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Once upon a time there was this god...

PUBLISHED: 09:58 10 May 2003 | UPDATED: 13:51 03 March 2010

LET me tell you a story.

The great Earth Mother had two sons, Glooskap and Malsum. Glooskap was good, wise, and creative; Malsum was evil, selfish, and destructive.

LET me tell you a story.

The great Earth Mother had two sons, Glooskap and Malsum. Glooskap was good, wise, and creative; Malsum was evil, selfish, and destructive.

When their mother died, Glooskap went to work creating plants, animals, and humans from her body. Malsum, in contrast, made poisonous plants and snakes.

You don't believe this? OK, let's try another one.

In the beginning, there was Ginnungagap, the yawning void. Later, there began to be two regions – Muspell, the region of fire, and Niflheim, the region of ice and snow. When the two regions came together there formed, in a miraculous explosion, the body of a giant, Ymir, who was the first living thing.

No good either? Don't believe it? Neither do I – not literally. But they are just as good as the Adam and Eve story we all know.

It just so happens that, for purely historical reasons, the Jewish creation myth got passed on widely around the world, while the Chippewa (Glooskap and Malsum) and Norse (Ymir) versions did not.

I like them all. And they all prove two things. Firstly, that human beings are interested in how and why we came to be here. And secondly, that we don't know.

It seems every society has its creation myth. The prevailing one here and now is the Big Bang. At least the scientists who dreamed it up have the decency to call it a theory.

Proper scientists never do what religious people have always tended to do, and insist that their stories are the absolute, incontrovertible, inescapable TRUTH.

They accept that their current explanation for things is simply the best presently available to fit the observations we have made.

The Bible story of creation patently doesn't fit those observations. The Ginnungagap story gets closer.

Big Bang seems to be about the best we have at present, but I doubt if it will last any longer than the flat Earth theory. Somewhere along the line, some new observation will discredit it. That's the way with science. It moves on.

All this is, or should be, pretty basic stuff. I raise it now because I have been accused – as anyone who questions the blind dogma of any fundamentalism – of wickedness, heresy, and not being very nice.

The fundamentalist of any creed wants us to believe without questioning. If we did that, we would still be in the stone age.

Questioning is what makes us human. It is why the creation myths were made up in the first place.

It is why scientists constantly question and test their theories.

The theory of evolution – which, as it happens, I do believe in – has itself evolved a long way since Darwin put it forward. A huge amount of detail has been filled in, and it is impossible to read any of that detail without a sense of wonder.

Science and scientific theories don't take away wonder – they give us more to wonder at.

One of the essential points about Darwinism has not changed, however. It attempts to describe the HOW of life. It tells us absolutely nothing about the WHY, and has never pretended to.

Unlike all those who cling to the security blanket of religion, the true Darwinian knows we haven't got the faintest idea WHY we're here.

That, clearly, is the realm of philosophy, which includes religion.

And before anyone else accuses me of being anti-religion, let me quote the Bishop of Oxford: "Science is a God-given activity. Scientists are using their God-given minds and God-given creativity to explore and utilise God-given nature. Biblical literalism brings not only the Bible, but Christianity itself, into disrepute."

A good point, and well made – though the good bishop is probably surer in his mind than I am about what his god is.

Some of the reaction to my comments last week have appeared already on the Star Letters page and need no more response from me.

I also got a brief, pithy e-mail from Dr BC Edmans PhD CertEd (nice letters, Brian – shame you can't spell). He asks: "Should not our young people be given all the options?"

Oh, absolutely – of course they should. I confidently expect every school funded by the Vardy Foundation to teach Glooskap, Ginnungagap and Darwin – not to mention the Hindu, Shinto and Maori versions – alongside Adam and Eve and Pinch-me. Or am I being naïve?

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