Sagan and Druyan: Shared Time in the Cosmos

By Sean Carroll | March 19, 2012 7:44 am

Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s wife, wrote a beautiful piece for the Skeptical Inquirer back in 2003. It’s about science and religion, from a naturalist point of view, expressed in graceful and uplifting prose. An excerpt was shared around on Facebook recently by Michelle Agnellini Yaney, and is worthy of wider distribution. It’s a personal note at the end of the piece — as good a summary of how naturalists view the preciousness of life as you’ll find anywhere.

When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me-it still sometimes happens-and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous-not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance. . . . That pure chance could be so generous and so kind. . . . That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time. . . . That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me and it’s much more meaningful. . . . The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.

I can’t resist tacking on the previous paragraph, worthy of contemplation for its own sake:

And there were other instances of Carl’s remarkable persuasiveness. One was a great story of a so-called “creation scientist” who watched Carl testify at a hearing about creationism in schools. Carl testified for about four hours. It was somewhere in the South, I can’t remember where. And six months later a letter came from the “creation scientist” expert who had also testified that day, saying that he had given up his daytime job and realized the error of what he was doing. It was only because Carl was so patient and so willing to hear the other person out. He did it with such kindness and then, very gently but without compromising, laid out all of the things that were wrong with what this guy thought was true. That is a lesson that I wish that all of us in our effort to promote skepticism could learn, because I know that very often the anger I feel when confronting this kind of thinking makes me want to start cutting off the other person. But to do so is to abandon all hope of changing minds.

It’s hard to live up to Carl Sagan’s example.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science, Top Posts, Words
  • Ian Liberman

    Looks like we will eventually need more scientists to testify in the senate of Tennessee and possibly in court to challenge the Monkey Bills which would allow creationism and intelligent design and flip-side of climate change to be discussed in science class, regressing the educational process back to a non scientific based environment. Let`s hope these scientists are as articulate and as communicative as Carl was when he testified in these situations.

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  • Gizelle Janine

    That’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in my life. Science and romance just go hand in hand. Go, Sagan. <3

  • http://thecosmist.com The Cosmist

    Right, what made Carl Sagan so effective was the (for lack of better words) *soul*, *spirituality* and *numinosity* he manifested in the cause of scientific atheism. Sagan was effectively promoting a new cosmic religion in the guise of science, using language and thoughtforms that have no clear basis in standard models or evolutionary theory. Take for example his little sermon on the seamount to open Cosmos:

    “The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. Our contemplations of the cosmos stir us. There’s a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.

    The size and age of the cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity, is our tiny planetary home, the earth. For the first time, we have the power to decide the fate of our planet and ourselves. This is a time of great danger. But our species is young and curious and brave, it shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the cosmos and our place within it. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.”

    A distant memory of falling from a great height? We are star-stuff? We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself? What are these if not spiritual revelations for a cosmic age? I’m not against canonizing Sagan as a prophet of science, but please realize that he was fundamentally a *spiritual leader* — his religion being a faith in science and rationality which is not much more difficult to deconstruct than, say, Christianity.

  • Kelli

    I am not sure about that, Cosmist. (Should I use the definitive article in direct address? I’m also not sure about that.)

    I don’t make the connection between the use of poetic and evocative language and the advocating of a religion of science. I see someone who uses such language and such imagery as the efforts of a person who wants us to take stock of the *human* experience. We can find the numinous; we can explore the things that make us react with awe; but these feelings do not confer any special status on that which we apprehend. I don’t think Carl wanted us to ‘worship’ the universe, or science. Nor profess obeisance to him as a prophet.

  • Ron Seadler

    I just told my wife about Ann Druyan’s words. Lack of religion does not mean lack of love or a good moral life. I also think altruism and empathy are hallmarks of a well rounded atheist. I struggle to determine how I might explain to my 81-year old mother why she need not worry about my facing eternal repercussions for my atheistic beliefs. I was born into a large Catholic family and just happened to wake up to better understanding of the universe. I walk a fine edge trying to explain just enough so my mother will understand and be comforted without introducing a belief crisis this late in her life. I am more spiritual than she may ever know. That is evidence I cannot produce, so there I must rely on her belief.

  • TimG

    “The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is”

    But wouldn’t it be better if there were a heaven and we all got to go there? I mean, appreciating the time you have together is great and all, but getting to spend eternity with the people you love sounds like a way better deal to me.

    Too bad “what is most appealing” and “what is actually true” aren’t necessarily the same thing.

  • Anonymous Coward

    I have a tendency to agree with The Cosmist, and with the religious folk who point out that life without God is a pretty bleak place. I disagree that sex, food, love, etc. make life worth living. In fact, the notion of a life worth living isn’t even well defined. We live because we were born, and because it would suck more to kill ourselves than to just carry on.

    Years back when I heard Sagan I was more inspired than I am nowadays. As a psychologist when I hear someone, such as Dawkins, Sagan or NDT preaching about the awesomeness of the universe, I experience cognitive dissonance.

    If you break that down, it’s a pretty interesting phenomenon. I’m basically claiming that our scientific “prophets,” if you will, are experiencing cognitive dissonance with regards to their own deaths, and are trying to justify their lives. And now that I know that, when I listen to them, _I_ experience cognitive dissonance because I know they are just saying those things to resolve their own.

    Nevertheless, this sentiment rings true for me: “I don’t want to go out. I want to stay in. Get work done.” — David Bowie

    However, I recognize that this is likely only because I am a creature that evolved to enjoy “working.” Whenever I stop working, I feel like I have no control over the universe, which is actually largely true. I get depressed and in a funk. I feel like this funk-state is much closer to the true nature of the universe. All the flowery language is completely unnecessary, and is in fact misleading people and guiding them away from the truth, which is not very pleasant.

    So please, stop with the flowery language that is meant to soothe the hearts of atheists. It’s actually making us look bad, and we are lying to religious folks about the nature of reality.

  • Christian Takacs

    In 1981 my 6th grade class watched the Cosmos series. At the time I was growing up in Utah, which is very Mormon, and to some degree conservative because of Mormon beliefs. As we watched the Cosmos programs, our teacher would from time to time mention things to provide perspective about what Carl was talking about. My teacher was a Mormon, and a very good man, and had an excellent sense of humor allowing him to almost subversivly cause his students to think.
    When we watched the evolution episode, he laughed and shook his head. After class I asked him about his reaction. He very carefully studied my face, and said, “Evolution is a theory of how existing life can mutate and change by natural selection within a species, but what it can’t do is explain life’s orgin, or explain why the species diverged into separate species… there are limits to what science can tell us, and beyond those limits , we simply don’t know”. As I got older I realized that many who would call themselves ‘educated’ have a great deal of trouble with what they simply don’t know, they don’t want to admit to themselves (or others) that many of the answers they learned turn out to be incorrect, or very inaccurate. Many who would call themselves Scientists simply can not accept that the scientific method has limits, with good reason, and instead of admitting they don’t know something, they fill it with ego and conjecture as imaginitive and unsupported as those who believe in spirtuality and religion. The Cosmos is vast, and the part we understand somewhat dimly, is very tiny. If past scientific history is any guide, it is that many of the ‘facts’ we learn turn out to be ‘not the case’ in time. Carl and his wife would have been far more scientific in their beliefs if they had both merely noted that they ‘did not know’ if there was an afterlife or not, or what it would be like if there was one. Atheism is the faith that you can disprove what you do not know with absolute certainty, This is not logically possible to do whatever you might believe in.

  • Guido

    “Religion” or lack of it has become the new snobbery. But smarter people than Sagan believe in God. It is perfectly ok to be smart, educated and believe in God. By the way if you believe/reject a god that sits on the clouds and “requires” adoration then you are not really smart. We have advanced in our understanding in sciences but Jesus’s message is still too hard for us to decode and make some sense of it. So we have to be snobbish about what we don’t understand.
    From his wife loving tale it seems that Sagan was quite religious/naturalist, merely rejecting the god-on-cloud, traditional afterlife fairytale doctrine that is mistaken for religion. I am fine with that.
    But not everyone is like Sagan (and with a loving wife) so please, just because it feels good, don’t knock god off the clouds for everybody also who might need one.

  • John

    To Christian: I don’t doubt that your science teacher was a good man or a good teacher, however, he was incorrect on both points here. 1) “…what it can’t do is explain life’s orgin…” technically, this is correct in that evolution in the biological sense only takes place on what is living; however, that is not to say that science has nothing to say on the matter. Many hypotheses have been tested and there has been a great deal of research and experimentation into this matter by organic chemists, biochemists, general chemists, and geologists. Many different conclusions have been made and rejected or upheld by further experimentation through the combined efforts across multiple fields and vantage points. Yes, to your teacher’s later point, science does have limitations and I doubt that anyone with real scientific training would suggest that the origin of life question has been fully answered at this point; however, there is really interesting information here as to how it was likely to have occurred. Some would take this a step further and suggest that since we have a likely explanation, this makes the literal interpretation of any religion inherently less likely as the likely explanation does not include a supernatural figure. Personally, I think that’s an interesting rhetorical or philisophical conjecture, however, it does not directly fall under the scope of the current data. 2) “…what it can’t do…or explain why the species diverged into separate species.” This is simply incorrect. There is not enough room to go into all of the multiple lines of evidence as to why this is a completely incorrect statement, but suffice it to say, speciation is well researched, documented, and currently fully accepted, even amongst many in the ID community. I think the best book on this subject that treats the subject matter fairly and accessibly without being condescending to someone coming from a religious perspective (it’s written by a religious person) is “Only a Theory” by, Kenneth Miller. Ken is the head of the biology department at Brown, co-author of the most ubiquitous Biology textbook in the country, and a practicing catholic. Finally, this may be a speculation, but using the word theory prior to evolution in a sentence like the one you constructed, though correct, brings up the spectre of a point that scientists unfortunately go blue in the face trying to make. There is a disconnect between the way the word ‘theory’ is used colloquially and the way it is used in science. Colloquially, you may say, “I have a theory as to why that guy’s a jerk”, suggesting the meaning to equate to a singular idea or hypothesis about something. In science, the word ‘theory’ is used to describe a concept derived from a unification of multiple lines of evidence, which is accepted as an explanation to a wide range of scientific observations (conclusions from experiments). This is why we say ‘the theory of evolution’ and ‘the theory of gravity’ with equal weight. Yes, there is also a ‘law’ of gravity, but that is just a part of the overall theory. On that note, your teacher also defined evolution incorrectly. Natural selection is not part of the definition, it is part of the theory, but not the only mode of selection and again, I would urge you to read the book mentioned above for more information. The simplest and most accepted definition of evolution is, “changes in gene frequency over time”. Of course that is a simplified definition of the term and to fully understand the theory, you need to go a bit further than those 6 words. I hope this little note is helpful.

  • J Esser

    Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan were very fortunate to have found such an enduring love for each other. The rhetoric from the Religious perspective is, as always, predictable and ignorant. Perhaps if they read the article, which the excerpt was taken from, they may come away enlightened. In respect to Atheist/Agnostic position being vogue, I suggest learning about Historical figures who were Atheist/Agnostic – many times at great personal risk. Seneca (5 BCE 65 CE) would be a good place to start. The one thing that has changed dramatically in the last decade is those to have a platform to express their views freely. Like the Gutenberg revolution we are witness to a never before seen freedom of speech. Victims have found their voice. As to what science can offer – new knowledge everyday. Science, in all of it’s disciplines, is a dynamic process ever refining. I have never understood how a person who knows very little about a scientific discipline can dismiss the knowledge that is acquired by the Sciences simply because they themselves haven’t spent a life time learning that discipline. Get your PhD, then shoot your mouth off. You could spend your entire life in Academia acquiring 4 or 5 PhD’s and still not come close to the collective knowledge of the global scientific community. Religion cannot make the same claim, if anything they still stifle humanity and are the cause of much death and hardship. Step outside of the box, change the characters names and tell someone the story you have come to believe in (not know) and how does it sound? I feel sad for those who find more comfort in a make believe entity(s) than they can find in their friends and family. I am 52 and doubt that I will live to see a world devoid of Religion, but I think my son’s will. We are living in, arguably, the most exciting time humanity has ever known. Celebrate life while you are here, it is certain that Carl and Ann did.

  • Christian Takacs

    @John,
    You basically made my point for me John, though I don’t know if you intended to. Please re-read my post. We watched the series in 1981. In 1981, as now, folks talk about the Theory of Evolution as if it is the same thing then as it is now. It isn’t. What was known in 1981 is not what is known in 2012, and many many things that were held as ‘fact’ in 1981 have been overturned in many many places throughout all science. The Theory of Evolution gets updated and changed constantly to fit current facts that play in its follower’s favor, in essence, the theory is evolving, and keeps getting edited to make it seem ‘more’ correct. That is much like me finding out I got something wrong on my history test, erasing my incorrect answer and writing in a new answer that is considered correct, and claiming how successful I am at getting the correct answer . For you to look back at what was known in 1981 and say “Aha! we know better….NOW.” is silly. The Big Bang Theorists do the same thing, they keep changing the theory to include new data, then go on to say how predictive the theory is (What??? We found Cosmic Background Radiation?? Lets say BB predicted it!!…rubbish). Any theory could be considered correct if you are allowed to constantly change the theory to fit data, and call it the same theory. It would be more correct and truthful if scientists would admit how often theory is wrong and not predictive, and how they have to edit the theory heuristically to fit data…which means, their theory really is not very predictive without being rewritten. Perhaps they should tack on a Version number like software does… Windows 7, V. 10o9080809 or something or other, just so folks can see what is really going on beneath the placid surface of scientific ‘theory’. I believe Carl himself put the components of life together and stirred vigorously…as did James Burke in the wildly chronologically inaccurate series “Connections” (James admitted they made bogus connections to push his narrative). Problem still is… saying, “look, organic molecules…. Just add water and electricity and stand back! WHAMMO! they are ALIVE!” is not very predictive. It’s called pushing the answer, mathematicians worth their salt do it all the time when they are fudging their answers heuristically. First nothing exists, then all of a sudden, the whole damn universe occurs in an explosion from a singularity (Which is an abstract mathematical point and has no volume or substance to do anything)…is not any more SCIENTIFIC than ‘And then a miracle occurred!’ or ‘God parting the waters of Chaos’ to explain the orgin of the universe. This is what I meant by the limits of what science can tell us. When you don’t know, say so, and if you must speculate then admit you are doing so, but don’t call it science and say ‘we know this’. This allows someone else in the future to come along and say.. ‘Hmmm, we don’t know much at all about this, let’s actually try to find out!’

    P.S. As to the ‘changes in gene frequency over time’, please. Until just a few years ago, the consensus of ‘learned ones’ was that most of our DNA was merely gobble-de-gook space filler, that didn’t do anything (since they didn’t understand it they ASSUMED it didn’t do anything? sheer genius that is). After killing several people with ‘gene treatment’ they began to catch on that the gobble-de-gook which comprises most of our DNA is actually not so useless, but may actually be far more complicated genetic instructions which they have no real understanding of yet. ‘Changes in gene frequency over time’ is about as useful a definition as saying football is ‘A game where a ball is involved’. Not to be rude, but the definition you provide doesn’t say anything informative. I could just as well say “Evolution: a constantly revised heuristic theoretical model of prediction of the orgin and changes of life based on the desire of it’s adherents to be considered correct and informed even in the absence of data” With this handy definition you can be considered correct to support this theory no matter what is eventually discovered, since it will rewrite itself to fit the facts retroactively should any pesky future contradictions occur. Much like The Big Bang and Superstring Theories, The Theory of Evolution’s reach exceeds it’s grasp by a considerable margin.

  • Christian Takacs

    @J Esser,
    Your perspective is as ignorant as that which you declaim. Please listen to your own argument, about religion, about science. You have missed the ball entirely.
    First) Atheism is NOT Agnosticism, pick up a dictionary, they are very different and the only person who would confuse the two is someone who does not know what they mean.
    Second) , yes, please read some history about bad’ol religion. I dare you. Then read a few books about good’ ol atheists, ya know, like totally, (chewing gum noises) Good ol’ Hitler, Stalin, Marx, Pol Pot, Mao. My family in Europe was decimated by the Nazis, and what was left was mostly rounded up and crushed under the communists of Russia. Talk about ‘make believe’, and you should consider that the attempted utopias and cultural revolutions of the Nazis, Communists, Maoists, Socialists and Progressivists have killed more people many thousands of times over than all the crusades, inquisitions, or holy wars ever did put together, please get some perspective before you form your opinion on this.
    Third) Get a PhD? Get Several? Wow, you set a fascinating standard to enter the discussion about science and its disciplines. Perhaps you should (once again) pick up a book on the history of science. Academia is not (contrary to it’s own beliefs) the source most knowledge. Academia is where knowledge is prepackaged and sold largely in the form of dogmas and degrees to a well heeled clientelle, who fervently hope the prestige they attain will translate into further wealth in the workplace. If you would research higher education you might find that the model of college education is in serious trouble, it is far too costly, takes too long, and is mostly useless in the workforce. The PhDs you recommend as a source of enlightenment have more to do with politics and paper writing, than with understanding or knowledge. You discover something new, it better not step on any tenured toes, contradict any academic politic or you going bye bye! You might want to read how many discoveries were actually made after the person LEFT academia, due to the stagnant groupthink nature found so prominently in universities.
    Fourth) I don’t think you know what Religion is practiced for, and your contempt for it speaks of further ignorance on the subject. Mind you, I do not advocate all religions as being equally beneficial, or subscribe to any parity or equality of their merits any more than I would say all philosophies are equal or valid, or that all makes of cars, people, nations were equal. Religion is about dealing with life and the choices we make, and things we have no choice about and how we deal with that. Religion in the western world also stresses self control, and making GOOD or moral choices and talks in great detail about consequences of action and thought. Philosophy and Religion are not really separable to some degree since each often draws from the other throughout all history. You want to play Athiest? You will have to draw from the logical arguments of Socrates, Aristotle, or Descartes, to even have a debate… and oh yeah, they all believed in something divine beyond their knowledge.
    Fifth) do you know what Science is for? Science tells humanity how things work, how something can be done, and by extension – how something can be created… controlled.. or destroyed. While I am fond of Science in how it can lead to understanding something, I am put off by how many who claim to pursue Science do so for control or power over others. Science is all about ‘can’ and ‘could’ and so many people who follow its methods believe the capacity to do something is justification for doing so. Hitler was a great adherent to science and it’s potential, which he employed very successfully. Untold adavances were made under his direction as he extended unfettered science over any boundries or restraints, provided it granted more dominion over his enemies and control of his own people. Hitler took the most highly educated and advanced technological society on earth, subverted it to his purposes quite quickly, and proceeded straight to ( I dare you to say otherwise) hell. One of the things Hitler was very cognizant of was how RELIGION was in his way. Funny thing that…Marx and Stalin, Mao, they kind of all had the same idea, how wonderful it would be if Religion would just vanish… how wonderful things would be when nothing was left to say “yes, you have the power and COULD do such a thing… but SHOULD you do such a thing?” It is this fundemental question that Science, quite frankly, is not equipped or caring to answer.
    Sixth) @J Esser specifically, All the PhDs and Education, all the Science and power in the world, all the wealth imaginable, will not protect you from following evil, or making bad choices that have real consequences. Delighting in the end of religion and spirituality so that your son might live in such ‘exciting times’ in a world without such beliefs puts you smack dab in the company of monsters. I do hope you (.1 pick up a few good books, think a little bit, and (2. Change your mind (Repense)

  • MikeK

    I wish that this testimony that Dr. Sagan gave were available somewhere, ideally as video, but even as a transcript. I find that so many people, as Ms. Druyan alludes to, are simply dismissive of the creationist argument. That, of course, will not serve to persuade people who are tempted by the fallacy. We need to do better in explaining where their arguments are incorrect and unfounded, and Dr. Sagan was among the best at explaining complex ideas to a lay audience.

  • J Esser

    @Christian Takacs, thank you confirming my original assertion. Your understanding of History is misguided and only further displays your ignorance. In respect to Atheist/Agnostics throughout the ages – that’s the point idiot – they have always been. In regards to their meanings I am fully aware and that is why both are included. The vast majority of crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in the name of (a) Religion. I suggest that that you get your facts straight. The most interesting argument you present is actually the most misguided, Hitler. Look into the Eugenics program at the turn of the century in the U.S.A. – who was behind it and where it went. No doubt and no argument that Hitler was megalomaniac as where his backers – from around the world including the good ‘ol U.S.A. One the interesting things of the times we live in is the freedom of information act, again I urge you to educate yourself. Hitler was, by all accounts, a devout Christian, a staunch conservative, non smoker, non drinker, vegetarian and frowned upon womanizing behavior. Double check and see what was on EVERY Nazi belt buckle – Gott Mit Uns (GOD WITH US). The other examples of modern history that you mention also don’t stand up to scrutiny. However I will agree that the propaganda was otherwise. Morality has nothing to do with Religion, the immoral have always used Religion to hide behind. Science(s) is the pursuit of knowledge. Politicians and the Military are the ones who misuse this knowledge. Look into Oppenheimer and Einstein’s remarks regarding this. I must commend you on your vernacular though as it truly represents your intellect. In respect to acquiring an education, in this day and age you can do so quite easily, however I strongly recommend that you cross reference. To put things in perspective I am a Autodidact Polymath and the last time I was tested they were using the WAIS-R test, my score was 173 (to be fair I I had a migraine at the time). I was raised as a Roman Catholic, the foundation of all modern Christianity. I have studied only 11 of the major religions and their individual texts. I understand all of the stories, better than you. I haven’t missed the point, apparently you have. Mr. Sagan and his partner tried their best and did such an eloquent job of explaining things so that even the most naive could grasp. You, on the other hand, show that some things are simply too much to grasp and Fairy Tales do such a good job when all else fails. As to your parting remarks, we live in an exciting time in human history RIGHT NOW. My son’s would not give you the time of day. I have been to Hell and back 4 times in my life, presently I reside in Heaven and when I die, while I will live on through my deeds and the living memory of those who love me, I will cease to exist whether I “believe” otherwise. That is the major point that you missed.

  • Christian Takacs

    I would never tell anyone the Genesis creation story was science, or factual. I would ALSO never tell anyone that the Big Bang Theory was science or factual. The Big Bang Theory is based on very little data (Redshift), that data has been interpreted in a very limited way and does not hold up under much scrutiny. Cosmic Background Radiation was tacked onto the Big Bang Theory at a later point as being predicted, but that is not factually true. The BBT really hasn’t predicted anything observed. On the other hand, much of the new data coming to us from the Hubble Telescope and newer satellite instruments indicate the cosmos has celestial objects going every which way, many moving in directions that Red Shift can not explain with its present intepretation. As for Cosmic Background Radiation, it’s there. That’s about all that is known about it. I don’t believe it is very scientific to make definite claims about events over fifteen billion years ago when we are still struggling with understanding the fundamental forces of particles and gravity right here and now. Just say ‘we don’t know yet’, and quit telling stories more outrageous than mythology. If you do this, you will be far more factual and scientific than believing in singularities exploding outside of time and space.

  • J Esser

    @ Christian Takacs (17), I agree we just don’t know yet and that is why Agnostic was included. Even Richard Dawkins states that he is Agnostic, not Atheist. Even those who are Religious are Atheists in respect to all Religions except their own. I will also concede that there are people who’s capacity and circumstances requires a believe in something other than what they experience. Until you have been to a hell on earth you will never fully understand why that is. Frankly I hope that anyone reading this doesn’t have too. We are constantly learning and perhaps one day we will fully understand.

  • Tyle Stelzig

    Regarding comment 4, due to Cosmist: Spirituality and faith are orthogonal. So it’s true that Carl expresses some (wonderful) spiritual attitudes about the cosmos, which are not scientific. But they are not *anti-scientific* either, nor do they have anything to do with faith. As Kelli pointed out, he is commenting on the human condition. This is not related to accepting propositions for which we have insufficient evidence.

    Regarding comment 7, due to TimG: Of course you’re right that eternal happiness would be better than dying, but I don’t think Ann suggested otherwise. What she does suggest is that eternal life is pretend, and hence a trivialization of loss (and perhaps indirectly therefore a trivialization of the wonderful time that she and Carl did share). Resorting to lies suggests dissatisfaction with the truth.

    Regarding comment 10, due to Guido: Isn’t it incredibly condescending to say that we should not dispose of certain illusions because some people are too weak to live without them? To say that those people can’t handle the truth, and that it is our duty to keep them in merciful ignorance?

    Ann’s statement was among the most beautiful and honest that I have ever read on the topic of love and loss. Thanks for posting it, Sean!

  • Tyle Stelzig

    And I’ll probably regret this, and I tried to resist, but just a few words regarding Christian Takacs’ comments: There is much to say which is obvious (the big bang doesn’t explain anything? really?), but I’ll just point out three things. First, the fact that our best theories undergo continual revision and occasional replacement does not make knowledge impossible. Second, it is incredibly arrogant to dismiss offhand centuries of hard struggle for truth. No scientist would dare make such claims, since his discipline enforces humility. Finally, of course our study of nature cannot directly answer moral questions. But it can guide us in our journey from suffering to happiness, by elucidating the consequences of our choices and encouraging honest dialogue. This is something that religion cannot do.

  • Christian Takacs

    @J Esser,
    First… Catholic beliefs are not the foundation of Christianity. Jesus’ parables are the foundation of Christianity (Dominic Crossan, In Parables), and they have nothing to do with Emperor Constantine and what he wanted to use them for. Jesus never once made reference to a human afterlife, heaven, hell, a holy trinity or limbo… if you do your research (as in Jesus as a historical figure), he spoke of the Kingdom of God, which is the same as the Fields of the Lord, or in other words, the physical world we live in. He also spoke of open consumality, and the belief that power was not what determined the truth, and position had nothing to do with making good decisions. Jesus was not a Baptist or follower of baptist thought, though apparently he was baptized, he followed a separate school of thought called the Wisdom tradition that used parables to convey an indirect message requiring self reflection. Jesus never talked about heaven or hell or claimed he was ‘God’ until long after his death when Constantine confiscated and changed his parables to institutionalize them as a power structure to prop up his failing Roman Empire. My father is a Catholic, my mother is a Quaker, My step father was First Christian, my step mother was originally buddhist. I was taught my Catechism by a Trapist Monk at the only Catholic Monastary in all of Utah. My mother informed me I would learn my various religious heritages so I could intelligently decide in what I eventually chose to believe or not… so I do have some perspective of relgious belief systems. I also know the very very old stories, the ones that became the basis of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Hebraic and Babylonian cultures, religions and philosophies. I believe in all religions… they do exist, but I practice none as a follower. I also do not say all religions are equal, any more than all cultures or people or things are equal. A thing is only equal to itself, and no other.
    Second) My understanding of history, while not absolute by any stretch, is quite extensive. You claim my statements don’t stand up to scrutiny? kinda vague don’cha know? Like…..???? oh well. Your logic is strained by your own statement when you say “The vast majority of crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in the name of (a) Religion”, ok, word analysis time…. Vast majority…? Do some reading about how many died in World War I, II, and the cultural revolutions of Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao. These wars were not about God, or religion. They were about power and control of people through the state in the guise of progress and fairness. Good ‘ol Marx killed far more folk with his philosophy than the mangled parables of Jesus ever did. There are fairly accurate estimates of how many people died in the various crusades and inquisitions, you can include all the mayhem between Catholics and Protestants if you like… though even those horrible moments reflect more of your statement “in the name of” rather than Christianity or relgion itself.
    Third) Which brings me again to your “in the name of” statement. Saying you are a Christian, or a Buddhist, or putting ‘In God we Trust’ on a coin or ‘God With Us’ on a belt buckle don’t make it so, or mean you are being religious or true to your faith. You have to see the difference between making an appeal to ANY authority for justification and doing the right thing for the right reason. While the teachings of the Koran makes it violently clear the Infidal must be dealt with, well violently,, Christianity as a whole has tempered itself fairly well for some time and been the basis for the laws and principles of the United States, the country I presently enjoy citizenship in. The Founding Fathers of my country were various flavors of Christianity with Deist leanings and were able to create a country that took power away from monarchy and the state and placed it into the hands of its people to try and determine their own lives. Relgion and how it was considered and practiced had a lot to do with this process, if you read what Hamilton, Jeffereson, Washington, Paine and others said, Religion had a lot to do with their thinking. My Mother’s people the Quakers even took their religious beliefs to be requiring that they protest and defy the human slavery our government initially tolerated. It would seem evident Religion has been used constructively to great effect, as well destructively at times. However, to say religion is the cause of most of human suffering is poppycock. You could also say guns are to blame for people being shot, but the guns don’t fire or aim themselves, people who use them do for various purposes do. Hitler can be said to have been born Catholic, but you can’t seriously say he was a vile person because his religion made him do it, any more than you can say his being Austrian, Vegetarian or Conservative in some regards made him be a monster. Hitler chose to do what he did, and whatever else he said or accorded himself, no sane person would claim he was being devout Chrsitian ,religious or directed by God when he decided he wanted to take over the world and kill everyone who got in his way. For you to imply Hitler was a practicing Christian while commiting genocide and every other cide he could get his hands on is laughable, you have no logical argument and you certainly did not provide evidence by saying he was born Catholic. Being a Christian is a practice of belief thought and deed, not a pedigree, as a former Catholic yourself you should know this. You would seem to be externalizing humanitys evils when you blame religion as well. People simply do bad things and then look for excuses to avert blame or avoid responsibility. Thats all there is to it, human nature hasn’t changed in recorded history, and man certainly is not perfectable. People have been attempting to get out of trouble since trouble began, almost always by finding a scapegoat. I would agree people can be misled, but I don’t see thieves, muggers, rapists, pedophiles and child molesters, murderers, drug dealers, kidnappers, extortionists, arsonists etc, as being inspired by any religion presently practiced…and I won’t play with the word ‘religion’ euphemistically to mean ‘any belief system’ since that would drag all philosophy and sciences into the stew as well.
    Lastly) um, Just so you know, bringing up and bragging about the size of your IQ and Mensa score is very vulgar. It adds nothing to the conversation, is an appeal to authority fallacy, and is the equivalent of bragging about your penis size in the attempt to impress someone, or start a pissing contest. As to why your sons would not give me the time of day, provided they are alive, why would that be? You are the one who drew first blood with your inappropriate “Religious perspective is, as always, predictable and ignorant” remark. It sounds exactly like what I’ve heard my entire life from the overeducated elitist snobs who flood the universities and think their choice to eschew religon confers some kind of honor , vantage, or secular divinity. I am most likely close to being an Agnostic myself, but I don’t delude myself into thinking myself superior or other people ‘predictable and ignorant’ because they have beliefs or Religious perspectives I don’t share. With that statement alone, you insulted my parents, teachers, and mentors, you were also incredibly disrespectful of the accomplishments of most of Western Civilization, including a huge chunk of its art, architecture, music, poetry, literature, philosophy, and… scientific knowledge. Oh and, if you want to talk about points missed, yes I’m aware Carl Sagan was an Atheist (he was not an agnostic), I read his silly books, Cosmos, The Demon Haunted World (his bitter side really showed in that one), oh yeah, and Contact (the movie is actually better and more relevent than the book strangely enough). I also know Carl was sometimes a bad scientist. He confused his well meaning anti-nuclear activism (which is a form of true believer (Eric Hoffer)) with scientific fact and objectivity. After he lambasted Percival Lowell for his lifestyle, economic status, and bad viewing predjudices, (Blues for a Red Planet, Cosmos) Carl proceeded to say Lowell forgot which side of the bloody telescope life was really on. Ok, point taken. But then in his professional Career Carl was pushing SETI and the Drake equation (a really silly equation with waaaaay too many unknowable variables) which was bad math pretending to be serious science. Carl then used an equation similar to the crappy Drake equation to try and scare the United States Government into believing in Nuclear Winter. He failed, was arrested several times playing ‘protestor’ on government property, then again tried to scare people when the oil fires in Kuwait occurred after the gulf war, At this point Carl was now really a political activist, not a scientist. Carl was off by many degrees of accuracy because his equation for calculating reflection of solar energy had too many unknowns to be computed within reasonable margins of error. To this day, we have Carl’s legacy to thank for much of the pseudoscientific political activism passing for science called Anthropogenic Global Warming. Carl started the trend by using equations populated with long strings of unknowns to browbeat government officials into making very unwise policy decisions. Michael Crichton wrote an excellent paper on some of Carls’ less than stellar efforts (Aliens Cause Global Warming) which is a hoot to read by the way. So, lets just say Carl Sagan’s hypocrasy rubbed me the wrong way long before he ever got sick. As he so enjoyed showing other’s the errors of their non- scientifc beliefs, I think it appropriate I pointed out how Carl lost his own scientific objectivity when his desire to believe something exceeeded his ability to prove it… he finally became a man of faith, the very thing he detested

    P.S. As for you going to hell four times, coming back and living in Heaven, I really don’t have any idea what you meant, but that’s ok, because you were trying to be cryptic and didn’t make any sense. As for when you die, you do know your body decomposes (obviously) but whether or not the pattern of your mind vanishes, well, you will find out, but not until then, so ‘touche’ and repense.

  • John

    To Christian: I’m sorry to have started something here; I specifically responded to your original post because I thought it was well written and displayed some common misconceptions that I may be able to help with. Unfortunately, your subsequent response leads me to believe that you are more interested in arguing a point than engaging in a discussion. I want you to know that my only intent is to have a discussion about this. I want to know where you’re coming from because I am interested. I have no interest in scoring points or engaging in what is unfortunately the typical level of discourse on the internet. Also, I am only responding to your response to me and if you would prefer, we can have a lengthy discussion on this topic via email or telephone. If you’re so interested, I’ll post my junk email address in this thread, you can email me with the subject line “evolution discussion” and I will respond with my personal email address.

    I will try and keep my response to your post here brief. To your first paragraph, it seems that you have a few misconceptions as to the nature of a scientific theory and the nature of the scientific process. I don’t want to appear condescending, but I would like the opportunity to help clarify these things; frankly, you’ve left a bit of a knot to untangle, so it’s probably best outside of a comment thread.

    As to your P.S. paragraph: I would assume that you’re referring to the information that has spurned the field of epigenetics here. This is an especially interesting field of research and I would love to talk more about it, but it is probably off topic. Suffice it to say, your use of the word ‘consensus’ here is not only incorrect, but completely misleading. The interesting tidbit is that this may be the exact point that could help explain the scientific process. See, introns (often referred to in lay media as ‘junk DNA’) were never dismissed out of hand by the scientific community at large, on the contrary, they presented a problem and an arguably more serious problem following the information from the human genome project, for the theory of evolution, specifically because, why would introns continue to exist in such abundance and across species? It costs a cell lots of energy to replicate and maintain DNA, so why wouldn’t selective pressure have banished these stretches that served no apparent purpose over time? See, here the theory of evolution has predictive power in that you would say, “In light of prior observation, introns should offer some selective advantage or mechanistic pressure”, or something like that, preferrably more specific as I would never use that sentence in an abstract submission. Here we see the real disconnect between the scientific community and the creationists. Creationists saw the intron info as a problem for the entire theory and claimed in many interviews, debates, and unapproved textbooks (notice, nothing peer-reviewed or sourced) that this disproved evolution; scientists saw this in the context of prior observation and sought to answer the questions that naturally arose… and after many, many experiments, misteps, and breakthroughs from many unaffiliated groups and across many different fields of study, the collective data led to new understanding of the purpose of the intron and more importantly (as someone who works in translational more often than theoretical research, I may be a bit biased here) has led to extremely interesting results with real world applications (therapeutic, diagnostic, agricultural, etc.)! There are still unanswered questions, as well there should be and hopefully always will be, and additional theoretical research will, again lead to more translational research as well as adding to our overall understanding of how life works. That’s not forcing the answer or changing the theory to fit, that’s using prior observation to make a prediction and ask a question, a question which is then answered through much rigorous research. That’s the purpose of a theory, to make predictions. This is a bit of a silly off the cuff analogy, but here goes anyway: Imagine you’ve never seen a purple plant, only green ones. Then, you come across a plant with all purple leaves. Now imagine you are an Intelligent Respiration Proponent who believes through religious conviction that plants do not use photosynthesis. As a member of the IR community, you would see the aforementioned purple plant and say, “Ah! This disproves the chloroplastic theory! It must therefor be true that an intelligent respirator breathes for all plants” (I know, chloroplasts are organelles and this does not fit the definition of a theory. I said this was a silly analogy remember). Where as the botanist would discover this plant and say “This is interesting, let’s use prior observation to make a prediction and ask a question. We can then research this plant through experimentation and further review of the literature to better understand how this plant lives”. See the difference? Which one appears as though they’re ‘pushing the answer’?

    Also, quickly, back to your first paragraph, I just wanted to point out something that I thought was particularly egregious: I originally stated that science has something to say about the origins of life and that much research across multiple fields contributed to understanding of likely or possible origins. You picked one study, paraphrased it poorly, mischarcterized the study, and then used this mischaracterization of one experiment to set-up a straw man argument in which you accused those researchers of pushing the answer and then further mischaracterized their conclusions. I hope this wasn’t intentional.

  • Woody Tanaka

    “Sagan was effectively promoting a new cosmic religion in the guise of science, using language and thoughtforms that have no clear basis in standard models or evolutionary theory. ”

    Oh, phooey. He’s using human poetic language. Something that is no inherently religious but has been co-opted by them.

  • Guido

    Tyle, condescending? you seem to know everything and feel free to knock people off their safety net?
    great! science, science uber allen… or whatever

  • Jimbo

    As bartender, I say to 21 & 22: “Take it Outside”. Carl & Ann without doubt form THE most romantic public couple of the 20th century, more so than the duke & duchess of Windsor, & as 3.) Gizelle Janine (what a beautiful name!) noted, science & romance go hand in hand. The scientist’s dreams are embraced & empowered by his love, who gives him strength, inspiration, & courage to boldly dream on about his other love, the mysteries of the universe.

  • Tyle Stelzig

    Actually I don’t know most things. ;) I was responding to your comment that we should not disillusion people from believing in ‘traditional fairytale god’ because we deem that they are too weak to handle (what we see as) the truth. I think that it is condescending to deem this on their behalf.

    It is a very common thing to say, that we should allow these ‘weak people’ to live in ignorance, because the truth is more than they can handle. I grant you that. But I don’t think that makes it more acceptable. I think it’s condescending.

    Notice that I’m not suggesting that we should aggressively seek people out and attempt to show them the error of their fairytale ways. Of course not. But we also shouldn’t decide on their behalf that they are too weak, and therefore refrain from expressing to them the truth as we see it. That would be condescending.

  • Jimbo

    Off topic, but many will want to know more about Prof. Paul Frampton, who Unbelievably has been busted for coke possession in Argentina ! Most vile is that UNC is saying & doing little to nothing to support him. Finally, the drugwar has dragged a physicist down with it:
    http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/03/20/decorated-north-carolina-physics-professor-in-argentine-jail-on-drug-charges/.
    More links on Peter Woit’s website:http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=4495#comments
    Hopefully, many will come to his aid financially, & with letters of support sent to him, the UNC Chancellor, & UNC Physics Dept. ! Personal info:
    http://www.physics.unc.edu/~frampton/home.html

  • Guido

    Tyle, if you are a scientist, it is not up to you to allow/not allow what people believe. If you want to convert them to “your religion” then you are just like any religious nut. Remember when the church was trying to convert Galileo because they were right and he was wrong?
    Considering that, as you say, you don’t know most things, why would you think that John Doe’s life would be better under your beliefs?
    Progressive utopianism has actually killed many more people than religion.
    I prefer “charity” even though it might not be part of official science.
    I think, and hope, that Sagan did too. And you, too.

  • Tyle Stelzig

    Nowhere have I spoken in support of the “evangelism of disbelief in fairytales” that you accuse me of supporting. Indeed, if I did, my motivations would be the same as those of the religious who are moved to convert others. (But this is separate from our beliefs being on equal footing… they aren’t.) And of course you’re also right that I can’t know for sure whether abandoning fairytales would improve a generic person’s life. Surely sometimes it would, sometimes it wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t be that good at predicting which cases are which.

    But as you know, none of that is what I was talking about. Of *course* it’s not up to me to decide what other people believe. But it’s not up to *you* either. You argued that certain people are “too weak to have their fairytale god pushed off her cloud” (paraphrase of end of 10). I have therefore merely pointed out that this is very condescending. You are deciding that these people are too weak for what you see as the truth, and therefore discouraging me from attempting to enlighten them. But who are *you* to decide that they are too weak, and that we should be complicit in their continued ignorance (by our lights)?

    Of course, we should be tolerant, and should not go around tactlessly attempting to convert people to “reason” (as so many religious people do). There are social costs incurred by such behavior, for both parties. But nor should we deign certain people too weak to be exposed to our perspective of the world, and therefore conspire to protect them from it. That, as I have simply been pointing out, would be condescending.

  • Tyle Stelzig

    You also raised two separate issues which I think are worth addressing:

    1. Charity: I say, yay for charity! :)

    2. You claim that progressive utopianism has killed many more people than religion. I don’t know enough about history to challenge you on that, so I’ll assume you’re right.

    However, I will point out that evils have been committed which would not have been possible without religion (uncontroversial), but that the reverse is not true. Of course secular people have committed crimes, but these have always been crimes that a religious person could have committed also (and probably has, at some point).

    Opposition of Catholic church to contraception? Only possible with religion. Arab-Israeli conflict still going on after decades and decades? Only possible with religion. If it were merely a territorial dispute, it would long since have ended. Ministers in Africa knowingly fueling the flames of AID, by preaching that if you use a condom you will be tortured for eternity after you die? Only possible with religion. I submit that I need not go on.

    On the other hand, can you think of an example on the other side? There might be some, but I can’t think of any.

    Here’s an example of what’s *not* an example: Hitler. He killed lots of people, but it’s not because he didn’t believe in God. It’s because was a hateful right-wing dictator. He was certainly fueled by ideologies, not by his lack of belief in one particular ideology.

    Remember what I am NOT saying. We both agree that religion has been used towards hateful ends, as have ideologies which are not a traditional religion. But notice that this isn’t the argument I made above – instead, what I argued is that evils have been committed which could not have been committed without religion, but not the reverse. So, perhaps the crusades could have happened without religion. But certain other evils could not have happened without religion. But I can’t think of any examples of evils that couldn’t have happened WITHOUT a LACK of religious belief. So now I’m giving some examples (like Hitler) that maybe one could have thought would be an example of such, but which I think are clearly not. (In Hitler’s case, as I said, it was only incidental that he did not believe in god. It was not secular critical reasoning that fueled his hatred, but hateful dogmatic ideologies.)

    Another obvious example would be the Soviet Union. Lenin was not able to claim power in virtue of the secular critical thinking of the people of Russia. Rather, it was some combination of circumstances (socioeconomic, etc.) which I’m not qualified to speak to. I’ll note that imminent historians have argued that Lenin was able to piggyback his status as Supreme Leader on the religious tendencies of the Russian people, which tendencies had been developed through religious institutions. But that’s somewhat irrelevant.

    North Korea, of course, is among the most religious countries on the planet. Constant praying to the supreme leader (who is dead, his son is now in power, also considered divine). It is said that when he took power, all of the birds sang in Korean in their joy. Pre-WWII Japan, the Emperor was literally considered a god. Etc. This is all somewhat irrelevant; my point is only that clearly none of these is an example of an evil that could not have been perpetrated without a lack of belief in god.

    But really, it’s a silly thing to argue over. Hopefully we can all agree that the world would be better off if people were less dogmatic, and critically examined their beliefs. We should not discourage people from critically examining their beliefs because we don’t think they could handle it, nor should we refrain from critically examining the beliefs of others. Most people are strong and independent. Not only can they withstand the examination, but they’ll probably be the better for it. And nor should we refrain from challenging the beliefs of others for fear that we will plunge the world into war and anarchy. Quite to the contrary, it is by forcing beliefs to be defended that we can avoid the scourges of dogmatism. These are the important points, and I expect that we agree on these.

  • Guido

    Tyle, I never said people are too weak, I said some people find strength in God, just like you find in ?science. I think your view of history is quite biased. I have studied history since I was 8 (over sixty years now) and I can appreciated the changing biases over the years and along political lines. Progressive eugenic utopia (you forget Mao) kills as a matter of policy. Religions (most are based on charity) kill on the basis of failure to mitigate human viciousness. As it is, more religion would solve the problem: the christian model for example is to be like a lamb, forever loving everyone. The aforementioned great leaders instead intentionally eliminate those deemed unsuitable for utopia (for example people of religion).
    Enough preaching:)

  • Tyle Stelzig

    I insist that it is condescending to say that we need to protect others from our perspective on the world. I would not deny that some people find strength in God, of course, but this is no reason to withhold from critical examination of their beliefs. People are strong and independent, and will be the better for such examination.

    I don’t believe that I made any controversial claims about history. People have killed in the name of ‘divine religions’ (christianity, etc.) and they have killed in the name of ‘state religions’ (nazism, maoism, etc.) but they have never killed in the name of athiesm. Not believing in Thor, for example, is no reason for killing. Perhaps you are right that a better, more peaceful brand of religion could help stop violence, but this is a completely separate claim and I don’t think it would be fruitful to argue about it. For one, I don’t know enough about history or psychology to have a well-grounded opinion on the plausibility of such a scenario! However, my suspicion remains that critical examination of beliefs is the best antidote to the scourges of dogmatism.

    In any case, I have made my initial point as clear as I think that I will be able to. So, thanks for the discussion!

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  • megan

    more than any of this stuff, can anyone in the world tell me how you can be happy and live your life and not become insane by “knowing” the simple fact that you are going to die?

    i don’t believe in religion, or an afterlife. but i don’t see how being entertained by science is more rewarding than a wonderful, promising afterlife where we will all be reunited with our loved ones, forever.

    to me that sounds an awful lot better than being together for awhile, forming a strong love, and then being ripped away from eachother forever.

    i just don’t understand how scientific people like this can still be happy. i could understand if they said “i am very scientific and don’t believe in an afterlife, and the terminal nature of my own existence and the existence of my loved ones is very tragic and disturbing to me.”

    ^that would make a lot more sense to me. instead of “i don’t believe in an afterlife, but hey, the universe and science is really interesting so i guess that somehow makes up for it.”

    i’m having some trouble with this, i gotta say.
    sorry if i bummed anybody out, feel free to yell at me.

  • PBenz

    I agree with what The Cosmist wrote up until the very last phrase of the last sentence:

    “I’m not against canonizing Sagan as a prophet of science, but please realize that he was fundamentally a *spiritual leader* — his religion being a faith in science and rationality which is not much more difficult to deconstruct than, say, Christianity.”

    How is faith in science and rationality “not much more difficult to deconstruct than Christianity”? Does faith in science and rationality include a 6,000 year old earth, talking snakes, walking on water, and other nonsensical stories? I consider myself to be an average human, and the average human has to make decisions about who he’s going to believe. He has to have faith in that decision because the average human doesn’t have the time or resources to back up the claims of science & religion. At least my faith in science and rationality is grounded in evidence and scientific consensus (which, btw, is what all existing human knowledge is based on, contrary to what conservative talk radio and Fox News want you to believe).

    Please, if you don’t mind, guide me for how I may deconstruct my faith in science and rationality, because I currently don’t know of a more honest and sincere way to live my life.

    Quick note to megan: do you think it’s healthy for humans to create delusions in order to be happy? I don’t. Do you think that just because there is no afterlife that the here and now don’t matter? Of course they matter! There are many ways to achieve happiness in this life, but it’s not always easy, and all of us need to find a reason to get out of bed every morning. Read or reread any one of Carl’s excellent books. Go listen to Sam Harris talk about why there should be no need for the word atheism. Engage others in discussions about the nature of the universe. Knowing that everything around you will all eventually come to an end (including the earth!), all of that stuff is the only stuff that actually matters and I contend is the stuff that makes life worth living.

  • megan

    Actually it is healthy, I think! Doesn’t happiness kindof indicate that? I think studies have shown that people who partake in religious communities are often happy and fulfilled… that certainly sounds better than agonizing over everything.

    Ideally I would like to not have to delude myself AND be happy, but for me (and a lot of other people) that just doesn’t seem to be possible. I find it hard to look at life as a series of losses one after another, trying to feel okay in between them, grieving the loss of loved ones again and again while trying to maintain composure until the day I die.

    I used to be happy just doing whatever, back when I believed in “something”. I never believed in God exactly, but I always just had a sense that somehow everything would “work out” eternally, just because I was naive and viewed the world (or at least my world) as a generally good place. But it isn’t.

    I can get out of bed in the morning and read books and marvel at interesting scientific facts, but it doesn’t ease my mind about the agony I feel over loss. It simply doesn’t. I wish it did.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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