The book I’m reading is based on a series of lectures on natural theology that Sagan was invited to give at the University of Glasgow in 1985. It’s called The Varieties of Scientific Experience, deliberately evoking the famous 1902 work by the psychologist, William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience. The lectures were edited by the TV producer of Sagan’s most famous show, Cosmos – the producer who also co-wrote the show and married Sagan in 1981, Ann Druyan.
For those too young to remember Sagan’s distinctive way of speaking, voila:
So, what I’m loving so far about the beginning of this book is Ann Druyan’s Introduction. Here are a couple quotes from her:
“[Sagan] took the idea of God so seriously that it had to pass the most rigorous standards of scrutiny. . . . For Carl, Darwin’s insight that life evolved over the eons through natural selection was not just better science than Genesis, it also afforded a deeper, more satisfying spiritual experience.” (p. x)
“The methodology of science, with its error-correcting mechanism for keeping us honest in spite of our chronic tendencies to project, to misunderstand, to deceive ourselves and others, seemed to him the height of spiritual discipline. If you are searching for sacred knowledge and not just a palliative for your fears, then you will train yourself to be a good skeptic.” (p. xi)
“Carl wanted us to see ourselves not as the failed clay of a disappointed Creator but as starstuff, made of atoms forged in the fiery hearts of distant stars. To him we were “starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of 10 billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose.” For him science was, in part, a kind of “informed worship.” (p. xiii)
I also like her description of his sense of moral calling regarding the existential challenges facing humanity in this age of atomic weapons, devastating pollution, and unrelenting religious/national warfare. In describing his thinking, she writes: “Science has carried us to the gateway to the universe. And yet our conception of our surroundings remains the disproportionate view of the still-small child. We are spiritually and culturally paralyzed, unable to face the vastness, to embrace our lack of centrality and find our actual place in the fabric of nature. We batter this planet as if we had someplace else to go. That we even do science is a hopeful glimmer of mental health.” (p. xii)
Hopefully more to come as I keep reading on…