Carl Sagan shared sense of wonder with an image of the cosmos – as ancient and vast, awe-inspiring and beautiful, a source of mystery beyond imagination. He saw Earth as a tiny lifeboat in the cold expanse of space. And, while he objected to the view that humans are the center of existence, he saw our special status – as rare intelligent life – as one of the precious jewels of creation.
Carl Sagan was Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in NASA expeditions to the planets, and through a dozen books and the television series, Cosmos, he worked to awaken the public to the wonders of nature as revealed by science. Alongside this, he recognized human potential for self-destruction, and he urged a shift in attitude to emphasize our common nature and our common interest in preserving the Earth.
He wrote often about the relationship between religion and science and, seeing in both a sense of wonder, described science as a type of “informed worship.” After his death in 1996, an edited version of his 1985 Gifford Lectures was published as “The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God.” As his widow and collaborator, Anne Druyan, described it:
“Carl saw these lectures as a chance to set down in detail his understanding of the relationship between religion and science and something of his own search to understand the nature of the sacred.”
Other books include:
The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence
Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science
Contact (a novel)
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are
Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium
A religion . . . that stressed
the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science,
might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe
hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.
The Cosmos was discovered only yesterday.
For a million years it was clear to everyone that there were no other places than the Earth. Then in the last tenth of a percent of the lifetime of our species . . . we reluctantly noticed that we were not the center and purpose of the Universe, but rather lived on a tiny and fragile world lost in immensity and eternity, drifting in a great cosmic ocean dotted here and there with a hundred billion galaxies and a billion trillion stars.
The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding.
Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us . . .
We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.
Something in us recognizes the Cosmos as home.
We are made of stellar ash.
Our origin and evolution have been tied to distant cosmic events.
. . . we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness.
We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars . . .
We succeeded in taking that picture [of Earth, looking back from the outer reaches of the solar system], and if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. . . . Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.
. . . up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits us. . . . National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic or religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars. . .
Our planet is indivisible. In North America, we breathe oxygen generated in the Brazilian rain forest. Acid rain from polluting industries in the American Midwest destroys Canadian forests. . . . Like it or not, we humans are bound up with our fellows, and with the other plants and animals all over the world. Our lives are intertwined.
In our tenure on this planet we have accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage, hereditary propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders and hostility to outsiders, which place our survival in some question. But we have also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and our children’s children, and a desire to learn from history, and a great soaring passionate intelligence – the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity.
Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain . . .
The human species is now undertaking a great venture that if successful will be as important as the colonization of the land or the descent from the trees.
We are haltingly, tentatively breaking the shackles of earth – metaphorically, in confronting and taming the admonitions of those more primitive brains within us; physically, in voyaging to the planets and listening for the messages from the stars.
These two enterprises are linked indissolubly. . . .
. . . we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider.
They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy,
that knowledge is prerequisite to survival…
Carl Sagan portal