“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

In 1980 Carl Sagan offered these words as a sort of atheistic manifesto to explain the world we live in.

Sagan’s brilliant mind and winsome demeanor defused the provocative statement and popularized a philosophical commitment known as “naturalism.” While this concept is as old as ancient philosophy itself, going back to Democritus in 4th century BC, Sagan broadcasted it anew to a young generation who bought his book and watched the BBC documentary, both by the title of Cosmos.

Apart from the popular culture, however, another trend was developing that caught the attention of journalists. In 1980 Time Magazine published an article by the title of “Modernizing the Case for God” in which they observed:

God? Wasn’t he chased out of heaven by Marx, banished to the unconscious by Freud and announced by Nietzsche to be deceased? Did not Darwin drive him out of the empirical world? Well, not entirely. In a quiet revolution in thought and arguments that hardly anyone could have foreseen only two decades ago, God is making a comeback. Most intriguingly, this is happening not among theologians or ordinary believers … but in the crisp, intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almighty from fruitful discourse. Now it is more respectable among philosophers than it has been for a generation to talk about the possibility of God’s existence….But if in an age of science, faith in God can be more rationally grounded, as a growing number of philosophers now attest, then the reasoning soul who is so inclined can more surely and assuredly feel comfortable in moving beyond reason. (Time Magazine, April 7, 1980)

Ah, the “reasoning soul” can feel comfortable in believing in God. The juxtaposition of the Time piece with Sagan’s Cosmos is interesting. While philosophical naturalism was popularized in print and on screen, theism was gaining ground in ivy league philosophy departments. Can it be that a deeper look doesn’t lead to a self-creating universe, but to an infinite Creator, or to use Aristotelian language, an “unmoved mover”? Could it be that the Socratic method is dangerous for unbelief?

Francis Bacon thoughts so. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism,” he said, “but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. If the reasoning soul in search of truth wants to avoid God, he will also need to avoid depth in philosophy, according to Bacon. C.S. Lewis offers an additional warning, “A young atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” If a person in 1980 were to move beyond Sagan’s book and documentary, he might be in danger of discovering the same truth as Time Magazine: God isn’t dead after all.

To again quote Daniel Dennett, “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.” Understanding the philosophy behind someone’s scientific claims is highly important. At a time when Sagan’s proposition permeated bookstores and television sets, there were men and women committed to critical thinking who evaluated his “philosophical baggage” and came to a very different conclusion: Before there was a Cosmos, there was a Creator. 

(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5)