Storytelling in religions is ubiquitous. Storytelling can be found in all religions for myriad reasons, including—but not limited to—(1) the passing of traditions; (2) how the mores of the society in question should be structured (Wuthnow, 2011); (3) bringing people into the religion by creating origin myths, and so on. In short, the function of religious storytelling has numerous primary directives, but one of the most important is answering why questions (Braustein, 2012) (i.e., “Why are we here?”, “Why do we do X?”), not how questions (i.e., “How did we get here?”). Thus, the importance of religious storytelling seems to be obvious: religious storytelling serves its function in virtue of explaining why questions which were formulated by a human mind. It also, for billions of people around the world, grounds morality in an objective reality given to Man by God.
If religious storytelling can answer how questions, then, it is proposed, we can believe these stories as evidence that the religions in question are true. However, there is much pushback in believing these religious stories. Religious stories are what can be termed “just-so stories”, which amount to hypotheses which offer “little in the way of independent evidence to suggest that it is actually true” (Law, 2016). It is for this reason that we cannot—nor should we—accept any religious just-so stories: they lack sufficient evidence for belief, other than what they purport to explain. In this article, I will discuss certain just-so stories and Christianity—how they fail to successfully argue what they purport to but still serve important (moralistic) functions. Religion and language/writing are deeply intertwined, and so, understanding how and why we speak and write along with the history of civilization will help us to better understand how and why we tell these kinds of stories.
Religion has been around as long as agriculture (Peoples, Duda, and Marlowe, 2016), and so, if we understand the co-evolution of both of these variables, then we may understand how and why these types of stories have persisted through the ages. Storytelling—in a religious manner—is a way to ground a certain group’s morals in something objective. This is one very important reason that religious storytelling has persisted. For example, Christians argue that Jesus rose from the dead in 3 days and that God created the universe we live in, and so on. These two claims, though, are just-so stories since there is no independent evidence for the claims. There are other more important functions to Christian storytelling other than believing in the ultimate truths of the purported claims.
Stories have many functions—one of the many functions is to give purpose to one’s life. Yet another function is to guide how one lives their lives using stories that were created thousands of years ago. Storytelling in Christianity is a large topic—one that is held dear to many people. What are some of the stories and are there any independent reasons to believe them?
Creationists—those who believe that a Supreme Being created everything we see around us—use the Bible and its stories as evidence that evolution is false and Creationism is true. One prominent Creationist is Dr. Bo Kirkwood who wrote The Evolution Delusion: A Scientific Study of Creation and Evolution (Kirkwood, 2016). In the book, he attempts to use Christian storytelling to attempt to discredit the fact of evolution. He makes many questionable claims including “God’s fingerprints are seen by observing his finely tuned universe” (Kirkwood, 2016: 210). This is a perfect example of a just-so story—make a claim that has no evidence to support it, the only evidence to support it is the claim (that “God’s fingerprints are seen by observing his finely tuned universe”).
No evidence exists that the universe is “God’s fingerprints … finely tuned” the universe, and so it is a just-so story. The arguments pushed by Creationists such as Kirkwood (2016) do not make any testable predictions. The Big Bang theory, however, does make testable predictions and is, therefore, not a just-so story. Note how Kirkwood’s (2016) claim have no independent evidence to back them—that God “finely tuned” the universe is one of the ultimate just-so stories. It’s literally based off of faith and no evidence. Nothing can falsify the claim that God “finely tuned” the universe, and so we should disregard claims like this from Creationists. Kirkwood’s (2016) claims that the universe is “finely tuned” by God is an attempt to argue that there is a Creator of the universe we live in, and so we should dispense with evolutionary thinking and embrace the Creator, God. Kirkwood (2016) believes that, if evolutionary theory can be disproven by appealing to claims that God “finely tuned” the universe, then more people would believe God’s Word and society would start trending in a more religious, Christian trajectory.
Just because claims from Creationists are false does not mean that religious storytelling has no use—no function—in the modern day (or even thousands of years ago when they were first formulated) One of the most important functions for storytelling in Christianity is the grounding of objective morality. Most of the stories told in the Bible have a moralistic message that it wants to convey. Do this, not that, because God is watching and this objective morality is grounded by God. These stories, then, got passed down through each successive generation and eventually became got sorted into what is now the Bible during the Council of Nicaea.
One of the best examples of morality in the Bible—and the stories that accompany it—is Romans 13: 8-10, where it is stated that, many of the Commandments can be summed up succinctly as “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (New International Version). The Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God – they were given to Moses to give to the Israelites in order to guide them to live good, moral lives. So, if “… whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (New International Version), and those who follow the Ten Commandments have fulfilled the law by loving—not harming—their neighbors, then those who follow the story that Moses was given the Commandments by God are living a moral life and therefore these stories help people in our societies live moral lives. That these stories help billions of Christians live moral lives does not speak to the truth of the claim that these Commandments were given to Moses by God, though. That is irrelevant. The most important thing here is that these stories help others live moral lives. (Quite obviously, the stories are not sufficient to live a moral life, since there are non-religious people who do so.)
Religious storytelling—irrespective of the truth of the stories—is clearly important in our societies. They help people with certain moral quandaries, to live their lives a certain way because they believe that someone is watching them. If these stories help people live good, moral lives, then it does not matter if the ultimate claims of the stories are true or not. Therefore, Christian storytelling has very important functions for how our current societies function which is why Christian storytelling has persisted through the ages, even if the claims are false.