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A Familiar & Prescient Voice

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Tue, 13 Feb 2007 10:30:08 -0500
Fwd Date: Tue, 13 Feb 2007 10:30:08 -0500
Subject: A Familiar & Prescient Voice

Source: The New York Times - New York, USA


February 13, 2007


A Familiar And Prescient Voice, Brought To Life
By Dennis Overbye

It's been a long 10 years since we've heard Carl Sagan beckoning
us to consider the possibilities inherent in the "billions" of
stars peppering the sky and in the "billions" of neuronal
connections spiderwebbing our brains.

In the day, the Cornell astronomer, Pulitzer Prize-winning
author of books like "The Dragons of Eden", "Contact", "Pale
Blue Dot" and "The Demon-Haunted World", impresario of the PBS
program "Cosmos" and Johnny Carson regular was one of the
world's most famous and eloquent unbelievers, an apostle of
cosmic wonder, critic of nuclear arms and a champion of
science's duty to probe and question without limit, including
the claims of religion. He died of pneumonia after a series of
bone marrow transplants in December 1996.

In his absence, the public discourse on his favorite issues =97
the fate of the planet, the beauty and mystery of the cosmos =97
has not fared well. The teaching of evolution in public schools
has become a bitter bone of contention; NASA tried to abandon
the Hubble Space Telescope and censor talk of climate change;
and of course, religious fanatics crashed jetliners into the
World Trade Center, leading to a war in the Middle East that has
awakened memories in some corners of the Crusades.

Now, however, Dr. Sagan has rejoined the cosmic debate from the
grave. The occasion is the publication last month of "The
Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the
Search for God" (Penguin). The book is based on a series of
lectures exploring the boundary between science and religion
that Dr. Sagan gave in Glasgow in 1985, and it was edited by Ann
Druyan, his widow and collaborator.

Reading Dr. Sagan's new book is like running into an old friend
at a noisy party, discovering he still has all his hair, and
repairing to the den for a quiet, congenial drink.

"I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed
worship", he writes at the beginning of a discussion that
includes the history of cosmology, a travel guide to the solar
system, the reason there are hallucinogen receptors in the
brain, and the meaning of the potential discovery =97 or lack
thereof =97 of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Never afraid to venture into global politics, Dr. Sagan warns at
one point of the danger that a leader under the sway of
religious fundamentalism might not try too hard to avoid nuclear
Armageddon, reasoning that it was God's plan.

"He might be interested to see what that would be like", Dr.
Sagan wrote. "Why slow it down?"

Almost in the same breath, Dr. Sagan acknowledges that religion
can engender hope and speak truth to power, as in the civil
rights movement in the United States, but that it rarely does.

It's curious, he says, that no allegedly Christian nation has
adopted the Golden Rule as a basis for foreign policy. Rather,
in the nuclear age, mutually assured destruction was the policy
of choice. "Christianity says that you should love your enemy.
It certainly doesn't say that you should vaporize his children."

When Saddam Hussein was hanged in December, those words had a
haunting resonance.

It was Ms. Druyan's impatience with religious fundamentalism
that led her to resurrect Dr. Sagan's lectures, which were part
of the Gifford Lectures, a prestigious series about natural
theology that has been going on since the 19th century.

Ms. Druyan, who co-wrote "Cosmos" and produced the movie
"Contact", based on her husband's novel, runs Cosmos Studio and
was a leader in the aborted effort by the Planetary Society to
launch a solar sail from a Russian submarine two years ago.
Among her lesser-known achievements is a kiss on the cheek of
the science writer Timothy Ferris, which was recorded and
included on a record of the sounds of Earth that is part of the
Voyager spacecraft now flying out of the solar system. She and
Dr. Sagan had planned to use his Gifford lectures as the basis
for a new television show called "Ethos", a sequel to "Cosmos",
about the spiritual implications of the scientific revolution.
"I know of no other force that can wean us from our infantile
belief that we are the center of the universe", she said.

But "Ethos" never happened, and the lectures disappeared.

In the wake of Sept. 11 and the attacks on the teaching of
evolution in this country, she said, a tacit truce between
science and religion that has existed since the time of Galileo
started breaking down. "A lot of scientists were mad as hell,
and they weren't going to take it anymore", Ms. Druyan said over
lunch recently.

Some of the books that resulted, such as Richard Dawkins's "The
God Delusion", have been criticized as shrill, but Ms. Druyan
said: "People like Carl and Dawkins are more serious about God
than people who just go through the motions. They are real

About a year ago, Ms. Druyan went looking for Dr. Sagan's
lectures, eventually finding them filed under "Ethos" in his
archive at Cornell, which occupies 1,000 filing cabinets and
includes things like his baby pictures and report cards.

Rereading them, she said, "I couldn't believe how prophetic they

It took about a day for her editor at Penguin to decide to
publish them, she said.

She retitled the book =97 Dr. Sagan had named his lectures "The
Search for Who We Are" =97 as a nod to William James, whose
Gifford lectures in 1901 and 1902 became the basis for his book
"The Varieties of Religious Experience."

Ever the questioner, Dr. Sagan asks at one point in his lectures
why the God of the Scriptures seems to betray no apparent
knowledge of the wider universe that "He or She or It or
whatever the appropriate pronoun is" allegedly created. Why not
a commandment, for instance, that thou shalt not exceed the
speed of light? Or why not engrave the Ten Commandments on the
Moon in such a way that they would not be discovered until now,
=E0 la the slab in "2001: A Space Odyssey"?

If such an inscription were found, people would ask how it had
gotten there, Dr. Sagan writes. "And then there would be various
hypotheses, most of which would be very interesting", he adds

Near the end of his book, Dr. Sagan parses the difference
between belief and science this way: "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."

The search for who we are does not lead to complacency or
arrogance, he explains. "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."

Dr. Sagan was many things, but shrill was not one of them.

The last word may as well go to Dr. Dawkins himself, who in a
1996 book nominated Dr. Sagan as the ideal spokesman for Earth.
In a blurb for the new book, Dr. Dawkins said that the
astronomer was more than religious, having left behind the
priests and mullahs.

"He left them behind, because he had so much more to be
religious about", Dr. Dawkins wrote. "They have their Bronze Age
myths, medieval superstitions and childish wishful thinking. He
had the universe."

[Thanks to Stuart Miller of http://uforeview.net/ for the lead]

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