of the Bible. All of these thinkers were revolutionists in their own times, who challenged the dominating conviction of mythos by using their own reason.