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Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion Hardcover – May 6, 2008
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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."
Top Customer Reviews
In the course of this book, Kauffman examines the latest theories on the likely origins of life on Earth, considers the chemistry of cellular biology, looks at evolutionary processes (and, in particular, Darwinian preadaptations) and then -- using an examination of the behaviour of complex human systems such as the web of global economics -- demonstrates that all complex systems display emergent properties (i.e. elaborate characteristics which arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions) which greatly resemble those things we call agency, value and meaning -- just those very properties that are denied an explanation (and therefore any real existence) by reductionist Newtonian physics. Using his complexity theory approach, Kauffman goes on to show that not only is the formation of life close to an absolute certainty (contrary to the commonly expounded stance that the probability of life arising spontaneously is almost infinitely small) but also that evolution of morality is a perfectly natural outcome of biological evolutionary processes. And, indeed, all of those things for which a creator God has previously been held accountable can be explained as the emergent outcomes of a boundless creativity that is a natural characteristic of our universe. Positing that this natural creativity is infinitely wondrous and thus worthy of our veneration, Kauffman exhorts us to recognise it as Divine, thus enabling it to stand as a substitute for a creator God for those currently without one, at the centre of a new sacred outlook on the world.
Now, while Kauffman makes the case strongly for why the human race may benefit from such an outlook (and may indeed need one, if we are to survive some of the challenges ahead) I for one feel he is somewhat naïve in his suggestion that it will fulfil the spiritual needs of both believer and non-believer alike. And while he makes a case for his ideas healing many of the rifts that pervade our secular thought processes and mindsets, I think it is a step too far to suggest that they may also help to bridge the divides that currently separate most of the current world faiths from each other. To suggest especially that his ideas are at all equivalent to established belief-sets is largely to miss the point of most of those religious faiths, partly with regard to the central role played by faith itself and also with regard to the comfort which those beliefs offer, particularly with regard to the soul and its afterlife--an aspect of human thinking that Kauffman stays well away from in this book. To be fair, Kauffman never suggests for a moment that his ideas are likely to supplant those of established faiths, merely that they provide a framework that might be regarded as sacred in its focus wherein those individuals currently without such a basis to their lives may find one. Or something that substitutes for one (and onto which they can map for their own peace of mind the beliefs of others).
As a book, I fear that "Reinventing the Sacred" ends up falling between two stools -- falling, in fact, into one of the very rifts that Kauffman is so concerned to heal. The science it presents, for all that Kauffman tries to make it accessible, is nevertheless hard work in places. The "sacred" aspects of the book, meanwhile, will probably strike the atheist as needlessly pandering, whilst those readers already of a faith will find these same aspects wishy-washy and vague. For me, where the book really falls down is the lack of any clear progression through its subject matter because of Kauffman's habit of falling back onto the same phrases over and over again coupled with his rather annoying habit of going off on long excursive examinations of things which appear to have no bearing on anything else but which are later referenced without any obvious reason. This leads to a constant feeling throughout the book that one is missing something. Perhaps I was! I can't help but think, though, that with so much of import to convey, this book would have benefited from a much firmer editorial hand.