Carl Sagan Day

Although not formally a self-proclaimed atheist, Carl Sagan embodied the spirit of atheism and freethought. Sagan, more than anyone in recent memory, inspired millions to look at the universe with eyes open rather than closed. November 9th is Carl Sagan’s birthday. The Council for Secular Humanism has a website dedicated to him. Having a day named after this pioneer is very apropos. Many years ago when I was struggling with my own atheism, his book Broca’s Brain, really helped to solidify my convictions. He completely destroyed many myths and superstitions to the point of obsolescence.

Carl Sagan was the most recognizable scientist in the world at the time of his death. He brought the wonders of science into people’s living rooms. One of the reasons that science is having such a herd time defending itself against the ignorant religious right is the fact that there are not many scientists taking the time to reach out and talk to people. Sagan took the most complex subjects and brought them down to a level that even the most illiterate theist could understand.

Perhaps Sagan’s most enduring gift to humankind was the way he debunked pseudoscience. He was tireless in exposing nonsensical claims and religious dogma. Now, more than ever, we really need someone like Car Sagan. We need someone with the intelligence and the courage to reach out and speak out. Fourteen years after his passing, his words ring as true today as when he first spoke them.

My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts (as well as unable to take such a course of action) if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves. On the other hand, if such a traditional god does not exist, our curiosity and our intelligence are the essential tools for managing our survival. In either case, the enterprise of knowledge is consistent with both science and religion, and is essential for the welfare of the human species.”

Broca’s Brain

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”

Pale Blue Dot

The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.

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Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? … No other human institution comes close.

—The Demon-Haunted World

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