Reconciling Creation And Evolution In NOAH

Darren Aronofsky on the useful myths of the Bible. 

There's been a lot of talk about Noah and Christianity, which is kind of weird because Noah isn't a Christian movie. It's a very Jewish movie, rooted in Jewish spirituality and made by a filmmaker who - while now a non-believer - was raised in the Jewish faith. There's no Christianity in this movie, which takes its cues only from the Old Testament and the midrash surrounding it, and features no hints or promises of a messiah. To approach this movie from a Christian point of view is ignorant, but what else is new with that crowd.

That's why the film's reconciliation of scientific cosmology and evolution with Genesis' creation myth is no big deal. Most Jews - and all Catholics - believe in evolution, if of a theistic variety. It's only the superstitious Protestant types who cling to Creationism as a literal thing in the face of all evidence otherwise. With that in mind it was almost a waste of time asking Darren Aronofsky about reconciling Creation with evolution when i interviewed him last week... almost. The question opened up a line of discussion that I think is vital to the non-believers who have been dismissing this movie out of hand as religious swill. Why, you have to wonder, do we approach a Bible movie differently than one based on Greek myth? 

I think it’s mythological. I think it’s poetic. I’m clearly not a literalist, and I also think literalism is limited and is counter-productive… on both sides of the conversation. From literal believers to literal non-believers, to attack the story of Noah because too many creatures couldn’t fit on an ark of that size is ridiculous. Looking at it as poetry is much more powerful, because then it becomes an act of myth. Look at the story of Sisyphus. We don’t question if that really happened, pushing the rock up the hill, but being able to take a symbolic meaning from it - as Camus did - is incredibly powerful. The story of Icarus is the same thing. It’s a story of hubris, and you don’t worry about how he attached the feathers. You don’t need to do that.

What you can get from these stories are incredible messages of power that relate to us. And they should, because they’re the oldest stories, they’re fantastic stories, and why do they keep getting retold? There’s something in there that means something to us. You leave Judeo-Christian and Islamic tradition and you go to the Amazon or you go to China or you go to the Maya and they have a flood story. It’s because there’s something elemental about water and floods that means something to us as a species. That’s why we keep talking about it. Taking that poetry and then representing our modern day knowledge of cosmology is great because you realize the six days of Creation almost line up with what really happened. Get away from this literalism and use the power of myth to inspire and learn from. That’s where the power of these stories are, and that’s what they are - they’re myths and they’re stories.

If you took the idea of evolution and wrote it down and shared it with people three thousand years ago it would be drivel, or people’s brains would be leaking out of their ears. Evolution is a 19th century concept that has been proven in the 20th century, but back then it made sense to explain it to people with myth. Today it doesn’t make sense to explain it to people that way.

I like that he calls out the non-believers; I've seen some irritating complaints in the wake of the film's release where people ask how this one bloodline will repopulate the earth. Yes, it's nonsense. It was always silly nonsense. The literal facts of the story aren't the important parts, it's the meaning of the story. Nothing in Noah holds up to scrutiny, just as almost nothing in the Bible holds up to scrutiny. 

I look forward to other filmmakers approaching the Bible as myth, as there's a ton of great stuff in there. The Bible is filled with great stories, many of which are still of value today - as long as you don't attach literal meaning to them. Its' when you get into the literal belief that this book written by Bronze Age people is true that you get into genocide and oppression and denying climate change. Approached as a repository of metaphorical philosophy the Bible can be a useful and wonderful tool for all.