Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sagan, Carl (1934—1996)
         After studying the effects of nuclear war, Dr. Sagan helped popularize the term ‘nuclear winter.’ In 1980 he co-produced and narrated the television series Cosmos, and was awarded Humanist of the Year in 1981.
         An astrophysicist and science writer, Sagan often analyzed the tense relationship of religion and science. In 1990 he signed a global environmental appeal, Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science and Religion at the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. He and other prominent scientists declared, ‘As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred. At the same time, a much wider and deeper understanding of science and technology is needed. If we do not understand the problem, it is unlikely we will be able to fix it. Thus, there is a vital role for religion and science.’
         Sagan was considered a freethinker or skeptic. He maintained that the idea of a creator god of the universe was difficult to prove or disprove. In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, he answered, ‘I'm agnostic.’ On atheism, he commented, ‘An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. We would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists.’ His son stated, ‘My father believed in the God of Spinoza and Einstein: God not behind nature, but as nature—equivalent to it.’
         He suggested tools for testing and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments. Advocating rigorous use of the Scientific Method and critical thinking, he asserted, ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’