The Course of Reason

Sagan’s Garage: An Activity Idea for Your Next Carl Sagan Day

November 16, 2012

A year ago I wrote a play called "Sagan's Garage" for our annual Sagan Day, a public event hosted by CFI of Fort Lauderdale, FLASH (Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists), and CASE (Coalition for the Advancement of Science Education) around the time of Sagan's birthday. It is a play based off of an excerpt from Sagan's "Demon Haunted World," intended to teach the children at the event the basics of skepticism. Since then I have been urged by several of my peers to share it with the secular community, so...a year later, here it is. Perhaps others will find it to be a useful educational tool as well.


This is not Carl Sagan's garage, but it could represent one if needed.

Materials needed:

  • Toy thermometer
  • Empty spray paint can
  • Flour
  • Stick with dragon foot at one end
  • Old tricycle
  • Ladder
  • mpty paint cans
  • Boxes filled with odds and ends
  • Toy tool kit
  • Pretend Infrared Sensor
  • Tour Guide
  • Garage Owner

Setting: The tour of the solar system ends in front of Sagan's Garage. As soon as the Tour Guide (TG) is finished the Garage Owner (GO) enthusiastically approaches.

GO: I was told a couple of explorers would be coming this way! Welcome! Now that you have visited all the planets and looked upon the wonders of our solar system, would you like to see something even more amazing?
TG: What do you want to show us?
GO: There is a dragon in my garage!!
TG: I thought dragons were just make-believe.
GO: Yes, no one believes me but that is why I would like all of you to come investigate. If you also conclude that there is a dragon in my garage, then that would prove I'm not crazy!
TG: I think it takes more than just a group of people in agreement of something to prove that something exists, but this is a great opportunity. If everyone thinks that dragons aren't real and we prove a dragon lives in this garage, then we could win a Nobel Prize or something! (to the kids) Do you want to check out this dragon?

(Hopefully the kids cheer that they do, and they walk to the garage)

GO: (opening the garage) Here is my garage
TG: I don't see any dragon. Maybe it's behind one of these boxes. Kids, do you see the dragon? What do you see?

(Hopefully kids answer and look around the garage; don't let them open boxes yet)

GO: Oh, I forgot to mention. The dragon is invisible.
TG: But I thought you said we could see it?
GO: There are other ways to see, aren't there?
TG:, are there any other ways we could find out if this dragon exists?
GO: That wasn't what I...

(Kids hopefully offer suggestions - TG and GO should improvise with new suggestions, which will probably be made throughout the activity; script should be flexible toward the kid's contributions. GO should be creative in countering "every physical test [they] propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.")

TG: Even though this alleged dragon is invisible, it should still leave footprints, right? What could we put on the ground that would show us if a dragon walked on the floor?

(Flour; if the kids say something else, say, "That would work too, but I think flour would be more available and also do the trick.")

TG: Do you have any flour that we can use?
GO: Sorry, I also forgot to mention-this dragon floats in the air. It doesn't walk.
TG: Oh..... Is the fire invisible too?
OG: Of course.
TG: I know! What about an Infrared sensor? (Explains to kids what it is and pulls it out) I happen to bring one with me on my travels through space, for it is useful in determining many things. Even though the dragon is invisible, we should be able to see the heat of the dragon's fire through this sensor.
GO: That would work, except this dragon is very unique. Its fire is heatless.
TG: ...Heatless fire? That is strange. What else could we try, kids?

(Kids hopefully offer more suggestions, TG responds and GO "refutes")

TG: I see you have a spray paint can in your garage. If we sprayed the air, the paint should stick to the dragon and reveal its shape.
GO: That is a good idea but nothing sticks to it, I already tried. This dragon is incorporeal.
TG: Incorporeal?
GO: It has no material body or form
TG: Um...ok...Kids, any more ideas?

(Last chance to improvise with kid's ideas; when things seem to be winding down continue with the script)

TG: Kids, I wonder...What is the difference "between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?"

(Give time to think out loud, improvise with any answers)

GO: You can't prove me wrong! That means there is a dragon in my garage!
TG: Yes, but if we can't prove you wrong, then how do you know you are right? How do you know there is a dragon in your garage if there is no evidence? No proof?
GO: I just know there is
TG: But we don't ‘just know' anything about our world-right? We must observe and test how things work before we can know anything. Like I can't just know what a flower smells like without having smelt it before, or I can't just know what a rainbow looks like unless I have seen it in the sky before, or at least a picture of it.
GO: But my dragon is real-really, it is!
TG: I think it would be really cool if your dragon was real, but the evidence shows that this dragon does not exist. And wanting something to be real does not make it real...You are asking us to believe that something is real just because you say that it is real. But in life we don't base what we know on just say-so information. You see what I mean?
GO: Well...
TG: Believing your dragon is real because you say it is, without evidence, would be like believing the clouds are made of cotton candy because the president said it was. But we have evidence that clouds are made of water, not of cotton candy. We have evidence that contradict your dragon claims...
GO: Yes, I understand
TG:, Kids, let's go back outside

(Leave the garage and close door with GO still inside. While kids are outside with TG, GO quickly makes dragon footprints in the dirt on the floor of the garage)

TG: I think this was a good lesson on how to be a great scientist like Carl Sagan. Scientists study the world and seek out its truth. The only way we can really know something is true is if it can be tested and proven with evidence. Science is how we can really know things like why it rains, or why there are waves in the ocean, or why the grass is green-

(GO comes out of garage)

GO: Wait! I just noticed some footprints in my garage!
TG: I thought you said your dragon floats?
GO: Yes, I guess my dragon got tired of floating and wanted a break. Come see the footprints! Now you have your evidence!

(Enter the garage and let the kids look at the footprints)

TG: A dragon could have made these but other things could make footprints like these. Do you mind if we look around in your garage?
GO: Uh, sure...I don't mind
TG: Kids, let's look around and see what we can find.

(Kids open boxes and search, someone finds the dragon footprint maker)

TG: That's a little suspicious...
GO: (sheepishly) Ok, you were right...I made it up. I thought it would be so cool if a dragon lived in my garage, so I pretended it did. I'm sorry...
TG: It is Alright. Making pretend and using your imagination can be a lot of fun. Many great scientists like Einstein talked highly of imagination, for it can be used for the purpose of science. Carl Sagan himself said, "Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere." Just make sure that when it is all said and done you don't get confused with what is real and what is make believe.
GO: Ok...I will remember that. Thank you for investigating the dragon in my garage!

(Kids are led to the other activities, end of Sagan's Garage)

This post originally appeared on Skeptic Freethought


About the Author: Elizabeth Knapp

Elizabeth Knapp's photo
Elizabeth Knapp is an activist for Center for Inquiry of Fort Lauderdale and FL.A.S.H. (Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists). She is new to the "movement," and working on a degree in Nursing while restarting the CFI club at Broward College. She is a writer for Skeptic Freethought.




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