Thursday 26 April 2018

Schaik, Carel van & Michel, Kai "The Good Book of Human Nature"

Schaik, Carel van & Michel, Kai "The Good Book of Human Nature: An Evolutionary Reading of the Bible" (Dutch: Het oerboek von de mens) - 2016

When I started reading this book, I had a certain thought how it might be. Years ago, I read an explanation on why people had to live kosher, why certain food was "unclean" and others had to prepared differently. I thought this might be a book like that, explaining the meanings of parts of the bible.

And it is in a way. However, it turned out completely different than what I thought. It might be a great read for all those who think you can either believe in the bible or in science. The authors of this book show us that this is absolutely not the case. They draw certain lines between the stories of the Old Testament, the New Testaments and the findings since.

A lot of their explanations are so clear that you wonder why nobody else thought about it before. Probably because people just took the bible for granted the way it was written and didn't question anything or didn't want to find anything that might question something.

Anyway, one part of this book explains that the garden Eden might have been the life of the hunter-gatherers and that life changed quite enormously when the people settled down. More illnesses, fights, more rules. There was no private property before, people lived in small groups and life was ruled by "one for all and all for one". This had to change when everyone started farming their own land.

The authors also explain that we have a first, second and third nature, the first being in-born, probably comparable to an animal instinct. The second nature is given by religion and society, how we ought to behave. The third nature has to do with laws and rules, definitely a lot more than what the hunter-gatherers dealt with.

In any case, a great analysis of the history of the bible. It explains the evolution as well as the reason for religion.

A brilliant book, both fascinating and informative.

From the back cover:

"The Bible is the bestselling book of all time. It has been venerated or excoriated—as God’s word, but so far no one has read the Bible for what it is: humanity’s diary, chronicling our ancestors’ valiant attempts to cope with the trials and tribulations of life on Earth.

In The Good Book of Human Nature, evolutionary anthropologist Carel van Schaik and historian Kai Michel advance a new view of Homo sapiens’ cultural evolution. The Bible, they argue, was written to make sense of the single greatest change in history: the transition from egalitarian hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies. Religion arose as a strategy to cope with the unprecedented levels of epidemic disease, violence, inequality, and injustice that confronted us when we abandoned the bush - and which still confront us today.

Armed with the latest findings from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, archeology, and religious history, van Schaik and Michel take us on a journey through the Book of Books, from the Garden of Eden all the way to Golgotha. The Book of Genesis, they reveal, marked the emergence of private property - one can no longer take the fruit off any tree, as one could before agriculture. The Torah as a whole is the product of a surprisingly logical, even scientific, approach to society’s problems. This groundbreaking perspective allows van Schaik and Michel to coax unexpected secrets from the familiar stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Abraham and Moses, Jesus of Nazareth and Mary. The Bible may have a dark side, but in van Schaik and Michel’s hands, it proves to be a hallmark of human indefatigability.

Provocative and deeply original, The Good Book of Human Nature offers a radically new understanding of the Bible. It shows that the Bible is more than just a pillar for religious belief: it is a pioneering attempt at scientific inquiry."


  1. What an interesting take on the topic!

  2. The book does sound fascinating. Thanks for your review.

  3. Thank you both. It certainly is a fascinating topic, whether you're religious or not. It gives you a lot to think about and answers a lot of questions at the same time.

    Happy Reading,