The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

The Measure of All Things

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Have you ever wondered why people don’t understand things the way you do? The facts are there for everyone to see and comprehend. So what keeps them from believing? At one level we know it’s a spiritual problem. In some cases God blinds their eyes (John 12:40) or hardens their heart (Ex. 4:21) so they will not understand (Matt. 13:13). In other cases God gives “them over to a depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28). They couldn’t see the truth if it came up and bit them. In addition to what God does to those seeking to be their own god, there is also a pro-active side whereby individuals make the claim that they are autonomous and “objective” truth seekers when in reality they are biased truth concealers. They purposely “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) and set their mind “on the flesh” (8:6). They know the truth, but they cover it up so they don’t have to abandon their adopted worldview. Finally, there are those who have been taken “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

Carl Sagan shows in his book Cosmos how he had been “taken captive through philosophy and empty deception” when he wrote in the book’s opening line that “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”[1] Every fact, experience, and piece of scientific evidence that he gathered was filtered through this man-made, indefensible, and unprovable interpretive grid. All that follows in the Cosmos worldview is measured by this one-sentence interpretive yardstick rather than “according to Christ” (Col. 2:8) who “made the world” and “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:2, 3). Where the Bible presupposes God and His creative activity (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 11:3), Sagan presupposed the cosmos and nothing else. He then appointed himself as the ultimate interpreter of what he believed existed. Sagan limited and governed himself by his stated operating cosmic presupposition. If he came upon a bit of evidence or an experience that did not seem to fit his cosmos-is-everything worldview, then it was not a fact.

For Sagan, the cosmos was god, a glorious accidental substitute for what he believed were ancient, pre-scientific beliefs about God and the origin and nature of the universe. The very idea of a personal God is, in Sagan’s worldview, simply “the dreams of men.”[2] Even so, Sagan’s worldview is just as religious as that of the Christian’s worldview:

When Sagan excludes even the possibility that a spiritual dimension has any place in his cosmos—not even at the unknown, mysterious moment when life began—he makes accidental evolution the explanation for everything. Presented in this way, evolution does indeed look like an inverted religion, a conceptual golden calf, which manages to reek of sterile atheism. It is little wonder that many parents find their deeper emotions stirred if they discover this to be the import of Johnny’s education.[3]

Sagan worshiped an eternal cosmos that he presupposed is an evolutionary substitute for the eternal God of the Bible who gives life and meaning to everything. Sagan said it like this: “It is the universe that made us. . . . We are creatures of the cosmos. . . . Our obligation to survive and flourish is owed, not just to ourselves, but also to that cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.”[4] God’s personal attributes are imputed to an impersonal cosmos. The “primordial biotic soup”[5] nourished our ancient ancestors as they emerged from that first ocean of life. These memories, according to Sagan, are eternally etched on our evolved psyche.

The ocean calls. Some part of our being knows this is from where we came. We long to return. These aspirations are not, I think, irreverent, although they may trouble whatever gods may be.[6]

Sagan makes it clear that there are no “gods” in the usual sense in his universe, only “accidents”[7] that somehow developed into designed and meaningful entities. At times, however, Sagan muses rhapsodic over a seemingly benign reverence of the cosmos that hints at a deep religious commitment to atheism and elements of paganism. “Our ancestors worshipped the sun,” he reflects, “and they were far from foolish. It makes good sense to revere the sun and the stars, because we are their children.”[8] But who made the cosmos? How did the cosmos get here? Why is there order and complexity in the cosmos? Sagan never answered these questions. He could not as long as the cosmos is all that is ever was or ever will be.

So then, the Christian, the pagan, and the atheist interpret the world by an appeal to certain essential presuppositions. All worldviews—even those espousing atheism—are presuppositionally religious. “This means that many people may rightly call themselves atheists meaning that they do not believe there are any gods (‘a-theist’ means literally ‘no-god’), but they will still have a religious belief if they regard anything whatever as the self-existent on which all else depends.”[9] Those beliefs “on which all else depends” are presuppositions, and everyone has them, from the bushman to the astronomer.

Endnotes:

[1] Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), 4.
[2] Sagan, Cosmos, 257.
[3] William R. Fix, The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984), xxiv.
[4] From the 13-hour long television presentation of Cosmos aired in the fall of 1980. Quoted in Richard A. Baer, Jr., “They Are Teaching Religion in the Public Schools,” Christianity Today (February 17, 1984), 12.
[5] Prebiotic means “before life.” It refers to the hypothesis put forth by the Russian scientist A.I. Oparin who claimed that life began in a sea of chemicals called a prebiotic soup. The chance occurrence of chemicals and compounds eventually led to molecules. The theory does not explain where the chemicals and compounds came from and how they organized themselves into complex life.
[6] Sagan, Cosmos, 5.
[7] Sagan, Cosmos, 30.
[8] Quoted in Baer, “They Are Teaching Religion in the Public Schools,” 13.
[9] Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 26-27.

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