The Sacred Depths of Nature

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For many of us, the great scientific discoveries of the modern age--the Big Bang, evolution, quantum physics, relativity--point to an existence that is bleak, devoid of meaning, pointless. But in The Sacred Depths of Nature, eminent biologist Ursula Goodenough shows us that the scientific world view need not be a source of despair. Indeed, it can be a wellspring of solace and hope.
This eloquent 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 for even non-scientists to appreciate that the origins of life and the universe are no less meaningful because of our increasingly scientific understanding of them. At the end of each chapter, Goodenough's spiritual reflections respond to the complexity of nature with vibrant emotional intensity and a sense of reverent wonder.
A beautifully written celebration of molecular biology with meditations on the spiritual and religious meaning that can be found at the heart of science, this volume makes an important contribution to the ongoing dialog between science and religion. This book will engage anyone who was ever mesmerized--or terrified--by the mysteries of existence.

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Ursula Goodenough is an internationally recognized cell biologist; she is also an accomplished amateur theologian--an unusual combination of interests in a time when science and religion are widely divided. In The Sacred Depths of Nature, she proposes what she calls a "planetary ethic" drawing on the lessons of both science and metaphysics, celebrating some of the mysteries that are central to both: "the mystery of why there is anything at all, rather than nothing," for one, and "the mystery of why the universe seems so strange," for another. Exploring scientifically based narratives about the creation of the universe and the origins of life, Goodenough forges a kind of religious naturalism that will not be unfamiliar to readers of New Age literature--save that her naturalism has the hard-nosed rigor of a laboratory-trained scholar behind it. Goodenough offers a crash course in the life sciences for her readers, encompassing the basics, for instance, of biochemistry in just a few paragraphs (and getting it right in the bargain), touching on Darwinian biology and population dynamics and even chaos theory to make "an epic of evolution" that has all the hallmarks of an origin myth. Faith and reason, in her view, are not mutually exclusive, and her well-written treatise makes a good argument for bridging the gap between the two. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:


Ursula Goodenough is Professor of Biology at Washington University. One of America's leading cell biologists, she is the author of a bestselling textbook on genetics, and has served as President of the American Society of Cell Biology and of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and in Chilmark, Massachusetts, on Martha's Vineyard.

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