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Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 5, 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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“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.”
“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.”
“[Kauffman’s] provocative argument for a different understanding of God is compelling.”
“[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.”
“[Kauffman] offers a fresh angle in the ongoing debates concerning creationism, intelligent design, and evolution.”
“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 Hard Problem
“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 which can be understood and revered, but not always predicted. Knowledge and wisdom are different aspects of our humanity in Kauffman's universe.”
“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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Top customer reviews
This book has two main general ideas: One is that reductionism, although an extremely successful philosophy of science, does not suffice to explain reality. The other is that the ceaseless creativity of the universe, that part that escapes reductionism, should be revered as "the sacred". Kauffman calls this "God" in an effort of "rapprochement" between agnostics and religious people, since he envisages a future global civilization.
The first idea is developed mainly in the context of evolution in the chapter titled "The Nonreducibility of Biology to Physics", although some physicists, such as Laughlin, are also mentioned, temperature being a classical example of emergent physical phenomena. Kauffman claims that evolution cannot be predicted and, as we see in the citation above, he is not alone. He makes similar claims for the economy, human mind, human history, our legal system, etc.
The second idea is not that new either and Kauffman himself admits that his idea of God is similar to Spinoza's.
Kauffman tries to search for some general laws for emergent phenomena and he hints some of them, including some mathematics of graph theory and random Boolean networks and the use of some concepts such as "minimal molecular autonomous agent". He says, for example: "This raises the fascinating but unproven possibility that , due to natural selection, life achieves a maximization of the product of total work done multiplied by the diversity of work done by being dynamically critical. Then cells would be maximally efficient in carrying out the widest variety of tasks with the maximum total work accomplished, given energy resources available".
The author also suggests that the origin of life might have been systems of autocatalytic molecules and thinks that "self-organization, order for free, is as much a part of evolution and natural selection as historically frozen accidents".
The most controversial chapter, as Kauffman readily admits, is the one about the quantum brain in which he takes the idea of Penrose, which has not had many followers so far. Kauffman believes that the human mind is not algorithmic. Euler's creation of topology by solving the Könisberg's bridges problem is an example, according to Kauffman, of the non algorithmic operation of the human brain. He ads that computations are devoid of meaning, they are purely syntactic. This flies in the face of the strong artificial intelligence theory of consciousness. Kauffman says that meaning derives from agency. Although a controversial idea, a quantum brain, however, would help to solve such hard problems as free will since quantum mechanics is an acausal theory.
The author believes that the conscious mind is a persistently poised quantum coherent-decoherent system, forever propagating quantum coherent behavior, yet forever also decohering to classical behavior. Recent studies seem to prove that chlorophyll maintains a quantum coherent state for a very long time compared to chemical-bond-vibration frequencies. So may be this hypothesis of the quantum brain is not so far fetched.
The last chapters are dedicated to ethics and to an effort to reach out to religious people and Kauffman is aware that convergence of agnostics and religious people can take generations and that we may never fully agree.