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The Sacred Depths of Nature — Ursula Goodenough on How to Find Sacred Scientific Spirituality

The Sacred Depths of Nature: How Life Has Emerged and Evolved (book cover)

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.

Shermer and Goodenough discuss:

  • origins of her personal beliefs
  • Loyal Rue’s Everybody’s Story
  • myths and religions
  • What does it mean to be “religious”?
  • What is a religious naturalist?
  • The point is the mystery:

    • why there is anything at all, rather than nothing
    • where the laws of physics came from
    • why the universe seems so strange
  • origin of life
  • origin of RNA and DNA
  • origin of consciousness
  • origin of language
  • origins of morality
  • chance and evolution
  • fine tuning of the cosmos
  • autocatalysis and emergence
  • the self and free will
  • why people believe in God
  • purpose of religion
  • ethics and morality, right and wrong, without religion
  • Terrence Deacon: “Biologically, we are just another ape. Mentally, we are a new phylum of organism.”

Ursula Goodenough is Professor Emerita of Biology at Washington University. One of America’s leading cell biologists, she is the author of a bestselling textbook on genetics, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 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 Chilmark, Massachusetts, on Martha’s Vineyard. Her book, The Sacred Depths of Nature: How Life Has Emerged and Evolved, is now in a second edition. She currently serves as president of the Religious Naturalist Association.

About the Book

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. This new edition offers a deepened consideration of emergent properties and emergent dynamics, as well as an exploration of their role as the generators of life’s complexity. Goodenough also expands upon the ethic of ecomorality in a new chapter, and incorporates new quotes, figures, and poems in her analysis.

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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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on March 28, 2023.

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