Cosmos Critical Essays

Carl Sagan


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Sagan never had a reputation as one who shies from a controversial issue. Much of the strength of Cosmos rests in his ability to approach a number of social, political, religious, and philosophical issues and think them through critically to a conclusion counter to many populist beliefs. For example, his exposé of the gruesome murder of Hypatia, the last scientist at the library at Alexandria, in 415 a.d. by parishioners of Cyril, the bishop of the city, carries with it an unmistakable warning against religious fanatics: This scientist, dedicated to discovery and truth, had her flesh flayed from her bones, while Cyril was later made a saint by the Catholic church. Sagan is not adverse to tradition, per se; he only expresses his reactions when tradition is contrary to the conclusions of the scientific method. “Evolution is a fact,” he states early in Cosmos, “not a theory,” and, throughout the book, he logically demonstrates his position in a variety of ways.

Perhaps it is in his discussions of humankind’s military proclivities that Sagan becomes most bold and direct. The wars of the ancients impeded the direction of human scientific exploration as much as did the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) for the scientists of the Enlightenment. In the last two chapters of the book, he ironically applies modern society’s postnuclear condition to the many examples that he notes from the past: Today’s political and military establishments have made the discoveries of science the potential destruction of the entire...

(The entire section is 644 words.)