[2006] The Varieties of Scientific Experience

  title={The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God},
  author={Sagan, C. and Druyan, A.},
  publisher={Penguin Publishing Group}

In openlibrary.

My highlights: https://archive.org/download/elopio-kindle-highlights/The%20Varieties%20of%20Scientific%20Experience%20-%20Notebook.html

Superstition is very simple: It is merely belief without evidence.

The objectives of religion and science, I believe, are identical or very nearly so. But the question has to do with the reliability of the truths claimed by the two fields and the methods of approach.

Wonder is the basis of worship. The cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research.

The universe is mainly made of nothing, that something is the exception. The enormous scale of the universe, in my view has been taken into account, even superficially, in virtually no religion, and especially no Western religions.

We need only look up if we wish to feel small.

A general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the God portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy, much less of a universe.

I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship.

It is generally those with privilege and status, especially in ancient times, who became the scientists, and there was a natural projection of those attitudes upon the universe.

One of the central points of special relativity is that there are no privileged frames of reference, that we are not in an important position or state of motion.

As science advances, there seems to be less and less for God to do. God of the Gaps; that is, whatever it is we cannot explain lately is attributed to God. And then after a while, we explain it, and so that’s no longer God’s realm.

If humans succeed in destroying themselves with nuclear weapons, a case could be made that all the other animals are smarter than humans.

We are the products of a unique evolutionary sequence. Unique doesn’t mean better; it just means unique.

As long as man remains free he strives for nothing so incessantly and so painfully as to find someone to worship. One uniform aspect of it is an intense feeling of awe and humility before a power vastly greater than ourselves.

We bow our heads in prayer, making a gesture of submission that can be found in many other animals as they defer to the alpha male.

We kill each other, or threaten to kill each other, in part, I think, because we are afraid we might not ourselves know the truth, that someone else with a different doctrine might have a closer approximation to the truth. Our history is in part a battle to the death of inadequate myths. If I can’t convince you, I must kill you. That will change your mind. You are a threat to my version of the truth, especially the truth about who I am and what my nature is. The thought that I may have dedicated my life to a lie, that I might have accepted a conventional wisdom that no longer, if it ever did, corresponds to the external reality, that is a very painful realization. I will tend to resist it to the last. I will go to almost any lengths to prevent myself from seeing that the worldview that I have dedicated my life to is inadequate.

If we are to understand another’s belief, then we must also understand the deficiencies and inadequacies of our own. And those deficiencies and inadequacies are very major. This is true whichever political or ideological or ethnic or cultural tradition we come from. In a complex universe, in a society undergoing unprecedented change, how can we find the truth if we are not willing to question everything and to give a fair hearing to everything?

“Thou shalt understand the world. Figure things out.”

We have grown up on this planet, trapped, in a certain sense, on it, not knowing of the existence of anything else beyond our immediate surroundings, having to figure the world out for ourselves. What a courageous and difficult enterprise, building, generation after generation, on what has been learned in the past; questioning the conventional wisdom; being willing, sometimes at great personal risk, to challenge the prevailing wisdom and gradually, slowly emerging from this torment, a well-based, in many senses predictive, quantitative understanding of the nature of the world around us. Not, by any means, understanding every aspect of that world but gradually, through successive approximations, understanding more and more.

I think if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.

It goes with a courageous intent to greet the universe as it really is, not to foist our emotional predispositions on it but to courageously accept what our explorations tell us.