Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Give Audhumbla her due, seriously

Interesting bit from the Washington Times:

A Tennessee lawmaker is demanding answers about the creation of the universe from the state education commissioner.

State Sen. Raymond Finney sponsored a resolution to ask Education Commissioner Lana Seivers whether the universe "has been created or has merely happened by random, unplanned and purposeless occurrences."

Mr. Finney, a Republican, said he wants the department to say there's no scientific proof for the theory of evolution and to let schools teach creationism or intelligent design.

"Is there a creator? If yes, why are we afraid to teach creationism?" Mr. Finney said Tuesday. "And if the answer is 'well, we can't tell,' then why are we prohibiting an alternative theory?"
Excellent, excellent point. Let us teach our children the alternative theories of how life has come to be. There are, after all, quite a few conceptions of the Demiurge. Now, explain to me why all of the following theories shouldn't be given equal weight:

Intelligent design: Life has aspects that possess irreducible complexity. Therefore, they cannot have originated naturally. Therefore there must have been a Creator, but let's not actually call said creator God. Now, what's on TV?

Creationism (also here): God created the world in seven days. Genesis says so, in two different chapters with quite a few differences between them. They're both true. If you disagree, you will go to hell. (Yes, I know I'm paraphrasing with liberal bias.)

Flying Spaghetti Monsterism (or Pastafarianism, also here): The world was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Honestly, it's not any more inherently ridiculous than most other creation stories.

Norse creation (but not here):

According to the Scandinavians, the beginning of life starts out with only fire and ice. It began with the existence of only two worlds: Muspellheim and Niflheim. When the warm air of Muspellheim hit the cold ice of Niflheim, the outline of the Thurses Ymir and the icy cow Audhumbla were created. Ymir's foot bred a son with the other and a man and a woman emerged from his armpits. Thus he would be the father of an entire host of the cruel creatures known as giants. As Ymir slept, the continuing heat from Muspellheim made him sweat. He sweat out Surt, a flaming giant who went to Muspellheim, whose fire made him feel welcome. Later Ymir woke and drank Audhumla's milk. And while he drank the cow licked on a salt stone. The first day a mans hair appeared, on the second day the head and on the third day the entire man emerged from the stone. His name was Bure and with an unknown giant he fathered the three gods Odin, Vili and Ve.
Anyway, they went on to somehow create Yggdrasill, the giant tree where we all live.

Greek creation (also not here):
The most widely accepted account of beginning of things as reported by Hesiod's Theogony, starts with Chaos, a yawning nothingness. Out of the void emerged Ge or Gaia (the Earth) and some other primary divine beings: Eros (Love), the Abyss (the Tartarus), and the Erebus. Without male assistance Gaia gave birth to Uranus (the Sky) who then fertilised her. From that union were born, first, the Titans: six males and six females (Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne, Phoebe and Tethys, and Cronus); then the one-eyed Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires or Hundred-Handers. Cronus ("the wily, youngest and most terrible of [Gaia's] children")castrated his father and became the ruler of the gods with his sister-wife Rhea as his consort and the other Titans became his court. This motif of father/son conflict was repeated when Cronus was confronted by his son, Zeus. Zeus challenged him to war for the kingship of the gods. At last, with the help of the Cyclopes,(whom Zeus freed from Tarturus), Zeus and his siblings were victorious, while Cronus and the Titans were hurled down to imprisonment in Tartarus.
I think Tartarus was also home to the God of Fried Seafood, but I may be mixing my theologies.

Anyway, if we don't know who the "creator" in intelligent design is, how do we know we don't actually live on Yggdrasill and may wind up spending eternity hanging with Sisyphus?


tODD said...

So I'm curious. What is the rubric for what we should teach in public schools?

cryptic_philosopher said...

That's the million-dollar question, really, Todd. I suppose it involves something that makes use of the scientific method, even if the results are not perfect. My main point is to question whether legislative action is the correct venue to establish the existence of a creator ("We know there is a creator--the Tennessee Legislature says so!")

tODD said...

Hmm, it seems that your main point was to mock the idea that a lack of "proof" meant schools have to teach alternative theories. And to a large degree, I agree with your reductio ad absurdum argument -- I don't want the state schools teaching religion, nor do I feel that it is worthwhile to accomodate every idea under the sun.

But why would the results of the scientific method not be perfect? Or why would they still be the best guidelines for what we should teach, even if imperfect?

I kind of expected you'd have a more solid answer, based on the mockery you doled out. That's okay, I'm of several minds myself on the issue.