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The Sacred Depths of Nature

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  345 ratings  ·  44 reviews
This volume reconciles the modern scientific understanding of reality with our timeless spiritual yearnings for reverence and continuity. Looking at topics such as evolution, emotions, sexuality, and death, Goodenough writes with rich, uncluttered detail about the workings of nature in general and of living creatures in particular. Her luminous clarity makes it possible fo ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published June 1st 2000 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1998)
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Amy Drew
Dec 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
as someone who identifies as a religious naturalist, I consider this book to be canon; it is one book of my bible. While I am hopelessly inept at articulating the deep and transcendent reverence for nature that keeps me warm all through these winters of our cultural discontent, the unjustly named Goodenough gracefully conveys -- and celebrates -- the soulfulness of the spiritual scientist. if there is anyone on earth I share a worldview with exactly, it's ursula goodenough, and her explanation o ...more
Ursula Goodenough's ideas and thoughts are very similar to my own. One big difference between us might be that she was brought up in a family and community where religion played a major role. I was not, and for a long time I have considered myself to be an atheist. Or more accurate, what I would call myself if people asked whether I was religious. In my teen years I was an especially active member of a discussion group about religion and non-religion. It says something about what I (don't) belie ...more
Jun 10, 2012 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to Adam by: Melody Moberg
I am somewhat ambivalent about this book. I was expecting a book of Deep Ecology, featuring the author's personal spiritual reactions to scientific epiphanies. Instead, Goodenough takes it upon herself to organize all human spiritual and cultural traditions around that set of scientific epiphanies in an effort to create a unifying Global Ethos. Instead of responding personally to things, she merely collects a few random scraps of sacred text and waxes briefly on how different spiritual tradition ...more
Timothy Urges
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Asking those profound questions that no one can answer, but also important observations are made on the genesis of life on earth and its continuation.

Half of this reads like a textbook. The other half reflects on scientific facts, and how cells are as holy as gods.
This book did not inspire and resonate with me the way A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism did when I first started exploring Unitarian Universalism. This may be because I don't have the same perspective on the big existential questions as Goodenough. I got the impression the intended audience of this book is people who come from a theistic background, which I do not. With that said, I read this book looking for a starting point in my exploration of Religious Naturalism, an ...more
May 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Meh. I really was hoping for more from this - I had heard the author speak on a podcast. It was fine and it was short - so I'll likely read it again for the evolutionary biology - but the reflections were too short and as someone else said she just threw in a lot of quotes from other sources without really explaining them (plus she used a lot of Christian hymns to, I guess, try to explain the religious feelings she gets from nature - but that really didn't fit with the whole premise of the book ...more
Dec 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I read this first in December of 2009 but was reminded of it again when I attended a panel discussion on science & religion. So, I read it again with a renewed interest in spiritual naturalism. This remains a special book I will pick up for inspiration and renewal.

Understanding how life works from a cellular biological perspective could result in confusion about religious beliefs but Ursula Goodenough makes sense of it all. Despite the technical discussion of amino acids, proteins, reproduction,
Mark Johnson
Apr 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
As a religious person that is finding traditional religion to be lacking, I greatly welcomed this book. The author is an atheist, but attends church regular. Her Dad, a former theology prof, and also an athist, says that, nonetheless, he stills prays and 'Jesus answers.' For me, this book accepts the scientific version of the world (as I do) but does not throw the baby out with the bathwater--that is, it still recognizes the spiritual nature of ourselves and hat we must have ways of touching tha ...more
Anjie Brown
Jan 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Excellent book if you're looking for an easy to understand break-down of cellular biology and chemistry. It is indeed, a fascinating read, but, for me, it still lacks the depth of spirituality that I'm looking for and striving to understand. Pantheism is an extraordinary concept, and even given how well this book is written, it still lacks the close, personal experience that I want and crave. Great book...just not the book for me.
Dec 28, 2010 added it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
A little too deep for Jane Q. Public. Maybe even for some of us who have had courses in biology and physiology, genetics and chemistry. Maybe this reader been away from the sciences for too long. It's hard to make it relate to one's everyday life.
Frank Jude
Ursula Goodenough is one of America's leading cell biologists and the author of a wonderful textbook, Genetics. She has served as President of the American Society of Cell Biology and of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. She is the current president of the Religious Naturalist Association (RNA... and yes, it is a conscious pun) of which I am a member.

There is a growing movement of naturalists who find religious or spiritual experience within nature while rejecting the supernatural.
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was ok

Human memory, they say, is like a coat closet: The most enduring outcome of a formal education is that it creates rows of coat hooks so that later on, when you come upon a new piece of information, you have a hook to hang it on. Without a hook, the new information falls on the floor.

[L]ike Gregorian chants, the meaning of the words not mattering because the words are so haunting.

I take the concept of miracle and use it not as a manifestation of divine intervention but as the astonishing
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Sacred Depths of Nature is an incredible gem. It outlines religious naturalism, which is a naturalist worldview that doesn't disparage organized religions, and at the same time espouses a kind of spiritual-but-not-theistic gratitude and reverence for life and the natural world. Think pantheism (which is indeed non-theistic) - there isn’t a personal deity, but nevertheless, the world is - and by consequence, we are - “divine” in a sense. Goodenough wants to awaken in the reader a sense of con ...more
Erwin Thomas
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion, naturalism
Ursula Goodenough’s The Sacred Depths of Nature is a fascinating introduction to biological science with meditations. 80 percent of this text was spent explaining how the Universe came into existence, life on earth, and its ramifications. It would have been most useful if the writer could have explained such phenomena without delving so heavily into physics and chemistry. But in reading this book it appeared it would take only readers grounded in science to understand much of her discussion, and ...more
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Got part way through. Probably good for people faced with existential anxiety when they learn about science. That seems to be the author's experience. She reports having been unable to look at the night sky on a camping trip at some point, and instead burying her head in her pillow sobbing with anxiety (this after having learned about stellar evolution or the Big Bang, or something). Each of the chapters that I read (only 3 or 4) start with her basically saying "I'm going to explain some science ...more
Jeff Craig
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A blend of hard science and profound wonder at our origins, two ideas often at odds with each other but Ursula Goodenough is a prophet/ purveyor of a spiritual movement called Religious Naturalism. As a professor of cellular biology she sees a much bigger picture than her narrow research field.
"I have come to understand that the self, my self, is inherently sacred. By virtue of its own improbability, its own miracle, its own emergence … And so I lift up my head, and I bear my own witness, with
Aug 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: church-theology
I really appreciate the central insight here, that the natural world, particularly in its biochemical details, provides fertile ground for theological reflection. The particular examples Goodenough uses and the reflections she provides were not always particularly resonant for me (despite the fact that I share both Goodenough's non-theism and membership in a Christian church), but as a model for doing this kind of reflection, this book is a valuable model.
Removed from books.

Nice blurb about science then a religious comment.
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Sacred Depths of Nature is an excellent book. Ursula Goodenough shares with her readers her inspiring message about the meaning that is present in Nature.
Rob Saunders
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
A lovely, thoughtful treatise on science and religion.
Chikwelueze Iyizoba
Jan 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Read more like a typical biology textbook than a book about spirituality but still a good read.
May 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Nobody
Shelves: pagan, spirituality
Not crazy about her reflections all the time , she relates with a religion that I find is a contradiction at best , I just don't get it , she is obviously an intelligent person . I am not a christian , but if you can get past that , it is fairly good . Albeit from a microscopic level for the most part .
More later after I finish reading the book .
After reading nothing has changed in my opinion of the book , if she is an atheist , she is on the fence .
Kathleen Brugger
Jan 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ms. Goodenough’s thesis is that in the grand epic of evolution we can find the reverence, gratitude, and awe that are usually reserved for religious feelings, with no need for belief in a God or creator. She describes this as “religious naturalism.” In this book she does a very good job of illustrating what this point-of-view looks like; and she created the feeling of awe and wonder in at least this reader.

This is a lovely small book by a cell biologist, who’s an atheist, but still feels as if t
Mar 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Delightful book! Ursula Goodenough is a world-famous cell biologist, but she writes like a poet. Her work is one of the best explications of religious naturalism I've come across. Her prose has a lyrical quality that captures her sense of childlike wonder about the natural world. Written from a very personal perspective, her work also describes the essence of evolutionary science in a very accessible way.

The format of the book is somewhat like a daily devotional. Each chapter begins with a shor
Dec 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Second read-through:

This is a solid attempt to create a spiritual devotional focused on the natural world. After starting with a big-picture look at the universe, Goodenough dives deep into biology which sometimes falls a little flat. I'm a scientist, but not a biologist, so maybe that's why some of it falls flat. I also think there are better spiritual treatments of the natural world out there, although this one is likely considered a classic -- and thus an important read -- and so I will still
Linda Robinson
Nov 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Goodenough writes with passionate reverence of the science she knows and teaches, and the faith she proclaims with joy. I am overcome. As I was out walking today I was struck by the loss of my best friend this summer, and asked please for a sign that all was well and could continue to be. Continuation. I didn't know how to ask for relief from my pain, but as I came up the last hill I saw a field of tall grass lit like candlelight by the sun, blazing as far as my eyes could see. And tonight I fin ...more
Michael Mutolo
Feb 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Written by a molecular biologist who has an interest in theology. Intertwines these two diametric fields by explaning concepts of life using scientific rhetoric and then filling in the gaps with theological musing and "what if's". Probably one of the few books that showed me how much passion has been lost in science and how much more there is to discover.
Mar 14, 2010 rated it liked it
A very intellectual book. Goodenough uses this book to marry her knowledge of biology and physics to spirituality. I enjoyed it and enjoyed stretching my brain, particularly around the science. However, I prefer a more spiritual bent.
Therese Broderick
Oct 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
An important book I need to re-read again and again. I hope that the author writes an updated edition of this 1998 text. For me, the key passage of the book is: "...death is the price paid to have human consciousness, to be aware ..." (page 151).
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“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
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Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things. Mary Oliver,”
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