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Carl Sagan: 'The Varieties of Scientific Experience...'

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  • TradTimber@aol.com
    A FAMILIAR AND PRESCIENT VOICE, BROUGHT TO LIFE By Dennis Overbye New York Times February 13, 2007 http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/13/science/13carl.html It s
    Message 1 of 8 , Feb 16, 2007
      A FAMILIAR AND PRESCIENT VOICE, BROUGHT TO LIFE
      By Dennis Overbye
      New York Times
      February 13, 2007

      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/13/science/13carl.html

      It
      's been a long 10 years since we've heard Carl Sagan beckoning us to
      consider the possibilities inherent in the
      "billions" of stars peppering the
      sky and in the
      "billions" of neuronal connections spiderwebbing our brains.

      In the day, the Cornell astronomer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of books
      like
      "The Dragons of Eden," "Contact," "Pale Blue Dot" and "The
      Demon-Haunted World,
      " impresario of the PBS program "Cosmos" and Johnny
      Carson regular was one of the world
      's most famous and eloquent unbelievers,
      an apostle of cosmic wonder, critic of nuclear arms and a champion of
      science
      's duty to probe and question without limit, including the claims of
      religion. He died of pneumonia after a series of bone marrow transplants in
      December 1996.

      In his absence, the public discourse on his favorite issues -- the fate of
      the planet, the beauty and mystery of the cosmos -- has not fared well. The
      teaching of evolution in public schools has become a bitter bone of
      contention; NASA tried to abandon the Hubble Space Telescope and censor talk
      of climate change; and of course, religious fanatics crashed jetliners into
      the World Trade Center, leading to a war in the Middle East that has
      awakened memories in some corners of the Crusades.

      Now, however, Dr. Sagan has rejoined the cosmic debate from the grave. The
      occasion is the publication last month of
      "The Varieties of Scientific
      Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God
      " (Penguin). The book is
      based on a series of lectures exploring the boundary between science and
      religion that Dr. Sagan gave in Glasgow in 1985, and it was edited by Ann
      Druyan, his widow and collaborator.

      Reading Dr. Sagan
      's new book is like running into an old friend at a noisy
      party, discovering he still has all his hair, and repairing to the den for a
      quiet, congenial drink.

      "I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship," he
      writes at the beginning of a discussion that includes the history of
      cosmology, a travel guide to the solar system, the reason there are
      hallucinogen receptors in the brain, and the meaning of the potential
      discovery -- or lack thereof -- of extraterrestrial intelligence.

      Never afraid to venture into global politics, Dr. Sagan warns at one point
      of the danger that a leader under the sway of religious fundamentalism might
      not try too hard to avoid nuclear Armageddon, reasoning that it was God
      's
      plan.

      "He might be interested to see what that would be like," Dr. Sagan wrote.
      "Why slow it down?"

      Almost in the same breath, Dr. Sagan acknowledges that religion can engender
      hope and speak truth to power, as in the civil rights movement in the United
      States, but that it rarely does.

      It
      's curious, he says, that no allegedly Christian nation has adopted the
      Golden Rule as a basis for foreign policy. Rather, in the nuclear age,
      mutually assured destruction was the policy of choice.
      "Christianity says
      that you should love your enemy. It certainly doesn
      't say that you should
      vaporize his children.
      "

      When Saddam Hussein was hanged in December, those words had a haunting
      resonance.

      It was Ms. Druyan
      's impatience with religious fundamentalism that led her to
      resurrect Dr. Sagan
      's lectures, which were part of the Gifford Lectures, a
      prestigious series about natural theology that has been going on since the
      19th century.

      Ms. Druyan, who co-wrote
      "Cosmos" and produced the movie "Contact," based on
      her husband
      's novel, runs Cosmos Studio and was a leader in the aborted
      effort by the Planetary Society to launch a solar sail from a Russian
      submarine two years ago. Among her lesser-known achievements is a kiss on
      the cheek of the science writer Timothy Ferris, which was recorded and
      included on a record of the sounds of Earth that is part of the Voyager
      spacecraft now flying out of the solar system. She and Dr. Sagan had planned
      to use his Gifford lectures as the basis for a new television show called
      "Ethos," a sequel to "Cosmos," about the spiritual implications of the
      scientific revolution.
      "I know of no other force that can wean us from our
      infantile belief that we are the center of the universe,
      " she said.

      But
      "Ethos" never happened, and the lectures disappeared.

      In the wake of Sept. 11 and the attacks on the teaching of evolution in this
      country, she said, a tacit truce between science and religion that has
      existed since the time of Galileo started breaking down.
      "A lot of
      scientists were mad as hell, and they weren
      't going to take it anymore," Ms.
      Druyan said over lunch recently.

      Some of the books that resulted, such as Richard Dawkins
      's "The God
      Delusion,
      " have been criticized as shrill, but Ms. Druyan said: "People like
      Carl and Dawkins are more serious about God than people who just go through
      the motions. They are real seekers.
      "

      About a year ago, Ms. Druyan went looking for Dr. Sagan
      's lectures,
      eventually finding them filed under
      "Ethos" in his archive at Cornell, which
      occupies 1,000 filing cabinets and includes things like his baby pictures
      and report cards.

      Rereading them, she said,
      "I couldn't believe how prophetic they were."

      It took about a day for her editor at Penguin to decide to publish them, she
      said.

      She retitled the book -- Dr. Sagan had named his lectures
      "The Search for
      Who We Are
      " -- as a nod to William James, whose Gifford lectures in 1901 and
      1902 became the basis for his book
      "The Varieties of Religious Experience."

      Ever the questioner, Dr. Sagan asks at one point in his lectures why the God
      of the Scriptures seems to betray no apparent knowledge of the wider
      universe that
      "He or She or It or whatever the appropriate pronoun is"
      allegedly created. Why not a commandment, for instance, that thou shalt not
      exceed the speed of light? Or why not engrave the Ten Commandments on the
      Moon in such a way that they would not be discovered until now, à la the
      slab in
      "2001: A Space Odyssey"?

      If such an inscription were found, people would ask how it had gotten there,
      Dr. Sagan writes.
      "And then there would be various hypotheses, most of which
      would be very interesting,
      " he adds dryly.

      Near the end of his book, Dr. Sagan parses the difference between belief and
      science this way:
      "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.
      "

      The search for who we are does not lead to complacency or arrogance, he
      explains.
      "It goes with a courageous intent to greet the universe as it
      really is, not to foist our emotional predispositions on it but to
      courageously accept what our explorations tell us.
      "

      Dr. Sagan was many things, but shrill was not one of them.

      The last word may as well go to Dr. Dawkins himself, who in a 1996 book
      nominated Dr. Sagan as the ideal spokesman for Earth. In a blurb for the new
      book, Dr. Dawkins said that the astronomer was more than religious, having
      left behind the priests and mullahs.

      "He left them behind, because he had so much more to be religious about,"
      Dr. Dawkins wrote.
      "They have their Bronze Age myths, medieval superstitions
      and childish wishful thinking. He had the universe.
      "

      ...........

      THE VARIETIES OF SCIENTIFIC EXPERIENCE:
      A PERSONAL VIEW OF THE SEARCH FOR GOD
      By Carl Sagan (Author), Ann Druyan (Editor)
      Hardcover: 304 pages
      Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (November 2, 2006)
      Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches
      Amazon.com Sales Rank: #11 in Books

      http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1594201072/newheavenneweart
    • Daniel N. Washburn
      TradTimber@aol.com wrote: Thanks for this article and the one on the insula, both really interesting. I had no idea that Carl S had addressed the
      Message 2 of 8 , Feb 17, 2007
        TradTimber@... wrote:

        Thanks for this article and the one on the insula, both really interesting.

        I had no idea that Carl S had addressed the religion/science dilemma and
        had even done a series of Gifford lectures. This should be a terrific
        book.

        My father was a big Sagan fan, corresponding with him at times, so
        Cosmos and CS's books have been part of my family universe for years.
        From his work on nuclear winter alone you have to say he was one of the
        greats.

        Dan
      • SaraAnneC@AOL.com
        In a message dated 2/16/2007 9:18:03 P.M. Central Standard Time, TradTimber@aol.com writes: I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed
        Message 3 of 8 , Feb 17, 2007
          In a message dated 2/16/2007 9:18:03 P.M. Central Standard Time, TradTimber@... writes:
          "I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship,"
          Blessings on you, Tradtimber.... I am ordering the book now. And after reading it I will suggest it to my Interfaith Study Group.
           
          The quote above is worth the price of admission to me.
           
          I am reading a book of interviews with Huston Smith right now and while I have a profound respect for the walk he has walked his whole life (including addressing the "Scientism" vs creationism debate raging in our country right now) I find myself wondering why he had to work so hard to achieve something that seemed to float in to me on a breeze.
          My best explanation so far, to people who engage in this debate is to say "God is bigger than that"... and to suggest that people are selling God short or (If I'm pissed, which I often am, among fundamentalists) that "your faith is shallow if you feel you need to defend intelligent design against Darwinism.... this is not an either/Or issue to me...
           
          SaraAnne
           
           
        • Daniel N. Washburn
          ... Hi, SaraAnne You might be interested in the classic book by J.B.Phillips Your God is Too Small. It reviews various metaphors for God and how all of them
          Message 4 of 8 , Feb 17, 2007
            SaraAnneC@... wrote:

            > In a message dated 2/16/2007 9:18:03 P.M. Central Standard Time,
            > TradTimber@... writes:
            >
            > "I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship,"
            >
            > Blessings on you, Tradtimber.... I am ordering the book now. And after
            > reading it I will suggest it to my Interfaith Study Group.
            >
            > The quote above is worth the price of admission to me.
            >
            > I am reading a book of interviews with Huston Smith right now and
            > while I have a profound respect for the walk he has walked his whole
            > life (including addressing the "Scientism" vs creationism debate
            > raging in our country right now) I find myself wondering why he had to
            > work so hard to achieve something that seemed to float in to me on a
            > breeze.
            > My best explanation so far, to people who engage in this debate is to
            > say "God is bigger than that"... and to suggest that people are
            > selling God short or (If I'm pissed, which I often am, among
            > fundamentalists) that "your faith is shallow if you feel you need to
            > defend intelligent design against Darwinism.... this is not an
            > either/Or issue to me...
            >
            > SaraAnne
            >
            >
            > _

            Hi, SaraAnne

            You might be interested in the classic book by J.B.Phillips Your God is
            Too Small. It reviews various metaphors for God and how all of them
            limit our understanding. I read it years ago, back when I was an
            undergrad, and found it quite inspiring. Remember the Phillips
            translation of the New Testament? This is the guy.

            Dan

            http://www.amazon.com/Your-God-Too-Small-Believers/dp/0743255097/sr=8-1/qid=1171731716/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/105-8221062-1372445?ie=UTF8&s=books

            > _._,___
          • SaraAnneC@AOL.com
            In a message dated 2/17/2007 12:07:34 P.M. Central Standard Time, danw@netmastersinc.com writes: book by J.B.Phillips Your God is Too Small. It reviews
            Message 5 of 8 , Feb 17, 2007
              In a message dated 2/17/2007 12:07:34 P.M. Central Standard Time, danw@... writes:
              book by J.B.Phillips Your God is
              Too Small.   It reviews various metaphors for God and how all of them
              limit our understanding.
              Thanks, Dan -- yet another book to add to my list.
               
              I read somewhere, someone suggesting that people buy books in the belief that they will live long enough to read them. At this rate, living to 100 years is looking more and more probable (inevitable? Unavoidable?) all the time  =)
               
              Sara
            • Daniel N. Washburn
              ... Tell me about it. My wife has me on a one in, one out regime. If I buy a new one, an old one has to go. Bet I live longer than you, though. Dan
              Message 6 of 8 , Feb 17, 2007
                SaraAnneC@... wrote:

                > In a message dated 2/17/2007 12:07:34 P.M. Central Standard Time,
                > danw@... writes:
                >
                > book by J.B.Phillips Your God is
                > Too Small. It reviews various metaphors for God and how all of them
                > limit our understanding.
                >
                > Thanks, Dan -- yet another book to add to my list.
                >
                > I read somewhere, someone suggesting that people buy books in the
                > belief that they will live long enough to read them. At this rate,
                > living to 100 years is looking more and more probable (inevitable?
                > Unavoidable?) all the time =)
                >
                > Sara
                > __.

                Tell me about it. My wife has me on a one in, one out regime. If I buy
                a new one, an old one has to go. Bet I live longer than you, though.

                Dan


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              • Chris
                ... Thanks for recommending this, Dan. I got hold of a copy through my library and it looks interesting. I am tired of CS Lewis-type defenses of Christianity.
                Message 7 of 8 , Feb 23, 2007
                  > You might be interested in the classic book by J.B.Phillips Your God is
                  > Too Small. It reviews various metaphors for God and how all of them
                  > limit our understanding.

                  Thanks for recommending this, Dan. I got hold of a copy through my
                  library and it looks interesting. I am tired of CS Lewis-type defenses
                  of Christianity. In contrast, this is a novel way of viewing the issue
                  and is more in line with my thoughts on language/metaphor.

                  Cheers,

                  -Chris
                • Daniel N. Washburn
                  Hi, Chris Glad you are following up! I haven t had much time to communicate the last few days. We are doing all sorts of stuff on the adoption paperwork.
                  Message 8 of 8 , Feb 25, 2007
                    Hi, Chris

                    Glad you are following up!

                    I haven't had much time to communicate the last few days. We are doing
                    all sorts of stuff on the adoption paperwork. Plus I am charging
                    ahead with a dynamite paper I am writing on my new and ingenious theory
                    about Mark's account of the crucifixion (will send it to you when it is
                    done, if you want). Plus I have had an inflamed salivary gland of all
                    things. The doc wants to cut my throat and take it out. I must be
                    drooling too much about all those interesting things going on in life.
                    Read an article for example about a new nano-tube machine they are
                    working on that will be able to do the gene sequencing for an organism
                    in half an hour instead of the years it took em to do the human genome.
                    Wow.

                    Actually I did write one post to the list but my bloody computer at work
                    hicupped and swallowed the whole thing. I hate it when stuff like that
                    happens.

                    Oh, and I've figured out who the holy spirit was, or at least who Jesus
                    thought he/she was. And how Jesus became God. A whole new paper to
                    write, and I haven't finished the first, not to mention my book on the
                    teachings of Jesus and the Gospel of Thomas!

                    How is the temple square/cube research coming. Any new insights from
                    your metrology work?

                    Dan


                    Chris wrote:

                    >>You might be interested in the classic book by J.B.Phillips Your God is
                    >>Too Small. It reviews various metaphors for God and how all of them
                    >>limit our understanding.
                    >>
                    >>
                    >
                    >Thanks for recommending this, Dan. I got hold of a copy through my
                    >library and it looks interesting. I am tired of CS Lewis-type defenses
                    >of Christianity. In contrast, this is a novel way of viewing the issue
                    >and is more in line with my thoughts on language/metaphor.
                    >
                    >Cheers,
                    >
                    >-Chris
                    >
                    >
                    >
                    >Topics suitable for discussion in this e-list can be found at:
                    >http://www.luckymojo.com/sacredland.html
                    >
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                    >Yahoo! Groups - Join or create groups, clubs, forums & communities. Links
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