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The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God Hardcover – November 2, 2006
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From Scientific American
Sagan, writing from beyond the grave (actually his new book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience, is an edited version of his 1985 Gifford Lectures), asks why, if God created the universe, he left the evidence so scant. He might have embedded Maxwells equations in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Ten Commandments might have been engraved on the moon. "Or why not a hundred- kilometer crucifix in Earth orbit? Why should God be so clear in the Bible and so obscure in the world?" He laments what he calls a "retreat from Copernicus," a loss of nerve, an emotional regression to the idea that humanity must occupy center stage. Both Gingerich and Collins, along with most every reconciler of science and religion, invoke the anthropic principle: that the values of certain physical constants such as the charge of the electron appear to be "fine-tuned" to produce a universe hospitable to the rise of conscious, worshipful life. But the universe is not all that hospitable-try leaving Earth without a space suit. Life took billions of years to take root on this planet, and it is an open question whether it made it anywhere else. To us carboniferous creatures, the dials may seem miraculously tweaked, but different physical laws might have led to universes harboring equally awe-filled forms of energy, cooking up anthropic arguments of their own.
George Johnson is author of Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order and six other books. He resides on the Web at talaya.net
"The objectives of religion and science, I believe, are identical or very nearly so." So declares Carl Sagan in the first of the Gifford Lectures he delivered in 1985, published now to mark the tenth anniversary of the astronomer's death. Because he finds that scientists share a deep sense of wonder, Sagan defines science as a type of "informed worship," a definition clarified by awe-inspiring astronomical photographs. However, many readers will conclude that Sagan fails to link science and religion as kindred pursuits of truth. For despite the titular nod to William James, another famous Gifford lecturer, Sagan wants no variety of religious experience that will not fit within an empirical paradigm. In the transcendent visions of scripture, he sees only the effects of biochemicals that confer reproductive advantage. Still, Sagan recognizes in Christian admonitions to love one's enemy a much-needed moral guide in a world threatened by the weapons science has made possible. And even readers who turn elsewhere for a fuller understanding of religion will appreciate Sagan's passion for a science that teaches us to look up. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Despite his background as a scientist, Sagan has a wonderful way with words. These lectures are very readable, and it is hard not to come away both liking and respecting Sagan. He may have been gone for over 20 years now, but Carl Sagan is still a valuable voice with a great deal to teach us.
The book is a compilation of a series of lectures (the Gifford Lectures) Dr. Sagan gave to an educated assembly in Scotland in the late 1980's, which have been edited by his thoughtful and intelligent widow, Ann Druyan.
Incidentally, you should not skip the beautiful forwards.
Another tip might be to read the Q&A section at the end following the completion of each chapter. The continuity is better that way, I think.
Anyway, Carl's genius cuts through all the BS and gets right to the heart of why we cling to unreliable and disproven ideas about our place in the universe and our future as a species.
He puts into words all that I have felt intuitively for many years. Raised in a typical WASP family in the 50's and 60's, I was trained in the traditional Christian dogma. I never really believed what I was told, and my never-ending search for truth led me into the reality that science demands. Still, I could never get the emotional side of my human being to shut up and go away. Now I know that both can peacefully coexist.
Carl Sagan speaks to me from beyond the grave. And I don't need a medium or a seance to make it happen. Read the words. Maybe he will speak to you too.
The book is wonderful. I miss him too, Kurt.