Carl Sagan on science and spirituality

I was listening to Sagan’s audiobook, Demon Haunted World; Science as a Candle in the Dark. After my previous post on atheists and spirituality, I found this quote to be extremely appropriate:

“Spirit comes from the latin word, to breathe. What we breathe is air, which is certainly matter, however thin. Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word spiritual that we are talking of anything other than matter, including the matter of which the brain is made, or anything outside the realm of science. Science is not only compatible with spirituality, it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years, and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy beauty and subtly of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is certainly spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art, or music or literature. Or of acts of exemplary acts of selfless courage… The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive, does a disservice to both.”

Going further, here’s an interview with Sagan:


11 thoughts on “Carl Sagan on science and spirituality

  1. Nice example of the “appeal to authority” fallacy. I suggest that you sit down with a fundamentalist Christian and see if he agrees that there is nothing in the word “spirit” that is outside the realm of science.

    You’re not demonstrating that atheism and spirituality are compatible, you’re just redefining the word “spirit”. Sagan admits this with his “despite usage to the contrary”.

  2. I feel like asking Steven Hawking a question about God that assumes that he/she/it exists is a little useless.

  3. Hey Dan. Well, I believe that is what I am saying: The meaning of spirituality isn’t just the meaning that fundamentalist Christians have. I don’t know if referring to Carl Sagan is appealing to authority, to avoid giving you an example? The thesis is: Spirituality has different levels, and they aren’t being re-invented now. They’ve existed before. Deeper meanings of spirituality have always been, but they haven’t been dominant. Only lately are they growing in strength. So yeah, I guess the popular term of spirituality, or spiritual or religious; these are changing with time, and won’t be discarded altogether.

  4. Hi, You are close…. but wrong. Spirit is all about God the giver of life and spirit. The bible says God breathed(Spirit) in to humans the breath of life. You can live without food and water for a pretty long time but

    not even 10 minutes without Breath. Science will never find God because “In Him we live and move and have our being”. How can the creation find the is impossible. See the spirit of truth in action at my

    It is a little like the Law of attraction people, they want to quote the sayings of Jesus for a new BMW but do not want to qoute him when he says he is Lord alone.

    Ask ypur self who is allowing you to breath and who will take it away when he is ready…clue, it is not Carl Sagan

  5. I think the best thing you could do to understand what Sagan is saying, is to start to read beyond the Bible. See what is true for many.

  6. Hi shamansun,

    I agree. Although I am a Christian and believe in the truth contained in the scriptures, I also believe in the infinitely bigger picture that reaches far beyond the pages of a book or what our human minds can fathom. The way I see it, science dares to explore that “beyond” which is not already known. I don’t see any reason why science and spirituality have to stand in opposition.


    Please don’t be offended, but you said, “Hi, You are close…. but wrong.”
    Wrong? I believe that is how so many of our conflicts begin. Isn’t that what happened in the garden? When we wanted to decide for ourselves what was right or wrong?
    Just thinking…

  7. Thanks for another good post here, Shamansun. I have always enjoyed reading Sagan, and it’s interesting to see things from this perspective.

  8. This is a subject I’ve pondered for so many years. I finally wrote a book, entitled Finding God: To Believe or Not To Believe, on the subject of physics, contemporary philosophy and scientific thought in regards to the dichotomy of organized religion and spirituality…if you care to read a chapter it is at

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