Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Demon Haunted Science

I think I would agree with Carl Sagan at least in part, at least this far:

I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship,
Although I'd already have to object to the inference that religious worship is "uninformed." Such epistemological arrogance simply won't do. It is, however, par for the course as people continue to divide the world into religious fundamentalists and those who oppose them. The lesson Nietszche continues to hold true: "The man who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself.” We don't need any more fundamentalists. We certainly don't need a kinder, gentler Richard Dawkins.

Carl Sagan's widow has published his last book: The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God. Sagan's original title was better: The Search for Who We Are. The name is "a nod to William James, whose Gifford lectures in 1901 and 1902 became the basis for his book The Varieties of Religious Experience." The major difference, of course, is that James actually studied the topic of his lectures. Sagan, like Dawkins, can't be bothered to do more than disavow ideas he is quite sure are, in Dawkins' words of praise for Sagan's book: "Bronze Age myths, medieval superstitions and childish wishful thinking." Consider, for example, this "insight" by Sagan:

Ever the questioner, Dr. Sagan asks at one point in his lectures why the God of the Scriptures seems to betray no apparent knowledge of the wider universe that “He or She or It or whatever the appropriate pronoun is” allegedly created. Why not a commandment, for instance, that thou shalt not exceed the speed of light? Or why not engrave the Ten Commandments on the Moon in such a way that they would not be discovered until now, à la the slab in “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

If such an inscription were found, people would ask how it had gotten there, Dr. Sagan writes. “And then there would be various hypotheses, most of which would be very interesting,” he adds dryly.
Obviously Dr. Sagan never read Isaiah:

64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--

64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

Besides, you know, that is what God is all about: proving God's existence to us. That's certainly the story of Abraham (from Genesis 12):

1Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

4So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
After, of course, checking God's references, getting a blood sample, and checking God's fingerprints. Because Hellenistically based empiricism is the only legitimate form of human thought, after all.

Then there is this thought, which Dr. Sagan seems to think is both novel and insightful:

It’s curious, he says, that no allegedly Christian nation has adopted the Golden Rule as a basis for foreign policy. Rather, in the nuclear age, mutually assured destruction was the policy of choice. “Christianity says that you should love your enemy. It certainly doesn’t say that you should vaporize his children.”
It's equally curious, Dr. Sagan, that you could give a series of public lectures and yet you've never heard of Reinhold Niebuhr. A pity it's too late to introduce you.

And, of course: "9/11 changed everything:"

In the wake of Sept. 11 and the attacks on the teaching of evolution in this country, pAnn Druyan, Sagan's widow and editor of the book] said, a tacit truce between science and religion that has existed since the time of Galileo started breaking down. “A lot of scientists were mad as hell, and they weren’t going to take it anymore,” Ms. Druyan said over lunch recently.
Really? So Dr. Sagan published A Demon Haunted World five years after his death? A book which every review or mention Google shows me says critiques pseudoscience, UFO's, the occult, the "paranormal," and religion? Although Wikipedia tells me it contains this quote, a sentiment I can only hope finds an echo in his posthumous volume:

Honest religion, more familiar than its critics with the distortions and absurdities perpetuated in its name, has an active interest in encouraging a healthy skepticism for its own purposes. ... There is the possibility for religion and science to forge a real partnership against pseudo-science. Strangely, I think it would soon be engaged also in opposing pseudo-religion.
It isn't that I object to the ideas. It's the ignorance that annoys me:

About a year ago, Ms. Druyan went looking for Dr. Sagan’s lectures, eventually finding them filed under “Ethos” in his archive at Cornell, which occupies 1,000 filing cabinets and includes things like his baby pictures and report cards.

Rereading them, she said, “I couldn’t believe how prophetic they were.”
Good grief. These people really need to get out more.

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