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Monday, November 9, 2009

Carl Sagan, today, tomorrow, and forever

Today Carl Sagan would have turned 75 years old. Happy Birthday, Mr. Sagan.

Carl Sagan is one of those people who would require many long paragraphs to illustrate his greatness and importance not only to my generation, or to the scientific community, but to humanity itself. Carl Sagan was a scientist, an astronomer, an advocate for the search of extraterrestrial life and a writer. But more important, he was a popularizer of science, a person who strove not to gain knowledge and keep it for himself, but to make that knowledge available and interesting to everyone. I think the value of Carl Sagan’s life to the entire humanity lies there. His search for truth based on scientific facts made it possible for many people with hunger of knowledge to be able to know a little bit more about our universe, our planet and about ourselves. Carl Sagan knew.

I was fascinated after I watched this video. Maybe the background music helped. But I’m pretty sure the effect would have been the same if I had read it instead of heard it. That “pale blue dot” is us. Small, insignificant, unimportant, compared to the whole vastness of the universe. To recognize that, in the clear way Sagan does it, is to demonstrate a perfect example of humbleness very rarely seen. It’s just pure humbleness to acknowledge how small we are compared to the universe that surrounds us. Carl Sagan knew that.

As the genius Carl Sagan was, he acknowledged our origin, that bunch of molecules that, after 4 billion years of evolution, became us. He echoed what science had told us regarding our past, and put included it in his “Cosmos” to give humanity a real, simple idea of where and how we came from. Yet, there are still many who believe our planet is not older than 10000 years and human beings are just 4000 years old. These people often argue we come from the Judeo-Christian god, that we are his children and the Earth and the Universe was made for us. Pure hardcore arrogance. Carl Sagan knew better.

Yet, Carl Sagan presented what he knew clearly and in a very less confrontational way that many atheist writer do It nowadays. I like the confrontational tone in the voice of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Shermer. But I have to admit, I admire the tranquility and elegance in Sagan’s words:

Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein—considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws.

Sagan knew not about supernatural beings affecting our life. But he knew about physical laws, the laws that control our universe and our lives. Yet, Sagan did not define himself as an atheist, but an agnostic:

"An atheist has to know a lot more than I know."

I do not claim to know more than Sagan. I don’t think I will ever be able to. But I can call myself an agnostic with pride and happiness by knowing that the path I follow is the same path Carl Sagan walked and paved for us to walk, today, tomorrow and forever.

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Blasfema libremente

"Que esté permitido a cada uno pensar como quiera; pero que nunca le esté permitido perjudicar por su manera de pensar" Barón D'Holbach
"Let everyone be permitted to think as he pleases; but never let him be permitted to injure others for their manner of thinking" Barón D'Holbach