From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Carl Sagan: Skepticism and Wonder

Carl Sagan, 1980 (NASA Photo)
Although kitchens can be construed as laboratories of sorts, it was not baking that made Carl Sagan famous. Nevertheless, his "recipe" for apple pie is especially telling:  If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

This sense of wondrous interconnectivity was learned at his father's knee.  Sam Sagan, a Jewish refugee from Czarist Russia, was not a particularly religious man.  However, he was a "quiet and soft- hearted" individual who gave apples to the poor and helped calm
labor-management disputes within New York's "tumultuous" garment district.  He was also in awe of his son Carl's profound inquisitiveness.

The adult Carl attributed his skeptical tendencies to his mother's influence.  Although she actively engaged in the practices of Reformed Judaism, Rachel Sagan also harbored intellectual ambitions that "were blocked by social restrictions…"  Carl
summed up his parental influences in this manner:  My parents were not scientists…  But in introducing
me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.

This quote from Sagan's Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space emphatically reflects both the skepticism and the wonder:  "How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and
concluded, 'This is better than we thought!  The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant!'  Instead they say, 'No, no, no!  My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'"


Copyright November 9, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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