I was doing research for my last piece on Heaven, Hel, and Valhalla, which took me on a whirlwind tour of what science thinks about souls, the beginning of life, and other amazing things. This is when I ran into a huge post about how scientists have been putting together the pieces of life, and are very close to creating an organism.
Holy shit. What kind of implications does that have for religions, and in particular, Heathenry?
How Close Are We to Creating Life from Inorganic Matter?
How close are we to creating life from matter? The answer, much to my surprise is: very close. It seems that there are groups of scientists scattered across the world who have come up with pieces on how life may have formed. The TL:DR version is that there have been many theories but the one that seems to come closest is the formation of cells spontaneously given a group of chemical reactions. In fact, one scientist has created protocells with the ability to reproduce, carry a genetic code (RNA), take in molecules, and even compete against other cells for survival.
This has brought scientists to the point where they have figured out the type of environment necessary for life to arise. They have a pretty good clue what brought about life. They just need the right amounts of chemicals in the right conditions.
Every culture has some sort of creation myth to explain how life came into being. The Heathen version tells us how the gods appeared through the rime created from heat of Muspell melting the ice that flowed from Niflheim. Ymir, whose body eventually became Midgard, was the first frost giant born from the ice. Buri, the first god, was brought into being by a cow licking the rime.
I’d hazard to say that most heathens don’t take our creation myths literally, but most accept Odin as the creator god of humans and the world. Odin and his brothers, Vili, and Ve, created our world as we know it, and together they fashioned humans from trees. Odin giving humans the breath of life, Vili giving us our consciousness and feelings, and Ve giving us our senses.
It’s a nice story, but it is one that doesn’t really play with science much, especially if we can cause the same chemical reactions and “breathe” life into things that are not alive. (Although one could argue that trees are indeed alive. So, we have some issues here.)
So, Do We Throw Out Religion? Why the Hel am I Writing
Religion, to a large degree, answers questions that have not been answered/cannot be answered by science. What if we do create life? What then? Does that eliminate our gods–or any god? I believe the answer is no.
I believe that our gods are metaphors for the Universe, itself. I’m not quite pantheistic, but darn close, because, let’s face it, science seems to eliminate a lot of the woo-woo in religion. And if we believe our senses and reason, it’s the only thing we have to go on. Hence, the Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” We must start at some point, somewhere. If they’re wrong, then the whole thing is a futile exercise and we just may be some kid’s simulation in a computer down in their mom’s basement.
But Occam’s Razor suggests that the simplest solution is often the correct one. Reality is reality and the processes that occur are strictly natural. Despite all the universes in the multiverse, most that do not have our physical laws and would not support galaxies, solar systems, and life, we ended up with a natural 20 on the die roll. Luck, or something else? At some point, we just have to make sense of what we have and go with it from there, making changes to our beliefs as we discover more about our world, and how life came into being.
Actually, I believe that Occam’s Razor is a guideline, and not an actual rule. I believe, give the weirdness of the quantum world, that our gods do exist in the other planes of existence that we cannot experience. I believe that they are controlling forces that we have seen expressed so perfectly in mathematics. And I’m not sure that they didn’t affect our development in the quantum universe. We know that a series of very happy circumstances brought about our life. Who really knows if a single quantum flip was all we needed to create what we have? And who is to say that Tyr didn’t create the conditions, and Odin didn’t cause the overall process to take form?
So, Are We Playing God(s)?
We are at a crossroads in humanity. We may be able reproduce the exact circumstances that caused our life to evolve on Earth. A handful of cells, artificially brought to life, is suddenly both exciting and scary. These cells aren’t necessarily something as complex as a human, or even an insect, but they stand for how far we’ve come. In essence, we have done what gods have done: created life from a handful of minerals and compounds. On Earth, the life that appeared through a combination of chemical reactions eventually evolved into the creatures we see today. So, it does put the question out there: are we playing god or gods?
That’s an interesting question. We may be bringing about life that could eventually become a larger, more intelligent organism through evolution, but it would take more that all the lifetimes of humanity to evolve something from our new creation to what we have present day. A bit more than 3 billion years, to give you an idea. So, until we get hold of Idunn’s apples, I think we can safely say that our god-like roll is fairly limited.
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