Book Reviews

Reason for Hope : A Spiritual Journey
by Jane Goodall, Phillip Berman

Hardcover - 320 pages (September 1999)
Warner Books; ISBN: 0446522252; Dimensions (in inches): 1.10 x 9.33 x 6.32
Other Editions: Paperback, Audio Cassette (Abridged) Large Print Edition, Digital

Review by William A. Spriggs
Is it possible to defend the validity of evolution and still believe in a spiritual God? If you have ever wrestled with this question, or you believe that science has no room for God, then you should read this book; a truce in the war between science and religion can indeed exist.

This is a very important and moving book by one of science’s most influential thinkers, and it represents a literary keystone (the topmost stone in an arch that connects two sides). The book represents the argumentative bridge between God and science and the nature and nurture debate as it treats all sides with dignity and respect--all in one little book. And it arrives just in the nick of time as our species enters the new millennium and just before the most important phase of our planet's evolutionary history--the phase in which we humans have the ability to self-design our own genetic code (E.O. Wilson calls this "volitional evolution"). A lot needs to be done in terms of education before we reach such a stage in this self-design process, but Ms. Goodall has prepared our way with this excellent primer in primatology coupled with her personal philosophy--one that gives us hope for the future.

We are fortunate to be allowed to share Goodall’s unique life's voyage, and she takes us back to the beginning, when as a small child she found mystery and wonderment in the trees and tiny plots of earth of London. She tells us of her deep interest in nature. She read all she could on the subject, and by visiting all the excellent museums and special exhibitions devoted to the subject became her own expert. She tells of us her invitation to Africa by a school friend and then her meeting with the famous Richard Leakey, who was so awestruck by the depth of the young woman's knowledge of natural history and primatology that he offered her the job of observing the chimpanzees of Gombe. He felt that they held the key to understanding our evolutionary past. Not bad for a young, non-credentialed woman.

After the publication of her studies and their wide acceptance in the 1970s and 1980s, Goodall’s successes forced her into many travels that were difficult but by her account added to her inner peace. She relates to us a moving spiritual moment of enlightenment at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in 1985. She came to realize that there is but one God, but that God has had different names and meant different things to various peoples of the planet at different times in our species' history, be the name Allah, Tao, The Creator, or Mohammed. God, according to Goodall, is the great spirit in whom we live and move and have our being.

She also tells us the reason for writing her book: to help raise funds for educational projects started by the Jane Goodall Institute, which she hopes will spread her philosophy to young people and answer deep questions that have been asked of her in her many travels. In doing so, she tells us of the joy she gets in meeting the many people who have given her hope. She relates that it almost feels like she feeds off the energy of the crowds that greet her and takes strength from their many questions.

Some of those questions? Where do you get your energy? Why do you seem so peaceful? Do you meditate? Do you pray? Are you religious? But most of all they ask her, How can you be so optimistic in the face of so much environmental destruction and human suffering? How can you still be positive in the face of overpopulation, overconsumption, pollution, deforestation, desertification, poverty, famine, cruelty, hatred, greed, violence and war?

What is the secret ingredient for her optimism, her hope? Goodall gives us her four main reasons for hope, but I'm going to let you buy the book to find out what they are.

One way of ending this review is to quote two passages that nicely sum up her effort throughout the book:

I do not want to discuss evolution in [depth], only touch on it from my own perspective: from the moment when I stood on the Serengeti plains holding the fossilized bones of ancient creatures in my hands to the moment when, staring into the eyes of a chimpanzee, I saw a thinking, reasoning personality looking back.

You may not believe in evolution . . . and that's ok. How we humans came to be the way we are is far less important than how we should act now to get out of the mess we have made for ourselves. How should the mind that can contemplate God relate to our fellow beings, the other life-forms of the world? What is our human responsibility? and what, ultimately, is our human destiny?

Ms. Goodall is like the figurehead of a sailing ship of old: the female placed at the bow for protection and good fortune. Perhaps males should pause and listen to the female at the bow of the evolutionary ship as we sail into the unknown. And what is her opinion on the fate of the human species? The ultimate destiny for our species is a pure state of compassion and hope.

(If you buy the audio cassette as I have, you receive the extra bonus of listening to Goodall's soothing and melodious voice. I felt that I was being verbally groomed and made to take comfort in her moving message. I felt that it was an added bonus that accompanied her wisdom and personal philosophy). William A. Spriggs
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