Sagan’s “A Pale Blue Dot” & Our Place in the Universe

(“Pale Blue Dot” video at the end – if nothing else, watch that.)

For generations, we have heard that Science and Religion are mutually exclusive.

Our own history has shown us that, centuries ago, Organized Religion tried to bend Science to its will. Giordano Bruno, Copernicus, Galileo, and many others, however, could not be silenced and scientific advancement prevailed over religious dogma.

Hundred of years later, the pendulum has swung: it is Institutionalized Science that attempts to force onto Religion a new world order which claims matter as the only ultimate reality. As partial as their religious predecessors were and contrary to their own expressed purpose, many men of science today refuse to consider even the possibility of the existence of the Spirit. With time, however, spiritual advancements too will prevail over scientific dogma.

Science and Religion

In the meantime, we wait for both men of science and of faith to raise their eyes up from their respective altars and open up their minds to discovery wherever it may come from. We wait for luminaries in their respective fields who, in a moment of greater clarity, make the bridge between knowledge and ethics, facts and morality, science and religion without taking sides. We wait for a world with no dogmas.

In these rare moments of clarity, religious or scientific boundaries cease to matter. Science and spirituality intermingle, we gain great perspective and are reminded that we are all humans traveling through the vastness of space, in a cosmos far larger than we can fathom during our busy physical lives.

Carl Sagan’s essay “A Pale Blue Dot”, from his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, is such a moment. In it, a man of science grasps at the immensity of the universe and helps us place ourselves and our physical lives in perspective — at least for a short while. For a brief minute, it is as if we raise our collective eyes from the ground to gaze at the stars as they were meant to be seen: as reminders of the greatness of Creation. It makes us ask: “what is our place in the universe?”

To our luck, Sagan’s book Cosmos eventually becomes a block-buster TV series and in its recent re-make we find this incredible video that helps us visualize Sagan’s lyrical words (also transcribed below). If you have 5 minutes, you should watch this brilliant piece and rejoice that, although it comes from a scientific series, it verges on the spiritual.

 

In time, Science and Religion will be complementary – equal partners in the understanding of the cosmos around us. All of this to say: maybe that era where Science and Spirituality converge and march side by side is not that far out in the future as we once thought…  

 

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Sagan’s Reflections on Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

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