17 December 2011

"We found each other in the cosmos"

Carl Sagan was Jewish by birth, but a nonbeliever in practice, although he denied being a frank atheist:
"An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid."  In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, Sagan answered, "I'm agnostic." 
Here is a very touching comment by his wife Ann Druyan:
When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me - it still sometimes happens - and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don't ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous - not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… That pure chance could be so generous and so kind… That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time… That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me and it's much more meaningful…

The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don't think I'll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.
Via a Reddit thread on the death of Christopher Hitchens.


  1. I am a person of faith. I am also a liberal. I am also well-read and well-educated. I get exasperated when I read all of these hosannas for atheists on my favorite left-leaning cites because they tend to imply that those of us who see God in quantum physics are stupid. I do not believe atheists are stupid. Please do me the same courtesy and respect my beliefs.

  2. @ anonymous

    If you had read the article carefully instead of just getting huffy, you'd have seen that Sagan considered himself agnostic, NOT atheist.

    Speaking as an atheist myself, however, I would have an easier time respecting your beliefs if they didn't obtrude so perniciously into the lives of everyone else who doesn't happen to share your faith.

    Ever since religion began marching in lockstep with government, it has been used as a stick to beat people that tend to stray outside "the fold" back into line.

    You might find it interesting to read what some of the founding fathers had to say about religion. Try starting with "The Founding Fathers in Their Own Words".

  3. Going with the trend, I'll mention that I am religious. This made me teary-eyed. How poetic is that last line, "We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful." I think we can all agree with this sentiment regarding our loved ones, no matter what each of us holds to be true about this universe we live in.

  4. But back to the topic of the post, (different anonymous here) What she said was one of the most beautiful things I have read in a while. Except, that I dismiss the idea of a singular soulmate. Love and trust are rare on this earth but not unique.
    Unlike, Carl, I guess I am either arrogant enough or ignorant enough to consider myself an atheist (i do not consider myself better educated than old Carl). I think of my interdependancy with this amazing world as the closest thing to religeon that I need.
    My lifetime, too, is supremely precious to me as it is the only one I or anyone else has (IMHO). So I celebrate often with those I find who are ALIVE (because many people are not - in spite of their vital signs and income).
    I don't want to die yet but I own two motorcycles, enjoy 'extreme' sports, etc. For me, this singular existance is largely what you make of it and too, my wife of 15 years and I are still in a 'dating' mindset with each day of life and our lives together still a cherished thing not to be wasted.

  5. I don't know but suspect that Sagan would agree with his being an atheist regarding every deity so far posited by humanity. I'm well aware of my limitations. I can only stand at the edge of concepts like deep time and quantum physics and feel an uneasy awe. No god that we can invent can stand up to the wonder of what IS.

  6. Whether atheist, agnostic or religious, the comments by Carl Sagan's wife are still quite moving. Generally, the religious expressions of God are, indeed, limited by our human imagination, and that is unsatisfying to many. That does not mean God does not exist, it just means our understanding can never capture that which is beyond our understanding. That said, when we get overly focused on our perceptions of life after death we give up something of the life we live before death. Carl was not willing to do that. We can all learn from him to embrace and cherish the moments we have and the relationships we have, without postponing the joy and wonder for some other time or occasion. If I embrace my lover today and find that there is a tomorrow I am doubly blessed. If I wait for tomorrow to experience the touch and love of my partner and tomorrow doesn't come for us then I am doubly cursed. That "tomorrow" can be the literal day after today, or it can be figurative what may lie beyond this life. Either way, the truth is the same. Embrace the one you love today for that is the moment you have.

  7. He is right. It is pure arrogance to say there is no God. Has anyone searched the cosmos for proof? A good scientist of no faith must be agnostic. Part of the definition of God is that he is everyehere.

  8. What a beautiful, loving statement by Ann Druyan. Very moving. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. @Andy

    Why is it pure arrogance to say there is no God, but not pure arrogance to say that there IS a God? Have they searched the cosmos for proof of that? Sounds like a double standard to me. There's no proof either way, old boy - only one's belief.

  10. "A good scientist of no faith must be agnostic."

    I guess you mean the colloquial definition of agnostic rather than the actual definition of agnostic.

    Because most atheists are also agnostic. As much as we'd love to prove that god doesn't exist given the capabilities often attributed to him one has to accept that it is impossible to do definitively.

    That doesn't mean that we have to sit on the fence in a 50/50 "hmm I just can't make a decision" sort of stance. You can't definitively prove the non-existence of a lot of things (Santa, Fairies, FSM, deities of "heathen" religions, invisible unicorns, etc). People who say that they're "on the fence" about these things are more often than not being intellectually dishonest.

    I'm fine with you being a theist despite you having no "proof", surely you can be fine with me being an atheist despite having no "proof".

  11. I find it appealing to know that both Carl and his wife would not meet each other again after death. That is a personal attitude that each appear to have shared with others and we have the right to accept their belief as we choose. Likewise, all the ongoing debate whether one can prove a Deity exists or not is simply a matter of choice as well but history has proved that civilization has advanced due to various cultural beliefs in God or Gods and Goddesses.

    It seems very unlikely that early man would have or could have survived without some form of divine intervention whether visible, audible, or intuitive. Each of us has the right to determine our own choices as history has given us a wide assortment of beliefs to decide upon.

  12. @32degrees

    "but history has proved that civilization has advanced due to various cultural beliefs in God or Gods and Goddesses."

    It has? Really? According to which historians?

  13. An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid.

    wow, what a completely incorrect statement he made. Atheists are just like the religious in that they do not know they BELIEVE. Atheists believe there is no god.

  14. As a firm agnostic, I don't know if there's a deity or an afterlife, and I don't claim to possess any insight into the matter that others don't possess other than this one. Revealed religion is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against humanity. We're not capable of grasping the entirety of what a true deity would be, and any assertion to the contrary is mere egotism. No one knows anything for sure. And we'll either find out after death, or no longer be worried about it. I'm fine with it either way.


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