I'm reading ON THE ORIGIN OF STORIES: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (2009) by Brian Boyd, an English professor in New Zealand. His thesis is that the human propensity for storytelling is a consequence of our evolution. He invented a new field, evocriticism, which analyses literature on the basis of its biological origins and functions. It is not, as one might question, a form of reductionism. On the contrary, it bridges and blends the "fuzzy" realm of art and literature with the "hard" realm of science. It breaks down the artificial wall between the mind and the body to make sense of the role of literature in the whole of human life. Creative story-telling trains us to anticipate many possible futures, making us good problem-solvers. "The appeal of the cognitive play in art makes art as compulsive for us as play, enticing us to to forgo mental rest for mental stimulation that helps us to learn and overlearn key cognitive skills, especially our capacity to produce and process information patterns." (p 381) Story-telling helped us survive the rigors of natural selection.
He doesn't apply his theory to the Bible, but I think his work suggests that there should be a new field of theological study: biblical evocriticism. How do the stories in the Bible train us to be problem-solvers? How do they help us to envision positive futures, and then make them present realities? How do they both reflect and shape human evolution? Boyd's findings suggest to me that the value of the Bible's stories has little to do with their factuality. "Stories, whether true or false, appeal to our interest in others, but fiction can especially appeal by inventing events with an intensity and surprise that fact rarely permits. Fictions foster cooperation by engaging and attuning our social and moral emotions and values, and creativity by enticing us to think beyond the immediate in the way our minds are most naturally disposed – in terms of social actions." (p 382-3) Because of the ways our brains have evolved, the stories of Jesus walking on water and performing amazing healings may prove more valuable to our spiritual development as fictions than as facts.
Biblical evocriticism might moot the long struggle between science and religion. The fabulous, many-layered tales in the Bible are themselves the miracles - not the factually implausible events they describe. It is awesome to consider how much power is evoked in us from stories, and few are as sublime as those found in the scriptures. In his book, Boyd quotes Vladimir Nabokov, the novelist: “We are so absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats."
Perhaps biblical evocriticism will give us a fact-based structure to appreciate more of the value of the fictional stories that express the heart of the Christian faith. Perhaps it will help us more fully experience the real miracles of Christian music, poetry, visual arts, and literature, and bring our heads and hearts closer together in faith.