The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Happy Carl Sagan Day!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 9, 2009

Happy Carl Sagan Day… or, to be more accurate, belated Carl Sagan Day🙂

November 7th is the birthday of that great communicator of science & skepticism, Carl Sagan.  In a time when many of his fellow scientists were loath to communicate directly with the public, Sagan was a unique link between the scientific community and the general populace.  He communicated the power, joy, and importance of science to us through lectures, books, and television.  In particular, I think I can honestly say that an entire generation of scientists were inspired by Carl Sagan’s book and television series Cosmos (which aired in 1980) – I count myself among them. Were it not for the inspiration provided to me in my teenage years by my beat-up copy of the book Cosmos, I may have never pursued a career in science…

The unforgettable introduction to Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean is available on Youtube…

And a recently auto-tuned remix of Carl Sagan’s dialog from Cosmos, called “A Glorious Dawn (featuring Stephen Hawking)”, is also available on Youtube.  Check it out…

**Note: You can download your own copy of “A Glorious Dawn” from its creator’s website – SymphonyofScience.com
– where there are many other cool videos & music files available.

Lastly, in the years just before he died in the late 1990s, Sagan made a major contribution to the budding skeptical movement when he published his book The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. This book is probably one of the most important & readable books concerning an introduction to skepticism and the importance of applying the scientific method & critical thinking in our everyday lives to help us distinguish science from pseudoscience & nonsense.  If you’ve never read this book, I strongly urge you to pick it up…

In closing, allow me to quote the ending to Sagan’s Demon Haunted World, from the chapter titled “Real Patriots Ask Questions”:

Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen — or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

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