Monday, June 30, 2008

Another view of Kauffman's "Reinventing the Sacred"

I had earlier posted two very positive reviews of Kauffman's Reinventing the Sacred: A new view of science, reason, and religion. But the reviews were not satisfying and something was bothering me that I couldn't really put my finger on. So here is a review by Massimo Pigliucci that addresses the issue that was bugging me:
Now why would any rational individual wish to propagate the whole idea of “the sacred” to begin with? For something to be sacred, according to the Merriam-Webster, means to be “dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity,” or alternatively to be “worthy of religious veneration.” This is not what Kauffman means by the term, but the whole idea of “sacredness” seems to me to be the sort of baggage that humanity ought to do without by now.

At any rate, Kauffman wants to “use the God word, for my hope is to honorably steal its aura to authorize the sacredness of the creativity in nature.” Wow. First off, the concept of “honorably stealing” is something that is rather questionable, especially when what one is attempting to steal is nothing less than god’s aura. Second, nature is not creative, it just is. Creativity is something that conscious beings do, and to use the term in association with nature is misleading to say the least, and invites of course precisely the sort of quasi-mystical thinking that science is supposed to discourage. Third, there is nothing sacred about nature, either. Again, nature is what it is, and while Kauffman is tapping into the sense of awe shared by so many scientists when we approach the natural world, there is nothing to be worshipped, as worshipping is antithetical to understanding and appreciating, which is what science is about.
I think this is a better approach to the book and the review gets to the heart of the problem. Read the full review here.