Carl Sagan Explains Evolution in an 8-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 Voyage, 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.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

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Related Content:

Where Did Human Beings Come From? 7 Million Years of Human Evolution Visualized in Six Minutes

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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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Comments (9)
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  • B.A. Gridd says:

    Carl Sagan’s ‘evolution-explaining’ cartoon invokes the power of unconscious matter (over billions and billions of years) to generate unspeakably complex bio-diversity.  His frequent use of the charm-word “evolved” to describe phases of this extremely clever, non-intelligent process simply exposes his sad commitment to scientistic Time-Worshp.

  • Wayne says:

    A scientific impossibility both mathematically and biologically, if you leave nothing for 5min or 50 Billion years mathematically it remains NOthing only in Sagan’s unscientific mind is this possible but I appreciate his passion he should have been a preacher but I guess he was a evolutionary teacher which is faith based not factual however there is a faith that is not only factual but true read the Word of God the Bible it is scientifically factually historically accurate if in doubt do what I did and the supernatural being which is what He is ,God will reveal himself to You if you diligently seek Him He did it for me he’ll do it for You, saved from the deception and lies of evolution. God Bless.

  • Wayne says:

    A scientific impossibility both mathematically and biologically, if you leave nothing for 5min or 50 Billion years mathematically it remains NOthing only in Sagan’s unscientific mind is this possible but I appreciate his passion he should have been a preacher but I guess he was a evolutionary teacher which is faith based not factual however there is a faith that is not only factual but true read the Word of God the Bible it is scientifically factually historically accurate if in doubt do what I did and the supernatural being which is what He is ,God will reveal himself to You if you diligently seek Him He did it for me he’ll do it for You, Jesus not Buddha or Muhammad or the Pope or religion saved me from the deception and lies of evolution. God Bless.

  • Martin Larmes says:

    Evolution is a fact of life. It is life’s primary engine. Not to acknowledge its centrality to the very definition and deployment of life is to dismiss not only creation as God presumably made it but also the very principle that allows living creations to adapt, and thus to endure: to live. It is to hate life for what life is: constant change amidst constant changes.

    Without species adaptability, there would be no novelty, no endurance, and no growth.

    p.s. The opening commentators are definitely going to heaven and will no doubt live forever, having once and for all through their good public works (principally their denouncing others’ tested observations) guaranteed that on their passing from the static world of their modest Biblical imagination they will have reached another world altogether: one in which change, dying, death, shingles, electric bills, taxes, and Olympic curling matches are all in the irrevocable past. Good on you, guys. Your work is done. May the second changeless state you reach prove to match all the hope you have placed in it. I hope at least it’s more reliably stable than our experience of life on Earth.

  • Steve says:

    It’s funny to read supposedly intelligent comments from people who still believe in the invisible creator/friend in the sky.

  • Peter says:

    Before you can claim a god, you need to demonstrate a god. Then you need to demonstrate it’s your specific useless god of the bible, ignoring millions if hungry children every day and allowing his own priests to rape them, in his own house!
    A god incapable of dealing with our problems in this life, is incompetent to deal with us in an afterlife.
    Next time: Keep your delusions orivate.

  • Hank says:

    If there is no god then we live in a self-generated universe. Therefore there is no good or evil. Why then does it matter that children go hungry? Not seeing any logic in that thinking.

  • Lion says:

    STILL CANT ACTUALY DEMONSTRATE THESE EVOLUTION ONLY WITH CARTOONS AND WORDS LIKE THE BIBLE

  • Alan Brantley says:

    Moron.

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