Carl Sagan’s Endarkenment

I posted this squib on Facebook
On FB and elsewhere I have been reading tributes to Carl Sagan from people who praise him for his prophetic insight into America's cultural decline. In fact, Carl Sagan was a primary symptom of American cultural decline, and the popularity of his TV performances was evidence that our country was aready hopeless. He accepted and promoted virtually every leftist cliché, advocated a simple-minded materialism that excluded the divine, constantly ridiculed religion and anyone who believed in God yet he wasted huge amounts of other people's money in a futile search for extra-terrestrial life forms, which, he declared, were immortal, all-knowing, and perfectly good. Gee, those are the attributes of a God! In his infantile book/TV show Cosmos, he actually plagiarized the Encyclopedia Britannica in his account of how an evil Christian mob lynched the philosopher Hypatia.
If decent Christian Americans have ever had an enemy, it was certainly Carl Sagan. When I argued this with a scientist friend 40 years ago, he tried to tell me that Sagan was a major scientist. Provoked by my mockery, he tried to find out what Sagan's scientific accomplishments were. He came up with very little. Sagan was just one more PT Barnum taking advantage of the suckers that were born every minute.
Bob Geraci added this caveat: Sagan was so much worse than a Barnum because the latter alway said he was a showman whereas the former was a charlatan to his core, so corrupted that he didn't even know as such, to which I responded:
Thanks for the needed addition. I thought about making that point but it would have spoiled the mean-spirited ending. I wrote an essay on this subject in the early 1980s.
Tony Esolen commented:
One of the dumbest things Sagan ever said was that even a child could show that God did not exist, by asking, "Who made God?" Fine way not to bother even trying to understand what the question is, you silly Mr. Sagan, to which Karl Keating responded:
I thought his dumbest claim was that you could prove intelligent extraterrestrial life with mathematics alone: there are so many galaxies, each with so many stars, each with so many planets, and the number of planets is so vast that there must be ([mis]using probability) a tremendous number that are constituted much like Earth, so it's virtually certain (or more than certain!) that there are many planets that developed life like ours and that have intelligent life like ours.
My Marxist pen-pal Bill Haywood (not his name) added:
As I recall Walker Percy exposed Sagan in "Lost in the Cosmos" " "Sagan's book gave me much pleasure," Percy writes, a pleasure which was not diminished (perhaps it was increased) by Sagan's unmalicious, even innocent, scientism, the likes of which I have not encountered since the standard bull sessions in high school and college—up to but not past the sophomore year .... For me it was more diverting than otherwise to see someone sketch the history of Western scientific thought and leave out Judaism and Christianity."  To which I responded:
Sagan's use of statistical probability is entirely bogus, both mathematically and methodologically. It is like the equally bogus argument that life could have evolved spontaneously on earth, given, as one scientist friend once informed me, "infinite time and variability of conditions." Ah, but no less an expert than Bernard Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, dismissed the argument as fantasy and thus had to fall back on spores from outer space, thus reintroducing the infinity mystification. Sagan's answer to the question, why haven't these superior ET's contacted us, was that they are so advanced they don't wanter to tamper with our primitive culture. Beam me up, Scotty! You see. there is this to be said about the unknown: We simply don't know it. Thus to speculate, as Sagan did, and then turn the speculation into an article of belief, is simply bad science and worse logic. The search for intelligent life beyond the stars is not a scientific project at all but a desperate ploy of an absurd superstition. They ghave to find it because in their shallow thinking, the discovery of any life form refutes Christianity. I doubt they'll ever find anything, but hardly a week goes by that we don't hear of some possibility of organic compounds (ammonia, perhaps) on Mars. Once they disprove the existence of God, then they can all become gods and live with Lord Musk on Mars. My friend Walker had a great sense of humor up till the end. Poor Sagan never realized that the joke's on him.
When a student of physics, who had been inspired by Sagan, rejected him as a pop guru along with Stephen J Gould and E.O.Wilson, I pointed out:
Wilson was a pretty humble man. Like many scientists, his studies had dried out and hardened his mind against anything supranatural, but he once told me that he did not criticize Christianity because his wife was a believer. Properly used, sociobiology confirms the Christian/Aristotelian view of man as limited by his nature and his history. That is why he was so hated by leftist scientists like Gould. Everywhere he went, back in the 70's and 80's, he was reviled. Philosophically, he was intensely conservative, as anyone who has grasped the signfigance of natural selection must be. It took many many millions of years, according to their theory, to produce human nature, and our recorded history is roughly 5000 years, nowhere near enough to have any real impact on our basic wiring.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

17 Responses

  1. Allen Wilson says:

    I never have understood why supposedly intelligent people could assume that the discovery of life elsewhere in the universe would disprove the existence of God. After all, the Bible does not say, “Yea verily I say unto thee, there is no life out there in the cosmos”. The idiotic preacher in the TV series “V” said “we are all God’s children”, meaning Earthlings as well as weird rodent swallowing reptillian aliens, and that half human half lizard mix breed child. Even a fictional half-wit man of the cloth could get it. Why couldn’t Sagan?

    I would like to know, does Musk really believe his own Mars-colonizing nonsense, or is he just trying to get more government contracts? If he uses his own money exclusively, he (yes, even he) would go broke before ever establishing a colony on Mars.

    We all know how the first mission to land there would go anyway. The crew would consist of every race but white men, several fake genders, several orientations but none straight, and several religions except Christianity. The last words picked up from the “starship” would be “Allahu Akbar!” Then, nothing.

  2. Vince Cornell says:

    I’m no Sagan expert, so I couldn’t say what his dumbest moment was, but the Golden Record they put on the Voyager satellite is pretty outlandishly stupid. I remember listening to it and thinking to myself, “If I was an intelligent alien and came across this record, after I finished wiping the laughter-induced tears from my eyes, I’d mark Earth down on the ‘avoid at all costs’ list.”

    “Weird rodent swallowing reptilian aliens” – I haven’t watched the reboot of “V” but I guess it now features the Clintons?

  3. James D. says:

    Why is it nearly universally agreed, among people like Sagan, that life on other planets is far more evolved and sophisticated than life on this planet? If life does exist on other planets, what if it is just shower curtain mold and coronaviruses? If spontaneous generation was disproven by Pasteur and Tyndall, and anti-Christians, like Sagan and his ilk, haven’t been able to stick a jumper cable in swamp water and produce a frog, why does anybody believe anything they have to say?

  4. Dot says:

    This is stupidity in intelligent people. Anyone who doesn’t believe in a first cause of all creation is exactly that.

  5. Dom says:

    The universe is so big and so wonderful there simply *must* be something up there!

    Their science might be shoddy, but such are certainly men of faith.

  6. JD Salyer says:

    I agree that E.O. Wilson is in a different category from Sagan. I recall reading an essay by Wilson a few years back, wherein he discussed Greek metaphysics at some length, crediting it & the pursuit of “the One” with the rise of Western science.

  7. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Sagan may have missed the recent, possible visits by aliens. Apparently military pilots have recorded visual evidence of some kind of vehicles that fly and enter the water while defying the known laws of physics. Something is going on here. A conspiracy nut might suspect that it is a hoax intended to generate increased government spending on R&D. Any ideas, opinions?

  8. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Quantum physics is pretty much reduced to equations and probabilities because the observable particles keep getting smaller, many only detectable by their effects. The equations are used to identify what effects to look for.

    My opinion is that creation consists of ever and ever smaller particles that cannot ever be detected. Our understanding of the physical world will never be complete.

  9. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Dot – most scientists believe in a first cause of creation. It is the Big Bang theory.

  10. Michael Strenk says:

    I don’t think that Musk has ever had a dime of his own. Like Sagan he has spent his life wasting other people’s money. He apparently learned the grifter’s way from his grandfather,who, I am informed, was head of the technocracy movement in Canada and, as such, undoubtedly an accomplished conman. It is only fitting that, as technocratic royalty, Musk should have his own planet and he should take all of his bastard progeny and the whole technocratic/transexual/transhumanist world with him. He and Klaus Schwab can war over control of the one member of the movement who knows how to use a screwdriver and soldering iron, the keeper the ancient secrets. Each in his own way is a perfect parody of a Bond villain. Of course, Musk is making it increasingly difficult for anyone to leave the planet for any destination as he has recently been putting thousands of satellites in orbit for God knows what purposes. Wait until a few more collide or burn out or get hit with space rocks. Every one that goes off line puts that much more junk scattered about in orbit taking out other space structures. What a fantastic mess of a scrap yard the whole thing will be. Keep up your pre-WWII skills lady and gentlemen. We’re gonna need them.

  11. Dot says:

    Mr. Van Sant: The Big Bang theory is not a first cause of creation. When elements are compressed such that there is high energy, which explodes to form the universe and all in it, there was a First Cause that brought this about and I would guess that most people of various religious backgrounds attest to that, or perhaps I am a dreamer. For myself, that Cause is God as it is stated in the Creed.

  12. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    I agree with you about God Dot. But the Big Bang is the leading scientific explanation for the beginning of space-time. It is the basis for estimating the age of the universe. It is creation without God. It makes as much sense as the “spontaneous generation” explanation for how life began.

  13. Dot says:

    I asked the question, “Was physics developed for the search of God.” In Great Courses Arvin Ash doesn’t argue for or against God as creator, but it is amazing to watch this presentation.

  14. James D. says:

    Mr. Van Sant,

    If you press atheists on the “big bang,” and trace it all the way back, the best they can do is: “atoms formed.” Atoms formed from what?

  15. Raymond Olson says:

    Nice to hear that my long boycott of television has paid off so well. I know Sagan as little more than a name.

  16. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    You may not be interested in Sagan, but he was interested in getting the government to spend your taxes.

  17. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    James D. From the singularity that caused the Big Bang. All of their explanations are, as I said, acts of creation without God.

    Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture reveals how some established science facts are spun into the secular religion of scientific materialism. It is the choice of a “higher power” for those who reject God.