A Date with Death

Astronomer Carl Sagan became well-known around the country as a spokesman for the view that the universe evolved as the result of natural causes. Lately, however, he has had an opportunity to see how well he can live with his own philosophy. Ironically, Sagan’s own behavior during a near-fatal disease is in direct contradiction to the atheistic philosophy he has spent a lifetime espousing. Many Americans are familiar with Sagan’s highly successful "Cosmos" series which aired on PBS in 1980. "Cosmos" was a popularization of the latest scientific theories about the origin of the universe. Noticeably absent from his discussion was the possibility of the universe being created by God. As a vocal crusader for atheism, he in fact ridiculed the idea. Sagan believes that we live in a random, purposeless universe in which all living creatures are related by evolutionary descent. Hence there is no intrinsic difference between humans and animals. Accordingly, the philosophy which Sagan has long embraced argues that it is cruel and morally bankrupt to inflict pain upon animals for research purposes. Tragically, some months ago Sagan contracted a very rare disease that destroyed his red and white blood cells. Told he had six months to live, his one chance for survival was an experimental bone marrow transplant. But there was a catch: the medical procedure that might save his life was made possible only because of the kind of animal research that Sagan’s philosophy opposed. Sagan was faced with the classic dilemma of the atheist: If animals have the same value as humans, how do we justify expending the lives of animals to save humans? What did Sagan do? He had the bone marrow transplant and his life was saved. He acknowledged later: "I remain very conflicted on this issue. I would not be alive today if not for research upon animals." Sagan’s decision was a tacit affirmation that humans indeed have a value transcending that of the animal kingdom. It’s what Christians call the Imago Dei, the "image of God," expressed in every person. Even after acknowledging the many prayers offered on his behalf during his sickness, Sagan remains entrenched in his atheism. He quotes Einstein: "I cannot conceive of . . . an individual that survives his own death. Let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egotism, cherish such thoughts." One way to test a world view is to see if it is possible to actually live by it. Carl Sagan has spent his life trying to show that God does not exist and that life just happened to evolve. But his own actions showed that it is impossible to live by that philosophy. So when at the PTA a teacher suggests that the "Cosmos" series be shown in the schools, simply point out that it is the product of someone who could not live out the implications of his philosophy. And pray for Carl Sagan, that he may yet discover that the true meaning of life is found when we entrust our lives to the God who indeed created the heavens and the earth.


Chuck Colson


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