Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot
by Larry Vardiman, Ph.D. *
On December 6, 1994, Carl Sagan, author of Cosmos, well-known astronomer and speaker, appeared before the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco to introduce his new book, Pale Blue Dot.1
Earlier in the day I had the opportunity to briefly talk with him during a break in presentations at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. I introduced myself and found him very cordial but extremely animated and energetic in attempting to convince me that the Bible is not a valid source of truth and that science has proven it wrong.
I was puzzled at his enthusiasm until I purchased and read his book. In it he presents the case that the earth and man are not at the center of the universe or God's attention. In fact, he stresses that science has disproved the Bible and that man is an insignificant species on a remote planet whirling through the vast reaches of space. He suggests space exploration and colonization as a vision for developing anew meaning in life to replace that given historically by religion.
Since Carl Sagan is such an effective spokesman for the naturalistic world view which prevails in the modern scientific community, and for his concept that a creator God is an outdated "geocentrist conceit" concocted by our less enlightened forefathers and foisted upon the human culture, I felt a review and rebuttal of his new book was in order.
At the heart of Dr. Sagan's argument for a universe without a creator is the progressive disillusionment he believes science has handed those who believe in religion. This he calls "The Great Demotions." He suggests that observation of the night-time sky by our ancestors led to a misplaced sense of importance of man:
And if the lights in the sky rise and set around us, isn't it evident that we're at the center of the Universe? These celestial bodies—so clearly reveals that we are special. The Universe seems designed for human beings. It's difficult to contemplate these circumstances without experiencing stirrings of pride and reassurance. The entire Universe, made for us! We must really be something.
This satisfying demonstration of our importance, buttressed by daily observations of the heavens, made the geocentrist conceit a transcultural truth—taught in the schools, built into the language, part and parcel of great literature and sacred scripture. Dissenters were discouraged, sometimes with torture and death. It is no wonder that for the vast bulk of human history, no one questioned it.
Over the past 300 years, Sagan says, science began to strip away this "geocentrist conceit" starting with Copernicus' finding that the earth revolved around the sun rather than the sun around the earth. Next it was determined that our earth is only one of a myriad of worlds, the sun is only one of our galaxy, and our galaxy is only one of a myriad of galaxies in the universe. Apparently, there is nothing special about our position in the universe. Einstein's theory of relativity then discredited the view held by Newton and all other great classical physicists that the velocity of the earth in space constituted a "privileged frame of reference." Next, the age of the solar system was calculated to be about 4.5 billion years old and the universe about 15 billion. The final demotion was the conclusion by Darwin that man is not a special creation but, rather, evolved in the primordial ooze from simple, single-celled organisms. Man is simply the end-product in a long chain of evolutionary change.
These "great demotions" lead to the conclusion that there is no meaning or purpose in our existence. Sagan bemoans this loss of meaning by lampooning the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden:
There was a particular tree of which we were not to partake, a tree of knowledge. Knowledge and understanding and wisdom were forbidden to us in this story. We were to be kept ignorant. But we couldn't help ourselves. We were starving forknowledge—created hungry, you might say. This was the origin of all our troubles. In particular, it is why we no longer live in a garden: We found out too much. So long as we were incurious and obedient, I imagine, we could console ourselves with our importance and centrality, and tell ourselves that we were the reason the Universe was made. As we began to indulge our curiosity, though, to explore, to learn how the Universe really is, we expelled ourselves from Eden. Angels with a flaming sword were set as sentries at the gates of Paradise to bar our return. The gardeners became exiles and wanderers. Occasionally we mourn that lost world, but that, it seems to me, is maudlin and sentimental. We could not happily have remained ignorant forever.
Sagan admits several times in his book that "there is in this Universe much of what seems to be design." Yet, he can not bring himself to attribute this design to a Designer. He does go so far as to say in one place that, "Maybe there is one [a designer] hiding, maddeningly unwilling to be revealed." However, he finally concludes that the evidence does not require a Designer. He also admits that without a Designer there is no purpose and without purpose man cannot survive. Sagan has been building a justification for the remainder of his book. He now states in egotistical terms his agenda for the human race:
The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal. On behalf of Earthlife, I urge that, with full knowledge of our limitations, we vastly increase our knowledge of the Solar System and then begin to settle other worlds.
The crux of Sagan's arguments is the validity of his "great demotions." Has science shown the Bible to be untrue and that the earth and man are insignificant random combinations of molecules near a remote star in a vast, uncaring universe? I do not believe that the sun revolves around the earth. However, I strongly hold to the view that man is at the center of God's care and concern, if not very near the center of His creation.
The Bible nowhere says that the sun revolves around the earth. It simply uses the common everyday reference system we are all familiar with when referring to the motions of the sun. References to sunrise and sunset appear in the newspaper each day, and there is no difficulty in understanding their meaning. Similar terms are used in surveying, nautical navigation, even orbital mechanics. They communicate information just as does the Bible.
In the covenant with Abraham God implied that there is a myriad of stars in the universe. He said, "look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them...."Sagan believes some of these stars may have planets circling them with life on them. However, Sagan recently admitted in a radio interview that after 25 years of searching for intelligent life, he has been unable to find evidence of life anywhere else in the universe. (Sagan has stated that he would even be happy to find stupid life.) He went so far as to say, "there must be something unique about the earth." Einstein's theories of relativity and the great ages of our solar system and universe both have yet to be proven. If relativity can be shown to be true, some believe the effect could possibly explain the apparent great times of light traveling from distant stars.2
The theory of evolution is the greatest house of cards of all. It flies in the face of the well-founded Second Law of Thermodynamics, cannot be supported by the fossil record, violates common sense in the development of complex systems, and could not even occur in 15 billion years.
These "great demotions" then are the result of misapplying faulty theories rather than validating God's statements in Scripture regarding our position and purpose.
God has declared our standing as follows:
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1).
"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26).
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
It is evident from only these few selected Scripture passages that God created the universe and cares for us to the point of providing His own Son as a sacrifice for our sins. In our finiteness we don't fully understand an infinite God, but how dare we arrogantly deny such a God.
Dr. Sagan is an excellent writer and public speaker. He has a very engaging writing style and dares to discuss controversial issues. His Cosmos series and book sold more copies than any science book ever written in English. He has won the Pulitzer Prize for his writing. However, he is wrong. Carl Sagan is blinded to the evidence that God exists and created man as His special object of love and concern.
This point of view among so many scientists today is described in Romans 1:20: "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." Dr. Sagan has rejected out of hand the evidences he has clearly seen for design in the universe. Although he has expressed a reluctant need to find a Designer, he has given up on the search and has constructed his own "Tower of Babel."
A recurrent theme throughout the book is his allegorizing of the Biblical account and an assumption that it is a transcription of man's uninformed experiences. No place is given to the possibility that Scripture is inspired by the Creator. Dr. Sagan's goal in Pale Blue Dot is to substitute his "creation myth" and purpose for "Earthlife" for the creation account and dominion mandate found in Genesis. Sagan even raises the specter of "becoming like the Most High." I fear for men who would place themselves in such opposition to God and His Word.
Because of the kinship I feel toward scientists like Carl Sagan, I am saddened greatly by their actions. Scientists have the greatest opportunities of all to see the evidence of God's marvelous provision for man in His creation. Those who can't see God's hand in the universe around them should be encouraged to ask God to reveal Himself to them. God is not hiding. He is waiting for us to see Him. Please pray for Carl Sagan and others like him who, in their conceit declare, "There is no God!" (Psalm 14:1).
1. C. Sagan. Pale Blue Dot (Random House, 1994), 429 pp.
2. R. Humphries. Starlight and Time (Master Books, 1994), 133 pp.
* At time of publication, Dr. Vardiman was Administrative Vice President and Chairman of the Astro/Geophysics Department at ICR.
Cite this article: Vardiman, L. 1995. Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. Acts & Facts. 24 (6).