Leading lights in the worlds of science, skepticism, and the arts celebrated the grand opening of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) West and the inauguration of its new theater, named for Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, in a standing-room-only event the evening of October 21, 2019. The theater at CFI West’s new building in Los Angeles was officially unveiled as the Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan Theater.
Druyan spoke movingly about science, reason, truth, her late husband and collaborator, Carl, and “this great honor” bestowed by CFI on the two of them.
The newly remodeled building is at 2535 W. Temple Street, a few miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles just off the Hollywood Freeway (U.S. 101).
Jim Underdown, executive director of CFI West, hosted the ceremonies. CFI CEO and President Robyn Blumner and CFI Board Chair Eddie Tabash also spoke, and the center’s bookstore was formally unveiled as the Eddie Tabash Bookstore. Richard Dawkins and several other CFI board members attended, as did actor John de Lancie of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame and comedian Matt Walsh of Veep.
Sagan and Druyan have long had close connections to CFI, its Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (dating back to when it was CSICOP), and the Skeptical Inquirer. Both were elected fellows of CSI. Druyan was Sagan’s collaborator on the epic thirteen-part 1980 PBS television series Cosmos as well as on their 1997 movie Contact, based on his 1985 novel, and coauthor with him of Comet (1985) and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992). She created the reborn Cosmos series with the 2014 season Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (which won twelve Emmy nominations and three Emmys) and is writer, director, and executive producer of the forthcoming Cosmos: Possible Worlds (both narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson). That thirteen-part series is to begin March 9, 2020, on the National Geographic channels and then in the summer of 2020 on Fox channels. It’ll ultimately be shown in 180 countries. Druyan has also written the companion book for that series.
Sagan gave keynote speeches at two CSICOP conferences, and both talks became cover articles in the Skeptical Inquirer. SI has also published numerous other articles by both Sagan and Druyan.
“I was a huge admirer of Carl,” Richard Dawkins said from the audience at the October 21 inaugural festivities. “Carl was a modern Shakespeare.”
Druyan, in her remarks, thanked Dawkins for that tribute and referred to Dawkins, in “this dark time” when science and reason are under attack, as “a shining light in the darkness.”
Druyan said it was empowering “to be surrounded by people to whom it matters what’s true.” She said, “Science delivers the goods. You can’t lie yourself to Mars.” Space missions, she noted, require hundreds of thousands of steps, and all had better be done correctly. “None of them can be B.S.”
She said the 2020 Cosmos series will “depict the awesome beauty” and power of science, and she hopes it will inspire a new generation to appreciate science’s wonders and values.
That very day, the New Yorker had published online a feature article (it appeared in the October 28 printed issue) that explored the rising appeal of astrology to a younger generation of Americans looking for meaning in an uncertain world. There was no skepticism in it. Druyan found this discouraging. “Astrology is another form of prejudice,” she said. “It judges a person on some things that are completely meaningless.”
She ended by returning to the memory of her husband, Carl. He too was a person to whom it mattered deeply “what was true.” She said she misses him every day “with every beat of my heart.” She takes comfort from realizing that “his influence is even greater now than when he was alive.”
“This theater—he would have loved it. Another candle in the dark! Here’s to CFI. What an inspiring organization! From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for this great honor.”