Carl Sagan Discusses a Shortcoming of Religious Traditions

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Carl has always been good for a quote, and here’s one that sums up my views of conventional religion, especially the conservative or fundamentalist sort, those whose use of crude Medieval mysticism using literal interpretations of scripture present a drastically oversimplified – and demonstrably false – picture of a universe far smaller and more parochial than we really know it to be.

The universe is truly enormous, more so than scripture relates or even hints, and I see this as a failing of the major faiths, including the one I followed before becoming an atheist in my teens and a skeptic in my twenties, even when I had just within the last few years self-identified as both.

Any universe created by a god truly worthy of the job-title would have to be truly impressive, and this would be reflected in scripture if it were really divinely inspired.

But so far, we have only the word of holy writ itself and those with a vested interest in promoting it, to vouch for its authenticity.

So far, the bible gives only a description of a flat, circular Earth, a metal, dome-shaped sky with water above and waters below, at the center of a remarkably small universe in which the sun, planets, and fixed stars rotate around us.

The other traditions haven’t done much better… This results in a conception of the universe much, much less interesting and wondrous than it really is, frequently based upon primitive ideas of cosmology in the West.

Cosmic fail…So here it is, a challenge to the major religions that has gone ignored by those it was addressed to, and who despite being the ones making extraordinary claims, have failed to meet the burden of proof for the reality of anything supernatural.

This quote also encapsulates the tendency of some to try to impose upon the god they claim to be humble toward to conform to their own human wishes, wants, fears, and conceptual limitations. One would think that the deity would feel insulted by such presumption that members of such a puny species show in thinking that they can tell Him, Her, or It what limits to have, or what to think, like, and hate.

My view is that if there is a god, it is almost certain to be one much better suited for the authorship of the terrifyingly vast Cosmos as it really is, not merely as related in fables, myths, and folklore. Such a transcendent being would surely be far beyond the petty comprehension of even our best theologians.

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed”? Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” 

Carl Edward Sagan (9 November 193420 December 1996)

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