Monday, September 23, 2019 Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

Ursula Goodenough


Professor of Biology and a leading proponent of Religious Naturalism and the epic of evolution.
Ursula Goodenough
The big bang is obviously one form of beginning, but the big bang in itself is unimaginable. It's one thing to think about God making a flower or infusing the planet with love, but to imagine what might be behind the big bang is so removed from real life that it actually loses importance for me. There's so much else to think about that's here and now. I like the Buddhist concept of beginning-less-ness, that the universe has always been going on.
Goodenough quotes
The concept of an independent "spiritual realm" does not augment, for me, the magic of the mystical dimension, whereas to think of this dimension as emergent from our minds makes it all the more wondrous to be a human.
Goodenough
For me, and probably for all of us, the concept of a personal, interested god can be appealing, often deeply so. In times of sorrow or despair, I often wonder what it would be like to be able to pray to God or Allah or Jehovah or Mary and believe that I was heard, believe that my petition might be answered. When I sing the hymns of faith in Jesus' love, I am drawn to their intimacy, their allure, their poetry. But in the end, such faith is simply not available to me. I can’t do it. I lack the resources to render my capacity for love and my need to be loved to supernatural Beings. And so I have no choice but to pour these capacities and needs into earthly relationships, fragile and mortal and difficult as they often are.




Goodenough Ursula quotes
The people who are truly bothered by God-concepts and find them stupid or ignorant or pathological are those like Richard Dawkins who just can't even imagine anybody having such concepts. That view is almost like homophobia — it's not open and pluralistic. I'm much more interested in helping people engage in this story of evolution. If they do that with theistic language, that's great.
Goodenough Ursula
It seems far simpler to go ahead and say that the epic is a fantastic myth, that happens to be true of the material Universe, that other myths are true in terms of their cultural meaning, and that there's absolutely no problem with holding more than one story, just as there's no problem with viewing the sunset in terms of planetary rotation and spectra and nuclear fusions one moment and as visual splendor the next.
Ursula Goodenough quotes
The religious naturalist is provisioned with tales of natural emergence that are, to my mind, far more magical than traditional miracles. Emergence is inherent in everything that is alive, allowing our yearning for supernatural miracles to be subsumed by our joy in the countless miracles that surround us.
Ursula Goodenough
We arrived but a moment ago, and found [Earth] to be perfect for us in every way. And then we came to understand that it is perfect because we arose from it and are a part of it. Hosannah! Not in the highest, but right here, right now, this. When such gratitude flows from our beings, it matters little whether we
Goodenough Ursula quotes
Law is necessary, but in a more functional culture, it would presumably be less necessary than it is now, because people would know what to do.
Goodenough
I don't have any problem accessing experiences of unity. I feel completely part of the universe and all that's going on. When I try to describe it, people say I'm obviously a mystic. It doesn't seem mystical to me in a theistic sense. It's not a state that engenders in me any sense that God is watching over me and paying attention to what I'm doing. It's much more what I understand the Eastern traditions to be talking about — a belonging to the universe, an overflow of astonishment and wonder and peace and tranquility.
Goodenough Ursula
The Buddhist view is more congruent with evolution than are other views. You can actually have beginning-less-ness and still have creation of a particular universe ... The part that doesn't jibe for me is the whole notion that consciousness is this separate thing that goes in and out of sentient beings.
Ursula Goodenough
All life has a kind of seamlessness. All creatures have to be aware of their environment, and there has been an evolution of the capacities needed for detecting increasingly complex stimuli. I have no problem calling this "meaning," since all creatures pick out meaningful facets of their environment. For the first creatures, these facets were physical and mediated by receptor proteins. Sperm and eggs find each other by protein shapes; photosynthetic bacteria find light by protein shapes. The impetus to figure out what's going on is still very much programmed into our highly complex brains.




Ursula Goodenough quotes
For me, Deism doesn't work because I find I can only think of a creator in human terms, and the concept of a human-like creator of muons and neutrinos has no meaning for me. But more profoundly, Deism spoils my covenant with Mystery. To assign attributes to Mystery is to disenchant it, to take away its luminance. I think of the ancients ascribing thunder and lightning to godly feuds, and I smile. The need for explanation pulsates in us all.
Ursula Goodenough
Once there is empathy, then there can be the feeling we call compassion. A version of the Golden Rule — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — is found in most religious traditions. … and emergent from our sense of compassion, in mortal conflict with our insistent sense that we should win, is our haunting sense that things should be fair.
Goodenough quotes
Perhaps we should all settle down and think about what's good in the world and what we want to do here. If we find this planet and its history and its story to be sacred, let's preserve and nourish it, and then we can go home at night and say whatever prayers we choose.
Goodenough Ursula
The good stuff of most religions turns out to be a golden rule that defines a morality which allows humans to flourish in community. We come from a whole lineage of creatures who are robustly social and have communities that work, so you look at how their flourishing communities are set up. Are there parallels between how life works in a structured, non-human primate group, in a human community, and in the moral guidelines religion offers? It's not all that different as far as I can tell-there is hierarchy, strategic reciprocity, nurture and empathy.
Goodenough Ursula quotes
Any global tradition needs to begin with a shared worldview — a culture-dependent, globally accepted consensus as to how things are. From my perspective, this part is easy. How things are is, well, how things are; our scientific account of Nature, an account that can be called the Epic of Evolution… This is the story, the one story, that has the potential to unite us, because it happens to be true.
If religious emotions can be elicited by natural reality — and I believe that they can — then the story of Nature has the potential to serve as the cosmos for the global ethos that we need to articulate. I will not presume to suggest what this ethos might look like. Its articulation must be a global project. But I am convinced that the project can be undertaken only if we all experience a solemn gratitude that we exist at all, share a reverence for how life works, and acknowledge a deep and complex imperative that life continue.
Ursula Goodenough
The most reliable joy is to be out of doors, to be a creature among other creatures. I find it very restful.
Ursula Goodenough quotes
The biochemistry and biophysics are the notes required for life; they conspire, collectively, to generate the real unit of life, the organism. The intermediate level, the chords and tempos, has to do with how the biochemistry and biophysics are organized, arranged, played out in space and time to produce a creature who grows and divides and is.
Ursula Goodenough
The role of religion is to integrate the Cosmology and the Morality, to render the cosmological narrative so rich and compelling that it elicits our allegiance and our commitment to its emergent moral understandings. As each culture evolves, a unique Cosmos and Ethos appear in its co-evolving religion. For billions of us, back to the first humans, the stories, ceremonies, and art associated with our religions-of-origin are central to our matrix.
I stand in awe of these religions. I am deeply enmeshed in one of them myself. I have no need to take on the contradictions or immiscibilities between them, any more that I would quarrel with the fact that Scottish bagpipes coexist with Japanese tea ceremonies.
Goodenough Ursula
What scares me? The way the world is going. People seem to think that development is more important than sustainability. That fundamentalism is more important than openness. That racial differences should dictate political decisions. That a person's sexuality is somebody else's business.


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