Re: Carl Sagan's no evidence claim

Eduardo G. Moros (
Mon, 29 Sep 1997 17:31:58 -0500

YEah! In the movie when the lady scientist (Foster) says to the new-era
minister that there was no evidence for the existance of God, I just couldn't
stop thinking of psalm 19 and Romans 1. David and Paul were surely wondering
what else could God present as evidence of Himself without opting for the
"visions" that scared the heck out of the prophets (i.e., Isaias). Funny, the
presence of God usually didn't "feel good".


Joel Cannon wrote:
> In hopes that someone might find it useful here is an excerpt from my
> critique of the movie "Contact", which has been (thankfully) edited
> extensively since I posted a premature version here. I believe that
> this critique applies equally to any naturalistic claims
> (e.g. Dawkins, and Dennet) that science provides a privileged
> viewpoint for looking for evidence of God.
> The complete critique can be read at
> or if you want I can send
> you a copy.
> Concerning Sagan's "No Evidence" assertion:
> {\bf A Dissenting Opinion}\\ It looks dark indeed for Christians when
> an internationally renowned astronomer applies the same techniques he
> used to unlock Mars's secrets to investigate our God and finds no
> evidence of the His existence. Thankfully, closer scrutiny
> produces a brighter outlook. Sagan confuses assumptions for evidence,
> and provides sufficient personal data to discredit his claim to go
> only where evidence leads him.
> Indeed, the dubious logic in Sagan's ``no evidence'' claim bears an
> instructive symmetry to the Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gugarin's statement
> after returning from the first manned space flight: He knew God didn't
> exist because he had looked for and not found God while in outer
> space. The algorithm: Make an assumption of God's signature--if you
> don't find it you can safely conclude God's non-existence.
> Like Gugarin, Sagan's claim's central feature, his ``no evidence''
> assertion rests directly on assumptions, specifically:
> 1) his assumptions concerning God's nature (which is at odds with
> Judaism, Christianity, and presumably Islam); and 2) his assumption
> concerning the likelihood that God exists.
> Before Sagan could look for evidence, he had to assume or determine by
> empirical means what might constitute valid evidence. Deciding just
> how God could or couldn't act could not be tested empirically so he
> had to make assumptions about the character and action of
> God. Arguably, in this case Sagan was likely to guess wrong, casting
> doubt on his conclusions. Garbage in--garbage out; bad assumptions
> yield bad answers.
> In the case of God's existence, the only evidence Sagan would accept is the
> miraculous violation of the laws of cause and effect. Sagan assumes
> that any self-respecting deity would interrupt the natural flow of his/her
> creation so that even the most skeptical scientist could be convinced.
> Interestingly, in the book {\it Contact}, Ellie suggests some means by
> which God could do this such as ``a monster crucifix orbiting the Earth.''
> or ``the surface of the moon covered with the Ten Commandments '' (p. 164).
> Perhaps less evidence for biological evolution might also have made Sagan
> more inclined to trust the Almighty.
> Sagan's failure to find flying crosses or holes in evolutionary theory
> may entail God's non-existence but that seems dubious. Bad assumption
> might be a better conclusion; God need not operate in the miraculous
> way Sagan expects him to. Or perhaps God's secure self-image may
> preclude having to prove himself to every gun-slinging scientist
> challenging his existence.
> Note that which alternative one chooses from these or other choices
> depends strictly on one's prior assumptions concerning God, rendering
> Sagan's ``data'' useless as an empirical test. If you begin thinking
> it probable God exists you reject Sagan's interpretation (and vice
> versa). The ``evidence'' doesn't change peoples minds; only reinforces
> prior prejudices. To claim otherwise, as Sagan does, is sheer
> self-deception. Like the Cosmonaut, he's failed to see that his
> assumptions determined his conclusion.
> ......
> -------
> Joel W. Cannon
> Dept. of Physics
> Centenary College of Louisiana
> P. O. Box 41188
> Shreveport, LA 71134-1188
> (318)869-5160
> (318)869-5026 FAX