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Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion Hardcover – May 6, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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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"Choice" "Kauffman, an outstanding thinker who has devoted much reflection to complexity theory, offers some insightful perspectives on the physical world in "Reinventing the Sacred,.".. This is an interesting book that will generate much discussion." "Houston Chronicle" "Kauffman's book is a rigorous intellectual quest not only to find the sacred in nature but to remove the taint of atheism from science." "Scientific American" "[Kauffman's] provocative argument for a different understanding of God is compelling." "Science" "["Reinventing the Sacred"] sparkles from every angle as its author gallops through the relevant science, philosophy, economics, history, ethics, poetry and - well, we had better use the word because Kauffman does: religion.... Bringing science and religion together globally in the way that Kauffman wishes is not going to be easy - as other ecumenical movements have repeatedly found - but it is necessary." "Library Journal" "[Kauffman] offers a fresh angle in the ongoing debates concerning creationism, intelligent design, and evolution." "Publishers Weekly" "Provocative.... Kauffman raises important questions about the self-organizing potential of natural systems that deserve serious consideration." Brian Goodwin, Co-author of "Signs of Life: How Complexity Pervades Biology" "This brilliantly-argued book takes science into novel territory with clarity and conviction, and in Kauffman's inimitable style it challenges some scientific taboos. With this book a new biology is emerging, and with it a new culture." Owen Flanagan, Author of "The Really HardProblem" "Stuart Kauffman is the new Spinoza. "Reinventing the Sacred" is a pedagogical tour de force as well as an uplifting metaphysics for the 21st century." Gordon D. Kaufman, Mallinckrodt Professor of Divinity, Emeritus, Harvard University "This is a brilliant, new, comprehensive, scientific world-picture, and it deserves a wide reading in the educated public." Philip Clayton, Author of "Mind and Emergence" ""Reinventing the Sacred" is a tour de force and a brilliant manifesto for a new emergence-based scientific worldview. But science alone will never be enough; humanity must also invent new categories of the sacred that speak to this naturalistic age. Stuart Kauffman courageously challenges fundamentalist pretensions on both sides, seeking to mold a new partnership of science and religious values...an epoch-making book." Kenneth Arrow, Nobel Laureate in Economics "Stuart Kauffman has long studied the nature of complexity in biological systems. His new book shows in a startling way the power of these ideas in our understanding of ourselves and how we relate to the world around us. The sense of agency and of values, seemingly banished by the scientific viewpoint, are restored and enriched by a fuller perception of science deriving from biology as well as physics. Any reader's views will be dramatically altered." Lee Smolin, Author of "The Trouble with Physics" "Stuart Kauffman has written a wonderful book, as optimistic as it is provocative. He proposes a new scientific world view that not only incorporates reductionism, but goes beyond it to a vision of a self-constructed and continuously creative universe whichcan be understood and revered, but not always predicted. Knowledge and wisdom are different aspects of our humanity in Kauffman's universe." "Shift Magazine""Well-written and rigorously argued.... For this meaningful contribution to the quest for an era of sustainability, atheists and believers alike should be most grateful."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465003001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465003006
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #818,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This is a hard book. A work of generative genius that is almost a sustained prose poem on the subject of how reductionism is not really a good way of looking at how the universe works.I found the early part of the book which shows how the operation of biological processes cannot be determined by or derived from the laws of physics understandable and convincing. This is his home territory from his work on autocatlytic sets described in his previous book At Home in the Universe that I really liked. But then Kauffman proceeds to build less convincingly and somewhat more opaquely a super structure on top of this to accomodate culture, the economy, consciousness and indeed the role of quantum theory in consciousness. In this process he frequently lost me at the detailed level, even when directionally his arguments made sense at the macro level: they were interesting and suggestive, but they were like a large flip chart report out of a brainstorm and the clarity of understanding that should have been central to his case was lost. And like a poem he repeated his mantra of the laws of physics not predicting biological processes, adding a little more to the chorus each time. I suspect Kauffman's genius and fast processing brain intimidated his editors, who were simply not tough enough with him. If perhaps 50 times during this book, they had said to him: 'Stuart exactly what do you mean here? Tell us and we will put it in words that your audience will understand'. Then this book would have reached its full potential. My editor uses the wonderful term 'muddy': too much of this book is muddy.It's great interesting mud but mud is mud. His closing pleas for a different take on ethics are heartfelt, appealing but are not as well connected with the foregoing framework as they could easily have been.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
In "Reinventing the Sacred", Stuart Kauffman explores the case for reinventing the sacred within the secular world, arguing for the establishment of a global spiritual space in which we can all find a common sense of something God-like, whatever our religious convictions (or lack thereof). To reach that point, Kauffman shows that we need to abandon the long-established world-view based on reductionistic (Newtonian) physics, and to look at the world instead through the lens of the new science of complex system theory. This need for a change of focus derives from the position that such concepts as meaning, purpose, ethics and even life itself can neither be predicted nor explained from a consideration solely of the behaviour of particles in motion -- or whatever it is that physicists currently think is down there at the lowest level of existence -- when the reductionist approach tells us that everything that is real must be predicted or explained this way. And yet we, as humans, are generally uncomfortable with the idea that such things do not exist, or are unimportant. This is, of course, a quandary that reductionist scientists have long struggled with. Traditionally, the view has been to consign such things as morality, and the purpose and meaning of life, to the realm of the human mind, to call them mental constructs about which science has nothing to say, and move on. Kauffman aims to challenge that conclusion.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
There were times reading this book, I thought it deserved five stars, at other times two or three. There were sections of sheer genius and others of intellectual meandering. To fully appreciate this book, it would take expertise in philosophy, mathematics, computer science, physics, genetics, economics, and neuroscience. Very few people can claim these, including myself, a neurologist. The more logically rigorous sections were a bit ponderous, but worth the time.

The main theme of the book is that nature is endlessly creative and it is through this creativity that we experience the sacred. His first point is that nature is non-reductionistic, that is we can't use elementaty physical laws, as Laplace's demon does, to derive the complexity of the universe. These more complex laws are emergent and nonergodic. He then applies these principles to explain a variety of phenomena, including the origin of life, genetic diversity, markets, and even consciousness. He concludes the book paying homage to the spititual gifts of pantheistic creationism. In this comprehensive endeavor, he sometimes falls short.
His arguments for eschewing reductionism are generally well taken. He invokes Godel's incompleteness theorem and quantum physics to bolster his argument. Outside of non-Boolean non-commutative mathematical attempts to eliminate the randomness of quantum physics, I see no other objections. On the other hand, I see it as the duty of any self respecting scientist to carry redutionism as far as it can go. It is not clear to me how Kauffman determines when a system is truly emrgent. Even when he runs his computer simulations to the point of criticality, he can't be sure he isn't missing some reductionist principle.
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