What Is the Difference Between Myth and Theory?
What’s the difference between myths and theories? - What Is the Difference Between Myth and Theory? introduction?? Well that’s an easy question to answer isn’t it; myths involve fiction while theories involve facts, we should not make any parallels between science and superstition. There, we’ve answered the question, or have we? Although many people will agree that myth and theory are two totally different things, I would debate that the line between the two is much thinner than one would think. In fact in some cases the line is inexistent and myths make up theory, just as theory can be the root of myths.
Before I go any further, I should make the definitions of theory and myth clear. Theories are a group of tested propositions, which are regarded as correct; theories can be used as a principle of explanation and prediction for certain type of phenomena. A myth on the other hand, is an invented traditional or legendary story usually involving fictitious characters and events. Knowing these definitions how is it possible for the two to be in any way similar? To illustrate this idea that theories and myths are, sometimes, the same thing, I will use one of the most famous theories in the world, the theory of evolution.
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Now this theory is considered as truth to most people in the world, but many fervent religious believers would disagree. They will view their religion’s respective creation stories as the absolute truth and will consider the theory of evolution as a myth. So where does the truth lie, is the creation story a myth or a theory? I believe it is both, the creation story is a myth based on theory. And I believe that’s the case for most myths and theories. Every myth comes from some form of theory, just as every theory is part myth.
A really good example is the following, hundreds of years ago, men believed the earth was flat, and that if you traveled far enough, you could fall off of the edge of the world. That was a theory; everyone took it to be true. It is not until Columbus circumnavigated the earth that this theory was disproven; today this is one of the most well-known myths, the idea that the world is flat. But what does that teach us, that a myth today was a theory hundreds of years ago. How can we know a theory is really a theory and not just a myth?
The same goes for myths, take the TV show “the mythbusters” on Discovery Channel; their whole show is dedicated to cracking myths. Hundreds of myths have been turned into theories thanks to them, just has hundreds of myths have been confirmed as myths. Quick example of a ‘true’ myth, it turns out elephants are really scared of mice. What does that tell us? It tells us that a myth could very well be a hidden theory. The problem with the argument presented above is that it is based on a misuse of the words myth and theory. If a myth is proven to be true and becomes a theory, then it is not a myth anymore.
Well in fact it never was a myth, although everyone thought and referred to it as a myth, it was during all this time a theory. The same applies to theories, people who believed that the world was flat was a theory, actually believed in a myth, although for them that myth was theory. The problem here, is how do we know a myth is truly a myth, and how do we know a theory is truly a theory? Unfortunately, in most cases, there is no way to know for sure which is which, and that’s how some people get confused between myths and theories; which is where the first argument comes from.
This confusion does not mean in any way that myths and theories are the same though; in fact they are opposites of each other. What we do know is that for every myth of theory there is a true myth or theory hiding behind it. The theory that the earth is spherical and not flat, that is absolutely true, it cannot be disproven; I’d like to call that, a true theory. The same applies to myths, the myths of Greek demigods are ‘true’ myths, meaning they are in no ways theories based on true facts.
So, if we were to take into account only ‘true’ theories and ‘true’ myths, we realize how vastly different they are. Myth is based on superstition, for example: seeing a black cat brings bad luck or the idea that the big foot exists, all those are superstitions. Theories come from the science realm, they are based on testing and theorizing and followed by evaluation and rethinking until the truth is reached. Theories do most often come from the science realm, I agree with that. But doesn’t a scientific theory which is disproven become a myth?
In a hundred years’ time we will know so much more in the field of science than we do today; things that today we view as myths such as the flying car, in 50 years they will be theory. The contrary, a theory becoming myth in the field of science is a little less common because science flirts with the truth most of the time. But there are a few examples of scientific theories becoming myths, examples which just prove that myth and theory really isn’t so different from each other. The most famous example is also a very current one; Einstein’s theory of relativity is and has been viewed for a long time as the absolute truth.
For the sake of the essay I won’t go into what that theory is about, we just have to know that Einstein is recognized as one of the smartest man ever to live, he is the father of great scientific discoveries and advancements. What Einstein says and backs up with scientific evidence has to be true. But it isn’t, scientist are on the verge of making one of the greatest discoveries if all times, the Higgs Boson, a boson that is believed to give all matter in the universe its size and shape. If they were to prove its existence, Einstein’s theory of relativity would be disproven.
Again, there is a lot of complicated science behind all this, but all that needs to be known is that even science is a tangible subject. So what is Einstein’s theory of relativity? Is it a theory because it is backed up by scientific evidence and experimenting; or is it a myth, something Einstein invented in order to explain the world in the way he thought to be true. In fact, Einstein’s theory of relativity is not much different to the myths of creation stories when you think of it, it is yet another way to explain and understand our world.
Myth and theory, as we refer to them today, aren’t that different at all from each other, we just don’t know it. Yes they differ in their actual definitions and that’s where people go wrong, if a myth is similar to a theory that means that it’s not a real myth. Myth is superstition while theory is science. When put into practice though, their differences don’t seem so clear anymore; every myth has a little bit of theory, while every theory has a little bit of myth.
It is very rare to have one or another on its own because we can never totally prove a myth is a myth; how can we disprove that Zeus never existed? We can’t; same applies to theories, we saw that even in science, the least flawed subject, a theory can be proven to be simply just a myth. Unfortunately we can’t usually discern one another for sure, so we leave it to the person to make their minds on whether a certain thing is a theory, or a myth.