Faith, Science and Metaphors


faith-and-scienceThis post is originally published at BioLogos.org. You can view it here. Re-posted here with permission.

Metaphors

People tend to think of metaphors as simple poetic word plays to adorn or illustrate otherwise dull text. Positively, one might think of metaphors as useful for illuminating existing truths. Few, however, see them as indispensable to how we think and, hence, of how we arrive at truth.

Cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson once remarked, “There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can’t think without metaphors.”1

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff agrees: “A large proportion of our most commonplace thoughts make use of an extensive, but unconscious, system of metaphorical concepts, that is, concepts from a typically concrete realm of thought that are used to comprehend another, completely different domain. Such concepts are often reflected in everyday language, but their most dramatic effect comes in ordinary reasoning.2 ”In other words, a whole network of conceptual metaphors operates in our everyday language, often unnoticed, to support all our abstract and theoretical thinking. So, if we think in metaphors, then the kind of metaphors we use can shape our conclusions, or at the very least, the direction of our reasoning.

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Metaphors for Diversity


Byzantine-style mosaic at a church in Bucharest
Image via Wikipedia

Cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson once wrote, “There are few things as toxic as a bad metaphor. You can’t think without metaphors.” (A World of Ideas, 1989) Cognitive research shows that she is right. A whole network of conceptual metaphors operates mostly at a subconscious level to support all our abstract and theoretical thinking. So, if we can’t think without metaphors, then it reasons that bad metaphors could lead to bad thinking with bad consequences.

When it comes to debates about multiculturalism and diversity, have our underlying metaphors been helpful or problematic for us? What are the underlying key metaphors that shape our understanding and approach to these matters? In Canada and the US, two major metaphors have commonly been used to convey each country’s different approaches to cultural diversity: the mosaic for Canada and the melting pot for the US. Each metaphor has its strengths and weaknesses for engaging the reality of diversity.

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