Carl Sagan v. Nancy Pearcey

On March 17, 2013 at our worship service at Fellowship Bible Church, Ben Parkinson who is one of our teaching pastors spoke on Genesis 1. He spoke about an issue that I was very interested in.

Ben started the sermon by reading the following scripture:

Genesis 1-2:3

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Creation of the World

1 In the (A)beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was (B)without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, (C)“Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, (D)“Let there be an expanse[a] in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made[b] the expanse and (E)separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were (F)above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven.[c] And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, (G)“Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth,[d] and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, (H)“Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants[e] yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for (I)signs and for (J)seasons,[f] and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God (K)made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to (L)rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds[g] fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So (M)God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, (N)“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, (O)“Let us make man[h] in our image, (P)after our likeness. And (Q)let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    (R)male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, (S)“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. (T)You shall have them for food. 30 And (U)to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 (V)And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

The Seventh Day, God Rests

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and (W)all the host of them. And (X)on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

___________

Then Ben brought up an age-old question: “Who created God?” The answer is very simple. God has always existed. This reminded me of the time I got to interact with Carl Sagan on this same issue. 

I really believe Hebrews 4:12 when it asserts:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

That verse prompted  me in 1992 to start sending a particular cassette tape out to these skeptics such as Carl Sagan. This tape included three messages (“How I know the Bible is the Word of God,” Adrian Rogers, Sept 1972; “The Final Judgement,” Adrian Rogers,Sept 1972; “How to get a pure heart,” Bill Elliff, 1992.)

On Dec 5, 1995 Carl Sagan while suffering from cancer took time to finally answer the 4 letters I had written to him up to that point.(I don’t know if he ever listened to the tapes I had sent him.) Here is his response: 

Thanks for your recent letter about evolution and abortion. The correlation is hardly one to one; there are evolutionists who are anti-abortion and anti-evolutionists who are pro-abortion.You argue that God exists because otherwise we could not understand the world in our consciousness. But if you think God is necessary to understand the world, then why do you not ask the next question of where God came from? And if you say “God was always here,” why not say that the universe was always here? On abortion, my views are contained in the enclosed article (Sagan, Carl and Ann Druyan {1990}, “The Question of Abortion,” Parade Magazine, April 22.)

I responded with a two page letter on Jan 10, 1996 and I never heard back again from Dr. Sagan and he died on Dec 20, 1996. His wife Ann Druyan reported that many people of faith reached out to Sagan in last few months of his life, but he never left his agnosticism. 

I wish I had heard this message from Ben Parkinson before I wrote Sagan that final letter. One very important point was made by Ben when he quoted from Nancy Pearcey.

Nancy Pearcey in her book TOTAL TRUTH notes:

If you press any set of ideas back far enough, eventually you reach some starting point. Something has to be taken as self-existent–the ultimate reality and source of everything else. There’s no reason for it to exist; it just “is.” For the materialist, the ultimate reality is matter, and everything is reduced to material constituents. For the pantheist, the ultimate reality is a spiritual force or substratum, and the goal of meditation is to reconnect with that spiritual oneness. For the doctrinaire Darwinist, biology is ultimate, and everything, even religion and morality, is reduced to a product of Darwinian processes. For the empiricist, all knowledge is traceable ultimately to sense data, and anything not known by sensation is unreal.

And so on. Every system of thought begins with some ultimate principle. If it does not begin with God, it will begin with some dimension of creation–This starting assumption has to be accepted by faith, not by prior reasoning… In short, it is not as though Christians have faith, while secularists base their convictions purely on facts and reason. Secularism itself is based on ultimate beliefs, just as much as Christianity is. Some part of creation–usually matter or nature–functions in the role of the divine. So the question is not which view is religious and which is purely rational; the question is which is true and which is false.

Then Ben observed, “Even those who don’t believe in a God believe that something existed forever. Could be matter could be some kind of spiritual force, could be something biological. There is something that has always been there, no matter who you are and no matter how much you want to escape it. The one true story which has been given to us by the one who did exist forever gives us the most beautiful explanation of what that something is. Is a personal existent, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, loving, just creator God. That is who that has existed forever and that is who has created everything around us.”

Ben also went on and read the following scriptures:

Psalm 19:1-6

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Law of the Lord Is Perfect

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

19 (A)The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above[a] proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
(B)Their (C)voice[b] goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for (D)the sun,
    (E)which comes out like (F)a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Romans 1:17-22 (Amplified Bible)

17For in the Gospel a righteousness which God ascribes is revealed, both springing from faith and leading to faith [disclosed through the way of faith that arouses to more faith]. As it is written, The man who through faith is just and upright shall live and shall live by faith.(A)

    18For God’s [holy] wrath and indignation are revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who in their wickedness repress and hinder the truth and make it inoperative.

    19For that which is known about God is evident to them and made plain in their inner consciousness, because God [Himself] has shown it to them.

    20For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature and attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible and clearly discernible in and through the things that have been made (His handiwork). So [men] are without excuse [altogether without any defense or justification],(B)

    21Because when they knew and recognized Him as God, they did not honor and glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. But instead they became futile and [a]godless in their thinking [with vain imaginings, foolish reasoning, and stupid speculations] and their senseless minds were darkened.

    22Claiming to be wise, they became fools [professing to be smart, they made simpletons of themselves].

_____________
This second passage in Romans was one that I actually used in two of my letters to Carl Sagan.

I have read lots of Carl Sagan’s books and written several reviews and papers on his views. I will just leave you with two thoughts. 

Sagan observed,”Plainly, there’s something within me that’s ready to believe in life after death…If some good evidence for life after death was announced, I’d be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere antedote”(pp 203-204, The DemonHaunted World, 1995). 

Sagan said he had taken a look at Old Testament prophecy and it did not impress him because it was too vague. He had taken a look at Christ’s life in the gospels, but said it was unrealistic for God to send a man to communicate for God. Instead, Sagan suggested that God could have written a mathematical formula in the Bible or put a cross in the sky.However, what happens at the conclusion of the movie Contact?  This is Sagan’s last message to the world in the form of the movie that appeared shortly after his death. Dr Arroway (Jodie Foster) who is a young atheistic scientist who meets with an alien and this alien takes the form of Dr. Arroway’s father. The alien tells her that they thought this would make it easier for her. In fact, he meets her on a beach that resembles a beach that she grew up near so she would also be comfortable with the surroundings. Carl Sagan when writing this script chose to put the alien in human form so Dr. Arroway could relate to the alien. Christ chose to take our form and come into our world too and still many make up excuses for not believing.

Lastly, Carl Sagan could not rid himself of the “mannishness of man.” Those who have read Francis Schaeffer’s many books know exactly what I am talking about. We are made in God’s image and we are living in God’s world. Therefore, we can not totally suppress the objective truths of our unique humanity. In my letter of Jan 10, 1996 to Dr. Sagan, I really camped out on this point a long time because I had read Sagan’s  book Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors  and in it  Sagan attempts to  totally debunk the idea that we are any way special. However, what does Dr. Sagan have Dr. Arroway say at the end of the movie Contact when she is testifying before Congress about the alien that  communicated with her? See if you can pick out the one illogical word in her statement: “I was given a vision how tiny, insignificant, rare and precious we all are. We belong to something that is greater than ourselves and none of us are alone.” 

Dr Sagan deep down knows that we are special so he could not avoid putting the word “precious” in there. Schaeffer said unbelievers are put in a place of tension when they have to live in the world that God has made because deep down they know they are special because God has put that knowledge in their hearts.We are not the result of survival of the fittest and headed back to the dirt forevermore. This is what Schaeffer calls “taking the roof off” of the unbeliever’s worldview and showing the inconsistency that exists. 

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