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IN THE BEGINNING by Isaac Asimov


Science Faces God in the Book of Genesis

by Isaac Asimov

Pub Date: March 4th, 1981
ISBN: 0759298815
Publisher: Crown

For whom can this book be written? A fundamentalist would dismiss Asimov's rational debunking as to-be-expected. Students interested in the Bible can find far richer sources of commentary among Biblical scholars, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists. Asimov fans, maybe? Only True Believers in the Master could follow him through this verse-by-verse annotation of the first eleven chapters of Genesis--382 extended footnotes in all. Yes, Asimov lets us know that we are dealing with both a priestly (P) source and the Jahweh (J) source, and that the two interweave and contradict each other in Genesis. And he lets us know about the Sumerians and the Akkadians, the Babylonians and the Gilgamesh epic. But far too often he says things like this (about the flood): "Fifteen cubits is about twenty-two feet, and this is laughably insufficient to cover the mountains." He tells us that "Peleg died at the age of 239; that is 2007 B.C. Noah was still alive at the time, being 940 years old." He tells us (on the J-source story of the creation of woman): "The formation of the woman out of the rib bears a distant resemblance to what we now think of as 'cloning.' Of course, what God is described as doing in the Bible has a miraculous quality that cannot be legitimately compared to a mere human operation." So much for fact and style. Indeed, the book seems at times a self-parody. There is Asimov the Zealous, explaining--and explaining away--each verse; there is Asimov the Talmudic scholar, saying on-the-one-hand-it-might-be-this. . . or, then-again-it-might-be-that. . . . There is Asimov the numerologist, contemplating days and weights and measures. And always there is Asimov the scientist, using any old Biblical allusion as an excuse for a brief excursion on entropy, or stellar evolution, or cloning. But of enlightened entertainment there is none.