Saganism Lives On in Futility
Carl Sagan’s daughter picks up where her dad left off, adding an unexpected twist for creatures on a pale blue dot.
Space.com reviewed Sasha Sagan’s new book, For Small Creatures Such As We. Basically, Carl Sagan’s daughter thinks that since humans evolved to be ritualistic, we should come up with some secular rituals that atheists can enjoy during their brief, meaningless lives on a speck orbiting a speck in a speckless universe. Reviewer Chelsea Gohd sums it up in her subtitle: “People are born and people die. We’ve all got to get through it one way or another.”
“For Small Creatures Such as We” (G.P Putnam’s Sons, 2019), Sagan’s new book pays homage to her late father, the astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan (whose famous quote from “Contact” inspired the title of the book), and her mother, “Cosmos” co-writer Ann Druyan, while finding traditions and inspiration in the natural world.
After becoming a mother, Sagan, who is nonreligious but who has a Jewish background and a husband with a Christian background, realized the importance of having rituals with her own family. But, being secular, she didn’t want to draw on religion to inform their family traditions. Instead, as she explores in the book, Sagan looks to the beauty and “magic” of nature, on our planet and out in the cosmos, to inspire ritual and togetherness in her home.
Sasha Sagan advises setting up “secular traditions” that might kindle “wonderment” for families. Perhaps the evolved humans, lost in space, going nowhere, could gain meaning through feelings of “awe” at the vastness of space, and also at human accomplishments, like the success of the solar sail mission. She hopes people might find inspiration in her father and mother’s famous works and memoirs. But can atheists really conjure up awe out of materialism?
A separate post on Space.com offers an excerpt from Sasha Sagan’s book. This quote picks up after her correct argument that wishing something to be true does not make it true.
So if a person is interested in testing their preconceptions, in discovering how things really are and why, how does one go about that? My parents taught me that the scientific method is designed for precisely this job. My father was a scientist. He was the astronomer and educator Carl Sagan. Science wasn’t just his occupation, it was the source of his worldview, his philosophy, his guiding principles. He and my mom, writer and producer Ann Druyan, taught me that belief requires evidence. They taught me that science wasn’t just a set of facts to be compared and contrasted with other philosophies but a way of testing ideas to see which ones stand up to scrutiny. They taught me that what scientists think today might be disproven tomorrow, and that’s wonderful, because that’s the pathway to a better, deeper understanding.
If atheism were disproven tomorrow to her satisfaction, would she find that wonderful? Would she accept theism as the pathway to a better, deeper understanding? Would she be willing to apply the scientific method to secular rituals? Perhaps she could seek evidence that the Stuff Happens Law generates feelings of awe and wonderment. “People are born and people die.” Wow! Oh, what a feeling!
The Apostle Paul preached that without Christ’s resurrection—which brings hope that we can be raised like Him—life would be meaningless. “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (I Corinthians 15:32). It also means that the worst tyrants and dictators got away with their crimes. It means that our conjured-up attempts at pleasure or wonderment are futile. Our innate sense of justice in the conscience is appalled at that conclusion. Why even try to do right, if that is our fate?
Illustra Media illustrated Sagan’s worldview in his own words in this short film, David and the Pale Blue Dot, posted on TheJohn1010Project.com, one of the episodes in their full-length DVD The Call of the Cosmos:
The only way that awe can be genuine is if a God of wonders created this universe, the Earth and life for a good purpose. Sagan was a die-hard Darwinist. “Evolution is a fact!” he declared in Cosmos, after sharing an example of artificial selection. “It really happened!” Yes, “stuff happens.” There is a lot of evidence for that. But understanding does not happen by chance. Understanding takes a mind. So does the Scientific Method. The very things that Sagan relied on for his worldview are inaccessible from the Stuff Happens Law he espoused. By trying to see through everything with science, he saw nothing. C. S. Lewis explains why the Scientific Method cannot be applied to everything:
Up to that point, the kind of explanation which explains things away may give us something, though at a heavy cost. But you cannot go on explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on seeing through things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden, too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see. (The Abolition of Man, last paragraph)
Contrast Sagan’s despairing view of human life to one that recognizes beauty as the work of a loving Creator God. That’s where us tiny humans in a pale blue dot can rejoice in true awe, because beauty has a purpose, to draw us to the Creator. Darwin admitted, “Beauty for its own sake… would be fatal to my theory.” Let Illustra Media show, in its short film Beauty, Darwin and Design, how we are surrounded by a superabundance of beauty that not only is fatal to Darwinism, but lifts us to genuine awe, hope and meaning. (This film can also be found on TheJohn1010Project.com.)