Saturday, June 09, 2007

Varieties of Scientific Experience

Finished this little book this morning. Sagan's command of language was so good that a transcript of his lectures, including the Q&A, make for perfect paragraph forms straight from transcription. There seems to be an adage that certain brilliant scientific minds are bad writers or lecturers. I don't know if this is true. Seems to me that the exceptional ones were extraordinary writers and orators.

A whole generation grew up being mesmerized by the COSMOS series. My family would watch nature shows on PBS nearly every night when I was a kid and I remember seeing these, not fully comprehending the shows but drawn like a magnet to Sagan's charismatic sagacity. I think if it weren't for growing up on PBS nature shows, I wouldn't have been encouraged to care about much of what I am interested in today. Last week I personally thanked my dad for this. A new poll shows that 44% of Americans believe that evolution is certainly or probably false. And 2/3rds of Americans believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old.

The stupidity of this is carried further by the obvious discrepancy inherent in the numbers. I am certain that had these people watched PBS each night and filled their dreams with the fossils, the stars, the savannas and time lapse jungle photography they would not be this way. The world would be different. They would not have reached their 20th birthday still entertaining the idea that the bible is the word of Almighty God.

In the book, there is a Q&A section which made me laugh out loud at one point. It's commonly agreed upon that religion Q&A's are generally dumb, and filled with sophistry, endless regresses, pointless and intentional illogic and nervous attempts to stump someone way more up on the issue that you are. It is embarrassing to listen to half the time because the level of the questions reveal the towering precipice between knowledge levels. I think that religion stunts intellectual growth. It takes otherwise intelligent people and unnaturally cordons off the intellect like a gnarled bonsai tree mulling again and again on the same tired ground without spreading the roots a millimeter. The audience member's questions remind me of a child arm wrestling their father and the father pretending that there is a fairly equal level of arm strength.

Here Sagan shows his wit and charm. Late last night I was drifting off and had to read it 3 times before I realized I wasn't missing anything:

Questioner: What is your opinion on the nature of the origins of life in the universe

CS: I'm for it!

A meaningless question asked seriously and a symmetrically meaningless answer shot back instantaneously.

In the recent faith and science conference, Ann Druyan (Sagan's widow) gave some remarkable talks which can be seen on youtube. She seemed dismayed that Harris and Dawkins were so ascerbic to the religious whereas Sagan's method of dealing with them was less confrontational.

But let me remind you, it's been 27 years since COSMOS, it's been over 30 years since Selfish Gene, its been over 100 years since Darwin.

And in the most powerful nation on earth, the center of technological advance, half the population does not think that evolution is true. Something has gone terribly wrong.


Shalini said...

That t-shirt is simply awesome.


Steiner62 said...

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