Thanks you so much for this week’s episode of PoI. Mr. Sagan spoke not only with intelligence but with compassion for those still absorbed by mythology. As a newly minted agnostic his attitude was a breath of fresh air compared to the angry agnostic/atheists I usually meet.
May I suggest Skype.com if you want to use phone recordings? For my podcasts I find it solves a world of sins and the quality is excellent. If I can be of any service in this regard please feel free to contact me.
Sound quality is becoming increasingly important as podcast listeners would rather turn off or switch podcasts if they have to keep adjusting sound levels.
One more voice in praise of Carl and Ann. And DJ and Lauren. Lauren, thank you again for a beautiful commentary. I’ve listened to it twice, and when your voice waivers at the end, tears fall down my face.
Carl’s speech was stirring and a reminder to me how much I adored him and miss him. I, too, watch Cosmos on the Science channel (Monday nights, 9:00) and let myself get carried away with Carl and his journey.
Anyway, thank you all. My drive to work on Mondays is all the better for having your company.
I really like listening to the Point of Inquiry Podcast. I was very pleased when it came out. Audio is a very powerful form of communication for these types of topics because it can be rare that you get to meet people who think the same way you do in society if you’re skeptical of religion unless you’re actually part of a scientific community.
I also really appreciated Sagan’s call for compassion and understanding of religious beliefs. He understood the reality and the benefit of humility in conversation.
I find that I have a better appreciation and understanding of religious texts now and I appreciate them more precisely because I don’t take miracles literally.
I believe that mythology and stories are a wonderful way of causing yourself to reflect and to ponder common themes of life and humanity. My favorite author for this is Joseph Campbell. I now subscribe to Parabola magazine, which is a great resource for reflective writing drawn from all corners of religious and mythological traditions.
After listening to some of Campbell’s lectures and reading some of his writing and then revisiting Cosmos not so long ago, I realized that Sagan also employed story telling and mythology very well in his work. He was well-read across many disciplines, not just astronomy.
Cosmos was without question the most inspiring television I’ve ever seen, to this day. From the poignant music which helps to accentuate the fragility and evanescence of our own Earth to Sagan’s wise and caring contemplation about the future the whole series seemed perfect to me. I was just a kid when I watched it for the first time with my family, usually with my uncle.
I was never really involved with church or religion explicitly as a child, so Cosmos was really my only “creation story” and was always in my mind. Of course, I knew of Genesis, but it was simply peripheral and not critical to my views.
I never could understand why the series didn’t just keep going and going as a permanent series! I continued to watch shows like Nova, and later some shows about the universe narated by Tom Selleck, but none of those ever had the awe of Cosmos. The next best thing I found lately was “The Creation of the Universe” by Timothy Ferris, who struck me as similar to Sagan in his approach.
First, welcome, Josh. I think my impressions matched yours with the wonderful Cosmos series. Keep an eye on Neil de Grasse Tyson ... in many ways he is the closest heir to Sagan alive now. He is now doing the Nova Science Now series. He also did a several part Nova series a year or so ago.
Doug, thanks for the welcome and the tip, I will do that. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen from him so far and will have to read/watch more.
[quote author=“dougsmith”]First, welcome, Josh. I think my impressions matched yours with the wonderful Cosmos series. Keep an eye on Neil de Grasse Tyson ... in many ways he is the closest heir to Sagan alive now. He is now doing the Nova Science Now series. He also did a several part Nova series a year or so ago.
FYI Ann Druyan fans, she is interviewed on this week’s Skepticality podcast. Interviewer Michael Shermer asks the right questions. Very well done. Audio is a little poor, but the content more than makes up for it.
She is publishing a collection of Carl Sagan’s essays called The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God. This one’s definitely on my list to buy soon.
Those interested in hearing the interview, go to the Skepticality homepage here .
I’ve listened to all the podcasts now, and I think that Ann Druyan’s was my favorite. Lauren Becker had such a great introduction with The Gifts of Carl Sagan, and I enjoyed Sagan’s CSICOP speech very much. I found his Cosmos series at a time when I was unhappy with my religion, and it helped me make an easier transition from Christianity to atheism.
Druyan made excellent and refreshing points. “We are very new at this. We could be wrong” ...a statement missing in all faith doctrines. She emphasized the humility of science, which usually seems so arrogant and elitist to the general public. Druyan, like Sagan, obviously knows how to speak to the public and popularize science.
It doesn’t bother me that Ann and Carl both avoided the word “atheist”. That is smart in my opinion. Whether people believe in god or not is not nearly as important as whether or not they believe in the scientific method. We need popularizers who gently question god’s existence in addition to those who vehemently deny god’s existence, like Dawkins. Most faithful would avoid Dawkins like the plague but accept Carl Sagan easily. Carl simply shared his fascination for the universe in Cosmos and in one episode, as I recall, gently mentioned discarding the “god hypothesis”. We need more science popularizers that strategically avoid the word “atheist” in addition to those who flaunt it.
Sagan mentioned what he thought was the biggest problem in the skeptic movement at the end of his CSICOP address: “an us versus them mentality”; arrogance and condescension. He encouraged showing compassion toward believers. A negative, belittling attitude doesn’t help the movement in most cases.
Hmmm ... I see what you mean a little, George, in that Druyan is still openly passionate about her relation with Sagan, in a way that does appear startling given the amount of time that has passed since his death. But personally I don’t get the sense that she is just doing this for him, or for his memory. It seems to me rather that they were two people with very similar belief systems, so they had a sort of “mind-meld” during their marriage.
Re-watching Cosmos, it is clear that Sagan himself was stronger on the actual science, the history of science and the like, but Druyan’s great ability is to get across the ‘spiritual’, or if that’s not a word you like, the passionate aspects of scientific investigation and the scientific worldview. And this is so important, especially since for the vast majority of the public, science is a bloodless, emotion-less enterprise.
I think what may be throwing you off is this feeling that science can’t be passionate, so it must be her passion for Sagan that is doing the work. But I don’t think we need to see it in such a way. At any rate, I do feel the same emotions she does about the science itself, and the world it reveals.
I don’t know, Doug. I am just not a big fan of ‘heroes’; I do have a bust of Bach, but that could be for aesthetic reasons: it looks nice on my shelf.
I like this poem, called Anonymous, by Sydney Carter:
The Jesus who
Keeps saying “I am Jesus,
Look at me,
There is no substitute”
Is an imposer. Do not trust
The Christian cult of
Personality. I came
To turn you on and not
To turn you off,
To make you free and not
To tie you up.
My yoke was easy and
My burden light
Until they made
Salvation copyright, and
All in the name of Jesus.
My name was ever Jesus.
from now on
I am anonymous.
I think what may be throwing you off is this feeling that science can’t be passionate, so it must be her passion for Sagan that is doing the work.
Not really. I don’t feel that science can’t be passionate. Sagan succeeded with Cosmos making many people passionate about science: if truth itself won’t make you excited, get some great music to accompany it!
Ann Druyan reminds me of Frida Kahlo and her ‘passion’ for Diego Rivera. But then, Frida could also paint.
True, hero worship is always problematic. Still, it’s a little easier to have dead heroes: they can’t do any more mischief at that point.
But you’re being a little unfair to Druyan when you say Frida could paint. (I mean, there’s also the question as to whether Frida Kahlo was any good as a painter either—one I think is very much in question, but let’s leave that aside for now). Druyan is a very effective speaker about science and the passion of science, at least for me and many others.
If she doesn’t push the right buttons for you, though, no biggie. Look for someone else, or stick with Cosmos.
I’ve looked. There is no one. Sagan did it with Cosmos, and Kubrick did it with 2001. I can’t really think of anybody else who can combine science and art as well as these guys did. Maybe that’s what the problem is: instead of trying to bring together science and religion, it should be done with science and art! Dawkins tried it with Unweaving the Rainbow, but he failed, IMO. An ambassador for science must (also) be an artist; art is the only universal language everybody understands! I miss Sagan, and I miss Kubrick.