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Worlds Away

Sagan would be so useful today, what with all the debates about science and religion. By most definitions he would be called an atheist, but he hated the term. "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid."

He didn't think science drained any of the majesty from the universe, but quite the opposite.

"The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a very modest scale, with the magnificence of the Cosmos."

Here's Sagan's text for a statement he persuaded President Jimmy Carter to include on the Voyager Record, a disc designed to be heard by an alien civilization should it ever intercept the Voyager spacecraft:

"This Voyager spacecraft was constructed by the United States of America, a community of 240 million human beings among the 4.2 billion who inhabit our planet Earth. We are still divided into nation states, but are rapidly becoming a single global civilization which covers our tiny but very beautiful world . . . We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems which face us, to join a community of galactic civilizations."

We haven't solved our problems. Some people on Earth aren't even fully ready to join human civilization, far less a galactic one. Sagan would be saddened by much of what he sees today.

But he'd be out there fighting for science and the human future, imploring us to be smarter, braver, more cosmic. So the Sagan file will stay. Some people you need to keep around forever.

Read Joel Achenbach weekdays at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.


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