Quaker Universalist Voice

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What Influences What?

A Book Review of Lewis Dartnell, Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History

Lewis Dartnell, Origins: How Earth’s History Shaped Human History  (2019) reminds us that we are dirt and that dirt makes human history.  We humans are who we are because of the influences of the Earth on our occupation of the Earth’s surface. 

This book is mistitled.  The more accurate title is “Influences: How Earth’s Conditions and Processes Shape Human History and How Human Activity is Shaping the Earth.”  The book does not emphasize multiple origins or the singularity of origin for human history. The emphasis is on the various climatic and geographical conditions that have influenced the migratory origins of the story of the dispersal of humans from East Africa. The author describes the features and processes of the Earth that have influenced human history.  It is the biography of the Earth’s landscape, atmosphere, climate fluctuations, and plate tectonics that tells the story of humans and, to a lesser extent, the activity of humans that is influencing the continuing story of the  transforming Earth.

This author brings to focus a variety of scientific understandings to explain the concentration of human habitation away from hyper-arid regions and equatorial zones of high precipitation and desertification, and the impact of wind patterns and ocean currents as part of a constantly dynamic Earth surface to which human history has constantly adjusted. The human history and  impact is of duration between glacial periods in a lull of climatic stability.  During this quiet gap time, humans have removed deep stone for building on the surface, excavated ores and coal derived from unrotted forests, and withdrawn oil derived from asphyxiated seafloor plankton.

For the author, the net effect is that the Earth is making humans and humans are making Earth.  This is the human condition.  It is a sobering view. Our human influence is significant, but modest.  This is the Earth condition

 is  powerful and decisive.  Humans are adjusting to Earth and Earth is adjusting to humans.

The author makes a contribution in emphasizing the influence of Earth conditions and processes on human past, present, and projected into the future.  The conclusion is that the Earth is in charge.  Humans are not in charge.  It is a sobering and helpful contribution to human understanding of reality.  As an uncommon perspective, the book is a series of revelatory moments as the author puts the fundamental processes together with human history.


There is no reference to Quakers or religion in this book. The author’s view is that human religion is of no significant consequence for the past, present, or future of human inhabitation of the Earth as a explainer or motivator of a sound human role.

Quakers are accustomed to embrace the idea that humans are causing climate change, which humans have the power to stop, reverse, and direct if we properly organize.  However, this author argues that humans are contributing and influencing, in a modest way, the uncontrollable cyclical climate changes of the Earth. The former view embraces the comforting, powerful human role of basic control.  The latter view embraces the modest and sober role of mitigation and adjustment to uncontrollable conditions and forces.


  • What is the current Quaker view of the relative influences of humans on the Earth and  the influences of the Earth on humans?
  • What is the current Quaker view of the role of future human generations in inhabiting the Earth?


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