Carl Sagan was the first figure of authority in my life that spoke to something inside me. Watching Sagan’s miniseries Cosmos on PBS all those years ago really informed me and my approach to life. You see, although Cosmos was a journey through what humanity knew and the thousands of years journey humanity went on to get there, it wasn’t simply dry or academic. Oh, there was plenty of science, and the history of science, but Sagan went further and deeper than that.
Sagan spoke of transformative experiences he had along his personal journey in science. He spoke of the wonder of seeing this universe, its awesome majesty, its elegance, and its scope, from the almost absurdly tininess of sub-atomic particles to the ego-shattering vastness of the Cosmos itself. He also spoke of the context of being a member of a people who were able to not only determine that the earth is round, but it’s rough size – and this way back in BC times, thousands of years before anything resembling modern technology. He spoke of the breath-taking endeavor that was the Library of Alexander. He spoke of the struggles of men of reason against oppressors that did not like the facts as they were presented to them – such as a solar system where the Earth was not the center. And always he came back to the grandness, beauty, and sheer joy of the naked truth of the universe itself.
This wasn’t merely a recitation of facts, though one could learn a lot from Cosmos, even today. What Cosmos represented was Sagan’s journey and experiences of this wondrous world we inhabit. Far from being passive or boring, it was engaging, emotional, profound – it was not just spiritual, it was essentially spiritual. Although Sagan may not have described it so, his Spirituality leaped from the screen to our hearts, as we got to expereince his journey and what it meant to him.
This is why I think many scientists do not seek or need traditional religion – they already have a Spirituality in place. Their muse is the world itself, their values those that embrace truth, honesty, and pragmatism – and both personal and societal evolution. Their communities are their fellows seekers, their spiritual leaders not the most eminent in their field, but the scientists that go beyond truth to meaning, who connect science to humanity and humanity to science, men like Brian Greene, Richard Dawkins, Michio Kaku, and the amazing Neil deGrasse Tyson.
So one might ask, is the Spiritualism of Science the one true religion, the best Spirituality?
Well, to put it bluntly, no. There can be no best spirituality. That’s not to say there can’t be total wrong spirituality or religions – there totally can be. Absolutely, utterly, earth-shatteringly wrong belief systems. The one that said the sun revolved around the earth was utterly wrong, for example.
But, if approached correctly, deferring to Reason in all aspects where it needs to be deferred to, such as matters of fact, then there is more than enough room for an unlimited number of spiritualities!
For me, while I am deeply touched by Sagan’s spirituality, and am honored whenever I get to be in its presence – or in the presence of those of Kaku, Dawkins, Tyson – my own personal spiritual needs require more of a community aspect. I want to gather with “my people” whomever they may be, I want to “pray” with them, I want to share with my “congregation” our struggles to be better than we might otherwise be.
Perhaps if I was a scientist professionally, I would meet that need in my day to day work. Since I am not, I must find other ways.
Still, Sagan’s Spirituality is compelling, and when I hear scientists speak from the heart of their joy and reverence for the natural world and our yearning to understand it, I know that they have fulfilled their spiritual needs, just like Sagan did.