Let There Be Life: The fast march of science long ago relegated the Genesis creation story to what it used to be, a Bronze Age myth. But the triumph of science stole something deeper than archaic meaning: it robbed the world of wonder and of that sweep of majestic vision which Creation in Genesis represents. If Genesis Chapter One – the Creation story – were written again today what would it say? How would a modern account present the still-unfolding tale of cosmic change and of life’s evolution on our planet? Science writer Robert Fripp brings the Creation story up to date in this text. Sixty-two verses written in the style of the King James Bible are accompanied by essays describing the science of change and evolution—in plain English.
Fripp believes the modern world has conceded too much room for science to ride roughshod over other, older ways of looking at critical fields. Here, he takes an integrated approach to unfolding creation, welcoming religious thought and philosophy as partners with science in discussing creation and change.
The British novelist John Fowles wrote the foreword for the U.K. edition of this book which, at the time, was called The Becoming (see below). That name, The Becoming, accurately represents continual, eternal change. Well regarded as a novelist, Fowles also served as the curator of palaeontology for his local Lyme Regis (Dorset) Museum. Between novels and fossils, he found time to write this foreword for me:
‘Robert Fripp’s ingenious idea, to resurrect Genesis in the light of our present knowledge of evolutionary process, must, I suppose, count as literary curiosity; but I have long been in favour of literary curiosities. They have a perverse habit, very often, of provoking more thought than the orthodox approach. By simplifying the complex and broadening the narrow, they spark the imagination … Our past remains our now; I pray the reader will not forget that, as he or she goes down the vast vistas of these pages.’ ~ John Fowles
Lyme Regis and its Museum are well placed to benefit from a miles-long stretch of fossil-rich Dorset cliffs now known as the Jurassic Coast. The town is proud of its past, its visitors, and its people. The Museum’s URL exhorts: ‘Discover Lyme’s history, its geology, its fossils, its artists and writers, from J M Whistler to Jane Austen to John Fowles’. That passage should have included Mary Anning. She discovered the first identified ichthyosaur fossil, two plesiosaurs and much else in her local cliffs. Mary Anning became a palaeontologist with a wide following.
Before John Fowles wrote his foreword for The Becoming and Let There Be Life, he commented that the manuscript struck him as a ‘literary curiosity’. That phrase ended up in the text of his foreword.
Let There Be Life is published by HiddenSpring imprint of the Paulist Press, 2001
Buy The Book:
Reviews, ‘Let There Be Life’
¶ “…the most vivid account of the early history of the universe that I have ever read.”
~ Owen Gingerich, Research Professor of Astronomy and History of Science, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
¶ “…provides useful and up-to-date scientific information about the cosmos while… successfully awakening us to wonder about its ultimate origins.”
~ John F. Haught, Professor of Theology, Georgetown University and the author of God After Darwin
¶ “Creation as a ripping good tale.”
~ Columnist Cameron Smith, Toronto Star (Full text, PDF)
¶ “The Seamless Migration from Religion to Science.”
~ Ruth A. Cameron, Templeton Foundation (Full text, PDF)
¶ “Reminds us that we remain far nearer the ‘lowest’ forms of animate life than we do to beings risen above their own biology.”
~ Novelist John Fowles, author of The Collector, The Magus, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
¶ “Fripp’s book is about origins: of life, the cosmos, growing complexity in living things. It knits many strands together to suggest that humanity must once again reintegrate itself with Nature. …Fripp is eclectic enough to pull it off…”
~ The Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC). (Full text, PDF)
¶ “Let There Be Life” captures one’s imagination… The book will find a home with poets, scientists, and biblical students alike.”
~ Bible Today, June, 2002.
¶ “Writers, reviewers, theologians, and physicists are all of a single mind in their raves about Robert Fripp’s book, Let There Be Life: A Scientific and Poetic Retelling of the Genesis Creation Story. Edition congratulates our fellow Editors’ Association member for his skillful weaving of current scientific thought with what The Toronto Star calls a ‘ripping good creation story.’ Keep those accolades coming!”
~ The Edition Newsletter, The Editors Association of Canada, Toronto, September, 2002
¶ “Even Fundamentalist Christians who read the Bible literally don’t have trouble accepting Jesus’s parables as parables – as stories illustrating bigger ideas. That is because they are flagged as parables. The author of Let There Be Life asks readers to look at the “first seven days” of creation as a parable too. The way I see it, this book sees the Bible’s creation account not as something outdated or wrong. He’s looking at it through a different window, a modern window. It seems to make sense.”
~ Janet Sandor, Toronto
¶ Let There Be Life harks back to the ancient mandate recorded in Genesis. Remaining true to the spirit of Genesis while affirming what science has already unriddled, Fripp offers an insightful alternative to more traditional accounts of how the universe arose and developed, replete with a life-teeming earth. By skillfully interweaving modem scientific findings into sixty-two scriptural verses, he furnishes scientific substance to that classic poetic description of how all came to be.
In his own retelling of the story, Fripp wisely eschews concordance while avoiding the Scylla of biblical literalism as well as the Charybdis of rank scientism. He writes allegorically as would a modem Moses, quite cognizant that for the God of Scripture, real science must count since it elucidates human understanding. Accordingly, there is no inherent dichotomy twixt ongoing creation and the self-directing processes algorithmically described by science. The reader is left to ponder these meta-scientific questions. Whatever the processes, why does our cosmos bother to exist and to bear life? Must man live on behalf of Nature? To his credit, Fripp refrains from divulging the final scenes of his story. But he has greatly enlightened our groping.
~ Thaddeus J. Trenn, PhD, University of Toronto
¶ “Let There Be Life by Robert Fripp reads at first glance like a series of stories as they might appear in National Geographic. They share a common thread. They all discuss ‘origins’ from a spiritual point of view. The author starts by describing the Big Bang, then how Earth came together, the origins of biological cells, various forms of life, mountain ranges, oceans and continents.
There is a strong spiritual dimension to these ‘nature’ stories. The author hopes that reconciling science with religion will transform society, pulling it towards values of environmental conservation. (I found Let There Be Life through a review in the Templeton Foundation’s Research News in Science and Theology under the headline ‘The Seamless Migration from Religion to Science.’) For the author, leading society to embrace conservation and environmental awareness is a deeply spiritual act.
Let There Be Life starts with a fresh angle on an old story, about King Canute and the tide. Almost a thousand years ago Canute ordered his officers to sit on a beach and ordered the tide to stay away. We hear it told today as if the king expected the tide to obey. In fact, Fripp explains that the king was trying to teach a very different lesson, one which the medieval world understood (and we don’t). Canute was showing his arrogant officials that the tide would come in despite his royal order. That was his point. He was demonstrating the limits of earthly power by showing where God’s laws take over. The author hopes we can once more accept this tale as a lesson in good stewardship of God’s earth. We don’t have an unlimited permit to exploit. We must also conserve.
One review on the book’s jacket states that the author ‘skillfully weaves together the latest authoritative scientific research with wisdom from the sages of China, India and the Latin West.’ Let There Be Life goes far to bring ancient wisdom to the modern world, in an environmental context.
The author shows how scientific method derives from religious tradition, and says we ought to pay heed to that. He writes ‘The physicists’ notion that one set of laws applies through all time and space derives from that of a unitary, eternal, all-powerful god… Given that this overlap derives from ancient religious traditions, science and theology no longer seem so far apart… If we are to heal the biosphere of which we are a part, the human species must pool its resources. Together, religion and science have much to offer. The patient in our care needs treatment, as much by our right spirit as by the healing touch of human technology. The power of that spirit must assert that our material values have to change. Let no one doubt that a new intellectual approach will merge the canopies of two great trees, science and spiritual thought. When that is done, we shall be well placed to offer remedy.’
~ Ron Freedman, The Impact Group, Toronto
Posted in 2002 on http://www.upperroom.org/weavings/
¶ “This book is a poetic retelling of the Biblical creation story, using not only the first Genesis account, but also insights from other religious traditions and the latest scientific information. It does not, however, pretend to be a theological apologetic for the Biblical creation story. The author, a film producer and magazine editor with a degree in earth sciences, lists in an ascending order the essential ingredients leading up to human life, using a wealth of scientific data gleaned in the last decade. (Interesting tidbit – the first stirrings of life perhaps needed only shallow pools of water in titanium-rich sand; today sand or silicon dioxide is the stuff out of which computer chips are made – nature has come full circle.) Time and again the author notes that the development of complex compounds necessary for life depends upon the linking together of the appropriate elements. Organization and suitability seem to be built into the fabric of the universe. Evolution should not be seen simply as a random process of change but rather as the process by which life as a whole seeks continuity and stability through the myriad of changes.
Yet author Robert Fripp does not use the creation narrative to prove or disprove the existence of God, which may disappoint some readers. Rather, he wants to arouse a sense of wonder and mystery at the remarkable development of the universe leading up to human life. Human life is no less amazing for having taken billions of years and is linked with a wonderful story that began with the Big Bang. There is wonder in a host of details that happened along the way. Science and religion do not offer competing explanations and there should be no warfare between them. Rather, they complement each other, religion giving the overview and science the small print.
There is no lack of things for the author to marvel at in this universe of ours, but as stated he does not promote a theistic view. He prefers to let the record speak for itself and let readers draw their own conclusions. As he concludes, “If that lends all of us some measure of divinity, so be it. And if not, so be that too.” Religious believers who see the Genesis account as working in the realm of poetry and symbol should enjoy this book. Certainly there is a wealth of fascinating chemical and biological tidbits that are guaranteed to break the ice at a cocktail party.”
~ ‘Wonder and mystery in retelling of biblical creation story’, by Canon Mark McDermott, in the Anglican Journal, June 2003
Let There Be Life – a.k.a. The Becoming
The Becoming explores our cosmic and organic origins, explaining life and the cosmos simply, often viewing modern science through the lens of spiritual traditions. These complementary realms of scientific and spiritual thought intertwine in subtle ways along the eternal, continuing path that is Creation.
The fast march of science long ago relegated the Genesis story to what it once was, a Bronze Age myth. But the triumph of science stole something deeper than archaic meaning: it robbed us of wonder and of that sweep of majestic vision represented in Genesis. If Genesis chapter one – the Creation story – were written again today what would it say? How would a modern account present the still-unfolding tale of cosmic change and of life’s evolution on our planet? Science writer Robert Fripp brings the Creation story up to date in this text, which contains 62 verses written in the style of the King James Bible. Each verse or group of verses is followed by an essay in modern English. Ancient cultures made little distinction among medicine, law, religion, myth and philosophy: they overlapped in a tightly-woven web of cosmic order. But Fripp believes that the modern world has conceded science the right to ride roughshod over more spiritual ways of looking at things. In The Becoming, he takes an integrated approach to unfolding creation, welcoming religious thought and philosophy as partners with science at the discussion table.
Novelist John Fowles wrote the foreword. This is the cover to the British edition (1988).
Buy The Book
P.S.: One among a myriad tiny glories of life on Earth …
RF/Let There Be Life/4 Oct 2015