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The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

Book Description

Carl Sagan’s prophetic vision of the tragic resurgence of fundamentalism and the hope-filled potential of the next great development in human spirituality.

Carl Sagan is considered one of the greatest scientific minds of our time. His remarkable ability to explain science in terms easily understandable to the layman in bestselling books such as Cosmos, The Dragons of Eden, and The Demon-Haunted World won him a Pulitzer Prize and placed him firmly next to Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, and Oliver Sachs as one of the most important and enduring communicators of science. In December 2006 it was the tenth anniversary of Sagan’s death, and Ann Druyan, his widow and longtime collaborator, marked the occasion by releasing Sagan’s famous “Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology” in book form: The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God.

The chance to give the Gifford Lectures is an honor reserved for the most distinguished scientists and philosophers of our civilization. In 1985, on the grand occasion of the centennial of the lectureship, Carl Sagan was invited to give them. He took the opportunity to set down in detail his thoughts on the relationship between religion and science as well as to describe his own personal search to understand the nature of the sacred in the vastness of the cosmos.

The Varieties of Scientific Experience, edited, updated and with an introduction by Ann Druyan, is a bit like eavesdropping on a delightfully intimate conversation with the late great astronomer and astrophysicist. In his charmingly down-to-earth voice, Sagan easily discusses his views on topics ranging from manic depression and the possibly chemical nature of transcendence to creationism and so-called intelligent design to the likelihood of intelligent life on other planets to the likelihood of nuclear annihilation of our own to a new concept of science as “informed worship.” Exhibiting a breadth of intellect nothing short of astounding, he illuminates his explanations with examples from cosmology, physics, philosophy, literature, psychology, cultural anthropology, mythology, theology, and more.

Sagan’s humorous, wise, and at times stunningly prophetic observations on some of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos have the invigorating effect of stimulating the intellect, exciting the imagination, and reawakening us to the grandeur of life in the cosmos.

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction   ix

Author’s Introduction

1. Nature and Wonder: A Reconnaissance of Heaven   1

2. The Retreat from Copernicus: A Modern Loss of Nerve   33

3. The organic Universe   63

4. Extraterrestrial Intelligence   103

5. Extraterrestrial Folklore: Implications for the Evolution of Religion   125

6. The God Hypothesis   147

7. The Religious Experience   169

8. Crimes against Creation   191

9. The Search   213

Selected Q & A   213

Acknowledgments   261

Figure Captions   265

index   275


“Find here a major fraction of this stunningly valuable legacy left to all of us by a great human being. I miss him so.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

Was Carl Sagan a religious man? He was so much more. He left behind the petty, parochial, medieval world of the conventionally religious, left the theologians, priests and mullahs wallowing in their small-minded spiritual poverty. He left them behind because he has much more to be religious about. They have their Bronze-Age myths, medieval superstitions and childish wishful thinking. He had the universe.”

– Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion

“Sagan, writing from beyond the grave (actually his … 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 … 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.”
Scientific American

“Carl Sagan was an unrivaled master at communicating the breadth and beauty of science. It is not an accident that he was also one of the twentieth century’s most incisive critics of popular delusion. In The Varieties of Scientific Experience … Ann Druyan has unearthed a treasure. It is a treasure of reason, compassion, and scientific awe. It should be the next book you read.”

– Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation

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