While, as a believer, I certainly don’t agree with everything Carl Sagan said, I have long appreciated his work. As a ten year-old child, I remember getting up on Sunday mornings and watching the original run of his Cosmos series on PBS, and week by week I was simply captivated.
Sagan helped shape a fascination, hunger, and love for knowledge that remains with me today. Though I have chosen to study history and theology, I have always (even as a child) wanted to be a scientist, someone who wrestles with and attempts to grasp the deeper complexities of reality. Such a pursuit, for me, is a theological practice—a starting point far different from Sagan’s. However, though I disagree with Sagan’s theological conclusions, I have felt that Sagan was truly honest and knowledgeable in his perspective as a scientist (which isn’t something I can say for many of those who approach science with theologically apologetic motives).
Ultimately, it was Sagan’s obvious passion and joy for discovery that captured me. I think we would both agree the universe is a beautiful, never-ending puzzle, full of mystery; and where many saw prideful certainty in the things he said, I still see a man humbled and awed by the vastness of it all. I think what he really wanted to teach us was that we should be overwhelmed with a wonder that draws us more deeply into itself. He also wanted us to take responsibility for the care of this “blue dot” we call home.
So I was glad to find Simon Holloway’s posting of the contemporary video narrated by Sagan reading a well known excerpt from his A Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Whatever you think of Sagan or how much your agree/disagree with his views, watch this video and be awed (and humbled) by the wonderful vastness of the universe.
Sagan is just so earnest and open with how he sees the cosmos it is hard not to be enthusiastic. I think that he was attempting to flesh out what it means to be a humanist scientist and what it means to view the world through that lens. His stated goal was simply to popularize science and the idea of the scientist as hero.
How well do you think he did at achieving his goal?
He was an amazing voice for popularizing science and scientific literacy in the general public. Neal Degrasse Tyson doesn’t hold a candle to him. I find the humanist aspect of his thinking compelling. He did not set out to make a religion of science even if the “Warmest” sect considers him a prophet.
I love the poetry of the image taken in 1990 by Voyager I from 3.7 billion miles away from Earth. All that can be seen is a pale blue dot. All of human history, all of human existence so far takes place in this one tiny world that is in an unimportant arm of an average galaxy. This framing of human life is one of Sagan’s best ideas.