Saturday, July 5, 2008

Thoughts (re-)Inspired by Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World

I am reading The Demon-Haunted World. It's really enjoyable and is inspiring me to think about some things.

One is my attitude towards religious and other nonscientific belief systems.

Before starting this blog with (SJ and F) I noticed an increasing anger in me; in a way I can't state succinctly I was angry at Christianity as a whole and organized religion in general. In realizing I am atheist instead of agnostic and starting this blog I noticed a release of hostility. I don't consider myself a hostile person, and I didn't intend this blog to be an attack on religion so much as to have an oasis where religious dogma is absent (held back by the God Dam). It is still more common than not for me to spew a bit of anger at Christianity with a blog entry here.

Perhaps I am coloring Sagan's opinions with my own, but he seems to slyly attack religion but pleasantly and without malice. He is open to anything with observable, repeatable and critique-able evidence. Without directly debating religion he points out that science has a much, much better track record than religion and pseudoscience of predicting the future (such as weather forecasting, forecasting planetary arrangements and eclipses, etc.). I would like to adopt this kind and unemotional approach to debunking some religious claims.

I'm not quite sure yet how to adopt that as I still have some built-up anger.

The book also is reinspiring my interest in having community science centers as analogs to churches. The following paragraph really got me going. It follows a discussion of declining student science knowledge in comparison to America's past and other nations' present:

Most adults who wrote thought there's a substantial problem. I received letters from parents about inquisitive children willing to work hard, passionate about science but with no adeqate community or school resources to satisfy their interests. Other letters told of parents who knew nothing about science sacrificing their own comfort so their children could have science books, microscopes, telescopes, computers, or chemistry sets; of parents teaching their children that hard work will get them out of poverty; of a grandmother bringing tea to a student up late at night still doing homework; of peer pressure not to do well in school because "it makes the other kids look bad."

In retrospect I suppose my scientific education may have been above average. My parents had answers for questions such as "why is the sky blue" and "why is the grass green" that were not stories of God and Jesus and angels; I had access to toys and materials related to physics and sometimes other sciences; I had a computer in 1979 which was fairly early; judging by how my science classes got several times easier when I moved from state to state in grade 9 my early science classes were superior; and although I only have an Associate's Degree I have several undergraduate engineering courses in Chemistry, Physics and Calculus since I started college intending to get an engineering degree.

Judging by the surveys mentioned in the book, anecdotal comments about relatives' children's schools and the growing antiscientific sentiment in America--particularly on the subject of evolution--I surmise that scientific education is not up to the standards I received.

The vision of community science gatherings is fairly powerful to me right now. Simple fun projects like building mini catapults, fun chemistry mixtures, duplicating simple experiments to demonstrate evidence of basic laws of nature like conservation of energy can give kids (and adults) a fun activity while teaching some basic scientific principles and set an example of being able to verify conclusions.

A refinement to the idea--in my mind at least--is that the science centers wouldn't be replacing all the aspects of church. I now think many people are unable or unwilling to see that there is no observable, repeatable, measurable evidence for a soul, an afterlife or god. Atheism and science don't offer comfort and consolation for the fear of death or the mourning of those who die. (Well, maybe some, like the identification of the stages of grief, and reproducible effective ways of coping with it.) And personally I don't necessarily want everyone else to not believe in god(s); I just don't want them using that belief to interfere with others' lives.

1 comment:

Faithinate said...

First, on non-hostility: You would simply love I Sold My Soul on Ebay, written by Hemant Mehta ( He's like Sagan: very kind and affable, wanting communication more than hostility. Great book, great website.

On science and science centers: I'm with you, on all points. While reading, I thought Hey, wouldn't it be great if we could start a group for doing that kind of sciency things. Then I thought Hey, maybe there is one!

A search on for "science" nets me several sci-fi writing groups, a Firefly fan club, Christian groups (???), a communicating with the dead group, and a few groups of people "who are interested in practicing the science and ideolgy of The Law of Attraction and other methods in an effort to attract abundance/prosperity". Dear me. This is, like, the opposite of science...