Carl Sagan

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Carl Sagan : biography

1934-11-9 – 20 December 1996

On atheism, Sagan commented in 1981:

An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.

Sagan also commented on Christianity, stating "My long-time view about Christianity is that it represents an amalgam of two seemingly immiscible parts, the religion of Jesus and the religion of Paul. Thomas Jefferson attempted to excise the Pauline parts of the New Testament. There wasn’t much left when he was done, but it was an inspiring document."

Regarding the relationship between religion and science, Sagan stated: "Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual."

In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, Sagan answered, "I’m agnostic".Excerpted in Sagan’s views on religion have been interpreted as a form of pantheism comparable to Einstein’s belief in Spinoza’s God.Tracy, David. "Kenosis, Sunyata, and Trinity: A Dialogue with Masao Abe." In The Emptying God: A Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation, eds. John B. Cobb Jr., and Christopher Ives. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1990, pg. 52, ISBN 81-7030-490-3 Sagan maintained that the idea of a creator of the universe was difficult to prove or disprove and that the only conceivable scientific discovery that could challenge it would be an infinitely old universe. His last wife, Ann Druyan, stated:

When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me—it still sometimes happens—and ask me if Carl changed at the end and 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 and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl.

In 2006, Ann Druyan edited Sagan’s 1985 Glasgow Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology into a book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, in which he elaborates on his views of divinity in the natural world. Sagan is also widely regarded as a freethinker or skeptic; one of his most famous quotations, in Cosmos, was, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (called the "Sagan Standard" by some). This was based on a nearly identical statement by fellow founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Marcello Truzzi, "An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof." This idea had been earlier aphorized in Theodore Flournoy’s work From India to the Planet Mars (1900) from a longer quote by Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827), a French mathematician and astronomer, as the Principle of Laplace: "The weight of the evidence should be proportioned to the strangeness of the facts." tr. Daniel B. Vermilye

Late in his life, Sagan’s books elaborated on his skeptical, naturalistic view of the world. In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, he presented tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent ones, essentially advocating wide use of critical thinking and the scientific method. The compilation Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium, published in 1997 after Sagan’s death, contains essays written by Sagan, such as his views on abortion, and his widow Ann Druyan’s account of his death as a skeptic, agnostic, and freethinker.