International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

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

by Stuart A. Kauffman

Introductory Essay by Randy Isaac

Stuart Kauffman presents a grand vision that all humankind might be able to unite around his concept of God reinvented as the essence of creativity in nature, rather than a transcendent Creator-God. His science is broad and fascinating and his theology is thoroughly pantheistic. Few Christians would find his theology appealing, but his scientific perspectives on reductionism and emergence merit careful consideration.

Kauffman begins his book with a series of chapters devoted to showing the inadequacy of reductionism. His target is primarily Steven Weinberg’s claim that “the explanatory arrows always point downward” [43]. Kauffman finds this to be a definitive claim of reductionism, whose roots he traces to Galileo, calling it the “Galilean spell.” By showing that underlying physics and chemistry cannot be used to explain or predict all higher order processes, Kauffman declares reductionism to be inadequate, leading to the evidence for emergence. He goes on to define both epistemological and ontological emergence. The former is based on phenomena that cannot be known or predicted from underlying causes while the latter indicates the existence of novel causal features that do not exist in the underlying web of particles and forces. Physics describes happenings, he says, and cannot account for the appearance of agency, causal functions, and values in higher-order complex systems.

In subsequent chapters, Kauffman takes us through an increasingly complex world, moving from biology to the origins of life to the existence of the mind and of consciousness. At each step, he reminds us that the explanatory arrows do not point downward since nothing in the laws of physics enables one to predict the fascinating worlds of agency, values, and meaning. He briefly delves into quantum coherence to attempt a rationalization of how consciousness might emerge.

In the final chapters, he develops a global ethic. He is convinced that, like moral laws, a global ethic evolves from past moral wisdom with the flexibility to change with new insight as cultures evolve. All of this is possible, he feels, if we “reinvent the sacred” so that we recognize that “God is our name for the creativity in nature” [284].

In his eagerness to replace our concept of a transcendent Creator-God with a reinvented God as creativity in nature, he doesn’t inquire about the source of that creativity. He is content to observe that matter and energy in our natural world have the awesome property of emergence. New phenomena and new entities arise in a burst of inherent creativity. Implicitly, he attributes to matter and energy the eternal character of the supreme transcendental God, the One who has always existed and needs no causal force. Without discussion of that crucial point, he invites us to join him in awe and worship of this material creativity, his reinvention of the sacred force of creation.