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Friday, April 22, 2011

Humanist Bible review series: Genesis (2/15)

(c) Walker Publishing Co. Inc.
This is part of a series of reviews on each 'book' within the new book, The Good Book: A Humanist Bible, by A.C. Grayling. Click HERE to go to the beginning of this series for more explanation.

As one might expect from the title, Grayling's book of Genesis paints a narrative of the beginning and development of the universe, earth, life, and humanity, consistent with the modern scientific understanding of a natural universe. Just as early man's experiences began, it begins with our immediate surroundings; a tree in a garden. It is here we begin to learn how to understand our world. In this book, the role of the fruit of this tree is to fall to the earth, alerting us to gravity.We are then taken beyond the garden to the whole of the earth, beyond to the cosmos to other worlds, space, time, and that part of nature that can know itself - humanity. Such is the grand sweeping scope of the first short chapter of Genesis.

The mirroring of themes to the Christian bible's garden of eve and the tree of knowledge are immediately obvious. I was surprised that Graying did not succumb to the temptation to begin the book, "In the beginning..." But here it is almost as if this bible has been pulled from a parallel universe - how the bible might have looked if the history of mankind had followed a more rational course and had been more informed of the facts.

However, Genesis also interweaves commentary on our place in that universe. This includes the birth and role of reason and praise for inquiry over 'legends'.
"Knowledge is freedom, freedom from ignorance and its offspring fear; knowledge is light an liberation." --Gen 2:11

Impressively, Genesis even lays out some of the most central elements of the scientific method. From the principle of uniformity of physics (Gen 13:6-12), to the law of conservation (Gen 5:4), to the primacy of evidence (Gen 13:13), and Genesis 13:1-3 even lays out the principle of Occam's razor.

It is clear this title serves to reference the genesis of the universe and everything in it. But it also serves as the genesis of the book's Humanist thesis, laying out the very foundations of what will follow.

Although the entire book is in a rather poetic form, in parts it veers specifically into tight rhyme. Genesis, chapters 9-10 are an especially beautiful and moving section which take us from the emergence of star systems and planets, to the rise of life and the evolution of more complex life forms.
"Nursed by warm sunlight in the primeval caves, organic life arose beneath the waves." --Gen 9:4

The entire chapter underscores the beauty and wonder of our natural universe, and praises those who inquire boldly into its secrets through the hard work of observation.
"Thus came our world and life, a natural realm, from nature born, with nature at the helm." -- Gen 10:11

The next part in this series will look at the next book of Grayling's bible, Wisdom.


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