Customer Review

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Searching for Heaven, 16 May 2007
This review is from: The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God (Hardcover)
There are those who still contend Carl Sagan was not a "deep thinker". Perhaps they're correct, but the scope of his interests and his ability to impart them are unimpeachable. And peerless. The expressive and often humorous voice of science Sagan projected to an admiring public surely garnered a significant percentage of those students entering the discipline. If he left no other legacy, from plates on space probes or searching for alien life, that one is among the most admirable. Yet, that powerful intellect provoked many by issuing challenges to be answered. This collection of twenty-year-old lectures is one such thrown gauntlet. Presented to an audience which responded enthusiastically to his views, Sagan offered a redefinition of how they might view their god. As always, he did it with delightful wit and from a basis of extensive study and experience.

The Gifford Lectures centre on what's called "Natural theology". The term applies to using scientific methods to support theology. One can only hope that by 1985, the members of the audience knew of Sagan's thinking prior to his emergence on stage. From the opening lecture, "Reconnaissance of Heaven", Sagan strips away old mythologies relating how the cosmos worked. In nine lectures and a following question and answer session, he reveals the scope and workings of our universe that science has revealed. The key factor, of course, is "evidence". What we have learned about the world around us is derived from centuries of hard work by dedicated workers. The effort, performed in small, but incremental steps, has revealed a universe over 14 billion years old. It is populated by more galaxies than there are stars in our Milky Way, with each of those cosmic gatherings themselves populated by their own billions of stars. Yet, with all those fantastic numbers, Sagan reminds us, there is a uniformity among that host of fiery orbs. Sodium here is the same as that at the edge of our perception. Organic molecules, without which life could exist nowhere, are present everywhere. What are the odds that we humans are the sole intelligent life?

Extraterrestrial life and the implications arising from that possibility, form a sub-theme of the series. From the suggestion that so many stars exist, it naturally follows that many of them have planets, some of which ought to be capable of hosting life, perhaps even intelligent life. It's only logical that such life would also seek who might be residing as cosmic neighbours. Sagan explains the famous Drake Equation, which postulated the odds of such life existing. It hasn't been found, he admits, but that's no reason not to search for it. In his lectures, he supposes that in other places, intelligent life might last millions of years. That life might - ought - to be well in advance of ours. Furthermore, he contends, what does such life imply for our concept of a god who fashioned us and our beliefs? Is it rational, he asks, to think a universe as vast as ours should be initiated, let alone controlled, by a human-devised supernatural being?

Before an audience interested in nature and theology, Sagan posits a new concept of a god. Not one with supernatural powers and dabbling in affairs of a single species on a remote planet, but something different. This deity should represent the expanse and complexity of the universe we are only beginning to understand. He explains how older versions of deities hampered scientific investigation - they're still doing so. A new, less defined and more open concept of the spiritual aspect of the universe is in order. Entirely new religious experiences can derive from redefining our relationship to the universe, one more realistic and, in Sagan's view, much grander and more fulfilling. This concept, of course, underlies the book's title. By adapting William James' highly insightful, if less informed, work of human religiosity, Ann Druyan, Sagan's wife and collaborator, gave a "tip of the hat" to that earlier collection. "The Varieties of Religious Experience", a previous Gifford Lectures series, also sought a broadened sense of spiritual values. James' work needed little "updating", but Druyan offers some examples of what has been learned in the two decades since her husband's lectures to fill in meaningful details. Sagan would have applauded, since each new bit of information buttresses his case. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 

Comments


Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Dec 2009 15:11:39 GMT
Did you end up making a life in the sciences Steven? Whilst I read this book last week, I was thinking of how it must have been to hear these. Chris Dooks (bovinelife@yahoo.com)

Posted on 12 Mar 2014 23:24:02 GMT
stu says:
Well written synopsis and opinion piece ... thanx!
‹ Previous 1 Next ›

Review Details

Item

4.9 out of 5 stars (17 customer reviews)
5 star:
 (16)
4 star:
 (1)
3 star:    (0)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
Used & New from: £10.92
Add to wishlist
Reviewer


Location: Ottawa, Ontario Canada

Top Reviewer Ranking: 4,588