Carl Sagan on the Scientific Worldview

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 8, 2010 in Science,Video

Via Pharyngula:

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

gervin July 9, 2010 at 12:41 am
gervin July 9, 2010 at 12:46 am

here’s the rest if interested:


Beelzebub July 9, 2010 at 2:20 am

Great stuff. Hard to imagine how a religious person could watch that and not feel a little jealous of atheism.

For some reason it had never struck me that “the fall” was actually equivalent to the discovery of knowledge, and that the Christian ideal of human existence is a bovine placid state. Sometimes I wonder how Christians can live with themselves, knowing what they stand for.


Luke Barnes July 9, 2010 at 3:12 am

Q: But you don’t feel an infinitely tiny speck of no significance?

Martin Rees: I don’t because the earth, though small in the cosmos may still be a most important part of it. It may be the only place where there’s life like us. And so what makes things fascinating is how complicated they are and not how big they are. And for all we know the earth, tiny though it is, could be the centre of the cosmos in terms of complexity.


Zeb July 9, 2010 at 5:13 am

That’s the Gnostic interpretation of the fall. A Christian interpretation is that the tree was of knowledge of good and evil. Part of our curse then is to have an intense proclivity toward judgement, and the recovery would entail a unity of mind as more strongly emphasized by Taoism and Buddhism. The Hebrew view seems to be that since humanity sought out this knowledge of good and evil we were burdened with the responsibility of it, they multiplied law upon law in its service. The New Testament speaks of freedom from that ‘knowledge’ and resposibility (Jesus’ “judge not” and Paul’s “the law is dead”), but the churches have been reticent to emphasize it. That’s understandable since freedom is often confused with licentiousness, but unfortunate that truth was obscured for the sake of human weakness. We Christians can learn something from the far eastern cultures in this area now.


Almost Chris July 9, 2010 at 5:39 am

The music sounds like Michael Giacchino’s score for Lost.


Hendy July 9, 2010 at 9:17 am

Great video. I especially loved Sagan’s closing lines regarding our existence having the meaning we attribute to it; thusly, choose something great.

@Zeb: interesting points. This seems like it doesn’t change the issue, much, though. You’re simply qualifying the type of knowledge gained, not whether or not an increase in knowledge was, in fact, the source of the fall.

Also, you made me wonder why an increase in knowledge would lead to an increase in wicked desires. How did we begin at state X doing only good things (without any explicit knowledge of what was good and what was bad other than eat all these trees but not this one) and upon eating the fruit arrive at state Y where not only are we know aware of the difference between good and bad… but we also want to do the bad (becoming concupiscent)?

This is all in dealing with ‘the fall’ in a very Pauline first-Adam/last-Adam type of way.

The even larger questions for me stem from whether there is any coherent scenario of how the fall might have worked in light of evolution?
- Were there flesh eating bacteria and natural disasters prior to the fall?
— If so, how was man protected from these harms since life was free from pain and death?
— If not, can we expect to find evidence of this in geology or archeology?

- Why did we have direct knowledge of god at the beginning, for a time after the fall, and then utterly lose this down the road?
— Many early humans had direct experiences of personal communication with god; Cain hearing god ask about Abel is a prime example of this
— Since the fall didn’t seem to affect the intimate communication that once took place in Eden… why don’t we have such as evidence today?

- When did man/woman attain a mind/will and soul such that their parents would be defined as ‘only primates’ and the offspring would be defined as ‘divinity-sharing humans’?

- The first figurative Adam and/or Eve were members of the ________ species of the homo genus (please fill in the blank or propose one or more plausible answers).
— Based on the intelligence of this species, can we be sure that this homo _______ would have had the intellectual capacity to understand god’s commands?
— If not, can we be sure that his decision to do X (figurative eating of the fruit) was a fully-formed, fully-willed decision and thus fully deserving of eternal punishment?
— If so, and this separates us from our prior ancestor primates, how does the Christian explain the existence of fairness and altruism as well as self sacrifie in various currently existing primates?

These are some of the ponderings I’ve had in my own questioning and have not seen answered anywhere. Many Christians will happily support evolution but I don’t think they realize that it might have some implications for the fall.

The real issue will come down to whether we have enough plausibility to accept some figurative form of the fall at all vs. rejecting it completely.

If there is no fall, it honestly doesn’t matter even if Christ died and was raised, as there is nothing to redeem. One must establish that we are more than evolved primates and that we did ‘fall’ from a pre-existing state of unity with god, no pain, no death, etc. to make Jesus even relevant.

I for one find the smooth, rising curve of a slow evolutionary process applied to not only physical evolution but also that of mental and emotional capacities to explain our condition far better than a hypothesis which supports that we were of near-infinite bliss and closeness to god and then plummeted to nothing.


Bill Maher July 9, 2010 at 9:23 am

Luke B,

that hinges on the fact that there is no other life in the universe.


tom July 9, 2010 at 10:28 am

“The music sounds like Michael Giacchino’s score for Lost.”

It is: Jack’s Theme. (Jack was the “man of science”, John the “man of faith”.)


Mastema July 9, 2010 at 11:04 am

Carl Sagan was one of the major factors in my deconversion. He had such an amazing way of not only communicating science to the public, but also conveying a sense of awe and wonder at the vastness and beauty of nature that has stayed with me ever since. I never experienced anything close to a “spiritual” experience as a believer, but as an atheist (and what you might call an enchanted naturalist), I have had spiritual experiences when listening to particular pieces of music, and when hearing or reading the works of Sagan and others who share his outlook.

Thanks for posting this, Luke.


Jeff H July 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Excellent, just brilliant. Anyone know what those scenes at the end were, though? I mean, obviously it’s a computer animation, but is this an actual rocket model that is being designed or just a work of sci-fi?


Bill Maher July 9, 2010 at 12:53 pm

this is the enchanted naturalist. LOL


Reginald Selkirk July 9, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Beelzebub: For some reason it had never struck me that “the fall” was actually equivalent to the discovery of knowledge, and that the Christian ideal of human existence is a bovine placid state.

More specifically, it was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and so could more restrictively be associated with the discovery of morality, not knowledge in general. At any rate, the similarity to the story of Prometheus is clear.


Jeff H July 10, 2010 at 11:19 am

@Bill Maher:

Wow. Where can I get the crack that guy was smoking? I never knew rainbows were so orgasmic…


Andrew July 13, 2010 at 5:15 am

This is a marvelous sequence, and very calming and interesting too (I’ve taken to listening to this clip in the mornings). Thanks for posting!


Leave a Comment