It gets one star for one chapter that is plausible; at least it seems so after wading through the rest! I started this book with high hope. I had interacted with the author on FB and I thought I was in for an in-depth study of how geologic phenomena influenced and shaped nascent human comprehension and religion.
What I got instead was a proponence (if you will) of the author’s view that volcanoes and associated phenomena completely shaped and drove the origins of religion, that there was almost nothing else that played a role. Rain? Thunder? Water? The sun? Nope. There was no river but the river of fire, no lightning but volcanic lightning, no meteors, only lava bombs, no atmosphere except volcanic outpouring of smoke- well, you get the idea.
With this thought firmly fixed in his mind, Lauritzen goes on a romp through every major religious text and creational myth, re-interpreting them and seeing volcanoes everywhere. Every story, every hymn, every god/deity gets distorted through his volcanic lens and appears cast of magma, made of fire, and fire alone.
A few pages in and I was annotating the book every few sentences; a few chapters in and I stopped. It was a funny kind of monomania and the rebuttals were so obvious, the errors so glaring that it was scarcely worth the effort. Lauritzen, in his effort to retro-fit everything into his pet theory serves up paradoxes, faulty analogies, improbable suppositions and frank fantasies. It becomes difficult to take him seriously, which is sad because there is something in his theory that holds water (which is true, and also a mean pun). Some aspects of volcanoes do find echo in our mythology. Fire, loud bangs, battles in the air – there is imagery here that is clearly inspired by erupting mountains. But to posit that ‘everything’ arose from mankind observing the odd volcano is disingenuous at best. Zeus’ thunderbolts were more common in rainstorms, not the rare outflow of lava the ancient Greeks might have noticed. Rivers are more likely to refer to rivers of water where civilization first started. And for heaven’s sake how did ancient, pre-agriculture humans know about subterranean geophysics? Magma chambers? Seriously? Not to mention some ideas about oxygen metabolism that are aeons ahead of their time if they truly did exist when the author thinks they did!
It is Lauritzen’s endless enthusiasm that is his downfall, sadly. Fire and brimstone did play a role in shaping our collective memory, but the Great Flood was probably a flood, not a volcanic tsunami after all.
I wish I had better to say about the book. Read it just to get an idea about the interesting hypothesis that geology helped make our religions what they are, but learn also to interpret with care. Occam’s razor is handy when reading this book. I look forward to finding another work on this idea and gaining more insight into our very human origins.