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

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  364 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Consider the woven integrated complexity of a living cell after 3.8 billion years of evolution. Is it more awe-inspiring to suppose that a transcendent God fashioned the cell, or to consider that the living organism was created by the evolving biosphere? As the eminent complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman explains in this ambitious and groundbreaking new book, people who do ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published January 10th 2008)
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I don't believe in God. I'm not able to. I'd have to have a serious portion of my brain cut out, or have my personality wiped or something to have faith in good faith (in an existential sort of way).

I do like the Bible, as a piece of post-modern 'meta-fiction' it can't be beat. Lots of little side stories, and unreliable narrator, major inconsistencies that illustrate the the death of the author and radical subjectivity in relation to a textual work, some songs thrown in just like Pynchon would
Raima Larter
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
In the final analysis, Stuart Kauffman’s “Reinventing the Sacred: a New View of Science, Reason and Religion,” [Basic Books, 2008] fails to deliver. Although this latest offering from Kauffman ranges over a wide variety of interesting scientific topics including reductionism, the philosophy of science, evolutionary theory, the chemical evolution of life and economic theory, it does not so much reinvent the sacred as rediscover what others have known for millennia.

Kauffman, a founding member of t
Deniz Cem Önduygu
From an editorial point of view, this may be the worst book I've ever read – I'm not an editor, but I assure you, you become conscious of it when it's this bad. Kauffman is a scientist that I know and respect, and the subjects he's covering in here are my favorites, but god he is horrible as an author. The whole book is like a homework done at the last minute: extremely repetitive both with ideas and with stock phrases sometimes going up to 10 words; full of technical examples that Kauffman fail ...more
Joe Stack
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
A lot of the science in this book I struggled with; eventually got a lot, but still missed a lot. What I did get, and what fascinated me, was the author’s writing about how creativity, complexity, consciousness emerges out of nature, and there should be awe & reverence for what we learn about the universe and what remains a mystery. The universe is not meaningless and religion is not needed to give it us meaning. The author gives the reader much to ponder with his view, one that I like and hold ...more
Alex Telander
Oct 10, 2008 rated it it was ok
REINVENTING THE SACRED: A VIEW OF SCIENCE, REASON, AND RELIGION BY STUART A. KAUFFMAN: Stuart A. Kauffman is the founding director for Biocomplexity and Informatics, is a professor at the University of Calgary, and is the author of The Origins of Order and At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. In his new book, Reinventing the Sacred: A View of Science, Reason, and Religion, he attempts to create a natural linkage between science and religion, or at ...more
Ville Kokko
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone. This is important.
This book actually has much more scientific content than one would expect from its descriptions. Certainly, it offers a view of how we could see sacredness as a property of the evolving universe rather than a god outside of it. It also talks at length about things like collectively autocatalytic sets, something fairly technical that may help explain how life emerged in the first place. Being a complexity theorist who hangs out at the Santa Fe Institute, Kauffman also touches on other subjects su ...more
Aug 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kauffman believes that natural selection and evolution are not enough to explain the beginning of life. He believes that, although it has not yet been proven, growing evidence supports that as systems grow in complexity, a spontaneous organization often occurs. He goes so far as to postulate that it is not entropy that increases with time, but rather the product of the total work done by a system times the diversity of work done. He believes that this emergence of organized systems is part of th ...more
Sep 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
I'm really torn about this book. The author has some really, really interesting ideas about finding 'God' in our universe, where meaning and morals and values come from, things of that nature, but good GRIEF, I had to quit reading. The man takes one good idea, and then spends three chapters on it. And every sentence (I'm really not exaggerating, here) is something like this:

"The candidate criticality law is emergent and not reducible to physics alone."


"Thus a single M-length peptide can be for
Sep 08, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: spiritualistic
This book is horrible. I say that reluctantly, because I think that many of the author's ideas are really quite profound, and the science he discusses is radical in form and implication. But this is a ravening horror of a book. There is so little organization that in any given chapter the text will refer to past chapters and future chapters in a completely incoherent way. The prose is unbelievably repetitive, with stock phrases sometimes showing up a dozen or more times in different contexts; so ...more
Lynne Williamson
Mar 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
Kauffman's idea of "creating our own god" is dangerous, particularly for women. The last thing women need is yet another god created from a male perspective (think mormonism for one of the most recent). And I can already see an incipient madonna-child fetish developing for Kauffman in several places in the book. End (temporarily) feminist rant.

On a different topic: It seems to me that all of Kauffman's emergent creativity is still based, when all is said and done, on particles/strings/waves movi
Apr 22, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I got more than halfway through this book before giving up. It's not a good read. It's poorly edited - not in terms of grammar and spelling, but rather in terms of organization and effectively conveying ideas. Based on the title, I expected something a little more qualitative instead of quantitative, but it's actually a spew of scientific babble. Sure, some of the connections he makes are neat, but not worth wading through all the repetitive and confusing verbiage. It kind of reminds me of late- ...more
Steve Hirby
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
This books is challenging to read in that in the early chapters, it assumes a great deal of familiarity with chemistry and cell biology. Still, I find its three premises -- that scientific determinism is bankrupt, that the reality we experience is the product of aeons of spontaneous creativity, and that that principle of creativity is awe-inspiring and should be regarded as sacred -- compelling. Interestingly, to the extent that the new atheists have build their refutation of God on narrow and d ...more
Braden Canfield
Mar 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, religion
About half this book was written for a guy like me. About half of it was apparently written for someone smarter. About a fourth of this book was spent referring to other parts of its own text or repeating concepts already stated earlier. Regardless, I love it's heart and thoroughly enjoyed attempting to piece its premise together at a level I could comprehend and enjoy. His argument for "agency" entering the universe with biology is delightful.

It prompted me to set up a lunch date with an old ne
Andrei Ștefănucă
May 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book contains some quite interesting concepts in the realm of biology, as well as its startup conditions and overall principles of expression. It tries to restate the existential sacred as the act of creativity in life itself, a most noble of goals as far as any book is concerned. While the examples written within are great, life already is sacred to most people, the only thing to do is realize it. Opposed to that, the author is merely trying to lean the balance from other sciences in favor ...more
Jul 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Builds a good case against naive reductionism ("everythingis reducible to physics" and "the future can be extrapolated from a complete set of all past conditions"). Argues that "agency" (which involves goal-directed action) is an evolutionary development by which biology transcends physics, and suggests (argument is not as developed) that volition/consciousness transcend biology. ...more
Oct 21, 2008 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Meen by: Saw it on the shelf at Borders
Is it more awe-inspiring to suppose that a transcendent God fashioned the cell, or to consider that the living organism was created by the evolving biosphere?

Amen, Stuart, amen! (I've never understood why the "natural" awe wasn't enough for believers. Why do we need to assign a supernatural cause?)
Pete Vasquez
Mar 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
That was a rough read for someone without a physics or chemistry background. But once I got past the halfway point it got easier. I loved his conclusions a bout the connection of a god like presence that is not tied to religion and dovetails into science. WOrth reading but get ready to re read entire pages just to get your head around the concepts.
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman describes a scientific worldview that embraces the reality of emergence.[1] We live in a universe, biosphere, and human culture that are not only emergent but radically creative. Kauffman attempts to lay out the scientific foundations for agency and therefore value in the biological world.[2] He has a great deal to say about organized processes, for they are less understood than we might think.[3] We have as yet not theory for systems that do work to bui ...more
Dec 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
As others have indicated, Kauffman is not the most elegant of writers, but one cannot claim that he is without passion. Reading the book I thought his term "reinvent" the sacred was likely to irk some, and it isn't until the last paragraph where he addresses his vocabulary. He isn't terribly persuasive, and yet....

And yet what Kauffman asks of us (humanity) is actually something I agree with, having come to more or less the same conclusion he has: that if there's any hope for us it's in the agen
Lukas Van Veen
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The long history of life has given us the tools to live in the face of mystery, tools that we only partially know we have, gifts of the creativity that we can now call God.
Jessie Brown
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
I bailed on this book. Generally language doesn't trip me up, but this book is inaccessible to anyone without deeper roots in science, theology, and philosophy. ...more
John Harris
I have been interested in the work of Stuart Kauffman since I first read about him 10 years ago. I have read his other book "At Home in the Universe" and so wanted to read this one. I find Kauffman very difficult to read, but worth the effort. This time I took notes as I was reading, which helped a great deal. Part of the reason I find him so interesting is that his books are, for me, a view into a mind on the edge of discovering something significant. I'm not sure Kauffman will actually discove ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The idea that the sacred is to be found within nature rather than outside it is a very old one, although it is a minority view within modern Western culture. It is more common for both believers and non-believers to associate the sacred with the supernatural, and then argue over the existence of supernatural beings. Kauffman's book is interesting not only for the conclusion he comes to, but for the route by which he gets there. His studies in the science of complexity have led him to appreciate ...more
This book, while convincing in regards to its primary thesis, left a bit to be desired on accuracy in some secondary topics, and a lot to be desired in accessibility. Kauffman's main thesis is that strict Reductionism, which has guided scientific inquiry for the past 300 years and has been (and continues to be) an excellent investigative tool, does not succeed in explaining all of the organized patterns and occurrences that are observed in the universe. Kauffman argues that certain 'emergent' pr ...more
Joseph Sverker
One has to admire his intension, to widen the scope of the scientific mind and to join the religious traditions together with themselves and the atheists to accept a vewi of God as nature's creativity. The book is very scholarly written and it is very interesting to learn about evolution from his perspective. The most convincing argument in the book is that not everyting is reducable to physics. I think it will be difficult to argue against him here. What opens up then, according to Kaufmann, is ...more
May 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Stuart Kauffman has been a key spokesperson of the field of study generally known as the complexity theory for decades now. In some sense, this book contains a summary of the achievements of the field. In the beginning, proponents of the theory believed that its holistic approach will succeed where the reductionist approach of last 350 years has failed in explaining the system level phenomenons in fields as varied as biology, economics, politics, religion and culture. In other words, it set out ...more
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: theology, science
Kaufman's book is pretty worthless in terms of providing a new understanding of religion, but he offers some great arguments that our universe cannot be completely understood or determined solely from the laws of physics and chemistry (much to the consternation of reductionists). Instead, when new levels of organization arise-- such as biology-- living beings begin to shape themselves and its surroundings. While life is constrained by the laws of physics and chemistry, it is not fully determined ...more
Oct 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating, very dense book. It's definitely not light reading, and it took me a long time to get through it. The basic idea that Kauffman puts forth is that there is an inherent wonder to life on earth and in the universe, a deep complexity that is a product of evolution and is not reducible to physics. His implicit hope is that a true appreciation of this concept in all it's beauty and mystery should be enough to remove the need for a mythical God of Creation. He uses all kinds of b ...more
David Grossman
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Awesome opus. Even if I had more time off duty this would not have been an easy read, but very rewarding. Builds upon previous work on emergent phenomena in nature to demonstrate its prevalence throughout realms of natural sciences, technology development, evolution (biological as well as societal), economics, law and ethics, etc. Not light reading, but struggling with some of the mathematics and philosophical discussions will pay off in understanding. For many of us, some of the ideas may initi ...more
Dec 24, 2008 rated it liked it
i've been a big fan of kauffman's previous descriptions of his scientific work, however, was less impressed by this attempt to take that work and derive a purportedly novel theologic and philosophic framework from it. first, his conclusions are tempered by his less than persuasive arguments for the failure of reduction of the biological to the physical. more importantly, his overarching conclusion is not as novel as he seems to believe - finding the sacred in the complexity and beauty of the nat ...more
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Stuart Alan Kauffman (28 September 1939) is an American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher concerning the origin of life on Earth. He is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection, as well as for applying models of Boolean networks ...more

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