Oxford 1998, 200 pp.


Reviewed by Howard Jones

This is a book that is completely in tune with GreenSpirit philosophy I think. It presents a view of spirituality derived from the natural world. The author is an eminent professor of biology who gives us a non-theistic world-view in which a sense of the numinous originates from the wonder of the cosmos – the improbability of its very existence, its grandeur and infinite diversity, culminating in the emergence of human consciousness and our ideas of value and meaning. As the author says, religion, in some form, is an essential component of social cohesion.

Professor Goodenough starts with a discussion of the probable creation of the molecules of life from deep space and in the hydrothermal vents within the oceans. There is a detailed explanation of the basic ideas of the Darwin and Wallace theory of evolution, how oxygen-loving organisms came to thrive, the structural make-up of proteins and nucleic acids, their role in the biology of our cells, the importance of sexual reproduction of organisms and how all these features have combined and interacted to generate the biodiversity we see today. Although there is considerable detail here, it is quite accessible to non-scientists and it is so informative because it is so simply and clearly explained.

The author herself is an active member of the Christian community. In this book, which has a short section of spiritual ‘Reflections’ at the end of each chapter, she shows how authoritarian scripture and dogma, and even the traditional Western view of deity, are not essential for an appreciation of the numinous derived from the sense of awe and wonder generated by the beauty, power and diversity of the natural world.  The Mystery of the laws of physics, of human consciousness, and even of the reason for creation itself provide a holistic, numinous world-view, so eloquently presented in this short book.