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A Time For Remembering

It is the time of year when people’s focus turns to things religious, symbolic, materialistic, familial, bountiful, and for the most part, celebratory. For me, this week of holiday celebrations carries with it a very special reminder, one that people all over the world should never forget.

On December 20, 1996, the world mourned the loss of one of the all time greatest champions of science and skepticism, Carl Sagan. For those that need a refresher, here is a quick YouTube reminder from that day.

On December 21, 1996, I borrowed the Connecticut Skeptical Society’s copy of Sagan’s book, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. If I had any lingering doubts that I was a skeptic, they evaporated over the course of the 10 days I took to carefully read that book. Prior to that, I had only seen bits and pieces of the Cosmos series, and one or two of his appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. I had never read Sagan, but only through reading his perfect treatise to skepticism did I realize how gigantic an intellect, scholar, and thinker we had just lost. If my skepticism prior to The Demon Haunted World was a lump of clay, Carl Sagan fired the kiln that solidified it. Here it is today, twelve years ago to that week. Of all of the writings that I have read in my twelve years as a practicing skeptic, there is still no single piece of writing that has had a greater impact on my critical thinking.

Since then, I have come to read much more of Sagan, I have watched Cosmos from beginning to end several times, and I have watched several old interviews online. I regularly visit his website for updates, and this weekend, Ann Druyan (Carl’s widow) links to a very wonderful video just released by NASA promoting their September announcement of The Carl Sagan Exoplanet Fellowships. NASA has only two other named fellowships in astrophysics. Their names are Einstein and Hubble. As our friend Bill Nye ‘The Science Guy” says in the clip, this fellowship could not be more appropriately named.

And frankly, this is just one layer of the strata that was Carl Sagan. His work in the sciences was beyond remarkable, but his enormous impact was also felt as a teacher, a television personality, a columnist, a lobbyist, a historian, a sports fanatic, a music enthusiast, a celebrity (arguably the most down to earth celebrity in the history of celebrities) – but most importantly, and unfortunately only recognized by a small percentage of the people of the world, Carl was a skeptic. This single quality permeated all of his other qualities, as it permeated everything in his cosmos.

So as we all huddle into our little holiday bubbles this week and next, take a couple of minutes to read a chapter of your favorite Sagan book, or bounce around YouTube and listen to Dr. Sagan once again. If you have a young child, now is as good of a time as any to introduce Carl Sagan to them. I guarantee you will feel better than you did before hand.

Good health and good cheer to everyone!

7 comments to A Time For Remembering

  • Thanks for posting this, Evan. I had the same experience when reading The Demon-Haunted World for the first time, only a couple years ago. I wish I had been able to meet Carl Sagan before he passed away. He made the world a better place.

  • A mode of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.


  • Strider

    I just received an Xmas card from my uncle, a lutheran minister. Long ago when I began my journey into freethought I was staying at his cabin with him and my grandpa and we talked about astronomy and Carl Sagan, who’s show Cosmos was in first run. I remember arguing with my minister uncle using Carl’s words and feeling so empowered. The Demon Haunted World is a revered volume on my shelves and I still refer to it often. Thanks for this remembrance! Love the show.

  • DLC

    Indeed, the world lost a great man when Dr Sagan died. Thanks for reminding the world of him, Evan. The world needs reminded of Carl Sagan, if for no other reason than to keep pushing his books on people.

    Best wishes for all the SGU crew for the Holidays.

  • bryanmcc

    I spent 18 years as a Catholic; I became an atheist in two weeks due to The Demon-Haunted World. Thanks, Carl. And thanks, Evan.

  • Steve Page

    I went to the “9 lessons and carols for godless people” show in London on Friday, and they opened and closed the show with two beautiful, moving, thought-provoking excerpts from Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”. He was, indeed, an extraordinary man; the world is a poorer place without him in it. 🙁

  • Dear Evan,

    It’s an awful thing to admit, but I was so busy getting ready to be married on Christmas Eve 1996, that I wasn’t even aware of Carl Sagan’s passing.

    I am much better educated now, and indeed, my husband and I are taking great joy in playing Cosmos in our children’s presence (nothing like learning by osmosis!). They’ll grinch a bit every now and then (as The Fairly Odd Parents is way more AWESOME), but every now and then I’ll hear our nine year old come out with some factoid – it’s that osmosis thang 😎

    We just watched a snippet of Cosmos over dinner tonight, where Carl was outlining the four steps we would need to take to save the Earth from, well, us.

    I could not believe that he had it so bloody nailed over 18 years ago… He is so dreadfully missed.

    Inspired by your post, tonight I am stealing Peter’s copy of A Demon Haunted World to devour…

    Thanks again for a sharing such a personal post.

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