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

Carl Sagan , Ann Druyan
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 6 2007 0143112627 978-0143112624 Reprint
Carl Sagan's prophetic vision of the tragic resurgence of fundamentalism and the hope-filled potential of the next great development in human spirituality

The late great astronomer and astrophysicist describes his personal search to understand the nature of the sacred in the vastness of the cosmos. Exhibiting a breadth of intellect nothing short of astounding, Sagan presents his views on a wide range of topics, including the likelihood of intelligent life on other planets, creationism and so-called intelligent design, and a new concept of science as "informed worship." Originally presented at the centennial celebration of the famous Gifford Lectures in Scotland in 1985 but never published, this book offers a unique encounter with one of the most remarkable minds of the twentieth century.

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"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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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

"A stunningly valuable legacy left to all of us by a great human being. I miss him so."
-Kurt Vonnegut

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Certainly both extremes are to be avoided, except what are they? Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Stephen Pletko TOP 50 REVIEWER

Former professor of astronomy & space sciences and former director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University Dr. Carl Sagan (Nov. 1934 to Dec. 1996) has risen from the dead to write a book on his search for God!!

Well, not quite. Sagan's third wife & widow and his longtime collaborator Ann "Annie" Druyan has turned his 1985 lectures (formally entitled the "Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology") that he presented at the University of Glasgow in Scotland into a fascinating book. Astronomer and the Sagans' dear friend Steven Soter wrote scientific updates that appear in the book's footnotes and, as well, he made "many editorial contributions."

The purpose of these lectures as Druyan tells us is as follows:

"Carl saw these lectures as a chance to set down in detail his understanding of the relationship between religion and science and something of his own search to understand the nature of the sacred."

But exactly why did Druyan turn these lectures into a book (which she edited)? Here's her answer:

"In the midst of the worldwide pandemic of extreme fundamentalist violence and during a time in the United States when phony piety in public life reached a new low and the critical separation of church and state and public classroom were dangerously eroded, I felt that Carl's perspective on these questions was needed for than ever."

Thank goodness that she thought this way because she has given all of us a valuable book to be cherished, "a...stunningly valuable legacy left to all of us by a great human being." For those who have followed Sagan's writings in the past, the science he presents will be familiar and easy to follow.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rediscovering a Brilliant Mind Dec 6 2009
By Oliver TOP 500 REVIEWER
20 years after his death, Carl Sagan published his latest book. Varieties of Scientific Experience is a series of lectures in which Sagan gave his views on the existence of god and the meaning of life. Sagan's views are mostly in line with those of the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett), but his scientific background gives him a unique and valuable perspective. The first lecture begins with Sagan describing how small the earth is in comparison to the rest of the universe, and how small a role humans have played, even in the history of the earth. He then asks: Does it make sense that an all-powerful and all knowing god created the universe as a home for us? Are we really the center of the universe?

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.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Searching for Heaven May 16 2007
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
There are those who still contend Carl Sagan was not a "deep thinker". Perhaps they're correct, but the scope of his interests and his ability to impart them are unimpeachable. And peerless. The expressive and often humorous voice of science Sagan projected to an admiring public surely garnered a significant percentage of those students entering the discipline. If he left no other legacy, from plates on space probes or searching for alien life, that one is among the most admirable. Yet, that powerful intellect provoked many by issuing challenges to be answered. This collection of twenty-year-old lectures is one such thrown gauntlet. Presented to an audience which responded enthusiastically to his views, Sagan offered a redefinition of how they might view their god. As always, he did it with delightful wit and from a basis of extensive study and experience.

The Gifford Lectures centre on what's called "Natural theology". The term applies to using scientific methods to support theology. One can only hope that by 1985, the members of the audience knew of Sagan's thinking prior to his emergence on stage. From the opening lecture, "Reconnaissance of Heaven", Sagan strips away old mythologies relating how the cosmos worked. In nine lectures and a following question and answer session, he reveals the scope and workings of our universe that science has revealed. The key factor, of course, is "evidence". What we have learned about the world around us is derived from centuries of hard work by dedicated workers. The effort, performed in small, but incremental steps, has revealed a universe over 14 billion years old. It is populated by more galaxies than there are stars in our Milky Way, with each of those cosmic gatherings themselves populated by their own billions of stars.
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By JaKo
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Collected lectures by the very same person who convinced NASA to turn their Voyager 1 around and snap a shot of Earth from 6 terameters (3.7 billion miles or 40 AU) away... (see: 'The Pale Blue Dot')

Dated, the lectures took place in 1980's -- you'd have to look in footnotes for updates, but that doesn't take a bit from this great source of wisdom. (Illustrations, mostly color photos, are up-to-date though.)

As the name points-out, the book could be understood as an 'Update' on James' series, 'The Varieties of Religious Experience...', in very near, ~80+ years, 'space-time.'

If you've ever looked for an entity of omnipresence and omnipotence and didn't find any believable one -- try this: Dr. Sagan isn't omniscient; however, he can explain to any reasonably open mind his own understanding "the Nature of the Sacred."
As many scientists before and after him tried to explain their special relationship with their work and it's object -- the world it tries to understand better, Dr. Sagan is on the humble side: he doesn't claim to favour any 'ism, yet one can be pretty sure where he stands.

One last bit of Dr. Sagan's legacy (another 'Update' -- on Socrates I think): "...if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed..."
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