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

5 Star, Cosmos & Destiny

VarietiesA Gift to Mankind–Cosmos Vision for Leaders, February 13, 2008

Carl Sagan

I have ten pages of notes on this book. It is a beautifully presented volume of lectures that includes slides and stunning color photographs in the body.

The forward by Ann Druyan, editor, has several noteworthy lines:

+ He believed that the little we do know about nature suggests that we know even less about God.

+ His argument was not with God but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred has been completed.

+ 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.

+ [His] vision of a critically thoughtful public, awakened to science as a way of thinking, impelled him….

+ The working title for these lectures was “Ethos.”

The occasion of the lectures was a series on Natural Theology, which is defined as everything about the world not supplied by revelation.

Here are my flyleaf notes:

+ Coping with godliness versus superstition

+ Universe is mostly nothing/blackness; light is the rarity

+ Religion means “binding together” (consistent with those who seek to make religion more of a communitarian endeavor instead of supporting vast hierarchies of “leaders” living off the backs of the far-flung people)

+ 500 million years from now Earth will probably explode–worlds have lifetimes just as humans do.

+ Earth consists is one of a trillion bits in the universe, with 400 billion comprising our galaxy.

+ Churchs have sought to build a wall against science and be exempt from scientific examination.

+ Origin of earth can be conceptualized as a natural selection over millions of years, in which a single particle of dust, this one time, leads to a chain of collisions, electrical energy, and heat melting reactions that took millions of year to evolve to this point

+ Stability of atoms is a *spectacular* phenomenon.

+ Bio-chemical fossils have been recovered.

+ Sir William Higgins frightened the Earth in 1910 when gas-light analysis revealed that cyanide was present in distant stars some thought were on a collision course with earth.

+ Given millions of years the accidental or incidental spontaneous creation of amino acids is perfectly reasonable.

+ Densities in outer space are consistent with organic matter

+ Titan, specifically, has great lakes of liquid hydrocarbons (“chicken soup” for life) Date of this information from NASA: July 2006)

Search for extraterrestial intelligence could be compared to the search for God. There are two calculations:

+ Tough formula: just one, and it is us.

+ Liberal formula: a million other planets with life, but the nearest one is 100 light years away

+ Mathematics would appear to be the common language for inter-galactic communication (see my online review of “Google 2.0: The Calculating Predator–their computational mathematics are “out of this world.”

+ UFO fraud is akin to the sale of religious relics

+ Scientology (declared a cult in Germany) has transmorgified from Dianetics

+ Spinoza and Einstein considered God to be the embodiment of all natural scientific principles

+ Religious “conversions” tend to “join” the existing prevalent community religion

+ Six arguments about the origins of the universe do not satisfy:
– Cosmological
– From Design
– Moral
– Ontological
– Consciousness
– Experience

+ Indigenous peoples recognize other levels of consciousness

+ Emotions may be bio-chemical attributes, and “religion” could be a molecule that produces social conformity

+ Book concludes with a chapter on “Crimes Against Creation” that is most t imely. The author worried about nuclear holocausts leading to firestorms (I would add, aggravated by the collapse of urban water systems). He speaks of a witches’ brew of pyrotaxins, ultraviolet light, and time scale readiological fall-out (see also books such as

High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health
Pandora’s Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy
The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink
Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power

+ Golden Rule matters!

+ The author saw a steady trend of individuals identifying with ever larger wholes to the point of “Whole Earth” [Co-Evolution Quarterly by Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Review by Howard Rheingold, Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link or WELL in the 1970-1990 timeframe; today, the World Index of Social and Economic Responsibility led by Paul Hawken and Peggy Duvette, among others).

The Q&A section is a very fine segue to the book.

Q: How do you recognize truth?

A: It must be consistent of itself, not inconsistent with what is already proven, and we must really understand how badly we want to know or are biased toward accepting without question. Good science is reproducible; miracles are not.

Q: If universe expanding, what is it expanding into?

A: Additional dimensions beyond three.

Q: What is to be done to avoid self-immolation?

A: Demand and practice participatory democracy with a vengeance.

On this latter, see also:
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (BK Currents)
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World
The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World

Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus)
101 Myths of the Bible
Thank God for Evolution!: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World
To Govern Evolution: Further Adventures of the Political Animal
The Age of Missing Information
Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West
The Republican War on Science

Other books I would have linked if allowed:
Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Third Edition
The Future of Life
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century

I put the book down regretting that I never had a chance to hear the author speak in person.