Unification News for March 1999

Book Review - The Sacred Depths of Nature

Chris Seidel -- Redhook, NY

Ursula Goodenough, a renowned cell-biologist, has written a book with such piercing scientific insight that it is bound to stir both scientists and non-scientists alike. The daughter of an intensely religious father, she has delineated in her book a response to her Father's most probing quest: "a need to understand why people are religious."

In her book, Goodenough challenges to look behind the veil of theology and philosophy, into the mystery which originally served as the impetus to inspire and pique all the great thinkers of human history.

Her aim is not to supplant current religious traditions and cultures, but rather to "outline the foundation for ... a planetary ethic," informing and serving us in our own unique spiritual and religious journeys.

Her book is not a lesson in evolution and the anatomy of the universe so much as an experience that transports the reader to a higher plane of divine appreciation. An appreciation that stems from the undeniable fact that we are all constituent parts in the infinitely beautiful and dynamic cosmic dance that never ceases. In harmony with this cognitive awareness, she has organized her twelve chapters into two parts: one that objectively states the intricate scientific mechanics and principles of a particular aspect of existence, and the other which is her own personal reflection and interpretation of those forces which inherently dictate the way our world moves.

Whether we are aware of it or not, our world is the product of an intensely dense array of elementary and complex principles that are intertwined in such a way to engender the reality we are often oblivious to. As Goodenough puts it, our world is the composition of the "infinities and infinitesmals." Electrons, subatomic particles, space "superstrings," absorption spectra are just a few of the elements which contribute to our physical universe, which may not be the only one, as some physicists and mathematicians have recently theorized. The origin of our universe, the motive for its creation, as well as its boundless potential for discovery are issues that still provoke the most sophisticated scientific and religious thought. There are more stars in the universe than all the sand grains on the earth. Earthly Life is but a minute of time compared to the millennium since the creation of the universe, human life barely a millisecond. These are just a sampling of the topics Goodenough covers in just the first chapter.

In the second chapter, Goodenough succinctly summarizes the origins of life: starting with the origins of chemistry and then explaining the organic building blocks which provide the basis for complex biomolecules. DNA, the organic molecules from which all earthly life springs, is the natural conclusion of these derivative steps. DNA provides the genetic code (contained in discrete units known as "genes") that allows life to perpetuate, and new generations to emerge from the old: from amoebas to blue whales. Across the organic spectrum, the principles of DNA replication, translation and transcription are exactly identical. The web of life is incredibly diverse, yet incredibly similar. As Goodenough beseeches us, "We are called to revere the whole enterprise of planetary existence, the whole and all of its myriad parts as they catalyze and secrete and replicate and mutate and evolve."

The Sacred Depths of Nature continues to delve into the multifaceted dynamics of life in the ensuing chapters. The chapter entitled "How Life Works" goes into a very broad overview of the basic natural processes that govern the way cells repair, communicate, and propagate themselves. How biophysics allows magical "series-processes" to occur, known as cascades, where each discrete organic process is contingent upon the process that transpired immediately before it. The amazing part is, life is structured in such a way as to allow all of these complex processes to occur in perfect rapport with natural principle. If biophysics, for instance, did not permit the bonding of hydrogen and oxygen in organic systems, those systems would inevitably fail.

Other topics that Goodenough covers include Evolution, Biodiversity, Awareness (Consciousness), Emotions, Sexuality, and finally, Mortality. "....death is the price paid to have human consciousness, to be aware of all that shimmering awareness and all that love."

Each issue celebrates the incredible intricacy of life, and brings deeper recognition and appreciation into every other issue. The effect is cumulative and everlasting. "Life is a coral reef. We each leave behind the best, the strongest deposit we can so that the reef can grow. But what’s important is the reef."

The final chapter, Emergent Religious Principles, is a synthesis of everything in life that transcends logical or rational explanation. As the author states, it could be summed up as "Why are things as they are?" Luckily, that is a question God can answer for us.

Chris' Rating: * * * * 1/2 Starz

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