Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion

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Consider the complexity of a living cell after 3.8 billion years of evolution. Is it more awesome to suppose that a transcendent God fashioned the cell at a stroke, or to realize that it evolved with no Almighty Hand, but arose on its own in the changing biosphere?

In this bold and fresh look at science and religion, complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman argues that the qualities of divinity that we revere—creativity, meaning, purposeful action—are properties of the universe that can be investigated methodically. He offers stunning evidence for this idea in an abundance of fields, from cell biology to the philosophy of mind, and uses it to find common ground between belief systems often at odds with one another.

A daring and ambitious argument for a new understanding of natural divinity, Reinventing the Sacred challenges readers both scientifically and philosophically.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Kauffman, a complexity theorist at the University of Calgary, sets a huge task for himself in this provocative but difficult book: to find common ground between religion and science by redefining God as not a "supernatural Creator" but as "the natural creativity in the universe." That creativity, says Kauffman, defies scientific assumptions that the biosphere's evolution and human activity can be reduced to physics and are fully governed by natural laws. Kauffman (At Home in the Universe) espouses emergence, the theory of how complex systems self-organize into entities that are far more than the sum of their parts. To bolster the idea of this "ceaselessly creative" and unpredictable nature, Kauffman draws examples from the biosphere, neurobiology and economics. His definition of God as "the fully natural, awesome, creativity that surrounds us" is unlikely to convince those with a more traditional take on religion. Similarly, Kauffman's detailed discussions of quantum mechanics to explain emergence are apt to lose all but the most technically inclined readers. Nonetheless, Kauffman raises important questions about the self-organizing potential of natural systems that deserve serious consideration. (May)

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Library Journal

Kauffman (biological sciences, physics, & astronomy, Univ. of Calgary) strives to present as guiding principle of this work a view of the impersonal creativity inherent in nature as an attempt to combat any "necessity" of belief in a creator God. Through this perspective, he offers a fresh angle in the ongoing debates concerning creationism, intelligent design, and evolution. Unfortunately, he runs into the problem that afflicts most other books in the faith and science genre: specifically, he argues a position from one side of the issue without any knowledge of the positions of the other side. Kauffman understands the matters of science at work-and raises some valid philosophical questions-but he does not understand or adequately deal with issues of faith, theology, or spirituality. As a result, we are given a title that is not only misleading but also one whose utility is severely limited. For special collections only.
—Dann Wigner

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465018888
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 2/23/2010
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 340,303
  • Product dimensions: 5.64 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Stuart A. Kauffman is Visiting Professor at Harvard Divinity School and Professor at the University of Calgary. He is the founding director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics. He is the author of The Origins of Order and At Home in the Universe. He lives in Calgary, Canada, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Table of Contents

1 Beyond reductionism 1

2 Reductionism 10

3 The physicists rebel 19

4 The nonreducibility of biology to physics 31

5 The origin of life 44

6 Agency, value, and meaning 72

7 The cycle of work 88

8 Order for free 101

9 The nonergodic universe 120

10 Breaking the Galilean spell 129

11 The evolution of the economy 150

12 Mind 177

13 The quantum brain? 197

14 Living into mystery 230

15 The two cultures 246

16 Broken bones 255

17 Ethics evolving 259

18 A global ethic 273

19 God and reinventing the sacred 281

Acknowledgments 289

Notes 291

Bibliography 305

Index 307

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Reinventing the Wheel

    I greatly enjoyed this book and its wide, yet shallow conversations regarding evolution, quantum mechanics, ethics, reductionism and the origin of life. All of the topics discussed are in my favorite pile so I couldn't help but like the book.

    However, in today's world of growing atheism and the trend among the remaining believers for syncretism, I was hoping the goal of the book was to fall off the fence on one side or the other. The author certainly leaned toward the side of atheism but then surprised me with his proposition that we replace religion with the worship (or near-worship) of nature. I know I have simplified the matter but this is really what the book boils down to.

    Instead of reading radical, new ideas, I see that we have circled back to imbuing natural forces with divine sparks. How sad. Again, not to over simplify but the premise of this work could be taken a step forward (backward) to a return to sun gods and fertility rites. For goodness sakes, we could just join a Wicca coven and be done with it.

    Stuart Kauffman is obviously a very intelligent man and has written a very enjoyable book. Nevertheless, at its heart, it is neither new nor very intelligent.

    I hope you find this review helpful.

    Michael L. Gooch

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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