Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos'


Zaq33
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I've never read anything by Carl Sagan that was friendly to any religion.  At his core he struck me as an agnostic, but he had some atheism on his fringes, especially atheism against a creationist anthropomorphic God.  I was turned off by the smugness in one of his books... "The Dragons of Eden," perhaps.

 

Funny how the most scientific people can get really unscientific about the big things in life.  Sagan died of some serious medical illness at a fairly young age.  At the time of his death, I remember reading stories about how he and his wife were together a lot as his time slipped away, because they both knew it would be a permanent farewell and were certain that they'd never see each other again.  Now, if they said they "doubted" that they'd see each other again, I could respect that.  But their statement of total certainty about something that nobody could prove always made me roll my eyes.

 

Anyway, I'd recommend that you skip the book and watch the series instead.  The original Cosmos series (1980, PBS) was hugely entertaining, and it's all on YouTube now.  I remember watching it as a very young man, and I can still remember specific scenes because they were so vivid and imaginative.  And you can hear Dr. Sagan say "billion" in that curious way that was widely mocked by Johnny Carson.

 

if you're into science that doesn't cluck its tongue at God, you might try David Berlinski, who I think is terrific.  He's also on YouTube but has some books that really expanded my thinking.

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Has anyone read this book? im interested and was wondering if it was LDS friendly.

 

Thanks

he never admits to a god. but by the end he is almost admitting that it looks like things have been engineered. (going off more of the production series he'd id of the same name) i don't seem to recall him ever going out on a limb and trying to put god down in the Cosmos.

like the above post says, its pretty agnostic centric.

Edited by Blackmarch
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Funny how the most scientific people can get really unscientific about the big things in life.  Sagan died of some serious medical illness at a fairly young age.  At the time of his death, I remember reading stories about how he and his wife were together a lot as his time slipped away, because they both knew it would be a permanent farewell and were certain that they'd never see each other again.  Now, if they said they "doubted" that they'd see each other again, I could respect that.

 

It should be understood that to the irreligious, the thought of an afterlife is as conceivable as the thought of flying unicorns with rainbows shooting out of their backsides. We can't prove that it's not real, but we generally assume that it's not.

 

 

 

But their statement of total certainty about something that nobody could prove always made me roll my eyes.

 

Now you know how they feel when people claim to know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God is real.

 

 

 

Anyway, I'd recommend that you skip the book and watch the series instead.  The original Cosmos series (1980, PBS) was hugely entertaining, and it's all on YouTube now.  I remember watching it as a very young man, and I can still remember specific scenes because they were so vivid and imaginative.  And you can hear Dr. Sagan say "billion" in that curious way that was widely mocked by Johnny Carson.

 

Agreed. The TV series is amazing (both Sagan's original and the new one with Neil Degrasse Tyson). Definitely worth watching.

Edited by Godless
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It should be understood that to the irreligious, the thought of an afterlife is as conceivable as the thought of flying unicorns with rainbows shooting out of their backsides. We can't prove that it's not real, but we generally assume that it's not.

 

But logically that is not the same thing at all. A better example, though still un-perfect, is the thought of creatures that we haven't seen on this earth actually existing on some other planet somewhere in the cosmos. And any reasonable irreligious person would likely find it entirely conceivable that there are, indeed, creatures we have never seen before somewhere out in the universe, despite the fact that it is unprovable.

 

It's is invalid to compare a general assumption based on knowledge we do have (the creatures of the earth have, for the most part, been discovered, and the rainbow-tooting unicorn hasn't been seen) compared to a general assumption based on knowledge we do not (the greater part of the cosmos hasn't been discovered yet).

 

Moreover, the rainbow-tooting unicorn is an unreasonable, meaninglessly random idea, whereas there is clear and obvious (albeit not provable) indications that there may well be a higher power in the universe.

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Now you know how they feel when people claim to know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God is real.

 

Also not the same thing. Claims about knowing God come from personal experience with God. And while unprovable (testimony from others is not the test to know God anyhow), they are certainly valid enough to take up a position that God is real. Whereas taking up a position that, without any doubt, God is not real and that when life is over it's the end, is based on nothing more than conjecture. There is no (nor can there be, logically) personal witness for support, because you cannot prove a negative, or so the saying goes.

Edited by The Folk Prophet
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I remember watching and loving the TV series when they showed it in the UK for the first time when I was only 16. My parents gave me the book for a present on my 17th birthday, and I remember it contained a lot more information than the TV show, but (of course!) none of the lovely music!

 

I don't remember Sagan saying anything about the LDS church ever, but I find it hard to imagine him having much time for Mormonism. One religious argument I remember him making ran something like: "If God made the universe, who made God? If you answer 'God always existed', why not cut out the middle-man and say that the universe always existed?"

Edited by Jamie123
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Also not the same thing. Claims about knowing God come from personal experience with God. And while unprovable (testimony from others is not the test to know God anyhow), they are certainly valid enough to take up a position that God is real. Whereas taking up a position that, without any doubt, God is not real and that when life is over it's the end, is based on nothing more than conjecture. There is no (nor can there be, logically) personal witness for support, because you cannot prove a negative, or so the saying goes.

 

This point of view becomes complicated when you take into consideration the myriad of other religions with followers claiming to "know" that (their version of) god is absolutely real. Heck, you don't even need to step outside of Christianity to see it. It's a religion with millions of followers and several different interpretations of the Bible, not to mention different ideas about the nature of god. And they all claim to have a deep, personal relationship with him. Is their spiritual confirmation any less valid than yours? Is the spiritual witness of a Hindu worshiper any less valid?

 

Also, what of those with no religious upbringing? Is it so unreasonable for someone to have absolutely no expectations for an afterlife when they were never taught to? Yes, you can't prove a negative beyond all reasonable doubt, but put yourself in the shoes of someone who has literally never been taught to believe in life after death. What reason would that person have to put ANY faith in an afterlife?

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This point of view becomes complicated when you take into consideration the myriad of other religions with followers claiming to "know" that (their version of) god is absolutely real. Heck, you don't even need to step outside of Christianity to see it. It's a religion with millions of followers and several different interpretations of the Bible, not to mention different ideas about the nature of god. And they all claim to have a deep, personal relationship with him. Is their spiritual confirmation any less valid than yours? Is the spiritual witness of a Hindu worshiper any less valid?

 

Also, what of those with no religious upbringing? Is it so unreasonable for someone to have absolutely no expectations for an afterlife when they were never taught to? Yes, you can't prove a negative beyond all reasonable doubt, but put yourself in the shoes of someone who has literally never been taught to believe in life after death. What reason would that person have to put ANY faith in an afterlife?

Indeed - and you also can't prove for certain that your whole life hasn't really been a dream; that you're not actually Napoleon, about to wake up with the Battle of Waterloo to fight; nor that the people you consider your best friends aren't plotting behind your back to kill you tomorrow. But I'm sure you don't lose any sleep over these possibilities. (Or at least I hope you don't!)

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This point of view becomes complicated when you take into consideration the myriad of other religions with followers claiming to "know" that (their version of) god is absolutely real. Heck, you don't even need to step outside of Christianity to see it. It's a religion with millions of followers and several different interpretations of the Bible, not to mention different ideas about the nature of god. And they all claim to have a deep, personal relationship with him. Is their spiritual confirmation any less valid than yours? Is the spiritual witness of a Hindu worshiper any less valid?

 

Also, what of those with no religious upbringing? Is it so unreasonable for someone to have absolutely no expectations for an afterlife when they were never taught to? Yes, you can't prove a negative beyond all reasonable doubt, but put yourself in the shoes of someone who has literally never been taught to believe in life after death. What reason would that person have to put ANY faith in an afterlife?

 

That isn't the premise. The premise is that they adamantly refuse to accept that the afterlife or a higher power is a possibility. It's not about expecting someone to have faith in an afterlife. It's about wondering how they can have such strong faith that there isn't one.

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That isn't the premise. The premise is that they adamantly refuse to accept that the afterlife or a higher power is a possibility. It's not about expecting someone to have faith in an afterlife. It's about wondering how they can have such strong faith that there isn't one.

I don't know whether Carl Sagan would have agreed, but Richard Dawkins has admitted many times that he doesn't know 100% that there's no God. He says he's just 99% sure that there isn't - which is a less than the level of certainty many religious people (including LDS) claim to have that their beliefs are true.

Edited by Jamie123
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I don't know whether Carl Sagan would have agreed, but Richard Dawkins has admitted many times that he doesn't know 100% that there's no God. He says he's just 99% sure that there isn't - which is a less than the level of certainty many religious people (including LDS) claim to have that their beliefs are true.

Correct. Dawkins went on to say that he is agnostic about god to the same extent that he is agnostic about fairies and unicorns, which is to say that he (and all atheists) operate under the assumption that there is no god and no afterlife. Technically different from absolute certainty, but only because there is no absolute proof either way.

I'll still submit that, in the mind of most (probably all) atheists, there is no difference between god and the fairytale creatures I mentioned. We have no personal witness to suggest the existence of anything supernatural, and more importantly, no empirical evidence of it. As such, god and the religious concepts surrounding him (like an afterlife) are doomed to the realm of fairies and Santa Claus in our minds.

Edited by Godless
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Reading Carl Sagan's novel "Contact" seemed to be an interesting admission of sorts.  If you saw the movie, it didn't exactly reflect what was in the book.  In the movie (spoiler alert!) the agnostic scientist goes out into the universe in an alien-designed/human-built spacecraft and meets with the aliens, who appear to her as her own father.  When she returns after 18 or so hours, she finds that the observers didn't see and experience what she did.  All they saw was the vehicle falling into the water after a few seconds. 

 

She had seen and experienced an amazing thing that she could not prove.  All she could do is testify of it without the benefit of evidence--but what she saw was real.  The only "evidence" that remained was 18 hours of static on the head-mounted video camera. 

 

In the book (if I recall it correctly), it was a dozen scientists, not just one--12 witnesses.  To me it was an admission about the ancient 12 apostles.  They had seen (with the exception of Judas) amazing things that they could not prove.  It seemed to me that Sagan was admitting that it was possible for them to see what they did and that, even thought there was no physical, tangible proof that everyone could see and touch, their experience was nevertheless true.  In his final years, Sagan seemed to, in that book, leave the possibility open that he and his fellow scientists could have been wrong to dismiss what they couldn't measure through empirical means.

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That isn't the premise. The premise is that they adamantly refuse to accept that the afterlife or a higher power is a possibility. It's not about expecting someone to have faith in an afterlife. It's about wondering how they can have such strong faith that there isn't one.

 

I don't think they are really absolutely convinced there is no afterlife or higher power - they only wouldn't accept to believe in something without any unambiguous  scientific proof. I am not really convinced their belief in denying or rejecting the existence of a higher power is really such strong, because they certainly know it's also only some kind of faith, not knowledge, simply based on the premise there can't be any supernatural being or a creator because there is no certain (scientific) proof,  but knowing they themselves can't prove the non-existing of that higher power. I would call it the "anti-faith (belief)", or atheism based on agnosticism. :lol:

 

"Der erste Trunk aus dem Becher der Naturwissenschaft macht atheistisch, aber auf dem Grund des Bechers wartet Gott." (The first drink from the mug of science makes atheistic, but on the basis of the mug waits God.) -- Werner Heisenberg, 1901 - 1976, German scientist

Edited by JimmiGerman
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Correct. Dawkins went on to say that he is agnostic about god to the same extent that he is agnostic about fairies and unicorns, which is to say that he (and all atheists) operate under the assumption that there is no god and no afterlife. Technically different from absolute certainty, but only because there is no absolute proof either way.

I'll still submit that, in the mind of most (probably all) atheists, there is no difference between god and the fairytale creatures I mentioned. We have no personal witness to suggest the existence of anything supernatural, and more importantly, no empirical evidence of it. As such, god and the religious concepts surrounding him (like an afterlife) are doomed to the realm of fairies and Santa Claus in our minds.

 

 

That's what I would agree. There is no absolute certainty or proof for the assumption that there is no creator and no afterlife  the same way as there is no absolute or scientific evidence or proof for an existing God. There is no absolute proof either way, as you say. An agnostic wouldn't deny the existence of God in an absolute way, because there is a rest of uncertainty for him based on the fact that there seems to be no way for him  to describe or explore God.  But I wouldn't agree that there is no empirical evidence that wouldn't give us an imagination of a super power, as there are many phenomenons discovered in the quantum effects / field theory or the cosmology ("big bang", dark matter,  singularities, dark energy that causes a mysterious and accelerated expand of the universe etc.). I wouldn't believe in fairies and I know there is no Santa Claus, but there is a universe, and there are myriads of secrets and really crazy things surrounding us in this universe, and I believe that all these things discovered by mankind could be understood as revelations  and an indicator of a super power (we call God).

Edited by JimmiGerman
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Actually, I was. We atheists. I apologize if that wasn't clear.

Even that was a broad brush, I know a few atheists who believe in supernatural phenomenon. They'll (the ones I know) eat it up so long as it doesn't stink of Abrahamic religion or greek mythology.

Edited by jerome1232
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another problem to the whole god/no god thing is defining what a God is. Kinda like defining what a black hole is- it may exist but how we understand it exists may be modified as we gain knowledge.

This is exactly the problem that many atheists have with the idea of god and an afterlife. Not only are we expected to believe that there is a god and a heaven, with only (very) subjective evidence to go on, but we're also expected to believe that they meet fairly specific criteria. You're trying to define something with no observable evidence that it even exists in the first place. There's a lot we don't know about black holes, but we have enough evidence to point to their existence and some limited observed properties.

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Even that was a broad brush, I know a few atheists who believe in supernatural phenomenon. They'll (the ones I know) eat it up so long as it doesn't stink of Abrahamic religion or greek mythology.

True, we are a diverse bunch. The only thing we truly have in common is our lack of belief in god. For many of us, that logically leads to disbelief in anything supernatural, but that's not always the case. As a, scientist, it's probably safe to assume that Sagan shared this skepticism, which is why I'm arguing from that viewpoint.

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another problem to the whole god/no god thing is defining what a God is. Kinda like defining what a black hole is- it may exist but how we understand it exists may be modified as we gain knowledge.

 

Exactly. There is no standard definition or description for God, and actually we don't know what we talk about, and that's why many people give that highest power or allmightiness an aura of mystery. But in some religious concepts, like Christianity,  they tend to personify God, especially in Mormonism and its doctrine. Yes, and how we understand the singularity of a black hole depends on our ever modifying and increasing knowledge. As far as I understand it at the moment, a black hole - as an effect of its super gravity - catches and destroys the surrounding four dimensional space time and transferns matter into gravity. Only a few decades ago we didn't have the knowledge about the universe we have today. And what about God? In my imagination, unveiling the secrets of science,  we've already met him.

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I don't think they are really absolutely convinced there is no afterlife or higher power - they only wouldn't accept to believe in something without any unambiguous scientific proof. I am not really convinced their belief in denying or rejecting the existence of a higher power is really such strong, because they certainly know it's also only some kind of faith, not knowledge, simply based on the premise there can't be any supernatural being or a creator because there is no certain (scientific) proof, but knowing they themselves can't prove the non-existing of that higher power. I would call it the "anti-faith (belief)", or atheism based on agnosticism. :lol:

In the scientific community, the burden of proof lies on the individual making a claim. If you were to look at god from a purely scientific standpoint, it/he would be a failed hypothesis in the eyes of most scientists.

You also have to consider the problem of definition that I stated above. What if god is real, but his nature is very far from the LDS definition? What if Islam got it right? Or what if Judeo-Christian dogma is wrong altogether and we should have been worshipping Thor all along? You have to sell us on god before you sell us on Christianity.

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I haven't read Cosmos, but have read the Demon Haunted World. I loved that book! It surely isn't LDS, or indeed, Christian, friendly, but that, in my opinion, is why every Christian should read it. We cannot, and should not, claim that we have a monopoly on truth and goodness, and a dose of rational criticism, well argued and carefully assembled, should not be ignored by us as if we are immune from any possibility of improvement. 

 

I suspect that some people avoid such works out of fear their faith might be shaken, and recommend that others avoid them out of fear that other people's faith might be shaken. Well, if it is, it was never much of a faith in the first place; the kind of faith, perhaps, that will brook no argument. I suspect that this kind of faith is a kind of faith the world can do without, and not miss.

 

Best wishes, 2RM.

Edited by 2ndRateMind
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