Talk:Carl Sagan

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Atheism Quote[edit]

I can't seem to find the source of "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. ".

I see it listed in the article linked, but I can't find an original source anywhere after searching through multiple essays and videos.

Any original source, out of curiosity?

Yes! the source is the book "Conversations with Carl Sagan", University Press of Missisipi, 2006 (ISBN 1-57806-736-7). The book as preview could be found in Google books. But if you read page 70, you'll find the quote is quite different:

"Those who raise questions about the God hypothesis and the soul hypothesis are by no means all atheist. An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do know to be sure that no such God exist ..."

Source: Google Books preview.

The real quote continues, but in any case Sagan never mentions "by some definitions atheism is very stupid". So, whoever create that quote shown above, actually misquoted Sagan on purpose or by mistake.

I am not user of wikiquote, but please, check the source by yourselves, and correct the quote of the main page. Thanks

"Waste of space"[edit]

"If we are alone in the Universe, it sure seems like an awful waste of space. (From the movie Contact, possibly earlier origin)"

In fact, the idea is much older, see (starting at 2:50) —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) 18:27, 11 September 2006 (UTC)

Thanks for the tip. I've moved the quote to a new "Misattributed" section (and added a similar citation for the Thomas Carlyle article). ~ Jeff Q (talk) 20:15, 11 September 2006 (UTC)

Cannabis quotation[edit]

I'd like to know why Sagan's quotation on cannabis prohibition was deleted. I understand that it doesn't need to be near the top of the page, so perhaps it should be under its own sub-heading? It is as well sourced (see his full article on Dr. Lester Grinspoon's site) as it is known that Sagan was a cannabis smoker.

It seems to me that this quote was deleted because Sagan's marijuana use is something which the scientific community prefers to turn a blind eye to. Why should only his quotations on sciences be acceptable while a reliably-sourced article expressing his true feelings about a social taboo is not? It's dishonest and irresponsible to omit certain quotations just because some people—or even a lot of people—will find what is said objectionable.

Out of consideration for others, I'm not going to repost that quotation until I've given reasonable time for those who object to it to rebut. --Pppjoker 07:31, 9 November 2006 (UTC)

That was 2006... Is four years long enough to wait on a rebuttal? (James_W)

—This unsigned comment is by (talkcontribs) .
The user above actually did add a section for the Essay as "Mr. X", and I just expanded it substantially. ~ Kalki (talk · contributions) 23:19, 3 December 2010 (UTC)
Although it's good to have some of this, the section of Mr. X quotes seems disproportionately long. It's a long section of quotes from a relatively short article, and not one that Sagan is particularly known for. The purpose of wikiquotes shouldn't be a place to reprint material that the editors think should be more widely seen, but to pull out the quotes that are widely quoted or quotable. Could this be trimmed a bit to just the most quotable parts? 14:04, 10 August 2014 (UTC)

Not unsourced - "We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."[edit]

This is from the end of the promo video for Cosmos. See: Moving to Cosmos section.


What's with the excessive bolding? I can barely read through all irregular font types. Parts of a quote may be bolded, but an entire statement bolded is just too much.

I reduced the bolding on some extensive passages, added a bit to other places, and added a few images. I might work on this a bit more in the next week or so, adding a few more images, and possibly a few more quotes. ~ Kalki 13:27, 27 February 2007 (UTC)

Quote from The Demon Haunted World is misattributed[edit]

Hi all -- new to Wikiquote. I just stumbled over here looking for a quote from Carl Sagan. I found it -- his famous quote that he does not believe in the afterlife. It is attributed to Chapter Two of The Demon Haunted World. However, I scoured that chapter and the rest of the book and I couldn't find it! I then went elsewhere on the Internet and found references to him actually saying that in a 1996 issue of Parade Magazine. Anyway, am new to Wikiquote so I didn't quite know what to do. Also I do not have the actual Parade Magazine so am reluctant to change it, even if I knew how. I do know that, unless I missed it somehow, it is not in The Demon Haunted World, although it certainly has been attributed to that book a number of times.--Dontquoteme 19:59, 10 March 2007 (UTC)

This has now been corrected the quote has been listed as from "In the Valley of the Shadow" PARADE magazine (10 March 1996). ~ Kalki 21:27, 10 March 2007 (UTC)

Other Quotes of Importance[edit]

I think that there's at least one more quote from Cosmos that should go in, as well as a quote from an interview he did with PBS about alien abductees. It's found on , but I don't think I'm aloud to post it here, as it is copyrighted - I think.

This quote is from the last chapter of Cosmos; I think it might actually be the closing line. Not sure though.

"Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring"

Thanks for looking into this!

Not Unsourced - "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"[edit]


I am new to wikiquote, but I think the description of this quote is in error.

Sagan uses this phrase in his "Baloney Detection Kit". It seems to me that he would agree quite strongly with the phrase. He did not use this phrase to summarize an "appeal to ignorance". Instead, he uses it as a tool to identify and reject an "appeal to ignorance". The phrase appears in Chapter 12, "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection" in the "The Demon-Haunted World" (page 213 of the Ballantine paperback)

"appeal to ignorance - the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist - and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we're still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

In this context, Sagan is clearly saying that the absence of evidence that UFOs are NOT visiting the Earth is a completely insufficient reason to conclude that UFOs ARE visiting the Earth. In the second portion he is stating that just because we have not found any other planets with intelligent life is not proof that such a planet does not exist. Thus, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I think the below quote nicely summarizes Sagan's views on the matter. This is from "The Varieties of Scientific Experience", published by Penguin, page 251...

"Questioner: As a scientist, would you deny the possibility of water having been changed into wine in the Bible?

CS: Deny the possibility? Certainly not. I would not deny any such possibility. But I would, of course, not spend a moment on it unless there was some evidence for it."

His logic seems to be the following. The claim is "water was changed into wine". There is no evidence that water was changed into wine. Apply "Absence of evidence is not proof of absence". We cannot say that the claim is disproved (on these grounds alone), but neither should we pay it any head.

--rsawatzky 23:24, 31 July 2007 (UTC)

I'm afraid you're being rather obtuse, rsawatzky. Sagan is explicitly criticizing the phrase "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." (and well he should, since the statement is false, though absence of evidence is not necessarily strong evidence).

You then replace the fallacious phrase with a different, more defensible one: "Absence of evidence is not proof of absence." Yes, the absence of evidence of water-wine transmutation isn't proof that it never occurred, but it is evidence against the proposition.

--Lionheart 04 September 2009

Lionheart, you are wrong. This is an older proposition than Carl Sagan's quotation.

If I propose that "A" is "B", but I do not find any evidence that "A" is "B", this does not mean that "A" is not "B", or even that "A" is simply "A", because all I have shown is that I do not have evidence for my conclusion, and I must await either a more complete theorem to prove my grounds or find some evidence. In this case the absence of evidence for "A" is "B" is not proof that "A" is not "B"--a proposition that Carl Sagen should uphold, since it is the foundation of empirical studies.

I presume you don't like the results, because a proposition like the following would hold true: You have no evidence that God exists, but this is not evidence that God does not exist. This proposition, upheld by theists, is correct. All I can show is that I have no evidence for God's existence.

This may seem like a blow to an atheistic ego, but remember that the non-existence of God isn't dependent on a lack of evidence for his existence. It is based on the fact that observable, quantifiable, empirical, easily-reproduced data provides the only explanation for human existence--one to which the existence of God is subordinate. The fact that I have no evidence for God's existence by which to prove his non-existence is true. But then, why am I even troubling myself with a problem for which there is no empirical evidence, whose truth can only be proven by gut feeling, faith, or belief---i.e. non-empirical measures? I can continue to look for evidence, and mankind has for the last 30,000 some odd years, but there is no evidence beyond faith, because there are no empirical measurements to be taken.

---King Crimsonite--- Have a Nice Day, Fellas.

--King Crimsonite

King Crimsonite, you have reiterated rsawatzky's error of conflating evidence with proof.

Let H be a hypothesis that something is true, and E be an observation of evidence supporting H. The probability of H given E is P(H|E), and the probability of H given not-E is P(H|~E). E being evidence of H means that P(H|E) > P(H), and that P(H|E) > P(H|~E).

In terms of probabilities, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

Let me use a more concrete counterexample. Since everyone is using religious examples, let's take the Ten Plagues of Egypt.

According to this Bible story, during the time of the pharaohs, the River Nile turned to blood, killing all the fish and marine life. All the cattle and livestock died. All the trees were smashed by hail, all the crops devoured by locusts. Swarms of flies and frogs infesting the land, and the people infected with lice and boils. And overnight, the firstborn child of every family in Egypt died. A cataclysm greater than a hundred 9/11s.

We should expect to find archeological evidence of Egypt in chaos, graves filled in massive funerary rites, the pharoah making orders and proclamations to deal with civil unrest and starving Egyptians resorting to looting and violence on a national scale. We would expect this literate record-keeping people, the civilization that invented paper, to have produced lots of records documenting this unprecedented disaster. Every history book should record this event; historians would be made by this event.

All that evidence we'd expect to find if the story were true, is completely absent. The absence of evidence for the Ten Plagues is evidence that they never happened.

I shouldn't like to presume how you feel about that, KC. I'm just illustrating why this aphorism is false.

--Lionheart 18 January 2010

Regardless of whether or not the aphorism is correct, Carl Sagan is not criticizing the aphorism. His statement quite clearly using the aphorism to proof his point - to criticize the "impatience with ambiguity."

--, 21 February 2011

His statement explicitly criticizes the statement’s “impatience with ambiguity”: “This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Frex:

A: How do you know? You have no evidence to support that.

B: Well, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

A is waiting until the evidence is in, while B would rather rush to judgment.

Robin Lionheart 14:28, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

It would be helpful to be able to read a larger excerpt from the relevant chapter, but it seems to me that (aside from the alleged conflation of evidence and proof) that Crimsonite and rsawatzky are correct in that Carl Sagan was not criticizing Martin Rees's phrase but rather using it to criticize the argument from ignorance fallacy. CS referred to an "impatience with ambiguity" but it's Rees's phrase that leaves things open for at least the possibility of ambiguity, whereas the argument from ignorance fallacy is the more absolute of the two and not the other way around.
I believe that rsawatzky is also correct in saying both that the empirically prudent thing to do in the absence of evidence is to "await either a more complete theorem to prove my grounds or find some evidence" and the assumption that Carl Sagan would do the same.
In short, your interpretation (while probably debatable on its own merits vis a vis the differentiation of proof and the consideration of statistics and probabilities in relation to logic) seems to be in contradiction with not only other interpretions, but even Mr. Sagan's own previous statements on logic and the scientific method. --Dekker451 20:04, 25 February 2011 (UTC)
So, to clarify, we have conflicting interpretations of “This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Mine is, “The impatience with ambiguity in the phrase “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” can be criticized.”
Yours is, “The phrase “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” can criticize impatience with ambiguity.”
I think your interpretation would make sense if the sentence had been written “criticized with the phrase” or “criticized by the phrase”, but that “criticized in the phrase” does not support your reading.
However, there’s no need for Wikiquote to take a position on this matter. We need merely quote Mr. Sagan’s words verbatim, and leave questions of its meaning to the reader. — Robin Lionheart 04:19, 26 February 2011 (UTC)
I agree with Robin Lionheart about use of the preposition "in" in both respects, i.e., what it means in proper English, and the impropriety of second-guessing what Sagan meant by it. ~ Ningauble 20:57, 26 February 2011 (UTC)
I concur and accordingly I have removed the phrase claiming it was a criticism of the the phrase itself, to just let the quote stand on it's own, since there seems to be no objection to that. --JS747 13:11, 21 May 2011 (UTC)
Regardless of what Sagan meant by it, he didn't originate the phrase; see Carl Sagan#Misattributed. This is the only boldface text in this bullet item, and it isn't his. I'm commenting out the paragraph and putting a help request on the Reference desk. --Thnidu (talk) 21:43, 19 February 2014 (UTC)
The quote has been restored. I've removed the boldface and added a brief explanatory note about the aphorism. ~ Robin Lionheart (talk) 05:18, 22 February 2014 (UTC)

Answers vs. questions[edit]

I seem to remember watching Cosmos as a kid and this quote popping out at me:

“The scientist’s job isn’t to find answers but to find questions.”

Can anyone verify this? Morganfitzp 13:14, 21 June 2008 (UTC)

Atheism is more than just the knowledge...[edit]

“Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.”

This one is attributed to Carl Sagan, but the source is unknown. However, it appears here:

and it appears to have been said by a certain Emmett F. Fields.

Since I am relatively new to Wikipedia, I am not taking the initiative to correct the article without discussing it first.

Edit several days later: well, I did not hear any objections, so I proceeded to move the quote to "misattributed". (I am sorry, in the "reason" field I wrote that I moved the quotation from "attributed" while in fact I moved it from "unsourced".)


  • A millennium before Europeans were willing to divest themselves of the Biblical idea that the world was a few thousand years old, the Mayans were thinking of millions and the Hindus billions.
  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    • Common scientific aphorism. Out of context. Sagan took just the opposite view of this statement. This phrase was Sagan's summation of the attitude of many who continue to believe something even when they know there's no evidence to support their belief or claims. He was criticizing what is known as "An Appeal to Ignorance". See Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit".
  • All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct.
  • All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.
  • Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something.
  • Arguments from authority simply do not count; too many authorities have been mistaken too often.
    • possibly from Broca's Brain (1974)
  • Credulity kills.
  • I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true.
  • Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.
  • Science is a way to not fool ourselves.
  • Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.
  • Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
  • The Hindu religion is the only one of the world's great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still.
  • The Universe forces those who live in it to understand it. Those creatures who find everyday experience a muddled jumble of events with no predictability, no regularity, are in grave peril. The Universe belongs to those who, at least to some degree, have figured it out.
  • The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition.
  • The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.
    • This is probably a rephrasing of the quote from Richard Dawkins, who said, "Nature is neither kind nor cruel but indifferent."
  • The well-meaning contention that all ideas have equal merit seems to me little different from the disastrous contention that no ideas have any merit.
  • There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right. Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny.
  • There is a place with four suns in the sky — red, white, blue, and yellow; two of them are so close together that they touch, and star-stuff flows between them. I know of a world with a million moons. I know of a sun the size of the Earth — and made of diamond....The universe is vast and awesome, and for the first time we are becoming part of it.
  • We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it's forever.
  • We're the kind of species that needs a frontier — for fundamental biological reasons. Every time humanity stretches itself and turns a new corner, it receives a jolt of productive vitality that can carry it for centuries. There is a new world next door. And we know how to get there.
  • When you make the finding yourself — even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light — you never forget it.
  • Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves. (From the "Cosmos" television series, "Blues for the Red Planet")
  • Comets giveth and comets taketh away.
  • The nature of life on Earth and the search for life elsewhere are two sides of the same question: the search for who we are.

"* Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    • Common scientific aphorism. Out of context. Sagan took just the opposite view of this statement. This phrase was Sagan's summation of the attitude of many who continue to believe something even when they know there's no evidence to support their belief or claims. He was criticizing what is known as "An Appeal to Ignorance". See Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit"."
One can not both take the opposite view of the aphorism "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" and criticize the argument from ignorance fallacy. You have to do one or the other, because the argument from ignorance is that if there is an absence of evidence that something is false then it must be true and vice versa (assuming that something must be false in the absence of evidence that it is true). What Mr. Sagan was really doing by quoting Martin Rees was saying that the argument from ignorance is indeed a fallacy.
It may be helpful for us to read his Dragon In My Garage story in order to see in more elaboration what is opinions on and understandings of logic and empirical study actually were.
I'm not suggesting we use the linked page as a source for the front page and if necessary I could be bothered to find a better source with the same material, but this is what I found with a very quick Google search and I thought it might be elucidating. --Dekker451 20:25, 25 February 2011 (UTC)

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage[edit]

This section should probably be put on its own page, with a reference to it left on the Carl Sagan page due to its size. ~ UDScott 14:02, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

Agreed, also because Sagan was not the sole writer on this production. ~ Ningauble 15:15, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

Parade Quote Location[edit]

When reading looking into the quote "I would love to believe that when I die I will live again..." I found that the article published in Parade magazine exists in the book "Billions and Billions" by Carl Sagan. The quote is located as the first sentence on page 258, chapter 19, entitled "In the valley of the shadow".


This page has individual quotes in excess of Wikiquote:Limits on quotations, and there are cumulative quotes from one book over 800 words, which seems a problem under Wikiquote:Copyrights. --Moonriddengirl 15:43, 30 December 2010 (UTC)

Removal of images[edit]

After seeing the long list of images removed from this and other pages, I'm a bit dismayed at the application of the new Wikiquote:Image use policy. I would argue that several of the images removed from this page did not violate the policy and should not have been removed (for example the ones depicting marijuana were paired with quotes about the use of cannabis - how are the images not related? Similarly, there were several images of objects in space that I believe were appropriately paired with quotes from Sagan). The point of the policy was to avoid having an overwhelming amount of images that could at best be described as having a loose association with the associated quotes or at worst, drove a POV. It is my opinion that the removal of all images on this page but two that are photos of Sagan went a bit too far. ~ UDScott (talk) 13:54, 2 July 2012 (UTC)

I think I went overboard on this one. I've undone my edit, and reverted the previous version, and won't make any further changes to this page until other editors have their say. I guess my own view is that nothing gets added by adding a picture of cannabis to a quotation about the effect of smoking it. The illustration shows the plant, but the quotation is about the effects. But I realize that this is a matter of interpretation! Macspaunday (talk) 14:42, 2 July 2012 (UTC)
I don't necessarily disagree that an image of cannabis may not add to the understanding of the quotes, but I was just worried that these images did not really violate the policy. I'm not faulting your recent work to remove images and enforce the policy - I just wanted to use this page as a test subject of its application and see if perhaps there was a bit too much cut - so that a more egregious removal does not occur in the future on other pages. Thanks. ~ UDScott (talk) 14:47, 2 July 2012 (UTC)
I think I agree with you completely about the cosmic objects. I went overboard, I think, because the page was littered with images that did not illustrate anything in the quotations (e.g. the Statue of Liberty, the rocket flying past the US flag, etc., etc.). This is one of the dangers of editing late at night. Perhaps another editor would like to have a look at this? I've been mostly interested in clearing out dozens of kitsch, sentimental, nineteenth-century academic-painting images used to illustrate literary quotations. But I agree this page is a different matter. Macspaunday (talk) 14:53, 2 July 2012 (UTC)
  • My two cents: We should keep the images of astronomical objects, because Sagan was an astronomer and they are thus directly relevant. The cannabis images seem relevant, but three is overkill - I would suggest removing one or two of them. I would remove "File:Spacecolony3edit.jpeg" because it seems only tangentially linked to the captioned quote or the content of the page. Some other images are of dubious value: "File:Reach for the stars.jpg" is not explicitly about imagination, although it is surreal. The use of the UN flag seems POV to me, because the connection of the UN flag with the captioned quotation gives a positive impression of the UN not within the quotation, and "File:Treny normal.jpg" seems marginally relevant to the quote at hand. I would also remove "File:KT-impact.gif" because it is completely irrelevant to the captioned quotation. --User:Tryst (talk to me!) 15:30, 2 July 2012 (UTC)
Maybe add to that list: "File:L'origine_de_l'evolution.jpg" and File"DarkMatterPie.jpg" and the ones with the captions that begin "War is murder", "Look, all I'm asking", "Here we face", "In the vastness", "Which aspects", "Every thinking person", "History is full", "By exploring", "Exactly the same", etc. A lot of the images are astronomical images used to illustrate statements about other things entirely, such as the one captioned "A religion, old or new." It doesn't seem suitable to illustrate a quotation about religion with an astronomical image. But these are certainly debatable questions... Macspaunday (talk) 16:23, 2 July 2012 (UTC)
The "religion, old or new" quote also mentions the "the magnificence of the universe", I agree with you that it's debatable that w:Hoag's object is a suitable illustration, but I rather like it the context. Much more interesting than an image of the milky way or andromeda. --User:Tryst (talk to me!) 20:42, 2 July 2012 (UTC)

On what page does this quote on advertising appear in Contact?[edit]

There are huge advertising budgets only when there's no difference between the products. If the products really were different, people would buy the one that's better. Advertising teaches people not to trust their judgment. Advertising teaches people to be stupid. CensoredScribe (talk) 22:36, 27 June 2015 (UTC)

It's on page 225 of Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985), Ch. 13. ~ DanielTom (talk) 08:07, 28 June 2015 (UTC)