While he was alive, Carl Sagan was seen as an opponent of religion. After his death, he was hailed as a defender of atheism. Just look at almost any atheism website on the internet and you will see not only arguments on forums and blogs that introduce Carl Sagan’s words as talking points , but you’ll also see his books and other materials being sold or linked to from the sites as a primer for atheists to use. Anyone who didn’t know him very well or didn’t pay close attention to his feelings on the debate of atheism versus religion would think that he was a staunch atheist.
However, that simply wasn’t the case. In fact, Sagan did speak on his beliefs and his stance on the matter of whether there was a God or not and whether one could know with any certainty those sorts of things. His own words demonstrated that he never saw himself as smart enough and knowledgeable enough to make the assertion that there is not God and could be no God.
Sagan said that an atheist is someone who is absolutely certain that there isn’t a God and to his mind he could not conceive of such a a person who had that belief based on concrete evidence. A lack of evidence is never a sign that there is no evidence. It could just mean that the evidence has not been found. That’s why this question of God versus accidental life has been raging for decades.
In order for someone to know for certain that there is no God, then they would have to have all knowledge of everything in the entire universe. If a person had knowledge of only 99.9% of everything, then they could still not be an atheist based on scientific fact alone, because God could be in that .1% that they don’t know about.
Sagan recognized that to be an atheist at this point in human history would mean a measure of belief, and that was why he was open to the idea that there might be a God, though he never accepted any evidence to that conclusion. This is part of what has made Sagan such a renowned figure in these debates over evolution versus intelligent design and so forth. His viewpoint was never one of absolutism in these matters, which meant that while people could refer to his writings on the matter when debating, they could never say that Sagan gave conclusive proof one way or another. Ironically enough, Sagan’s writings are constantly used by both side to debate their points, and Sagan might have found that kind of discourse not only pointless but humorous.
In the end, Sagan only saw God as a set of laws and nothing more and never saw any need to pray to such a being, but then again, he didn’t have proof that this was or was not all that God could be either.