Monday, January 02, 2006

Brighter than the Sun?

I’m reading Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World. Quite good. It is clear that he is trying to be as fair to everyone as it is possible and is very open about his own limitations. Still, I think he goes a little bit too easy on religion. He claims that there is the possibility of religion which does not make empirical claims but is still useful in the role it plays in terms of shaping ethics and so on. Apart from the historical evidence for this claim not being all that great, I think that the problem is that by the time you take out of religion everything that is problematic you are just left with being nice to each other, i.e. not enough to justify calling what’s left a religion as opposed to, for example, a cultural tradition. Like I’ve said before, when I see kind, intelligent, open-minded, liberal religious people I can not help but conclude that they are all these things despite being religious rather than because of it and, then, when I talk with them, I find that their religious beliefs are so constrained as to be almost vestigial. All that’s left is a feeling of wonder at the universe – a feeling I share but which does not add up to any religion, even though it may be the motivating force for the faith that some of the best religious people feel.

What I think Sagan makes clear is that science is not so much a world-view as an approach to the world – in so far as science is not hung up about any beliefs but, in fact, is an institutionalised, concerted effort not to be satisfied with the current answers, instead gathering information about the world (in ever new ways) with the aim of developing and identifying better answers. What I also like is that I haven’t caught Sagan anywhere taking about The Scientific Method – that mythical, perfected machine for getting knowledge. Although he has not made it explicit in the sections I’ve read thus far, it does seem that Sagan is aware of the way that scientific methods develop along with each individual science’s understanding of the area it is looking into.


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