Monday, December 29, 2008

The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan

A wonderful collection of the Gifford lectures given by Sagan in 1985 on the subject of natural theology. The Varieties demonstrates Sagan’s depth and breadth of knowledge about science, history, religion and philosophy. Complementing Sagan’s appreciative words are beautiful photos to illustrate the wonder that surrounds is in the universe and is a good complement to Sagan’s appreciative words.

While much of the content, both cosmological and the arguments for and against God, was review for me, I enjoyed hearing his perspective and phrasings. I find it useful to be exposed to explorations of what counts as evidence and what the limitations to knowledge and truth might be.

I recommend this book for those who want to examine our place in the cosmos and are curious to know what reasons, valid or not, we might have for believing a God had a part in the creation.

Of the many interesting parts, I shall share two, the first made me laugh, the second provided a new take on prior knowledge:

(1) Sagan was discussing the likelihood of having contact with extraterrestrial life through radio telescopes and going the pessimistic route with an equation that would yield us as the only technically advanced civilization:
“So there’s nobody to talk to except ourselves, and we hardly do that very well.”

(2)“I remind you of the elementary fact that we breathe the waste products of plants and plants breathe the waste products of humans. A very intimate relationship if you think about it. And that relationship is responsible for every breath you take. We in fact depend on the plants, it turns out, a lot more than the plants depend on us.”


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