Carl Sagan Explains Evolution in an Eight-Minute Animation

Biological evolution: never has a phenomenon so important so lent itself to such clear, understandable, elegant explanations. But just as evolution itself produces a seemingly infinite variety of life forms, so the human understanding of evolution has produced countless educational and entertaining kinds of illustrations by which to explain it. In the video above, astronomer-astrophysicist-cosmologist Carl Sagan, no stranger to demystifying the once seemingly unfathomable phenomena of our universe, shows how evolution actually works with eight minutes of crisp animation that take us from molecules in the primordial soup, to bacteria, to plants and polyps, to lampreys, to turtles, to dinosaurs and birds, to wombats, to baboons and apes, to us. Then he goes back and does the whole four billion-year evolutionary journey again in forty seconds.

This concise lesson concerns itself not just with how we human beings came about, but how everything else came about as well. That wide-angle view of reality won a great deal of acclaim for Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Odyssey, the 1980 television series on which the segment originally appeared. Though most of its original broadcasts on life, the universe, and everything still hold up as well as this clip on evolution, a 21st-century successor has lately appeared in the form of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, doubtless the most suited heir to Sagan’s tradition of enthusiasm and rigor in public science communication. For a more extended treatment of evolution, see also our post from earlier this week on deGrasse Tyson’s episode on the subject, in which he spends an entire hour on his equally fascinating explanation of what, up to and including you, he, and I, natural selection has so far come up with.

Related Content:

Watch Episode #2 of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: Explains the Reality of Evolution (US Viewers)

Carl Sagan Presents Six Lectures on Earth, Mars & Our Solar System … For Kids (1977)

Carl Sagan’s Undergrad Reading List: 40 Essential Texts for a Well-Rounded Thinker

Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking & Arthur C. Clarke Discuss God, the Universe, and Everything Else

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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  1. Paul Rowland says . . . | March 19, 2014 / 12:34 pm

    I am glad that through the grace of God I am a Bible believing Christian and know that the world was created by the Almighty in six days as stated in the first chapter of the Holy Scriptures. The reasoning behind the absurd and laughable theory of evolution owes its origin to what is described in the third chapter of the Holy Bible where the account is given of the fall of man and his subsequent enmity against God and the Truth of God. Until men are converted by the mighty power of God working in them, enlightening their minds and changing their hearts, man will continue in his sinful rebellion against his Creator and rightful Master. Solemnly, this will be to his eternal woe! All men must die, and then there is the Day of Judgement and eternal damnation for all who live and die despising the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, as do all who believe the Satanic lie of evolution.

  2. Michael Johnson says . . . | March 19, 2014 / 5:44 pm

    Dear self-righteous Swine,
    I also assume you were breastfed until you were twelve. You have no argument here. Go play in the mud with the rest of your piggies. Or prove to me God made us.

  3. Paul says . . . | March 19, 2014 / 7:31 pm

    Troll. Why on earth would you be on an educational site otherwise??

  4. robin combs fields says . . . | March 20, 2014 / 8:14 am

    I totally agree with Michael.

  5. JamesM says . . . | March 23, 2014 / 2:24 am

    Sagan is correct as far as he goes, but he doesn’t tell us how evolution happened or how learning started with apes and not earlier with bacteria for example. This leaves room for simple minded creationism to fill those gaps for the ignorant religionists.
    Evolutionists today see evolution as a self-evolving process based on all creatures learning from experience, and very gradually managing to change their forms accordingly.
    Accidents of nature help but they can’t do that complex building by themselves.

  6. louis says . . . | November 30, 2014 / 2:06 pm

    What if God formed man this way ? from the dust of the earth. In the Bible one day is like a thousand years to God…

  7. Defaithed says . . . | December 1, 2014 / 5:06 pm

    I am glad that through the grace of Odin I am an Edda-believing Pagan and know that Midgard was created by Odin, Vili, and Vé from the corpse of Ymir as stated in the Prose Edda. The reasoning behind the absurd and laughable theory of universe without the world-tree Yggdrasil owes its origin to what is described in the Nafnaþulur section of Skáldskaparmál and in Gylfaginning where the account is given of the origin of the dwarves from the soil of Ymir’s flesh. Until Ask and Embla were created from driftwood and given three gifts by the mighty power of three gods, imbuing them with breath, movement/intelligence, and shape/senses, jotuns and trolls continued in their sinful rebellion against the Aesir and Vanir gods. Solemnly, this will be to their eternal woe at the field of Vigrid! All gods, jotun, trolls, elves, dwarves, and men must die, and then there is Ragnarok and the fires of Muspelheim for all who defy Surt and ignore the warnings in the Edda of Snori Sturluson, as do all who believe the Christian lie of fewer than Nine Worlds.

  8. renato says . . . | December 8, 2014 / 8:10 pm

    AS TO EVOLUTION, EVEN A SIMPLE MIND FACING THE EVOLUTIONARY THEORY WOULD ASK: WOW! – HOW COME PARTICLES AS ATOMS FORM MOLECULES , PROTEINS AND BODIES WHICH ARE THEN SHAPED FROM FISHES TO BIRDS, WORMS, MOSQUITOES AND COCKROACHES, and BATS, along with millions of BACTERIA and VIRUSES. AND NOT ONLY THAT, BUT ALSO MAKING THEM MALE AND FEMALE !!! AND THEN MAKES MALES AND FEMALES TO ATTRACT EACH OTHER VIA SMELLS, HORMONS AND, TO SAY THE LEAST… LOVE! WOW! JUST IMAGINE: SIMPLE PARTICLES THAT STARTED WITH ONE SINGLE ATOM OF HIDROGEN AND EVOLVED TO SOMETHING THAT ENDED ENCOMPASSING SOMETHING SO ETEREAL AS LOVE! CAN YOU IMAGINE ALL THAT WITHOUT A SUPER MIND PROJECTING IT ALL? AND THEN YOU DARE COMING OUT SAYING YOU DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD? COME ON MAN! TRY TO MAKE A WHITE BEAR evolving FROM A WHITE MOUSE, OR VICE-VERSA, AND THEN YOU MAY GAIN SOME CREDIT. OTHERWISE, SUCH THEORY ON EVOLUTION IS JUST AN AWKWARD FAIRYTALE! GOD KNOWS! P.S.: A TIP FOR FREE – TRY AS HARD AS POSSIBLE TO LOOK INSIDE YOURSELF AND THEN YOU WILL HAVE A CHANCE TO GET A GLIMPSE AT GOD!

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