Happy Carl Sagan Day

Just a friendly reminder of the wonderful personality of Carl Sagan.  This wonderful communicator of science and  lover of knowledge is still missed by many of us.

I have always loved the sound of his voice, his gentle smile, and I wish I had had a chance to meet him while he was still around.

So, today, let’s try and remember Carl Sagan, what he represented, and what he may still have to teach us.


Here’s the beginning of the Cosmos series, which still gives me a lovely chill when those notes come in.

I urge anyone who has not seen it, or has not seen it in many years, to watch the entire series.

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.

Carl Sagan is not Satanic

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.