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Carl Sagan is not Satanic July 15, 2009

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: , ,

Is this the face of Satan?

Is this the face of Satan?

Or did I mean to type ‘Carl Satan is not Saganic’?  Either way….

I was quite surprised when I was talking with a Christian relatively recently that told me that, within her experience of the Christian community, Carl Sagan was considered Satanic.  She had been told that she was advised to avoid anything by Sagan because his ideas were dangerous.

I grew up watching Cosmos.  I still think that it is a powerful piece of work that is important for our culture.  Carl Sagan’s calm and smiling countenance evoked a peacefulness and love for nature and science that surely influenced many people.  I can’t help but think that some of this influence settled onto the so-called “new atheists.”  There are certainly some, like Richard Dawkins, who invoke Sagan’s memory and influence upon their life and work.

But Sagan is not a “new atheist” in any way, right? Of course not; he died too long ago for that to be the case.  Or, perhaps he was just ahead of his time.

I don’t know what this term “new atheist” is supposed to refer to.  There have always been outspoken people for reason, evidence, and skepticism about religious claims around.  Epicurus might be the oldest such person, but certainly not the only critic who pre-dates the last several years.

And now as I think about it, perhaps the fact that some in the vast and differing Christian community think of Carl Sagan as Satanic were responding to a man who was ahead of his time.  Perhaps Carl Sagan, in many ways, was the cultural antecedent to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Chris Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, PZ Myers, etc.  Perhaps, despite the fact that he was not precisely these personalities (as any of them is not another) he was the first of the new atheists.  And this is why the Christian community, or at least part of it, remembers him as Satanic.  I’m sure that many of those people think the same of people like me.

Perhaps I can offer this as some support for this view:

Purists will whine, I’m sure.  Sure, Carl Sagan had a deferential side at times.  His book, Contact (which is much better than the movie), surely plays fair with religious conviction, and is certainly no God Delusion or God is not Great in tone or content.  Nonetheless his personal views were that claims of religion were problematic and dangerous for society.  And while he kept an open mind–admitting that he doesn’t know–I don’t know many atheists who would not say the same thing.

All I will say is that those of us who are open about our criticism have been inspired by people such as Carl Sagan, and I hope that such cultural movements continue.  And even if we cannot consider Carl Sagan a member of our ever so sacred inner sanctum of future prophets of atheism, in the end it really doesn’t matter because this whole “new atheist”/”old atheist”divide is really quite silly.



1. plaraia - July 16, 2009

Thank you for your thoughts on Carl Sagan. I’m glad that the great amount of people that he inspired, the mature and passionate way he saw our place in the universe and the tentalizing ideas that may scare a few but enriched millions will way outweight the few ignorant minds that harbor a real fear about our amazing place in the universe. To call him an atheist, although true, is only slicing a diminute side of him. He was an extraordinary human being, scientist with genuine love for humankind.
patricia LaRaia

2. james boag - July 16, 2009

A delightful human being and a delightful intellect, a gift to humanity Carl Sagan, you indeed are missed.

3. Nathan A. Tehrani - July 29, 2009

I’m a huge fan of Carl Sagan, and I liked this. But he didn’t consider himself an atheist. Here’s a quote.

“An atheist has to know a lot more than I know.”

He later called himself agnostic.

Here’s another religion quote by him.

“The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by ‘God’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying … it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”

4. ShaunPhilly - July 29, 2009


I understand that. However it was because Carl Sagan would have been using the definition of atheist which states that an atheist says there is no god. This is not the definition that I or the vast majority within the atheist community use.

You don’t have to know anything to be an atheist. You just have to lack belief in any gods. That is the definition that I use. I’ve discussed this in more detail here:


5. Roger - October 10, 2009

Is Carl Sagan an atheist? He pretty much sums it up in the beginning of the Cosmos series: “The Cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or will be”.

Translation: “There is no God.”

6. Colin - October 20, 2009

Carl Sagan was a strong encourager of people trying coming up with theories or ideas that try to explain why a certain thing works the way it does. He thought it was wrong to dismiss ideas that suggested explanations, even if these ideas were wrong or entirely absurd. I believe that Sagan thought that the theory of God was incorrect, but he did not dismiss the theory regardless of his own personal views because there was nothing to disprove there being a God. This would be an agnostic view like Nathan said.

To Shaun:

I think what Sagan was saying by the quote “An atheist has to know a lot more than I know”, was that an atheist has to know something that disprove there being a God.

Good article by the way. It’s kind of sad that some people look at Sagan as a satanic person because it’s such a negative point of view to have on someone who was such an amazing thinker and who was so fascinated by the complex universe we live in. I wish more people had his fascination and curiosity.

7. Jack - November 24, 2009

Carl Sagan was the greater humanist of the XX century. I find disappointing to find that some christian communities still see Humanism as kind of satanic thing. That is called ignorance.

Besides, they do not play fair(as Sagan did): he is dead now and can’t defend from their attacks.

8. Atheism and Skepticism « The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic - May 12, 2010

[…] may not get your skeptical dander up.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (said Carl Sagan).  The common usage of the term ‘skeptic’, however, is often to conflate it with the […]

9. Happy Carl Sagan Day « The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic - November 6, 2010

[…] Also, in case you one of those deluded souls who were told, as a child, that anything Sagan was Satanic, Carl Sagan is not Satanic. […]

10. Happy Carl Sagan Day « Toumai1470's Blog - November 8, 2010

[…] in case you one of those deluded souls who were told, as a child, that anything Sagan was Satanic, Carl Sagan is not Satanic. […]

11. wlm - December 21, 2013

I consider myself a follower of Christ, agnostic theist. Which makes me satanic I suppose, in the eyes of most “Christians”, and also a retard in the eyes of atheists.

With that said, I believe in creatively guided evolution. Which is something that Dr. Sagan never outright denied.

I don’t believe the universe is 7000 years old. Carl had it right, and he was a great man. He was also a REAL HUMAN BEING, and most “Christians” aren’t.

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