What Sagan Taught (Me).

There is an invisible, intangible dragon in my garage.

Of course my garage is also invisible and intangible.

Ten years ago today I was near the end of my first semester as a high school student. A few days later, I would read a letter to the editor of a local newspaper about an obituary. Apparently, the author of the letter was annoyed that obituary praised the man for his contributions to science but mentioned nothing of his atheism. The man who had died was Carl Sagan.

At the time, I had only known him from reruns of Johnny Carson’s impersonation. “Definitely. They’ll need much more hair spray than we originally expected.” Later on, I would learn he was the guy who wrote that “Jodie Foster movie about aliens”. That’s all I would know about him for next nine or so years. A Carson sketch and a sci-fi movie. I wasn’t until this February I picked up Demon Haunted World and read his own words.

How different would my life be now if I had read it ten years ago? Would I have understood it? Would I have liked what he had to say? Where would I be if his message had reached me ten years ago?

With a lot of media, audience is often self-selecting. I didn’t start reading DHW until I was already headed towards scientific skepticism. Ten years ago, I was still arguably a Catholic, though my family was no longer attending church. Five years ago, I was working at a supermarket while experimenting with new age stuff and Taoism. Two years ago, I was a disgruntled web programmer who felt helpless in trying to affect my life. A year ago, I had realized that Sagan was more than a Carson sketch, but I still hadn’t read anything by him. I won’t say that the nine years between his death and my first lesson from him were wasted. It may be that I needed to live all those experiences before I could understand what he was saying. I will say that I am glad that I read DHW.

Sagan’s lesson for me was not so much how to be skeptical or why one should be skeptical. These things I knew something about. So what did I actually gain from reading his work? A deeper understand of what it means to be a skeptic. We are not here to contradict, to nay-say, to coerce or to censor. We are here to patiently and carefully seek out eternally elusive truths. We use what we learn to seek further and to help others. It is our demand for evidence before ascent acts as bulwark against false accusations, frauds and authoritarianism. Ubi dubium ibi libertas. Where there is doubt, there is freedom.

With that lesson learned, I will do what I can so that Sagan’s “candle in the dark” will not be extinguished.

Thank you for your time, Jokermage