Sagan As Seer

Lynda Walsh views Carl Sagan as an oracle for the Scientific Age:

I would argue Sagan benefited from a sort of bully pulpit that was cemented into place by 3,000 years of civic practice in the West. That bully pulpit, ironically, used to belong to the prophet. … Sagan claimed in Demon-Haunted World, “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” This argument echoed throughout the narrative of Cosmos, which Sagan navigated in his chapel-like “Ship of the Imagination,” complete with a glowing altar and a hymnal by Vangelis.

But Sagan’s public rhetoric was more than vaguely religious; it was specifically prophetic.

Sagan boasted in Demon-Haunted World, “Not every branch of science can foretell the future – paleontology can’t – but many can and with stunning accuracy. If you want to know when the next eclipse of the Sun will be, you might try magicians or mystics, but you’ll do much better with scientists.” The final episode of Cosmos opens with Sagan reading from the book of Deuteronomy: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live…”(30:15). In Sagan’s bible, death was nuclear winter, a cause he pushed on- and off-screen with the zeal of Jeremiah.

Walsh concludes:

The fact remains that as long as our public crises turn on technological, medical, or environmental issues (as nearly all of them do), we will turn to science for answers; and as long as science is our dominant channel to civic truth, scientists will remain our prophets.

Previous Dish on Sagan and faith herehere, and here.