The Varieties of Scientific Experience

So, I know it’s crazy, but I’m reading a book: The Varieties of Scientific Experience, by Carl Sagan. The book is edited by his wife, Ann Druyan, who ran across the transcripts of some lectures he gave in 1985 in Scotland (he passed away in December, 1996). The subtitle to the book is “A personal view of the search for God,” which is what drew me to reading it… There have been plenty of books out there trying to reconcile or compare “science” and “God,” but I figured that Carl Sagan, of all people, would yield an interesting take on the ideas.

I’m already half-way through and I wanted to quote a few excerpts from the book here.

On the origins of life on Earth:

“They say it is no more likely that the origin of life could occur spontaneously by molecular interaction in the primitive ocean than that a Boeing 747 would be spontaneously assembled when a whirlwind passed over a junkyard. That’s a vivid image. It’s also a very useful image, because, of course, the Boeing 747 did not spring full-blown into the world of aviation; it is the end product of a long evolutionary sequence, which, as you know, goes back to the DC-3 and so on until you get to the Wright bi-plane. Now, the Wright biplane does look as if it were spontaneously assembled by a whirlwind in a junkyard. And while I don’t mean to criticize the brilliant achievement of the Wright brothers, as long as you remember that there is this evolutionary history, it’s a lot easier to understand the origin of the first example.”

On science in general:

“My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, then our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves. On the other hand, if such a traditional god does not exist, then our curiosity and our intelligence are the essential tools for managing our survival in an extremely dangerous time. In either case, the enterprise of knowledge is consistent surely with science; it should be with religion, and it is essential for the welfare of the human species.”


2 Replies to “The Varieties of Scientific Experience”

  1. you should read DNA: The Language of God, by one Francis Collins. (look him up, if you don’t already know who the guy is.)

  2. He’s the lead scientist on the Human Genome Project… He also did an interview with Stephen Colbert that was rather hilarious… 😛 But yeah, I’ll probably read that one, too. This one just reads so quickly that even I can get through it in a timely manner!

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