Ann Druyan – Carl Sagan and The Varieties of Scientific Experience

January 05, 2007

Ann Druyan is an author, public lecturer, and TV and movie writer and producer whose work focuses on the worldview of science. She is the widow of Carl Sagan, the great astronomer and public advocate of science and reason. With him, she co-wrote the Emmy Award Winning and the Peabody Award Winning television series Cosmos. She served as Creative Director for NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Record Project, the goldern record on the Voyager Spacecrafts that includes visual images and music and she co-created and produced the movie Contact, which is based on the novel Contact that she co-wrote with Carl Sagan. She is also the author or co-author of several other books, including A Famous Broken Heart, and Comet, which was on the New York Times best seller list for two months. She edited the recent title, Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, which is Carl Sagan’s last book.

In this wide-ranging discussion with D.J. Grothe, Druyan discusses the new book The Varieties of Scientific Experience, her relationship with Carl Sagan, science as an outlook on life, what Sagan called “informed worship,” the use of the word “spiritual” by nonreligious people, the humility of science, skepticism about politics and the paranormal, and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. She also explores the place of humanity in the cosmos, the relationship of science to religion, and whether they are compatible.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, January 5th, 2007. Welcome to Point of inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe in point of inquiries, the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank collaborating with the State University of New York at Buffalo on the new science and the public master’s degree. CFI also has branches in Manhattan, Tampa, Hollywood, Washington, D.C. and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In addition to now 14 other cities around the world. Every week on this show, we look at big questions with interesting people through the lens of the scientific outlook. We focused mostly on pseudoscience and the paranormal, on alternative medicine and on secularism and religion, the intersection of science and religious belief. Now, before we get to this week’s guest, I want to invite all of our listeners to get involved with our online community at CFI dash forums dot org. Now a word from our sponsor before we get to Andrian. 

Hi, I’m Barry Carr, executive director of Psych up here at the Center for Inquiry. We’re celebrating our 30th anniversary this year, making the world safe for science and skepticism and dealing with fringe science and paranormal claims. We publish what I think is an essential magazine, The Skeptical Inquirer. This is the magazine for Science and Reason. Subscribing to the Skeptical Inquirer helps us continue to advance science and reason in our society. I am so sure that you love this magazine, but I want you to have a complementary issue to see what we’re all about. To get your sample copy. Just call one 800 six three four one six one zero. I mentioned the point of inquiry podcast and ask us for your free copy. We’ll get it right out to you and you can begin and join the skeptical inquiry. Thank you. 

It’s really a pleasure for me to have back on point of inquiry. Andrian. She’s a celebrated author and public lecturer, a TV and movie writer and producer whose work focuses mostly on the intersection of science and the basic beliefs of our culture as a humanist and naturalist. She often speaks out on what science says about the meaning of life. She is the widow of the great Carl Sagan. With him, she co-wrote the Emmy Award winning and Peabody Award winning television series Cosmos. It’s even now the single most watched documentary in public television’s history. She served as creative director for NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Record Project. That golden record that’s on the Voyager spacecraft, that includes visual images and music. It’s kind of that greeting card to possible alien civilizations that the Voyager spacecrafts might come in contact with. She co created and produced the movie Contact, which is based on the novel contact that she co-wrote with Carl Sagan. She also wrote several other books, including a famous Broken Heart and Comet, which was on The New York Times best sellers list for two months. She edited the recent title, The Varieties of Scientific Experience A Personal View of the Search for God, which is Carl Sagan’s last book. She’s joining me on the show to discuss it, among other things. Welcome back to a point of inquiry, Andrian. 

It’s so good to be with you today. 

Let’s start off by talking about something I’ve been experiencing Visa v Carl Sagan a lot over the last few years. I’ve given hundreds of talks at colleges and universities past four or five years, admittedly not on astronomy, which was Sagan’s specialty, but on subjects at the intersection of religion, science, the paranormal, his kind of issues time and time again. And the Q&A session. Someone mentions Carl Sagan over 10 years after his death. He’s become almost a mythic figure to people who deeply value science and the kind of issues CFI is all about. There was that recent blog often commemorating the 10th anniversary of his death that got national press attention, created a lot of buzz online. Let me ask you, what do you think about Carl Sagan has made him so immortal? 

Well, when you were talking about the idea of him being a mythic figure, I was thinking to myself, there are probably very few people in history who deserve to be as mythic as Kalidas. And how did he earn that legendary reputation? I think it was because of his protean. 

Hunger for the truth. Mm hmm. 

And his skill and actually his genius at pursuing it. 

And by protean, you mean it was always changing. You’re looking for the truth in different places. 

Maybe I’m using the right word. But to me, it was that he had a kind of off scale, almost really mythic is the right word curiosity, a passion for the truth and the kind of goodness and sense of decency that’s so unusual. You know, the 10th anniversary I’ve just with opening the Chinese newspapers, including the special issue of the Chinese Academy of Sciences devoted to the 10th anniversary of Kalif death. So this is a completely cross-cultural phenomena. It transcends every conceivable demographic. And it was because I think he was one of the prophetic figures of a completely different kind of spirituality, one that rejects the supernatural in favor of the natural and in favor of our most rigorous, skeptical interrogation of nature. To find out what’s really true and what should be considered sacred. And that’s a revolutionary thing. It’s not that Carl started this scientifically. Course not. You know, it harkens back to Einstein and to some of the philosophers that long predate him. But I think more than anyone else, he was able to articulate it and to present it to the world in such a way as to get that same kind of soaring spiritual uplift that people thought before you could only get from from religion. 

OK. That brings us right to the book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience. The title of the book. 

First off, it’s a play on William James, the American philosopher, I guess because of course, his Gifford lectures in nineteen hundred nineteen oh two were called Varieties of Religious Experience, a book that’s never been out of print ever since. And it was my way of saying, you know, this is a giffard lecture in a very illustrious tradition of Giffard lectures, but also that science makes possible areas of human experience that would otherwise be foreclosed to us. 

So that’s why he wrote the book, to explore these areas that would otherwise be unavailable. 

That’s why he gave the lectures because he was invited, which, of course, is considered to be the greatest honor for a philosopher or scientist of any lectureship world. Why they’ve been given for over a hundred years by Niels Bohr and Heisenberg and Albert Schweitzer and the grapes and the near great in science, philosophy and theology. So I thought some 20 years later that it would be a good idea to turn these lectures into a book. And that’s how they became a book. 

Why did you wait until now to come out with it? 

Actually, while Carl was alive, we expected that it would form the nucleus of a book which we like to call ethos, which would have been not only these Gifford lectures, but also, in addition to that, a kind of a a more comprehensive study of the spiritual life of humans. 

So spiritual life of humans. But Carl Sagan was not a Hard-Line atheist yet. Yeah, he was skeptical about traditional views of God in heaven. Would you say that he even if he was in court, spiritual, was he in any sense anti religious? 

He was certainly anti fundamentalist. He was anti superstition. He was anti a sort of believing in things without the proper amount of evidence for their existence. He was against all those things and he thought all of them were pernicious, you know, really exerted a very negative influence on human existence. Among those beliefs, I think he thought a belief in the afterlife was especially poisonous because of how it robbed the life and death of their natural significance and how it prevented so many people from living in the present. So, yes, he had all this belief, but he was a classic agnostic in that he truly believed that we don’t know the answers to any of these questions. 

He saw no evidence for the traditional view of God, but he also believed that it was too much to state flatly based on our pathetically small knowledge of nature and the universe, how the universe came to be and who was involved and if anyone is making it come to be. 

Any I want to backtrack a little one before we get in this discussion of spirituality. This book subtitled A Personal View of the Search for God. But Carl Sagan was a scientist, not a theologian. Stephen Jay Gould argued that religion and science were non overlapping magisterium, that science dealt with some things, but that religion had its own set of truths that science shouldn’t be talking about, that scientists should not be getting involved in. Do you think that Carl Sagan would have agreed with that point of view? Do you think it’s right for a scientist to be dealing in theology? That’s what this book in some sense is about, theology. God. 

Well, you know, this is probably one of the very few things that Carl would have profoundly disagreed with, the wonderful, great Stephen Jay Gould, whom we both loved very deeply. He was a very close friend of ours. And I look back with tremendous sense of poignancy. 

The farewell between Carl and Steve. Shortly before Carl died, that was so emotionally such a rich and magnificent encounter between the two of them. They spent hours together. And when I asked them what they’ve been talking about all that time, they both looked at me and they said love. So they were the best of friends. And he was Stephen de Gaulle was truly one of the light of the 20th century, without a doubt. But that said, I think Carl would have disagreed with him. I’m sure he would have, and I certainly do. On this one point, because for me, there is only one magisterium and that is nature. And this separate but equal notion in this sphere is is pointless and destructive, in my view, as it was in the earlier sphere. And for this reason. And that is that, you know, when people claim there are two non overlapping magisterium, they all say that religion should be fenced off and there should be a protective wall around religion, that science should not peek over. And, you know, you shouldn’t apply scientific methodology to the study of related. But none of these people would say that would be true for let’s say. Intent as tech or ancient Mayan religion or even pre Judaic religions. They would say that the Neanderthal lubic cavemen had various belief systems which are subject to scientific investigation. And it makes you wonder why only this latest version of religion should be immune from our scientific scrutiny. 

It seems to me that one law for science and another for life is apriority a lie, as Karl Marx observed quite some time ago, and probably one of the things that he was absolutely right about. 

Let me ask you, do you think Carl Sagan would have been more vocal about science or religion were alive today? He was very respectful of people’s right to believe their religious beliefs. Do you think he would be more outspoken like some of the other scientific advocates for rationalism today? 

Yes, he would be every bit as outspoken as he always was. If he were alive and I don’t see how he could be more outspoken than he was in the varieties of scientific experience. This book. Let’s not confuse outspoken with abrasive. You know that with one of his many gifts. With that, he understood how to reach people without hitting them over the head and making them feel stupid. 

And it was that gift of being able to communicate, being far more interested in communicating than ever making anyone feel diminished. That is another reason why he’s so mythic. You know, if you read the question and answer period at the end of the book, it’s it’s wondrous to me because there is Carl uncompromising, never said anything you didn’t believe to make someone feel better. And yet I love the way he would think, along with the questioner who disagreed with him without feeling the need to annihilate him. I think that was very clear in the book context in which there’s a kind of a moment where religion and science in the form of these two characters can embrace without the science giving up even a millimeter. 

It’s hardly one hardly fraught territory. And that was another reason why I think we all miss him. So and why the 10th anniversary of his death has been the occasion for such an outpouring of feeling is that we want someone to lead us positively, to be truthful. To be very careful about getting the facts right, but also to be passionate. And a million more thoughts of why Carl was mythic have occurred to me since you first asked me that question just minutes ago. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t include the fact that he was a pioneer in so many of the scientific fields that didn’t really even exist when he was a young man first starting out. There was no way to study the possibility of life elsewhere. Scientifically, the disciplines were so rigidly separate that it took a Carl Sagan to break those walls down and to make it possible for biologists and astronomers to work together to study these most fascinating questions. If you think back on and on what are the overarching scientific myths of our culture that fascinate everyone and are endlessly the subject of movies and television? Many of the things Carl Sagan was among the first to apply a kind of strict scientific methodology to, and it’s another reason why he’s so special. 

I want to talk a little about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in a bit. But let’s get back to spirituality in terms of science. You talk about that he viewed science as something like informed worship. Let me ask you, worship of what, if not God? 

No, not God. Because, of course, you know, we don’t know anything about God, but but nature. 

I believe that that impulse to find certain things sacred is in itself. And I Karl felt this way and I we learned this together, the impulse to to find something sacred. There’s nothing foolish about that or necessarily reactionary about that. It’s the it’s the supernatural aspect that is corrosive, but the natural to feel a sense of awe and wonder and goosebumps and humility in the face of a cosmos that scientists revealed to be so much more vast and more ancient. Been all right. Ancestors and their prophet ever even dreamed. It’s impossible to say. You know, the fact that life that the. Way that humans reproduce is at a moment when they are close to each other, as they can possibly be. And at that moment, their DNA combined to produce new life so that an ancient continuity that stretches back four billion years on this planet. Continues on with the information, the secret of life at its heart. What’s more beautiful than that? It’s so much better than their religious myth that we’ve been given. And it could only be revealed by science. I. I feel that, you know, it’s Carl’s sense of wonder is another reason why even though he was uncompromising about, you know, the kind of flimsy logic and phony thinking that goes into the supernatural. 

He was not at all immune to the beauty of life and the beauty of life and the rarity and preciousness of life. These are things that one can feel all about and a sense of the sacred and informed worship. 

Yes. Because before we had the methodology of science, as one great scientist remarked, nature was like an art gallery with all of its paintings turned to the wall. Mm hmm. And so, yeah, informed worship, but not worshiping some primate projection. Some alpha in the sky. No. 

And you’re talking about appreciating the beauty and wonder of our existence. The brute fact. History of our existence is beautiful and amazing in many ways. But you used the term spiritual. That’s science for you, for Karl is a spiritual experience. It literally or metaphorically? 

Well, because our language is a pretty scientific phenomenon. We don’t have a word for this feeling that isn’t imbued with the sorry history. But we still have that feeling. 

And you don’t feel compelled to jettison a word because of its baggage, because it means these important things to you. 

Well, it’s just like back in the days of the Vietnam War when there were demonstrations and when the people who were demonstrating against the war carried the American flag, it was because they were saying, hell, just because this flag has stood for things which are not good, as well as some things which are the eye. We’re not going to cede this to the people who believe in a war that’s a crime and that’s a mistake. And it’s the same thing with the word spirituality. No, it has to do with things that have not with stood the test of time. 

And yet when I say that word, you know what I mean? And I’m not ceding that feeling. To the fundamentalists or to anyone else? Right. 

Because it belongs to all of us. And not only that, but without that, we’re not going to attract many people to our way of thinking. 

So it’s not just strategic, but you’re saying it is strategic. An atheist or a humanist, a skeptic, a rationalist can go to the Grand Canyon or go out under the stars and feel that sense of wonder. You’re saying it’s all right to use that word spiritual? 

I think so. And I think we have to take it back. Yeah. 

Are you saying that Carl Sagan was a pantheist maybe a Spinoza’s to Pantheist? 

He was a great admirer of Spinoza, as with Einstein, and know when asked if he believed in God, he’d always say, well, it depends upon what kind of guy you mean. If you mean the outsized white male sits on a throne in the sky and tellies the fall of every sparrow. I don’t see any evidence for that God. But if you’re talking about the God of Einstein in the God of Spinoza, the sum total of the physical laws of the universe. Well, you’d be foolish not to believe in the laws of the physical universe. And so that’s the way he dealt with that question time and time again. That that. Yes. The God of Spinoza. I have no problem with the God of Spinoza because it’s nature. And, you know, you’d be silly to deny the existence of nature. 

And he believed in God like Einstein, believed in God like Spinoza, believed in God. That Yefet the universe, the laws and order of the universe call that God have wunder for it. But don’t pray to it. 

Exactly. And don’t expect it to intervene and, you know, somehow get to the money you need to pay your tax. 

Right. I want to switch gears a bit. Karl was not just concerned with the public understanding of science, although that is very important to all of us. He was interested in what he called the baloney detection kit, that he wanted everyone to have a boloney detection kit, a way of seeing the world that guards us from being duped by purveyors of nonsense out there, purveyors of the paranormal, to be sure. He talked about psychics and faith healers, astrologers, people who believed in crystals, Bigfoot, past lives, all of that, but also about being skeptical about really just everything in society. The government politics treats certain traditions, maybe religion. To be sure, he was a skeptic of religion. So here’s the question. 

Do you think that the public mind has paid enough attention to this aspect of his work? I mean, do you think that people are less credulous now than they were when he was such a public figure for skepticism? 

I don’t know. I don’t think I could give you a scientific answer. I can only give you a, you know, my bias. And I don’t think that’s worth your time. And I certainly can’t speak for Karl about that because he didn’t have the opportunity to witness this time. 

I think he would have been appalled, appalled by the war in Iraq and by the administration series of lies to justify it. I think he would have been demonstrating and leading demonstrations against it from before the war began. I think he would have been ashamed of of, ah, violations of the Geneva Convention. These are the kinds of things that he valued very highly. 

The rule of law, the rules of evidence and logic, all of which have been so badly trampled in the last six years. 

No, I think he would have been as much of an activist as he was when he was alive. 

I remember, you know, together we organized the three of the largest demonstrations of nonviolent civil disobedience ever held in this country at the Nevada nuclear test site. And in fact, during one of those demonstrations, while Carl was speaking, the United States exploded a nuclear weapon underneath us at the very moment that he was speaking. So, yeah, he would have been fearless about taking these guys on. And I just want to say one thing. I I just came across a clipping, which was a immigration and naturalization ceremony, naturalization ceremony in Ithica. Oh. Very, very shortly before Carl died at which Carl spoke. This was one of several naturalization ceremony that Carl took the trouble to go and speak at. And what was he saying to these new newly inducted citizens of the United States? Learn the Bill of Rights. Question authority. If you want to be a real citizen, you will be questioning your government at all times if they all lie. And the only way that you can have the kind of country that you want is to be the most active citizen you possibly can be and to know what you’re talking about. So the baloney detection kit, all of these things that Carl dreamed of, of seeing everyone carrying inside their brain automatically. That was a theme of his life from the time he was a teenager. And he was remarkably consistent in really working to see that come true. 

And for Carl, it wasn’t just about the paranormal or skepticism about religion, but applying that scientific outlook to every area of human experience, even politics, you’re saying? 

Absolutely. Every single thing. Love everything. And why not? Because the more you interrogate nature scientifically, the more remarkable and fascinating it is. And he was fearless. He was not someone know. People always said to me after he died, you do believe. And I found myself saying how? Didn’t want to believe. He wanted to know. He didn’t want to, you know, be comforted and assuaged by some comforting delusion. He loved reality. That’s why he was so in love with life and fought so bravely to stay alive. He loved reality and he felt that people who needed you to make stories up, whether they were political or religious or social, that there was a tragedy there. There was a kind of sadness there and a kind of contempt for nature, which was a kind of sin. 

You just mentioned the topic of love and something you don’t think of people being too skeptical about. You know, there are some hard nosed scientists who reduce love to just being something that happens in the brain while there are other people out there who are. So romantic and lovey dovey, so soft hearted that they don’t have tough minds. But Carl Sagan had a tough mind and tender heart. And you say he was interested in love of all the people I’ve ever known in my life. 

I’ve never known anyone who lived and believes so strongly in the power of love and being in love. And I mean, he was absolutely breathtaking in his endless fascination with love. 

Would you tell me a little about your relationship? 

Yes. He was completely different. I think he put his love. I certainly felt that he put his love for me and our children above everything. And, you know, we were together for nearly 20 years. And we must have asked each other. We are married. We must have asked each other to marry each other virtually every single day of those 20 years. I mean, that’s how aware we were of our great good fortune and having found each other in this vast universe and being on the same world at the same time was just too good to be true. And from the moment we fell in love till his last breath. I felt at every turn. I mean, I remember a time when years before his he became ill with the illness that finally killed him. But I remember he had a near-death experience in the early 1980s, a botched appendectomy in which he almost bled to death. And he was in intensive care. He was unconscious for several days and he had it a 14 hour operation to save his life. And when he came out of this very long period of being unconscious and having been in surgery and I still have this little piece of paper, he couldn’t talk because he was on a breathing apparatus and he gestured for a piece of paper and he wrote, is any OK? 

And I still have that little piece of paper. 

And it was typical of everything about him, you know, the things that I loved and that were important to me. He became important to him. And, you know, he defined for me. Truelove, what it is in just an alley, not just Trilla, from that first spectacular moment of June 1st, 1977, but every moment after that. 

And I always felt, you know, during the years of his bone marrow transplants, three bone marrow transplants, you know, just terrible radiation or horrible suffering. Kind of media torture of two solid years. I mean, he never complained. 

And his only expressed concern at all of those times was for me. 

An amazing relationship, A.. Let me ask you about the relationship. Another aspect of it, as he became such a public figure for rationalism, but still showed this devotion and this love for his family. Were there any costs to the family for him being such a public spokesperson on such controversial topics? I mean, here he set himself up. He’s kind of a celebrity going against the most important beliefs of just about everyone in society. The fundamentalists attacked him. The paranormals attacked him. 

Was that hard for all of you? 

You mentioned all the people, but also he was attacked by the National Academy of Sciences. 


For being a popularizer, for being a popularizer in a democracy, for wanting the citizens of a democratic society or a society that aspired to be democratic, for wanting them to be as informed about science as possible. He was punished for the National Academy of Sciences. And and you know what? What he said at the time when he was he was asked by a reporter the very day that happened if he was upset. And I know it pained him, but his response was science is its own reward. Mm hmm. And I know you believe that as much as he felt the pain of rejection by the academy, of course, they ended up giving him their highest award a year or two later. And in accepting that award, you know, everybody was at the edge of their seat wondering if he was going to make reference to how they had blackballed him only two years before. And instead, he spent his entire speech. Describing the real significance of the eight or 10 other honorees of their scientific achievement so that anyone in the world would have understood why what they had accomplished was really remarkable. So, I mean, that was him. You know, he’s a person. I’ve just completely sterling character, you’d have to ask are wonderful children if, you know, if it was difficult for them. My son Sam, who’s gonna be 16 in January, he was tragically just a little tiny child when Karl died. And my daughter is 24. He was, of course, a teenager and has very, very vivid recollections of him. And I think that if you ask them or Nick Fagan or Jeremy or Dorian Sagan, I don’t know how they would answer. But ISIS back. They would say that it was an honor, you know, the kind of attention of people coming up every single place we went, whether it was rural southern India or Central America or anywhere in the world, people coming up and saying to Carl, I just want to thank you for giving me the universe. You know, I’m a teacher. I’m a scientist. I study science. I went to college. I read books because of you. You know, that’s been the overwhelming response. And I think I think they’re very proud of that. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that you can purchase a copy of the varieties of scientific experience through our Web site point of inquiry dot org. There are a couple other things I want to talk about before we finish up my religion and the study of religion is one of them. It impressed me reading his books. How literate about the world’s religions he was even as a skeptic and as some rationalist kind of shy away from the study of religion. They think we shouldn’t look into it. He was deeply interested in religion. 

Yes, he was completely he was a student of religion. He actually read the primary material. You read the Koran. He read the Old Testament and the New Testament. He knew them very well. And it was not unusual for him to quote at length from memory, these great books. And to, you know, to analyze them when he was debating religious leaders or, you know, just simply talking with them. They were astonished at how deep and learned he was about religious tradition. 

You’ve talked about our species as being new. New to this process of finding things out about the world, about the universe. If our species is new, there might be other intelligent life forms in the universe that are far older than we are. You mentioned earlier some of Karl’s contributions to science, not just the public appreciation and understanding of it. One is in this area, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. There’s a lot of attention in this book given to this subject. He talks about science and religion. 

Yes, but also about the existence of life elsewhere in the universe. What’s that have to do with the search for God? 

Karl was aware of the idea that, you know, this was the latest manifestation of that same kind of yearning, searching. 

But of course, the good thing about the scientific search was that not only are there very few assumptions going in and certainly not anything supernatural, but also, you know, science has been happy to disabuse itself of these assumptions. When Karl began the view of the habitable zone, those conditions that were necessary for life to exist with rather narrow and our own research on earth findings about extremophiles, those lifeforms that live in places that we thought were so uninhabitable and inhospitable hasn’t immediately led to a revision in the scientific thinking. Nothing like that happens in the religious sphere. 

You know, religion hasn’t really changed itself. 

But you hear criticisms of science so often that it’s dogmatic, that it’s hard nosed, that it doesn’t have the humility that a religious person does in the face of God. 

Well, two things. First of all, science is guilty of all of those things you mentioned, but written into the ground rules is the opposite of that. And to the extent that scientists are human beings and imperfect and they don’t follow the precepts of science to that extent, yes, of course, sometimes science is slow to change on certain things, certain issues, certain cherished beliefs that it takes. You know what we would consider too long before science divest itself of that idea and then adopts a new idea. But the fact is, is that science does give its highest rewards to those scientists who can prove that its most cherished beliefs are incorrect. And so, you know, sometimes it takes a while, but when some an Einstein or a Newton or a Darwin comes along in a relatively short amount of time, sciences is revised and will continue to be revised because science doesn’t delude itself into believing that any absolute truth can belong to it, that it can hope for absolute truth. But these great little tiny baby steps towards reality. That is the greatest thing that it has to offer. And it gets you to the stars. It gets you to look at what cosmic evolution was some 13 billion years ago. These are mythic powers and no other ideology that I know of can can touch it. 

And also, the even argued and Carl Sagan has argued there’s a humility in science. 

Yes. And that is that science is the only. Thing of which I know that has been able to wean us from our infantile delusions of Centralia in the universe. All of the major religions imagine a God who creates B world and the humans and not just humans, but only male humans or male humans of a certain sect. Are the object of God’s love and that God created the universe for those particular beings. That is not humility in my view. That is the height of arrogance. In fact, there can’t be a more laughable form of arrogance than to think that science is OK. The universe has been here for 13 1/2 billion years. The Earth has been here for about four and a half billion years. And human beings have not even been here for one four thousandth of that time, for one little tiny part of all of that history. But not only is the Earth not at the center of the universe, it’s not even at the center of the solar system. It’s not at the center of the galaxy. It’s not at the center of anything science. Gets us out to the orbit of Neptune so that we can look back at the Earth and see it as a one pixel world in Carl Sagan’s phrase, a pale blue dot. The fact that we can even do that. It’s a sign of some mental health, a rare sign of some mental health on our species, part that we can bear to see the earth as it really is, as Karl asked us to see it and made it possible for us to see it from the Voyager spacecraft in the early 1990s. That’s humility. When you no longer are an infant who believes that the world revolves around you, which is the religious formulation, but instead you’re an adult and you can bear to be that tiny being on a tiny little one pixel world. In a universe we older, we are larger than we will ever be able to imagine. 

So when it comes to ability, I think that science has been the greatest force for humility in the history of our species. And it continues to be. 

And if we ever get to the point where we’re healthy enough as a species to take the revelations of science to our hearts, not just even to know them intellectually, but to really take them within, I believe, and I know Carl believes, that we will begin to treat each other with some respect and kindness and generosity that religions have long dreamed of finishing up. 

And this book is obviously written, at least for rationalists. But does it also have a wider audience? I mean, what do you hope the religious believer is going to get out of this book when she reads the varieties of scientific experience? 

Well, I hope she’ll see that there is a way of searching for the truth which obscures the supernatural. Give us a notion of our. Centrality in the uterus. And yet. Is a means to a completely satisfying, fully lived life. Carl Sagan lived that life. And he does hope that people who already have deeply held religious belief are open. Two other possibilities. And that in the spirit of the fact that we, you know, as we live, we should keep learning that. I hope that people who are conventionally religious will give this book a chance. We’ll read it openly. I hope so. Recognize the respect of their beliefs that Carl held and his respect for their right to believe it, but that there is a kind of a. Is a next level of, for lack of a better word, spirituality. There’s a next level and science makes it possible. And I know of no greater poet teacher than Carl Sagan for opening the way to that endless search. 

Thank you very much for joining me on Point of inquiry, and it’s been my pleasure. 

Did Dad really very much enjoy talking to you? I loved the question. I hope we talk again soon. 

You’ve seen the headlines, Bill seeks to protect students from liberal bias. The right time for an Islamic reformation. Kansas School Board redefined science. These stories sum up the immense challenge facing those of us who defend rational thinking, science and secular values. One adviser to the Bush administration dismissed as the reality based community who could have imagined that reality would need defenders. The educational and advocacy work of the Center for Inquiry is more essential than ever. And your support is more essential than ever. Show your commitment to science, reason and secular values by becoming a friend of the center today. Whether you are interested in the work of psychology and skeptical Inquirer magazine, the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, the Commission for Scientific Medicine, or a Center for Inquiry on campus. By becoming a friend of the center, you’ll help strengthen our impact. If you’re just learning about CFI, take a look at our Web site. W w w dot center for inquiry dot net. We hosted regional and international conferences, college courses and nationwide campus outreach. You’ll also find out about our new representation at the United Nations, an important national media appearances. We cannot pursue these projects without your help. Please become a friend of the center today by calling one 800 eight one eight seven zero seven one or visiting w w w dot center for inquiry dot net. We look forward to working with you to enlarge the reality based community. 

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Point of inquiries produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Music is composed first by Emmy Award winning Michael Clayton. 

Contributors to today’s show included Sarah Jordan and Debbie Goddard. I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.