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Make room for Marduk

TOM LUTZ is visiting professor of critical studies and interim director of the MFA writing program at CalArts and a professor of English at the University of Iowa.

AS KIDS return to school this year, there is an undeniable excitement in the air. No longer will they be stuck learning old-fashioned, intellectually bankrupt sciences such as physics, geology and evolution. They have the president’s permission to learn “different schools of thought” about creation. Such as the fresh, modish sounding theory of “intelligent design.” With the help of think tanks such as the Intelligent Design Network, the Access Research Network and the Discovery Institute, the theory that holds that an intelligent designer decided to give fish legs is finally beginning to get a fair airing in our classrooms.

That version of intelligent design, however, is just the tip of the alternative-science iceberg. If we’re going to follow the president’s dictum and let kids hear all the options, we need more.

For instance, ancient Ghanaians called the intelligent designer Mangala. Before creating our world, Mangala created another, but he didn’t like it and so destroyed it. (Come to think of it, this might explain how dinosaurs existed before the Christians’ intelligent designer got around to making His universe.)

When Mangala tried again, a trickster named Pemba was born. Pemba committed incest with his mother (we could gloss over this part; kids don’t need to know everything). Mangala fixed things by castrating and sacrificing Farro, Pemba’s twin brother, and then brought him back to life as a human being. And there you have it, the beginning of human life. Scientists have not even begun to consider how many human mysteries could be solved if we’d only understand mankind as the spawn of a castrated god.

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Next door in present-day Nigeria, the ancient Yoruba had an artist-deity, Obatala, who they believed intelligently designed the human body, and an even more intelligent designer, Olodumare, who breathed life into it -- sort of; he actually breathed life into the “little head” inside the human head. Every one of us, it turns out, goes to the workshop of the heavenly potter Ajalamopin and chooses an “inner head” that Olodumare has pre-vivified. Then we finish our nine-month incubation. Armed with this knowledge, perhaps doctors could do something about infant mortality in Africa besides fiddling around trying to vaccinate them.

The Hopi also have multiple intelligent designers. The sun god Tawa and the goddess in charge of the Earth, Spider Woman, worked together to make all the creatures in the world, bringing them to life by laying an intricately woven white blanket over them. I’m not sure what scientific conundrum this could solve, but I believe our kids should know about it in the interests of comprehensive objectivity.

In ancient Baghdad, Babylonian scientists were pretty sure that the world was intelligently designed by Marduk, god of gods, after he smashed the skull of Tiamat, primordial mother of all things, so that her blood ran streaming to the ends of the Earth. Then, resting, he pondered what to do with her enormous carcass. He split it in half, and with the upper part he held up the arc of the sky (a useful idea for plasma physicists?) and used the bottom half to hold down the seas, just the sort of idea that our shortsighted oceanographers, with their blinkered faith in “scientific method,” have never considered.

So is this science, myth or faith? Ask the Yoruba or, better yet, your kids. It is only fair to give them all the theories and let them decide themselves. That’s what Arizona Sen. John McCain, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and President Bush think. Only by being “properly taught” different ways of thinking, the president says, “can people understand what the debate is about.... People ought to be exposed to different ideas.”

So bring on the Hopi blanket and that Yoruban breather and Tiamat from Babylonia. Add in the Flat Earth theory, witchcraft black and white, and while we’re at it, white supremacy and the edifying effects of sacrificing virgins.

And soon I hope to have my own theory ready, the theory of Malevolent Design, which I think may go further than these others in explaining human life. I don’t see how children can decide on the value of scientific method if they haven’t been exposed to that one. Like our president and senators, I’m only thinking of the children.


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