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Happy Carl Sagan Day 2013

There are so many videos of Carl Sagan’s inspirational and life-changing narration about the Pale Blue Dot. Here are two of my favorites.

The first is a recently released crowd-sourced video from the skeptic and nonbelieving community. Carl Sagan certainly has a way to bring people from all walks of life together, and that makes me so happy.

The second is a breathtakingly beautiful production from the Sagan Series.

I am an Atheist, and this is who I love …

Post #1 for SSA’s Blogathon! Consider offering a small donation to help empower secular students and provide safe places for secular students in schools around the country!

I *love* a lot of people, some famous and some not. But I think the questioner is asking me to narrow down a list of people that are above and beyond even a high standard of awesomeness, and have me explain why. Here we go.

As you might expect, Carl Sagan has always been one of my favorite people. Not only a great scientist, but an excellent communicator of science to the public. Not only a great communicator of science, but a dreamer who cared about the political and social realities of our time and offered a vision about the future transcended our present location in time and space. At a time when the Cold War seemed far from over, he condemned the “obscene” number of active nuclear weapons on Earth and framed it in the context of existential risk and survival in the vast Cosmos. He talked passionately about the need to protect our fragile environment from the dangers of climate change. He warned us against the costs of religious or political divisions. And he directly addressed a lot of social issues, like the prohibition of marijuana. He died in 1996, convinced that we are not alone in the Universe.

The next person on this very short list is Bayard Rustin. He was a civil rights activist, a socialist, a Quaker, and a gay rights advocate. He agreed with MLK and Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, and he worked to organize the 1947 Freedom Ride and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He traveled to California and worked to protect property rights of Japanese Americans during WWII internment. Although he identified as a member of the Communist Party during his early life, he eventually became disillusioned with the movement.

copy of bayard rustin

It wasn’t his communist history that got him in trouble as much as his open homosexuality. His political opponents, many part of the more conservative parts of the Civil Rights movement, labeled him as a pervert and a corrupting influence, and many historians say that his legacy suffered as a result. It’s a shame that he’s not more well-known these days.

There’s a great documentary about Rustin if you want to learn more.

We are the Universe

What’s better than a bunch of individual videos narrated by Lawrence Krauss, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Carl Sagan? One epic video with all three of them. Check it out:

Carl Sagan’s Message to Humanity

The following clip was produced ten years after Cosmos aired. It talks about nuclear proliferation, national boundaries, and the environment. His message is as relevant as ever.

Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe? An Inspirational Letter To The Religious

The Greatest Story Ever Told

The history of the Cosmos, as revealed by science and science only, is the greatest story ever told. It is our shared past. It is our shared framework propelling us into the future. It gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of humility, a sense of feeling so incredibly small. It tempers our arrogance, and makes our human conflicts and arguments seem too local.

“We Are Starstuff Contemplating Starstuff…”

Sometimes when you get back from a long discussion with religious people, you wonder how creationism and scientific ignorance can still pervade so much of our society. I will continue to dedicate my life to helping people think freely, to reason critically, and to appreciate rational methods of inquiry like science. Carl Sagan said it best.

Putting Life Into Perspective

It is almost Darwin Day, and before the cakes and celebrations and talks about biology start in various secular/scientific communities around the world, I think it is absolutely vital to remind ourselves of the big picture. Come reflect with us, as we, with our fallibilities, cognitive biases, and irrational tendencies, ponder about our place in the Universe, where we came from, and where we are going.

It is almost Carl Sagan Day

And a new video has surfaced. His voice, his message, his dream lives on.

Atheists Believe in Nothing But Themselves: Finding Strength and Hope in the Universe

Atheists don’t believe in anything but themselves. It’s a trite saying, but it hits you when you least expect it. It comes from that nice lady sitting you on the airplane who happens to want to convert you, or that demagogue on TV. And although the saying comes from a sinister attempt to misportray atheists as selfish, narcissistic people who lack a coherent life philosophy, it is effective in bringing up the follow-up question. If it isn’t true, then what DO atheists believe in?

The short answer is that atheists believe in things that are real. We believe in the scientific method because it has always always always, without one exception, trumped all religious or superstitious methods of knowing. We believe in the power of wonder, curiosity, and inspiration. We believe in kindness and love because we can experience it, and help others experience its benefits. We cherish the human intelligence and revere our naturally endowed capability to reason. And many of us dedicate our lives to thinking freely, often against people who would rather we shut off the lamps of our mind.

The overwhelming majority of atheists also believe in an objective morality, one grounded not in the relativism of what religion you happen to be born into, but from real and substantial measures of human flourishing and well-being.

But what always stumps me about the question is, yes, atheists do believe in themselves, and very much so. In trying times, we don’t delude ourselves for comfort. We don’t spin a magic wheel or utter incantations to the midnight sky. We recognize that we may be in this situation alone.

Our inner strength comes not from one of many deities, but from an intricate relationship with objective truth. We breath and touch every moment as close as possible to what is real, endlessly looking for new things that we, ourselves, can accomplish. Our power is limited, and that’s what makes us strong.

Indeed, our situation is dire. We live on a dying planet next to a star that will explode–all in the suburb of an unimpressive galaxy that will crash into a neighboring one. And our individual time here always appears too short. In the face of this seemingly insurmountable situation, dare we turn to man-made illusions about how all of this was designed for just for us? What kind of hope, what kind of faith would that be?

Atheists believe in themselves, in the realization that if there is any salvation, it is only through looking through a clear, objective lens that they can find or invent something to achieve it. And atheists believe in so so much more. Carl Sagan said it best.

…here we face a critical branch point in history, what we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants, it is well within our power to destroy our civilization and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition or greed or stupidity we could plunge our world into a time of darkness deeper than the time between the collapse of classical civilisation and the Italian Renaissance. But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet.