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The Sacred Depths of Nature Paperback – June 15, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (June 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195136292
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195136296
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ursula Goodenough is an internationally recognized cell biologist; she is also an accomplished amateur theologian--an unusual combination of interests in a time when science and religion are widely divided. In The Sacred Depths of Nature, she proposes what she calls a "planetary ethic" drawing on the lessons of both science and metaphysics, celebrating some of the mysteries that are central to both: "the mystery of why there is anything at all, rather than nothing," for one, and "the mystery of why the universe seems so strange," for another. Exploring scientifically based narratives about the creation of the universe and the origins of life, Goodenough forges a kind of religious naturalism that will not be unfamiliar to readers of New Age literature--save that her naturalism has the hard-nosed rigor of a laboratory-trained scholar behind it. Goodenough offers a crash course in the life sciences for her readers, encompassing the basics, for instance, of biochemistry in just a few paragraphs (and getting it right in the bargain), touching on Darwinian biology and population dynamics and even chaos theory to make "an epic of evolution" that has all the hallmarks of an origin myth. Faith and reason, in her view, are not mutually exclusive, and her well-written treatise makes a good argument for bridging the gap between the two. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In eloquent prose, Goodenough, a noted molecular biologist, offers a scientist's insight into the dialogue between science and religion. The book's structure is similar to the Daily Devotionals found in some Protestant denominations, but with a decidedly broader approach to the vast ontological questions being pursued. Beginning with an autobiographical sketch, Goodenough moves resolutely through the major questions of being. Her inquiries cut across the boundaries of cosmology, astrophysics, cell biology, evolutionary theory, sexuality and death, moving into the realms of philosophy and theology. The author, while no theist, recognizes the eternal human quest for meaning engendered by the essentially non-quantifiable mystery of consciousness. Displaying open-mindedness to non-scientific approaches in her search for ultimate understanding, she writes with equal respect of Taoism's enigmatic, ironical credo and of 19th-century Transcendentalists' humanistic vision. This spiritual diversity, accompanied by scientific observations drawn from such authorities as Stephen Hawking and Edward O. Wilson, makes for a stirring, enlightening read. In part a reverential memoir by a dedicated scientist, this book provides a meeting place for the revelations of advanced science and technology and the universal, unanswerable questions of humanity. 18 line drawings.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

This book is a gem.
Connie C. Barlow
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to appreciate the poetry and awe of science.
James Arvo
Very deep, and I can tell this is a book I will be reading over and over already.
P. Johnson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on October 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
Few voices are as forceful or as eloquent as that of the convert. This account of personal awe in the face of Nature is a passionate example. From the centre of Christian America, Goodenough explains why ideas of divine forces driving Nature must be replaced. Her replacement, trying to mediate between "cold" science and misleading traditional dogma, is called "natural religion". Astonished by the wonders of cosmology and life, Goodenough became a scientist and shed her monotheistic background. What wasn't thrown out with the theology was her sense of wonder. Having once buried her head beneath a pillow out of despair over her inability to comprehend the cosmos, she relates how she emerged to study science. She chose biology, and it's well for us she did. Her description of protein construction is unmatched in science writing.

In this work, she opens at the beginning, explaining how physics underlies everything, including life. She relates how "life from non-life" can and does occur. She moves to a description of the origins and later development of life's processes. Cell mechanisms are portrayed. In this topic, she creates a wonderful idea - the Mozart Metaphor. We listen to a Mozart sonata with a sense of awe and veneration. Those feelings, she urges, aren't diminished by the knowledge that the music is reducible to blobs of ink on a page. Any musician can read those dots and restore the wonder by playing the music. In life, our knowledge of life's processes doesn't diminish the marvel of them. Goodenough translates that feeling into a "Mystery" which she wishes to share. If you need to understand how much of life functions, but fear abandoning "traditional" beliefs, this book is a fine first step.

A second step is one Goodenough regrettably omits.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Connie C. Barlow on October 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is a gem. Not only are the science passages an exquisite introduction to astronomy, cell biology (Goodenough's field of expertise), and evolution, but her reflections on the meaning she personally derives from such knowledge leave the reader yearning for more. Her passage on the meaning of death--indeed, a celebration of death, for the kind of life and love only it can call forth--is unsurpassed by all the outpourings of those who have ever written on this subject from the standpoint of the humanities. Most poignant are the places in which Goodenough transcends the innate human urge to find (or make) meaning--when she surrenders to the purest of all religious responses: simple assent. Taking science as far as it can go toward understanding the cosmos, life, and consciousness, she is moved by the wonder of it all to demand no more insight. She is fully, intimately, restfully at home in the universe, in her version of divinity: the sacred depths of nature. At these moments of surrender, the words she offers bring tears to this reader's eyes in their spare beauty. And then, able to draw no more from either the science or her own soul, she offers up a poem or psalm from various of the world's wisdom traditions. Some day, some day, this reader hopes--centuries from now, at best--a new wisdom tradition expressed in the time-tested artisty of poems and psalms will have emerged for those, like Goodenough, on the path of religious naturalism. But the words that will be metered will not be limited to those of Lao Tsu or the Hebrew sages. They will be drawn from the revered works of Eiseley, Leopold, and Goodenough.
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By James Arvo on June 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
"But there must be something more" is a common refrain among those who believe that science robs the world of its meaning; those who cannot countenance that we are ultimately elaborate biochemical reactions, that life emerged from non-life, that stars are nuclear furnaces, that the universe began with a Big Bang. Ursula Goodenough answers this refrain with compassion, patience, poetry, and above all, a command of science and a gift for communicating its achievements and its excitement. In "The Sacred Depths of Nature", Ursula Goodenough, a research biologist, presents a series of meditations on the mysteries of nature. She argues passionately that there are mysteries aplenty within us and about us, and that we needn't invent a supernatural realm. How can one contemplate the exquisite workings of a signal transduction cascade within a living cell, or the grandeur of stellar evolution, or the complexity of biological evolution without a sense of awe? As Carl Sagan was fond of pointing out, these stories have far greater richness and beauty than do any religious myths, no matter how richly embellished.
As Ms. Goodenough amply demonstrates in this unique little book, science needn't be devoid of awe; its language needn't be dry and unpoetic; its students needn't be deprived of feeling. In fact, quite the contrary. The intricacy and grandeur or nature, as revealed by science, is every bit as awe-inspiring as the greatest religious myths; indeed, even more so. Ms. Goodenough argues that understanding life is like understanding a Mozart sonata. As she puts it, "The biochemistry and biophysics are the notes of life; they conspire, collectively, to generate the real unit of life, the organism.
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