This is from page 145 of a book I’ve just finished, Carl Sagan’s posthumously published (2006) The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God (Penguin Press, New York). The book, edited by Ann Druyan—Sagan’s third wife—was transcribed from audiotapes of Sagan’s Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow in 1985.
Sagan’s title is of course a play on William James’s own published Gifford Lectures, the very famous The Varieties of Religious Experience.
“When you buy a used car, it is insufficient to remember that you badly need a car. After all, it has to work. It is insufficient to say that the used-car salesman is a friendly fellow. What you generally do is kick the tires, you look at the odometer, you open up the hood. If you do not feel yourself expert in automobile engines, you bring along a friend who is. And you do this for something as unimportant as an automobile. But on issues of the transcendent, of ethics and morals, on the origin of the world, on the nature of human beings, on those issues should we not insist upon at least equally skeptical scrutiny?”
This book is as anti-religious as anything Dawkins or Hitchens ever published, though the tone is a bit softer. I’m curious, though, why Sagan wasn’t attacked and reviled in his day for “militant atheism.”
UPDATE: Reader Jerry Adler calls our attention to the 1997 piece he wrote in Newsweek on Sagan’s atheism.