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Quote of the Day

How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets saiid, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe are revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverance and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
--Carl Sagan


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 14th, 2004 07:38 pm (UTC)
Mmmmmm, Sagany.
Apr. 14th, 2004 07:53 pm (UTC)
too bad Carl Sagan never heard of Earnest Holmes and Science of Mind...they DO believe in science AND the divine
Apr. 14th, 2004 08:31 pm (UTC)
The problem I've always had with any kind of scientific devotion is that the claimed reliance on "facts" and empirical data is just as flawed as any other belief system. Most of my athiest friends reject out of pocket things that are not proven by science, as though human awareness conscribes the map of the possible. We all have a belief system, whether we base it on God or Gobel. Theirs has always seemed rather narrow: belief only in those things which can be empirically measured and quantified by science and a disdain for any larger concepts of being that are based on the things we can't see, touch, or weigh.

At least what Sagan is proposing merges some grander concept for a belief system based on science - the breadth of the possible v. the limitations of what can be measured.

Food for thought.
Apr. 14th, 2004 08:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Hmm
As an atheist, I'd like to point out the primary difference between science and religion: Science is willing to change. Indeed, that's what makes it science. When new evidence is brought forth, instead of denying that the evidence could exist, we study it until we're convinced that it's either correct or incorrect to the best of our knowledge. We use this as the basis for our knowledge about the world, and are amazed at what's occurring naturally, with no thanks given to some deity.

Science is not a system of belief. It's more accurately described as a process through which we obtain knowledge. That process, as Sagan points out, does not exclude religion. (Organized) Religion does have a nasty habit of excluding science, though.
Apr. 14th, 2004 09:22 pm (UTC)
Potato, Po-tah-to
A system of belief is not a bad thing and it is not the same thing as religion. "A process through which we obtain knowledge" is another way of saying "the mechanism we use to understand and navigate through the world."

Dig deep enough and you get to some fundamental assumptions underlying science, a core premise that must in fact be assumed, not known. In other words, at the root of science is a fundamental belief: the belief that through science the world can be known. People who put their eggs in the science basket believe (1) that the universe is knowable and (2) that what they perceive as real is in fact what is real. However expansive that perception is, it is still premised on belief.
Apr. 14th, 2004 09:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Potato, Po-tah-to
Oh oh oh, I have to argue.

A system of belief may not be a religion, but religion is a system of belief.

As an atheist, I know and understand that my atheism IS A BELIEF. I can no more prove that there is no God than any one else can proove that there is one.

That being said, there is a level of factual data that we must concede as being factual. Otherwise, we end up in the philosophical hell where everything is nothing and nothing doesn't really exist, etc. etc. And where you get in to the existentialist end of "Do we even really exist?" yada yada. Science contends to be THEORY based on facts to the best of our abilities. Religion contends to be FACT based solely on faith. That's the real difference, in what I see.

Still, BELIEVING a theory is true is BELIEF. But, generally Occam's razor holds up.
Apr. 16th, 2004 12:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Hmm
The key difference between science and other belief systems is that science, unlike religion or philosophy or other belief systems, is self-correcting.

There is no real way to "know," and demonstrate, the nature of God(s). A religious system is not self-correcting because a religious belief system can't be tested; there is no way to ferret out errors.

There's a story which I think illustrates that point quite nicely:

In the 1920s, there was a dinner at which the physicist Robert W. Wood was asked to respond to a toast. This was a time when people stood up, made a toast, and then selected someone to respond. Nobody knew what toast they'd be asked to reply to, so it was a challenge for the quick-witted. In this case the toast was: "To physics and metaphysics." Now by metaphysics was meant something like philosophy -- truths that you could get to just by thinking about them. Wood took a second, glanced about him, and answered along these lines: The physicist has an idea, he said. The more he thinks it through, the more sense it makes to him. He goes to the scientific literature, and the more he reads, the more promising the idea seems. Thus prepared, he devises an experiment to test the idea. The experiment is painstaking. Many possibilities are eliminated or taken into account; the accuracy of the measurement is refined. At the end of all this work, the experiment is completed and ... the idea is shown to be worthless. The physicist then discards the idea, frees his mind from the clutter of error, and moves on to something else.

The difference between physics and metaphysics, Wood concluded, is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory.

Religion has the same problem--because it can not be tested, because there is no ruler by which its validity can be measure,d you end up holding a belief simply because you choose to hold it. You can never know that your belief is valid; it can be exactly the opposite of the truth, and you have no way to know.

Science seeks only to answer a certain kind of question--but its answers can be trusted to a greater level of confidence than those supplied by religion or philosophy.

Religion, when properly applied, does not seek to answer questions about the nature of the physical world. On those cases where it has sought to supply answers about the nature of the physical world, it has historically been wrong--and not just in the details, but wildly, radically wrong--in nearly every instance. How, then, can it be trusted at all?

Apr. 17th, 2004 10:11 am (UTC)
Re: Hmm
Science believes that the answers that matter are the ones pertaining to the physical world.

Religion believes that those are not the answers that matter, and seeks its answers elsewhere, in metaphysiscs and ontology.

Then of course there are the existentialists who believe all of that is bollucks, that the universe and everything in it just exists and there is no meaning to be had.

What I have a problem with - and the only thing I have a problem with - is when someone tells me that they don't believe in anything while in the very same breath urging me that their beliefs are in fact the correct ones.

Carl Sagan pretty clearly believed in science (and I note, so do you). That makes what he has to say more interesting and credible to those of us who believe that science has many of the answers but probably not all of them.
Apr. 15th, 2004 06:04 am (UTC)
I was *very* fortunate to have Carl Sagan as one of my real life teachers at Cornell before he died. He was an amazing fellow to say the least. A little arrogant perhaps but mesmerizing at the very minimum. He said once that the human mind was so vast in it's full potential, that religion simply acted as a throttle to keep people from going insane. Only utilizing the part of the brain that we could actually "grasp" was enough for this degree of human evolution. And religion helped keep it regulated.

I think the Sagan detractors should have sat down with him as I did and *really* listen to the way his mind worked. Fascinating to say the least.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )