[(essay date July-August 1981) In the following essay, Harnack discusses the success of the television program Cosmos and Sagan's appearance before the American Humanist Association to receive its Humanist of the Year award in 1981.]
On April 18, 1981, the American Humanist Association, at their Fortieth Annual Conference held in San Diego, named Carl Sagan 1981 Humanist of the Year.
In his address, Sagan simply yet eloquently noted that plants, animals, and humans are all part of a whole. The Greeks, in glimpsing the distribution of the elements of the cosmos, had a vision of surpassing importance. We now know that we can make all the essential building blocks of life. We believe the single-cell organism, the first form of life, was like a free-floating molecular complex--like DNA--or "naked gene." Yet there is more to discover.
Although most people throughout history have chosen to believe that "God did it" when trying to understand the complexities of the universe, Sagan proceeded to take a scientific approach. He began with the elemental composition of the universe and expanded his analysis to make comprehensible the two conflicting views of the direction of the universe--the theory of an expanding and infinite universe as opposed to an oscillating one. He paused, sensing the audience's wish to know which one was true, and added, "You don't have to make up your minds right now. Wait till the data are in. Keep an open mind."...