Carl Sagan (1934-1996) was a professor of astronomy at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who became a celebrity on television and a vocal advocate for increased searches for intelligent life in outer space. In addition, Carl Sagan was an atheist. Time magazine reported that Carl Sagan "talked with Jimmy Carter about such esoteric matters as black holes and exobiology (the speculation that there is extraterrestrial life)." He was instrumental in the development of Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. (SETI)
Carl Sagan was also an avid marijuana smoker who claimed marijuana gave him scientific insights. Sagan's avid pot smoking and atheism no doubt helped inspire various atheistic pseudoscience fantasies that Sagan foisted on his gullible fans. For example, Sagan alleged that evolution was a "fact". In addition, the speculative field of exobiology often assumes that evolution occurred despite the lack of evidence and counter evidential nature of evolutionary claims. Given that many atheists embraced communism and continue to hold the spurious notion of abiogenesis, it is not surprising that many atheists embraced Sagan's pseudoscience (see also: Causes of atheism).Professor Sagan, like many liberal scientists throughout the 20th century, believed that intelligent life may exist on planets other than Earth.
"The significance of a finding that there are other beings who share this universe with us would be absolutely phenomenal, it would be an epochal event in human history," Sagan declared.
Indeed, Sagan's most popular work of fiction Contact, later made into a movie, was about finding extraterrestrial life.
To Sagan, there was nothing beyond physical reality.
"The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."
- "We have looked close-up at dozens of new worlds. Worlds we never saw before. And unless we are so stupid to destroy ourselves, we are going to be moving out to space in the next century," he said. "And if I'm fortunate enough to have played a part in the first preliminary reconnaissance in the solar system, that's a terrifically exciting thing."
He often made his opposition to nuclear weapons clear. An episode of Cosmos, "Who Speaks for Earth," dealt with the possibility of nuclear annihilation explicitly.
From a religious point of view, Sagan was an atheist or an agnostic depending upon how it is interpreted. In practice he was an atheist, but as a scientist could never say with certainty that evidence couldn't arise that is currently unknown that would point toward a god force, he is more correctly described as being agnostic.
At the height of his popularity, Sagan became something of a media celebrity, occasionally appearing on popular entertainment programs. His speaking style became well known, and one phrase of his was often spoofed and referenced in the media—"BILLIONS and BILLIONS"—with the words emphasized and drawn out, though he never actually used it.
Sagan had a notable effect on the space program, being the man who conceived the first written message to go into space, on gold plaques attached to the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft. Later, he would be a part of the team that assembled golden records, containing information on Earth's culture and daily life, that would go out with the Voyager space probes later.
"Though Dr. Sagan is one of the most frequently cited experts on atmospheric issues by the media, his predictions are often wrong. For example, at the outset of the Persian Gulf War, Sagan warned that if Saddam Hussein delivered on his threat to set fire to Kuwait's oil wells, so much black soot would be sent into the stratosphere that sunlight would be blocked and a variation of the "nuclear winter" scenario would occur. Hussein followed through on his threat and by the close of the war over 600 wells were on fire. But the fires had little environmental or climatic effect beyond the Gulf region and virtually no ill effects globally."
- Frederic Golden, "The Cosmic Explainer," Time.com 20 Oct. 1980.
- Norma Quarles, "Carl Sagan Dies at 62," CNN.com 20 Dec. 1996.
- Cosmos series, 1980
- "Retired atmospheric physicist Fred Singer dismissed Sagan's prediction as nonsense, predicting [correctly] that the smoke would dissipate in a matter of days."