Why atheists should follow Carl Sagan’s lead

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Astronomer Carl Sagan. Photo courtesy of www.jp.nasa.gov.

Astronomer Carl Sagan. Photo courtesy of www.jp.nasa.gov.

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What we celebrate when we recognize Carl Sagan Day is not only Sagan himself. We are really celebrating this amazing cosmos in which we live—and our capacity within it to experience beauty, make meaning, and find purpose.

  • Frish

    Great that science can be described as a spiritual pursuit, just another attempt to describe truth, as religions had done.

    Religions were developed as societal institutions to enculturate new members so that society will continue.

    One difference between science and religion is a matter of FAITH.

    I mean Atheists agree with Theists, who are satisfied to have their “belief without evidence” — No reason for god!

    Unfortunately our psychology isn’t conducive to scientific evidence.

    We’re social primates, and, naturally, there are far more followers than leaders.

    Trusting your leader is the natural condition for most of us most of the time.

    Here’s some science: People are far more interested in personal testimony of people they trust than to consider science’s conclusions.

    Here’s some more science: It seems overpopulation is unstoppable by plague, contraception or war.

    Cultural inertial resistance will not be overcome by science fact anytime soon.

    Oh, by the way, another inconvenient science fact: humans outweigh all wildlife (non-domesticated land animals) on the planet.

    When did nature ever allow a top predator to outweigh all it’s prey?

    So, the wonder and awe of science may be urgently needed to be made clear, but, when will science be given the power to change things?

    We broke it, (we’re shepherding the greatest extinction event in 65 million years), we have to try to manage it, but ‘cultural inertial’ will make this extraordinarily difficult task even more so.

  • Fran


    Sadly, man has destroyed 97% of the wild tiger population on earth, for their skin and bones, leaving only about 3,200 left. Man is also destroying the shark population by hacking off their fins to make “shark fin” soup for the patrons in

    Man also has the option of destroying the earth completely as well as his fellowman with threats of nuclear and/or germ warfare… Oh joy… He has certainly made matters worse!

    Thankfully, the God who created the universe, the earth and everything on it, including us humans :-D, will soon set all matters right on planet earth.

    He will accomplish this through his Kingdom or heavenly government. That government will:

    1. Put an end to all corrupt human governments and rule over mankind with righteousness, love and justice (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 11:1-9).

    2. Put an end to all wicked ones/terrorists as well as war and its purposes (Psalm 37:10,11; Micah 4:1-5).

    3. Put an end to all sickness, disease, old age and death (Revelation 2:1-4), so that man can live forever on a cleansed paradise earth.

    It’s obvious that man, along with his scientists, do not have the power to accomplish all of these things; but a very loving God, who created man and everything else, has both the love and power to do so. All that he foretells and promises mankind in his Word, the Bible, will soon take place!!!! 😀

  • “This may be surprising to some, but one of the foremost icons of today’s rationalist movement believed passionately that to preclude spirituality from a relationship with science was to demean science, as well as spirituality.”

    Jaques Yves Cousteau (another Atheist) is too often forgotten.

    Like Sagan, Cousteau told a great story and opened up the sea to the masses in the same way Sagan introduced many people to the Cosmos.

    But Cousteau was more poetic as well as more practical. He did not speak of ‘spirituality’ (a big weakness in Sagan). Sagan would not wear the Atheist label but he did not believe – so he was indeed atheist. He called himself ‘agnostic’ which is fine – but if you are willing to say ‘you don’t know’ if god is real, you might as well admit you don’t believe.

    But these great men of science dominated the public airwaves and were featured all over TV and media in the 1960’s and 70s. Evolution was better understood by everyone and science had a higher place in society.

    Thanks to the religious right in the 80s with Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Jerry Falwell, America began its long descent into its current dark age. George Bush and the current supreme court are the creation of modern America.

    We are much closer to the Taliban than the scientifically literate country we once were.


    SEPTEMBER 4, 2014

    Where are the great science popularizers today? We need you!
    Save us from the dark ages 🙁

  • Ralph1Waldo

    Well said, Atheist Max.

    “Where are the great science popularizers today? We need you! Save us from the dark ages!”

    I think the recent “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” with Neill Tyson fits the bill, and was a tour de force in that department. As it aired on Fox (among numerous media outlets worldwide), I hope its effect will be felt. I have to hope that it got a lot of people’s attention, and helped to spread science, reason, and a humanistic home for humanity’s future to some otherwise dark places.

    Much of what James Croft writes here is reminiscent of the Religious Humanism — free churches exploring meaning, purpose, ethics and naturalistic “spirituality” based on an evolving scientific understanding of the cosmos and our place in it — pioneered by mid-20th Century Unitarians like John Dietrich and Kenneth Leo Patton.

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  • @Ralph1Waldo,

    Yup. Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome.
    I wish they would continue the Cosmos series.
    Science today is totally optional – and whether or not one learns about evolution depends entirely on the luck of geography. Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas and Alabama are teaching creationism which is as scientific as teaching the world was made by mermaids. 🙁

    “The tragedy is that every brain cell devoted to belief in the supernatural is a brain cell one cannot use to make life richer, or easier or happier”
    – Kay Nolte Smith

  • Josh M

    I happen to find evolution theory quite plausible in some respects. There are also claims which evolutionary theory makes that I find rather implausible.

    Have you ever had a person who didn’t believe in evolution ask you the very silly question “If evolution is true…then where did life come from?” Now, I call this question very silly because I think that the evolutionist gives a very satisfactory answer, so for me this question has basically been asked and answer, so I would creationists not ask to this as a defeater of evolutionary theory. The most common answer the evolutionist gives is this: “Evolution doesn’t have to answer this. Evolution only deals with the diversity and speciation of life, not its origin. The origin of life has to do with abiogenesis which has nothing to do with evolution”. Then some juvenile evolutionists will follow up with some insult directed at the creationist’s intellect for not knowing the true definition of evolution.

    If this answer is correct than I don’t see how what you say makes sense. It seems to me that creation and evolution are not odds. It would seem that creation would hypothesize an answer for the origin of life and evolution would answer what come following the origin of life. The only interpretation of creation which would be untenable with evolutionary theory is that belief that every species of animal, plant, virus, bacteria, etc. was an act of special creation (I theory which I do NOT hold too).

    But a theory of creation which holds either A) Only the first replicating cell was an act of special creation or B) That there were multiple special creations of life, but they were all of different “orders” of life. Now, neither one of these creation theories is incoherent with the idea of evolution. These theories aren’t even at odds with abiogenesis; they’re abiogenesis theory which postulate both these claims. Where the hypothetical “line the sand” would be is whether or not these “creations” were an act of God or an act of nature acting in accord with the physical laws which govern our universe.

    So this really isn’t a scientific question at all, but a philosophical question of naturalism vs supernaturalism. And because of the philosophical nature of this question, philosophical arguments would have to be given in support and rebuttal of each conflicting view.

  • Josh M

    This is an email interview with George Ellis, one of the most notable cosmologist in the field today. It’s interesting and worth a read; check it out at:


  • @Josh,

    “…So this really isn’t a scientific question at all, but a philosophical question of naturalism vs supernaturalism. And because of the philosophical nature of this question, philosophical arguments would have to be given in support and rebuttal of each conflicting view”

    1. We know exactly where all of the elements in the known universe were formed; dying suns created complex elements starting with helium.

    2. Those later elements include carbon, the basic element of all life.

    3. We are learning that enzymes which are pure chemical elements may have been the first life forms.

    There is no reason to suppose or guess that a supernatural ingredient
    created a natural ingredient. All of the evidence points to natural ingredients in everything.

  • What a bunch of crap! What is spirituality? There are three definitions in the first dictionary I just checked and two of them have to do with religion. To try to hang a two-hankie link between Sagan and Christianity is an insult to him and to any rational freethinker. Sagan was an atheist, and a pretty good story teller, and an above-average scientist. Leave the sentimentality for the saps, you won’t find any around here.


    Except there is no theory of creation. Creationism has no ability to act as a scientific theory. You can’t interpret research with it, it has no value in furthering inquiry, it employs no scientific methodology or thinking.

    Creationism is merely a way for religious people to cover up their inability to read on a metaphoric level.

  • Dave V

    Whatever is happening to the species on earth, it is a part of evolution. When the Tigers are gone, there is neither guilt nor innocence ascribed towards their demise nor either to the acts that cause their elimination from the gene pool. There is nothing about an unguided universe except whatever happens is part of the play. Everything on this tiny little planet, empowered by a second rate star, is not doomed to extinction, it is simply following the path of matter moving through a mindless space.

    Welcome to science.

  • Dave V

    “The tragedy is that every brain cell devoted to belief in the supernatural is a brain cell one cannot use to make life richer, or easier or happier” – Kay Nolte Smith –

    That is perfect idiocy. Proved as such by history.

    (A fool with a PhD is still a fool. Just one that passed a lot of tests.)

  • Larry

    “When my husband died, because he was so famous & known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me — it still sometimes happens — & ask me if Carl changed at the end & converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage & never sought refuge in illusions.”

    Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s Widow.

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  • @Dave V,

    “That is perfect idiocy.”

    Leprechauns are more interesting and awesome than Penicillin – said nobody, ever.

  • Fran

    If God, through his Kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44) resurrects Carl back to life on a cleansed new earth (John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15), to be reunited with his family and friends during its upcoming millennial rule, wouldn’t that be a hoot!!! 😀

  • Fran

    Dave 5,

    Thankfully, God will not allow his creations to get to extinction and he will perhaps bring those back we have completely lost due to man’s actions against them.

    What’s even more exciting is that the animal kingdom will be at peace with each other (Isaiah 11:6-8), just as man will be at peace with man (Micah 4:1-5).

    The wolf will reside with the lamb, the goat with the leopard, the calf with the lion, and a little boy will lead them.

    The lion will eat straw like the bull, a child will play over the den of a poisonous snake and the lair of a cobra, without harm.

    These marvelous changes in the animal kingdom will come about by God, their Creator, and not by evolution.

  • Charles Freeman

    Your comment represents ranting without provable substance.
    Prove “god”
    Lions eat meat. What will they eat if not other animals.
    Cobras strike at near moving objects. By what neural mechanism will Anacondas refuse to feed. They will die.
    Most of us long ago gave up belief in supernatural characters based on hope and fantasy.

  • Charles Freeman

    There doesn’t appear to be any basis in the natural world for your conjecture. The elements of your statement are unsupported drivel.

  • Charles Freeman

    Really nice points. Thanks!

  • I read the following poem many years ago and the images of animals eternally living in Heaven in accord with their earthly natures has remained with me. I would think that human nature would not change either. But, of course, I don’t believe in a Heaven or Hell.

    The Heaven of Animals

    By James L. Dickey 1923–1997

    Here they are. The soft eyes open.
    If they have lived in a wood
    It is a wood.
    If they have lived on plains
    It is grass rolling
    Under their feet forever.

    Having no souls, they have come,
    Anyway, beyond their knowing.
    Their instincts wholly bloom
    And they rise.
    The soft eyes open.

    To match them, the landscape flowers,
    Outdoing, desperately
    Outdoing what is required:
    The richest wood,
    The deepest field.

    For some of these,
    It could not be the place
    It is, without blood.
    These hunt, as they have done,
    But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

    More deadly than they can believe.
    They stalk more silently,
    And crouch on the limbs of trees,
    And their descent
    Upon the bright backs of their prey

    May take years
    In a sovereign floating of joy.
    And those that are hunted
    Know this as their life,
    Their reward: to walk

    Under such trees in full knowledge
    Of what is in glory above them,
    And to feel no fear,
    But acceptance, compliance.
    Fulfilling themselves without pain

    At the cycle’s center,
    They tremble, they walk
    Under the tree,
    They fall, they are torn,
    They rise, they walk again.

  • Barry the Baptist

    And how, pray tell, is that going to be accomplished? What, specifically, will be modified and by what method such that these creatures will ignore eons of chemical constraints and conform to your childlike predictions?

    Also, what will your Jehovah do about all of the species that went extinct without any influence from mankind?

  • Fran

    Charles and Barry,

    The scriptures cited at Isaiah 11:6-8 about the changes in animals reveal how powerful God really is. Even the heavens testify to that fact with all the galaxies in it and what they contain.

    The earlier scriptures cited at Isaiah 11:1-5 show that Jehovah will use his Holy Spirit or active force to accomplish his purposes, as he has continually done through time.

    As to those animals which he caused to exist but are now extinct, Jehovah certainly has the power to bring them back into existence; just as he has the power to bring dead humans back to life on earth (Acts. 24:15; John 5:28,29), and will do so.

    In addition, as Matthew 19:26 brings out, when the disciples asked Jesus about who really can be saved (at verse 25), he told them:

    “… With men this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”

    I certainly have faith in Jehovah God, his purposes and promises, and his absolute power, which faith you do not possess. It will take place whether man believes in them or not.

  • Fran

    Charles, that is because, as 1 Corinthians 2:14, 15 brings out:

    “But a physical man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, because they are foolishness to him: and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually.

    “However, the spiritual man examines all things, but he himself is not examined by any man.”