One thing that all religions have in common is that they all tell stories. The Christian Bible, the Jewish Tanak, the Muslim Koran, the Buddhist Vedas, and so on, are all books of stories. Stories that people are supposed to pass on through the generations. Stories that are supposed to teach us how to live, and how not to live, our lives. Stories which were told and retold to serve certain social and political agendas, to set down rules of acceptable conduct.
One of the most common types of religious stories all around the world is called a "creation myth": it is the story people tell of how the world, and all the people and animals and plants, supposedly came to be. Every human culture has tried to put together such an explanation, and in the absence of scientific methods and knowledge every human culture has invoked some supernatural forces to try to explain how we all got here and where we came from. Here are just a few interesting samples:
Ancient Babylonian Creation Myth
According to this Near Eastern myth (the Enuma Elish), which dates back to around the 12th Century BCE, in the beginning there was only a watery void and there was a male god of fresh water (Apsu) and a female god of salt water (Tiamat). In time a younger god of lightning and thunder (Marduk) killed Tiamat and split her body in two to form the heavens and earth.
Hopi Creation Myth
First there was Tawa the sun god and Spider Woman the earth goddess. Spider Woman made all the people and other creatures out of clay deep inside the earth and then guided them to the surface where Tawa the sun god breathed life into them and dried the land.
Iroquois Creation Myth
The world was formed on the back of a giant turtle. First Woman fell from the sky and lived with the help of the animals. She had one good grandson and one bad grandson from which stemmed the conflict of good and evil among humans.
Maya Creation Myth
According to this complex creation myth there are many gods and goddesses; the earth is the flat back of a giant caiman (crocodile) floating in a pool; heaven has 13 levels and the underworld 9 levels. A giant ceiba tree anchors the heavens through to the underworld; human rulers are embodiments of this tree, living links between the supernatural and natural worlds. The whole world is destroyed and recreated every 500 years (the next destruction cycle is due in 2012, according to traditional Maya mythology).
Also complex with many levels of heaven and underworld and many cycles of repeated creation and destruction. But humans are living in the very last cycle, after which there will be only oblivion.
Inca Creation Myth
Also lots of gods and goddesses, and repeated cycles of creation. Ancestors are links to the supernatural world (bodies are preserved through mummification); distinctive features in the physical world (mountain peaks, rocky outcroppings, plants and pebbles, etc.) are inhabited by special spirits (huacas) which humans can visit.
Ancient Egyptian Creation Myth
In the beginning, there was only water. Then Ra the sun god emerged out of the water. Two of his children became the atmosphere and stood on the shoulders of a third child, who became the earth; and then they all propped up the 4th child who became the sky. Ra was the #1 god of Ancient Egypt, but there were also many other gods and goddesses, including many which were borrowed and incorporated from religions which were being practiced in other lands during that period, and also some animal spirits which had been adopted from even older African belief systems.
Indigenous Australian Creation Myths
According to this myth the earth was formed during the Dream-time and the spirits emerged from the earth and roamed the land visiting water holes and scattering about the spirits of unborn children. They taught the humans how to live and then some went back down into the earth while others married humans. People can conduct rituals to try to enter the Dreamtime and become spirits themselves, retracing the past creation journey.
Inuit Creation Myth
A young woman married a seabird; her father tried to bring her home; the bird dangerously stirred up the sea; the father tried to throw his daughter out of his boat and when she tried to hold on he cut off her fingers -- her severed joints then became all the important foods for the people (seals, walruses, whales, etc.).
Navajo Creation Myth
The Holy Ones carefully hung the stars in the sky and placed the plants on the earth. But Coyote the Trickster god (representing chaos and defiance of moral order) came out and scattered everything about, making a mess of the world. Then he caused a great flood which brought humans up to the surface world.
Scandinavian Creation Myth
According to the Scandinavian Eddas (from the 1200s BCE), in the beginning there was a chaotic world which included gods, giants, and humans. A great tree reached through time and space; it was attacked by a wicked serpent, but under its roots was the fountain of wisdom. The God Thor helped protect the humans from the giants.
Mali Creation Myth
A Creator made the universe and then withdrew. Spirit forces inhabited the animals and plants. The first being was a toolmaker who was able to use the earth and fire to make tools. Then he fell from heaven to earth and broke into pieces. His elbow joint represents the ability to work. His clavicle, shaped like a hoe, is a message humans should plant crops.
Ancient Greek Creation Myth
In the beginning there was Chaos, a dark void; out of it came the earth and stars and clouds. There were innumerable gods. Prometheus, one of the Titans, created people, designed to be superior to the mere animals his brother had created. He made the people walk upright and he stole fire from the god Zeus and gave it only to the people to use.
Hebrew and Christian Creation Myth
In the beginning there was a void. A few thousand years ago god made the heavens and earth and then the people and all the animals. God made all the living creatures separately, and in just six days; on the seventh day god rested. God made first man, Adam, and first woman, Eve. They lived in a state of bliss in a lush garden (the Garden of Eden) with dominion over all the animals. There was a special tree (the tree of knowledge of good and evil), and also a wicked serpent. The woman conversed with the serpent, broke the rules, ate the forbidden fruit of that tree, and gave the fruit to the man to eat. Because of this rule-breaking, both the woman and the man were punished and were thrown out of the garden. First Man and First Woman had one good son (Abel) and one bad son (Cain) and then Cain killed Abel. Tired of the sinfulness of man, god created a giant flood to destroy the whole world, allowing only Noah and the few humans and animals that could fit into his boat to survive. All the living people and animals are descendants of the only survivors of this flood.
Islamic Creation Myth
Islam is the youngest of the three major one-god believing (monotheistic) religions in the world (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), which all originated in the Middle East. All three share the same basic creation myth. In Islam, as in the other two, a single all powerful god created nature out of nothingness and made all of nature subservient to humanity in six days. Adam was the first prophet, forgiven by a merciful god for his lapses. Each element of creation (all the people, the plants, the animals) reflects a specific set of divine rules and patterns. The created universe as a whole is well ordered, with no gaps or discontinuities, and everything is in its proper place. This very orderliness is itself proof of god. [Return to "The Science of Evolution, Part 1"]