A thoroughgoing examination of life, the universe, and everything.
In a series of conversations between three anonymous, retired university professors (“Yemant and friends”), this remarkable debut discusses some of the deepest, widest-reaching subjects of human existence, including the Big Bang and the development of cosmology, the formation of galaxies and solar systems, the development of life on Earth from the first multicellular organisms, and the dominance of humans over the world. It addresses the births of language, culture, agriculture, and a dozen other large-scale topics, drawing on the latest consensus of scientific understanding and always emphasizing clarity and comprehensibility. The three friends complement one another’s accounts of the scientific fields they cover, often requesting slower, more careful explanations, and the result is unfailingly approachable and engaging. It later evolves into a long, detailed discussion of religion—its causes, manifestations, and claims of truth, even in scientific realms. Yemant and his friends come down firmly but gently on the side of scientific rationalism, especially on questions of evolution. “Biology is a science,” they agree, “and, as far as the evolution of life is concerned, should not be muddled with morality.” (They view what they see as a shameful, widespread rejection of evolutionary biology by many Americans as a product of religious indoctrination and “a monumental failure of science education.”) The book also looks into the forms and origins of religions, the mindset and psychological makeup of religious believers, and the “terrifying legacy” of religiously motivated conflicts throughout history. The end result of all this discussion is a comprehensively rational, humanist worldview that’s nevertheless sympathetic to the human yearning for spirituality. The three friends eventually work their way to a balanced, ethical, and realistic take on life that would have had Epicurus nodding in agreement.
A wide-ranging, entirely commendable explication of the humanist worldview.