This question is key to reconciling the sharp differences between science and religion. Scientists will tell you that giant, ferocious dragons don’t exist and are merely mythological creatures created by non-sophisticated minds and fantastical, superstitious storytelling. Search as you might, you won’t find fire-breathing dragons attacking and devouring people within the spacetime arena. However, in the Holy Bible, Jehovah God gives a warning about the “poison of dragons” (Deut. 32:33) and in Revelation, the Second Coming of the Lord involves a final battle with the Great Red Dragon.
What gives? Is God delusional?
Is religion a system for dumbing-down human intelligence? Or, is it as scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg has suggested, the exact opposite—a means of elevating the human mind for perceiving reality?
How could dragons exist among us without being seen? The answer depends on what you consider to constitute ontological reality.
Here is what I mean by ontological reality. If someone is called a “snake in the grass” it represents something ontologically real that was detected in that person’s behavior (usually revealing some hidden agenda). But the natural sciences would say that such a person was not formally a snake but really a human being. Science goes no further than the physical understanding of the matter. But if a person “acts like a slimy serpent” among other fellow humans, that observation actually says more about whom he or she really is than any physical description such as height, weight, gender, eye, hair or skin color.
In other words, reality transcends mere optical and physical parameters.
Back to Swedenborg…
Swedenborg claimed that the fantastic images described in the pages of God’s Holy Word contain meanings that transcend physical and literal interpretation. Dragons (like “snakes in the grass”) represent a particular quality of human nature that is dangerous to the human soul. In fact, since dragons are larger than snakes or other serpents they represent larger groups or gatherings of people who reject God’s tenets and favor an enlarged and exaggerated view of their own intellectual powers.
People can act like monsters or angels from within and maintain their outer human form before others. But anyone will tell you that being truly human and rational requires cultivating certain inner qualities. Holy Scripture and all its stories focus on this inner realm of the human heart and mind—with deeper and more relevant meanings that mostly go right over our terrestrially oriented heads.
Today, in our post-modern world, there is a growing belief that Holy Scripture lacks ultimate authority and is not infallible, nor inerrant, because it promotes silly and preposterous concepts like dragons. If Swedenborg is correct, then the cause for this view is not that the biblical narratives are asking us to lower our powers of reasoning but that we have failed a divine challenge to elevate our minds and think beyond the literal.