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Heathen Intelligent Design
I've been thinking a lot about this issue of late, and I think the recent Kansas vote brings it into sharper resolution. I really believe that it is evolution which belongs in schools; it's the science of how we came to be. Other explanations belong in their appropriate venues - churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, or what have you - or at home. Even the Vatican isn't entirely anti-science at this point. We've made some progress since the days of Galileo, or at least so it seemed until religious fundamentalism reared its ugly head in this country.

Kansas seems a bit behind the game. Comedians are making fun of Kansas of course. Any descent into the Middle Ages will bring about such comment. A New York Times editorial says that "The seesaw battle over state science standards in Kansas seems to have tipped back a bit in the direction of sanity" The Evolution of Kansas. The Times goes on to caution, however: "We’d be inclined to rejoice in this evidence that Kansas may be rejoining the modern world were it not for the state’s disturbing habit of backtracking from teaching evolution whenever the anti-science ideological faction gains the upper hand."

Give a little thought to the question of Intelligent Design. First of all, whose Intelligent Design? The Neoplatonic One? The Demiurge? YHWH? Every ancient people believed their gods were the most powerful, and every ancient people thought their gods had created the world. The ancient Norse were no different in that regard than the Hittites or the Moabites, Assyrians, Babylonians or the Jews themselves. The problem for the world now is that the Jewish God's story is the only one still being told. Of course, forgotten along the wayside are his old cohorts, not to mention his consort Asherah, for of course as we now know, the Jews were polytheists until the 7th century. It seems a bit strange to me to say that we should accept that this one god is responsible and not the others who took credit. Think about Isis for a moment.

According to Plutarch there was an inscription at Sais, in Egypt, on a veiled image of Isis which said “I am all that is, was, and will be, and no mortal has ever lifted my veil.” Why should we accept the Hebrew God’s claims and ignore those of Isis? What makes his stronger or better? Why should we trust in the hymn that opens the Gospel of John and push Isis into the shadows? The same might be asked of the claims of dozens of gods whose pedigree is not inferior to YHWH’s and of some whose are superior – and far older. My own gods, for instance.

We Norse heathens have a story that speaks of the creation of man and woman out of trees, the story of Askr and Embla. We learn this in the Voluspa 17 and 18. Burr's sons, Óðinn, Hoenir and Lothurr, find two tree trunks along the shore and create man from them. The three gods give them ond - breath and life, othr - soul, la, or life giving warmth and gothr litr apperance (or health). Snorri says the whole human race comes from Askr (Ash-tree) and Embla (usually translated to be "Elm-tree") and the gods gave them Midgard (lit. 'dwelling place in the middle' or - yeah, Tolkein didn't invent it - 'Middle Earth') as a place to live. Christians might say this is a simple story based on Adam and Eve but scholarship has shown that it is an ancient tale, and Rudolf Simek calls it "little more than an interesting idea" (Dictionary of Northern Mythology, 21). As a side-note, the ash was a sacred tree to Germanic peoples. Yggdrasil (the world tree, literally 'Óðinn's horse' - Yggr - 'Terrible' being one of Odin's names)1 was conceived of as an ash.
What do the Christians have in support of their creation story? Scientifically? Nothing really. What do we Norse have? Listen for a moment to Carl Sagan, who on an episode of Cosmos said,
"We're virtually identical to trees. We both use necleic acids as the hereditary material; we both use proteins as enzymes to control the chemistry of the cell and most significantly, we both use the identical code book to translate nucleic acid information into protein information. Any tree couild read my genetic code." The question he asks is, "Why are we cousins to the trees?"
Well, I have an answer. It's called Óðinn, Hoenir and Lothurr = Askr and Embla.

The way I see it, they should be teaching our heathen creation story in schools, if they are going to teach any creation story. We have the science to back it up.

1 For Yggr as Óðinn see Hávamál 3, Grímnismál 53 and 54, Vafþrúðnismál 5, Hymniskviða 2 and Fáfnismál 43. This name for Óðinn also appears in Skaldic poetry.

Sidebar Notes

Who's intelligent design are we talking about?

“I am all that is, was, and will be, and no mortal has ever lifted my veil.” Yahweh? No, Isis.