Carl Sagan: Prophet of Scientism

By David N. Menton, Ph.d
copyright (c) 1991 Missouri Association for Creation, Inc.

Carl Sagan has gained international attention through his popular writings on science and especially through his thirteen part television series "Cosmos." In all of these, Sagan has insisted that he presents only scientific facts or scientific theories supported by scientific evidence. What has often emerged in his popular writings and television appearances, however, is only a tissue of empirical science covering a great bulk of unprovable speculation liberally laced with Sagan's own philosophical and religious views of life. Sagan's religion is not so much one of science as it is of "scientism."

Scientism is the belief that the assumptions, methods and even the speculations of science are equally appropriate, if not essential, for the proper understanding of all knowledge including religion. Scientism explicitly denies both the special revelation of truth and the existence of a sovereign, supernatural and eternal being. In the religion of Scientism, the Cosmos (matter, energy, time and space) is believed to be eternal and the only ultimate reality. Scientism teaches that all things have their being and origin in the intrinsic properties of nature. It follows that if gods were to exist, they too would only be a part and product of nature. The social and philosophical implications of Scientism for man are embodied in the religion of Secular Humanism. Sagan's scientistic religious beliefs and pronouncements are well documented in his own books:

_Broca's Brain_, New York : Random House, 1979 _The Cosmic Connection_, New York : Anchor Press, 1973 _Cosmos_, New York : Random House, 1980 _Life in the Universe_, San Francisco : Holden-Day Inc., 1966

Sagan, who insists that evolution is a fact not a theory, maintains that "we (humans) are the products of a long series of biological accidents" and thus concludes that "in the cosmic perspective there is no reason to think that we are the first or the last or the best" [_The Cosmic Connection_ p. 52]. Carl Sagan was a student of the evolutionist astronomer Harlow Shapley who once said "some piously record 'In the beginning God', but I say in the beginning hydrogen." Shapley appears to believe that hydrogen is a colorless and odorless gas which, given enough time, turns into people! Shapley's most famous student reflects this same atheistic materialism when in his book _Cosmos_, Sagan confidently asserts that "the world was not made by the gods, but instead was the work of material forces interacting in nature" [p. 177]. Naturally, such beliefs have profound implications for the nature of man, and so it is not surprising when Sagan says of himself "I am a collection of water, calcium and organic molecules called Carl Sagan" [p. 127]. In a logical extension of his crass materialism, Sagan insists that all of our human traits - loves and hates, passions and despairs, tenderness and aggression are simply the result of "minor accidents in our immensely long evolutionary history" [p. 282]. In a lame attempt to find some sense of purpose and meaning in a human consciousness born of "minor accidents" Sagan proposes that "We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers" [p. 193]. As a further extension of this "boot strap" theology Sagan maintains that man has evolved by mere chance to the point where he can now take over and direct his own evolution [p. 320]. With this, the ultimate goal of Scientism and Secular Humanism is finally achieved; man becomes his own creator and thus "god".

In a recent syndicated interview, Joan Sannders Wixen asked Carl Sagan about his views on the future of man. Sagan replied "I feel in order to survive we someday must be able to give up our allegiance to our nation, our religion, our race and economic group and think of ourselves more as just a temporary form of life under the creation of a power beyond our comprehension" [St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Oct. 6, 1980]. Sagan concludes that if man is to worship anything greater than man himself, it should be something which amounts to the pagan worship of nature. In his book _Cosmos_, Sagan proposes the stars and the Sun as being a more worthy object of worship than Jehovah. "Our ancestors worshiped the Sun, and they were far from foolish. And yet the Sun is an ordinary, even a mediocre star. If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, does it not make sense to revere the Sun and stars?" [p. 243]. Neither does Sagan overlook "mother earth" in his proffered religion and urges us to listen to her voice as well. "The ocean calls. Some part of our being knows this is from where we came. We long to return. These aspirations are not, I think, irreverent, although they may trouble whatever gods may be" [p. 5]. In any event, Sagan appears to think it most unlikely that "the gods" will be troubled since he reminds us that "it is said that men may not be the dreams of the gods, but rather that the gods are the dreams of men" [p. 257]. In his book _UFO's--A Scientific Debate_, Sagan freely admits that "science has itself become a kind of religion." In fairness to legitimate science it should be emphasized that it is Sagan's Scientism that has become a religion. Empirical science must depend on observability, repeatablility and testability of all phenomena it would seek to explain. True science of this kind has never been found to be in conflict with the Bible.

Why is it then that so many public schools in our country manage to get away with teaching the religions of Scientism and Secular Humanism even in the face of widespread efforts to erect a "wall of separation" between church and state? Where is the indignation and litigation of the American Civil Liberties Union who seem to fancy themselves as the "watch dog" against the inroads of religion in our public schools? Has the ACLU decided that there are acceptable and unacceptable religions for our public schools? Can, indeed, any teacher discuss the origin of the universe, and particularly the origin of man and his "values", with out teaching or discussing religion? It seems unlikely that there can be such a thing as "value free" or "religion free" education on many of those subjects that most intrigue man. We are led to conclude that all schools are to at least some degree "religious schools", it is only a question of which religion is being taught.

Finally, we might ask why Carl Sagan, of all people, was invited, at considerable expense, to address the recent conference of Catholic educators and librarians here in St. Louis? Are these educators unaware of Sagan's openly professed beliefs? Could it actually be that some of these Catholic educators share these beliefs?