Looking Back: Carl Sagan Talks with Charlie Rose about Government, Religion, Biblical Literalists, and Science and Technology

Carl_Sagan_Planetary_Society - CopySubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor

I thought this Carl Sagan interview would be a good follow-up to “Cosmos” Host Neil deGrasse Tyson Speaks Out about the News Media, Flat Earthers, Science Deniers, Climate Change Skeptics, Religion, and Dogma–which I posted earlier today.

Charlie Rose talked with Carl Sagan on the Charlie Rose Show back in May of 1996. At that time, Sagan warned about the dangers of people being ignorant about science while living in a society that is based on science and technology. Sagan talked about the “combustible mix” of ignorance and power in our society that would—at some point—blow up in our faces. He questioned who’d run science and technology in a democracy if the people didn’t know anything about it. Sagan also noted that science is more than a body of knowledge. He said it was a way of thinking.

52 thoughts on “Looking Back: Carl Sagan Talks with Charlie Rose about Government, Religion, Biblical Literalists, and Science and Technology

  1. Where other countries move toward their students excelling in the sciences, our country seems to be more concerned with injecting religious beliefs into our kid’s science education. Other countries surge forward, while we get pulled backwards.

  2. Science is the one true religion, if you want to know God, look up at what God wrote not down in some stupid book, God did not write any book God wrote The Universe..!

  3. “Though it is very important for man as an individual that his religion should be true, that is not the case for society. Society has nothing to fear or hope from another life; what is most important for it is not that all citizens profess the true religion but that they should profess religion.”
    — Alexis de Tocqueville

  4. I saw Sagan’s Cosmos as a kid and it changed my life. Never before has someone been able to clearly impart the sheer wonder of the universe around us. I’m glad there are folks out there like Neil deGrasse Tyson still trying to carry the torch of popularizing science, but Carl really was one of a kind. I wear my Carl shirt first after a wash every time: http://hirsutehistory.com/design/carl_sagan/

  5. News Flash! Science is not dead, there have been many scientist before Sagan, and Tyson, with many more to come. There are many bright intelligent young people out there who are attracted to various sciences.

    Sagan is right, religion is faith based with emphasis on morals, ethics, and compassion. Without religion this world would be in a worse mess than it is now. Religion is the glue that tries to keep us on the right path. For example, if Christian’s weren’t watchful and skeptical of some of the research going on, scientist would be sacrificing us and each other for their own selfish and greedy benefits.

    Remember, people like Sagan, Tyson and others, don’t like skeptical remarks from religions, because they feel it holds them back from the freedom’s they want in science, no matter the cost to humanity. In their minds everything they come up with is good for us–but it isn’t always the best result for humanity. Religion doesn’t undermine science, it’s purpose is to bring and keep moral and ethical order in science and the world.

    Scientist want to convince us that everything they do is in the best interest of society, but good sense and reasoning have shown that not to be true all the time. They don’t like being told what to do and what is wrong to do. The fact of the matter is that they want complete liberty to get and keep the almighty dollar–and they’re out to convince everyone how genuine and wonderful they are.

    Sagan said he didn’t believe his psychology friend, John Mack, who believed in UFO’s and aliens, yet many astronomers and other scientist do. He insists that science is true and factual where religion and belief in a creator is bogus. But consider the fact that scientist have never seen an alien, but move on faith that what some people said they saw is true.
    In fact, the U.S. and other countries have thousands of satellite’s around the world listening for alien’s–even though they’ve never seen or heard one. These satellites, computers, and the extensive man power has cost the taxpayer billions of dollars over the last 50 or more years. I find it amusing that scientists can put their faith in life from another planet, but refuse to believe that a supreme being created the earth. They have their faith and I have mine.

  6. 1. There is a difference between belief in a creator and belief in creationism.

    2. Religion is not necessary as a bulwark against the potential excesses of science, but rational moral thinking is.

  7. Anneofwi–many religious people have been scientist and have continued to be devout and faithful people. For example, there are hundreds of Catholic priest who have made wonderful scientific discoveries–

    * George Lemaitre, father of the Big Bang Theory
    * Guiseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres, the largest member of asteroid belt. He also helped identify many stars.
    * Gregor Mendel, geneticist
    * Roger Bacon discovered optics
    *Bartholomeus Amicus, mathematician and astronomer
    *Gyula Fenyi was an astronomer, made observations of the sun and discovered the “Fenyi” crater on the moon.
    *Eugenio Barsanti invented the combustable engine.
    *Jonathan Wright, pendulum, barometer, telescope and microscope.
    * Francesco Grimaldi, discovered the diffraction of light (indeed coined the term “diffraction”), investigated the free fall of objects, and built and used instruments to measure geological features on the moon.
    Giovanni Battista Riccoli, astronomer who authored Almagestum novum, an influential encyclopedia of astronomy; The first person to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body; created a selenograph with Father Grimaldi that now adorns the entrance at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

    ALL THESE MEN WERE PRIESTS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. This is only a sampling of the hundreds of clerics that were and are also scientists. The church and religion didn’t stifle their interest in science. Research it out for yourself.

    When I hear scientists try to say religion is fake, counterfeit, untrue and keeps them from doing their job, I know there is an underlying reason why they are saying that religion is undermining their work and progress. It’s called ETHICS AND MORALS!

  8. Giovanna De Law Paz:

    I do not believe that annieofwi is saying what you think she’s saying. As someone who was educated by Jesuits, I understand the intellectual tradition that has produced outstanding Catholic scientists through the centuries. However, what we are currently facing in this country is a strongly anti-intellectual movement driven largely by a form of primitive Christian fundamentalism that rejects any branch of scholarship that offends its views on biblical inerrancy. Bad theology produces bad science.

    And annieofwi, if I’ve spoken out of turn, I apologize.

  9. Sagan was married to Dr. Lynn Margulis while she had a hypothesis that was considered heretical:

    [Dr. Lynn Margulis] wrote a theoretical paper entitled The Origin of Mitosing Eukaryotic Cells. The paper however was “rejected by about fifteen scientific journals,” Margulis recalled. It was finally accepted by The Journal of Theoretical Biology and is considered today a landmark in modern endosymbiotic theory … Weathering constant criticism of her ideas for decades, Margulis is famous for her tenacity in pushing her theory forward, despite the opposition she faced at the time.

    (Wikipedia). I suspect that all the rejection of her science caused friction between her and her husband Carl Sagan.

    He divorced her.

    Science is not always easy.

  10. Giovanna,

    Here’s an excerpt from my post about Neil deGrasse Tyson:

    Recently, Tyson spoke about the new version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Tyson said that science and religion should not be painted as being “diametrically opposed to each other.” He said there were many scientists who believe in God. He added, “The issue there is not religion versus non-religion or religion versus science, the issue there is ideas that are different versus dogma.”

  11. Dredd,

    I remember Margulis being a proponent of the Gaia Hypothesis.


    Lynn Margulis 1938-2011 “Gaia Is A Tough Bitch”

    Margulis was also a champion of the Gaia hypothesis, an idea developed in the 1970s by the free lance British atmospheric chemist James E. Lovelock. The Gaia hypothesis states that the atmosphere and surface sediments of the planet Earth form a self- regulating physiological system — Earth’s surface is alive. The strong version of the hypothesis, which has been widely criticized by the biological establishment, holds that the earth itself is a self-regulating organism; Margulis subscribed to a weaker version, seeing the planet as an integrated self- regulating ecosystem. She was criticized for succumbing to what George Williams called the “God-is good” syndrome, as evidenced by her adoption of metaphors of symbiosis in nature. She was, in turn, an outspoken critic of mainstream evolutionary biologists for what she saw as a failure to adequately consider the importance of chemistry and microbiology in evolution.

  12. Why Carl Sagan is Truly Irreplaceable
    No one will ever match his talent as the “gatekeeper of scientific credibility”
    By Joel Achenbach
    Smithsonian Magazine
    March 2014

    We live in Carl Sagan’s universe–awesomely vast, deeply humbling. It’s a universe that, as Sagan reminded us again and again, isn’t about us. We’re a granular element. Our presence may even be ephemeral—a flash of luminescence in a great dark ocean. Or perhaps we are here to stay, somehow finding a way to transcend our worst instincts and ancient hatreds, and eventually become a galactic species. We could even find others out there, the inhabitants of distant, highly advanced civilizations—the Old Ones, as Sagan might put it.

    No one has ever explained space, in all its bewildering glory, as well as Sagan did. He’s been gone now for nearly two decades, but people old enough to remember him will easily be able to summon his voice, his fondness for the word “billions” and his boyish enthusiasm for understanding the universe we’re so lucky to live in.

    He led a feverish existence, with multiple careers tumbling over one another, as if he knew he wouldn’t live to an old age. Among other things, he served as an astronomy professor at Cornell, wrote more than a dozen books, worked on NASA robotic missions, edited the scientific journal Icarus and somehow found time to park himself, repeatedly, arguably compulsively, in front of TV cameras. He was the house astronomer, basically, on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” Then, in an astonishing burst of energy in his mid-40s, he co-created and hosted a 13-part PBS television series, “Cosmos.” It aired in the fall of 1980 and ultimately reached hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Sagan was the most famous scientist in America—the face of science itself.

    Now “Cosmos” is back, thanks largely to Seth MacFarlane, creator of TV’s “Family Guy” and a space buff since he was a kid, and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow. They’re collaborating on a new version premiering on the Fox Network on Sunday March 9. MacFarlane believes that much of what is on television, even on fact-based channels purporting to discuss science, is “fluff.” He says, “That is a symptom of the bizarre fear of science that’s taken hold.” The astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, serves as narrator this time, giving him a chance to make the case that he’s the Sagan of our generation. “‘Cosmos’ is more than Carl Sagan,” Tyson told me. “Our capacity to decode and interpret the cosmos is a gift of the method and tools of science. And that’s what’s being handed down from generation to generation. If I tried to fill his shoes I would just fail. But I can fill my own shoes really well.”

    It’s an audacious move, trying to reinvent “Cosmos”; although the original series ran in a single fall season—and on public television!—it had an outsize cultural impact. It was the highest-rated series in PBS history until Ken Burns took on the Civil War a decade later. Druyan loves to tell the story of a porter at Union Station in Washington, D.C. who refused to let Sagan pay him for handling luggage, saying, “You gave me the universe.”

    The revival of “Cosmos” roughly coincides with another Sagan milestone: The availability of all his papers at the Library of Congress, which bought the Sagan archive from Druyan with money from MacFarlane. (Officially it’s the Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive.) The files arrived at the library loading dock in 798 boxes—Sagan, it seems, was a pack rat—and after 17 months of curatorial preparation the archive opened to researchers last November.

    The Sagan archive gives us a close-up of the celebrity scientist’s frenetic existence and, more important, a documentary record of how Americans thought about science in the second half of the 20th century. We hear the voices of ordinary people in the constant stream of mail coming to Sagan’s office at Cornell. They saw Sagan as the gatekeeper of scientific credibility. They shared their big ideas and fringe theories. They told him about their dreams. They begged him to listen. They needed truth; he was the oracle.

    The Sagan files remind us how exploratory the 1960s and ’70s were, how defiant of official wisdom and mainstream authority, and Sagan was in the middle of the intellectual foment. He was a nuanced referee. He knew UFOs weren’t alien spaceships, for example, but he didn’t want to silence the people who believed they were, and so he helped organize a big UFO symposium in 1969, letting all sides have their say.

    Space itself seemed different then. When Sagan came of age, all things concerning space had a tail wind: There was no boundary on our outer-space aspirations. Through telescopes, robotic probes and Apollo astronauts, the universe was revealing itself at an explosive, fireworks-finale pace.

    Things haven’t quite worked out as expected. “Space Age” is now an antiquated phrase. The United States can’t even launch astronauts at the moment. The universe continues to tantalize us, but the notion that we’re about to make contact with other civilizations seems increasingly like stoner talk.

  13. Elaine M..

    Margulis subscribed to a weaker [Gaia theory] version, seeing the planet as an integrated self- regulating ecosystem. She was criticized for succumbing to what George Williams called the “God-is good” syndrome, as evidenced by her adoption of metaphors of symbiosis in nature. She was, in turn, an outspoken critic of mainstream evolutionary biologists for what she saw as a failure to adequately consider the importance of chemistry and microbiology in evolution.

    We are addressing her philosophy there, not her landmark work in biology and microbiology that changed science.

    Her philosophy you address brings up, among other things, a very old debate “what is life?” …

    A debate that is still steeped in controversy (e.g. there is no scientific controversy that DNA, RNA, and the genes therein are NOT alive, yet many still don’t get it).

    The young discipline of teleology studies the promiscuous nomenclature all too often used by scientists (e.g. “How Long Do Stars Live?”).

    Dr. Margulis was correct to criticize evolutionary tenets that ignore the great bulk of the evolutionary time line, to focus on a tiny fraction of that time line:

    … the Big Bang occurred approximately 13.75 billion years ago, which is thus considered the age of the Universe …

    The Earth is said to have formed “around 4.54 billion … years ago” (History of Earth).

    Therefore The Big Bang happened about 9.21 billion years before the Earth formed (13.75 – 4.54 = 9.21).

    Biological organisms formed on the Earth about a billion years later, which would be ~10.21 billion years after The Big Bang.

    Humans, homo sapiens, are said to have evolved about 200,000 years ago, which would be ~13.7498 billion years after The Big Bang (13.7498 + 00.0002 = 13.75 billion years). Homo sapien evolution is a very tiny 0.0002 billion years of the 13.75 billion year story.

    The abiotic epoch which preceded the biotic epoch involved a vast amount of “time” as we know it, populating vast areas of space with the atoms that make up chemicals, the subject of the scientific discipline Chemistry …

    (Putting A Face On Machine Mutation – 3). Chemistry studies the entire universe of atoms and molecules that make up chemicals.

    Chemistry is the science concerning how atoms function –atoms that make up molecular machines (The New Paradigm: The Physical Universe Is Mostly Machine).

    I think that eventually Dr. Margulis will once again be found to have been ahead of the curve.

  14. Mike Appleton, I you didn’t speak out of turn, you are correct. Giovanna my quote was from Sagan. My comment reflects my concern with the selective way science is being taught in some schools, giving literal credence to biblical events, like creation, that would be a big one. I don’t concern myself too much about what is taught in parochial schools, that’s their right, but I don’t want my tax dollars being wasted on pseudoscience in public schools. Also Giovanna my own degrees were obtained from a Jesuit university.

  15. annieofwi–I apologize if I misunderstood your intent. However, many religions (and a teacher myself) are seeing biblical events and creation eliminated completely from social studies and science. Shouldn’t we teach or at least be able to express both views, then let the students’ critical thinking make up their own mind? The underlying argument being made here is to give science total liberty without question or debate, particularly from religious groups–and that is wrong.

  16. Giovanna,

    Biblical events and creation have no place in science and history classes. Study of the Bible belongs in religion classes/courses. My daughter’s public high school provided a class on world religions for students as an elective. I recommended she take it her senior year–and she did.

  17. Elaine and Giovanna, comparative religion, world religions are fine as electives. I don’t see how presenting what could be myth as science. I know it takes faith to believe that the Bible is divinely inspired, but a great deal of people are not Christians or believers. My children went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible school with friends, I didn’t make an effort to withhold Christian teachings, but they don’t have a role in science classes.

  18. Elaine,
    you beat me to it in response to Giovanna. Religion is for private parochial schools and if they want to ignore science because of their religious beliefs, they have that right. However, creationism is not science. It is religious dogma.

  19. Elaine,
    The role that religion has in science, as I pointed out earlier, is:
    #1 the recognition of great scientists that were able to live and profess their faith and also make contributions to science. This continues today.
    #2 that philosophical beliefs, or belief in the divine go hand in hand with science–consider psychology, psychiatry, various therapies and medications developed for psyche purposes.
    #3 Ethics and moral insight must be part of science classes, research and development to protect and preserve life of mankind. If this is not taught and acquired, the results can be mad science.
    #4 World religions are part of history and should be taught to a certain extent in Social Studies and History classes.

    #5 Even if science and religion deal with different domains, science and religion can and must speak to each other. Albert Einstein already saw this when he made his now-famous remark: “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” Science and religion need each other and must work together. Pope John Paul II asserted this same fundamental point when he said: “Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” (Todeusz Pacholczyk, PhD).

  20. Giovanna,

    Einstein ‘God Letter’ Sold On eBay For Just Over $3 Million
    Posted: 10/24/2012

    The handwritten letter, sent to Jewish philosopher Erik Gutkind shortly before Einstein’s death, references several philosophical and theological themes including religion and tribalism. The letter also expresses Einstein’s belief that God does not exist.

    Here is a partial translation of Einstein’s letter (via Auction Cause):

    The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.

  21. Max-1 wrote: “Darwin was pre Jeffersonian philosophy?”

    No. I have no idea why you would address this to me. I was talking about Jefferson being a Creationist. Creationism existed thousands of years before Darwinism.

  22. Mike Appleton wrote: “1. There is a difference between belief in a creator and belief in creationism.”

    What difference do you have in mind? Belief in a Creator means there is a belief that he created… hence, a belief in creationism. Unless you take a narrow definition of creationism to mean some theory of origin founded in the Bible instead of creationism based upon empirical evidence of a Creator.

  23. Giovanna De La Paz wrote: “The church and religion didn’t stifle their interest in science.”

    Exactly. Isn’t it strange how people who claim there is no conflict between science and religion are always the ones who point out indirectly a conflict. Religion has never had a problem with science, but science has had a big problem with religion since the Enlightenment Age.

    Carl Sagan was right when he said science is not a body of knowledge but a way of thinking. However, he fell short when he simply attempted to define that way of thinking as being the skeptical mind. What is implied in that “skeptical mind” is skepticism toward knowledge that might come through the spirit or through revelation. The way of thinking in science is to define God out of ALL theories. The underlying research paradigm is that EVERYTHING can be explained without reference to a Creator. This is a matter of the definition of science. It is why science censors creationist theories, not because there is no way to interpret the empirical evidence that way, but because by definition they reject any theistic notions whatsoever. Then they wonder why so many can’t just jump on board with them. Most scientists have this underlying doctrine and dogma that guides everything in regards to big theories concerning origins.

    In this video Elaine shared, Carl Sagan jumped right into it when he misdefined faith. He said faith was believing without evidence. That is not how most religions define faith. Faith is a conviction of a reality based upon internal evidence. The problem is that since the Enlightenment, a segment of society has rejected revelation, They have rejected the idea that one’s spirit or soul is a source of knowledge and truth. All evidence for pure scientists is empirical evidence, so they can’t even communicate anymore with people who have not jumped aboard with their anti-theistic worldview. When Charlie Rose pointed out the obvious divide this creates with religion, then Carl Sagan says, no, no, no, and allows religion into the realm of literature, poetry, and morals. How generous of him. The problem is that this is simply a deception. Religion has always been involved in science. Until some Enlightenment scientists wake up from their blindness and stop trying to have a monopoly on their path to truth, the divide will always continue because scientists keep pushing the deception that their paradigm is not anti-Creator when in fact it is.

  24. david,
    with all due respect, I don’t think you or anyone can claim that Sagan was wrong in his definition of faith. I even think the good Benedictine sisters taught me that faith was belief without any evidence. They said it in different words maybe, but the gist of their definition was similar. Faith is felt not seen. Maybe the fox in the Little Prince, in one sense, was defining faith when he said what is essential is invisible to the eyes. (paraphrase)

  25. rafflaw – you use the Enlightenment scientist definition of evidence to mean only the five empirical senses of the flesh. Most religions believe in a sixth sense… that of the spirit. The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord. I don’t like to quote Scripture here, but you imply that the religious would not disagree with Sagan’s definition of faith. Hebrews 11:1 – “Faith is the SUBSTANCE of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen.” Watch the video and you will see that faith for Carl Sagan was an absolutely useless idea. In contrast, faith for the Christian religion is one of the big three virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. Faith is not just imagining something without evidence and choosing to believe or accept that imagined something. That would be the counterfeit called presumption. That’s what Carl Sagan defined: presumption. In contrast, faith is a conviction of a reality shown to somebody internally through the spirit. It is valued in Christianity because it is based in reality. Science led Carl Sagan to see faith as something not based in reality. Sagan saw faith as useless and foolish. In his eyes, a person of faith is a fool. For the Christian, the opposite is true. Read the entire chapter of Hebrews 11 for the Christian perspective of faith, and contrast that with Carl Sagan’s view as depicted in this video. The differences are like night and day.

  26. “Giovanna,

    Biblical events and creation have no place in science and history classes. Study of the Bible belongs in religion classes/courses. My daughter’s public high school provided a class on world religions for students as an elective. I recommended she take it her senior year–and she did.”

    The problem is, Creation is supported by what we observe in living things, universe, etc… Evolutionism, is not supported by what we can find in reality and to the contrary, is supported by faith.

    But you are saying learning about Creation is an elective. I bet the classes that is forcing the evolutionism belief on the children isn’t an elective. They have no choice but to be indoctrnated with that BS.

  27. Evolutionism? That was a neologism coined in the 1800s by creationists in an attempt to frame the scientific study of evolution as a kind of religion, thus giving religion equal footing with scientific investigation.

    An organization calling itself The Institute for Creation Research, currently uses the word “evolutionism” as a Frank Luntz type of propaganda word. Somewhat similar to atheism, fascism, humanism and occultism. The neologism is commonly used to describe the consensus of mainstream science and the scientists subscribing to it. This is a backdoor way of implying through language that evolution is a matter of religious belief. The goal of the neologism is to equate the validity of the science of evolution with the pseudoscience of so-called “Intelligent Design.”

  28. Charlton S. Stanley, PhD, ABPP wrote: “This is a backdoor way of implying through language that evolution is a matter of religious belief.”

    Not necessarily “religious” belief, but it certainly is a term meant to highlight unproven assumptions by those who dismiss Intelligent Design models for some anti-Intelligent Design model. By definition, the modern Enlightenment scientists who study evolution and origins do not allow for any models that might consider a creator. They have a “belief” in their “dogma” and “doctrine” that there was no creator, and so this is how it must have happened, despite the evidence not lining up the way they had hoped it would. The entire evolutionary discipline is rife with confirmation bias. There is no room to test evolutionary theory by attempting to falsify it. It is accepted without evidence. The evolutionary concept is simply accepted by edict of those in authority, and it is not to be questioned, hence the use of neologisms such as “pseudoscience” and “science deniers.”

    The truth is that religion has always practiced science. Our culture has simply undergone a multi-generational indoctrination by modern Enlightenment scientists that religion should not be allowed to practice science. It is their attempt to secure a scholastic monopoly that allows them to censor viewpoints they consider abhorrent.

  29. Blah-blah-blah. Still making your tiny eristic arguments. Why is it you dismiss the vast body of solid scientific data supporting evolution out of hand, yet you insist on the existence of Intelligent Design, even though nothing your ID cult has offered up is able to stand up to peer review.

    Golly gee, if only we could all agree on an empirical clock that would magically prove how amazingly accurate the bible actually is.

    ID is unproven and unprovable, and if it there were an intelligent designer, it would not look favorably upon your infatuation with religious texts

  30. Ann Druyan Talks About Science, Religion, Wonder, Awe . . . and Carl Sagan
    Ann Druyan
    Volume 27.6, November / December 2003

    There was only one problem. These very special beings for whom the universe was created had a holiday called Easter and they wanted to be able to celebrate it on the same day at the same time. But in this geocentric universe that they blissfully inhabited, there was no way to create a workable calendar that was coherent. At this time, there was a phrase to describe what science was. It is suffused with disarming candor and not a bit of self-consciousness at all. It was called saving the appearances. That was the task of science: To save the appearances. Figure out a way to take the reported appearances of the stars and the planets in the sky and predict with some reliability where they would be in the future. It’s almost as if they knew they were living a cosmic lie. To call it saving the appearances is wonderful.

    So the Lateran Council of 1514 was convened, and one of its main goals was to figure out a calendar that everybody could use so that they won’t be celebrating Easter on different days. A man named Nicolas Copernicus, who was a very religious guy, whose lifelong career was in the church, had already figured out what the problem was. He was invited to present this information at the Council, but he declined because he knew how dangerous it would be to puncture this cosmological illusion. Even though the pope at that moment was not actually terribly exercised about this idea, Copernicus’s fears were not baseless. Even sixty years later, a man named Giordano Bruno was burned alive for one reason: he would not utter the phrase, “There are no other worlds.”

    I’ve thought about this a lot. How could you have the guts to be willing to be burned alive? Bruno had no community of peers to egg him on. He wasn’t even a scientist, he didn’t really have any scientific evidence, but he chose this horrible death because he refused to say this phrase: “There are no other worlds.” It’s a magnificent thing, it’s a wondrous mystery to me, and I don’t think I completely understand how it was possible.

    Copernicus did find the courage to publish his idea when he was comfortably near a natural death. When in 1543, On The Revolutions of Celestial Spheres was published, something unprecedented happened: a trauma from which we have never recovered. Up until that time, the sacred and the scientific had been one. Priests and scientists had been one in the same. It is true that two millennia before Copernicus there had been the pre-Socratic philosophers, who really were the inventors of science and the democratic values of our society. These ancient Greeks could imagine a universe and a world without God. But they were very much the exception, flourishing too briefly before being almost completely extirpated philosophically by the Platonists. Many of their books were destroyed. Plato loathed their materialism and egalitarian ideals. So there really wasn’t a vibrant school of thought with a continuous tradition that survived down through the ages, daring to explain the wonder of nature without resorting to the God hypothesis.

    It was actually initiated by a group of uncommonly religious men like Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, and (much later) even Darwin, who catalyzed that separation between our knowledge of nature and what we held in our hearts. All four of them either had religious careers or were contemplating such a profession. They were brilliant questioners, and they used the sharpest tools they had to search for what was holy. They had enough confidence in the reality of the sacred to be willing to look at it as deeply as humanly possible. This unflinching search led to our greatest spiritual awakening-the modern scientific revolution. It was a spiritual breakthrough, and I think that it is our failure to recognize it as such that explains so much of the loneliness and madness in our civilization, so much of the conflict and self-hatred. At that time, the public and their religious institutions, of course, rejected out of hand their most profound insights into nature. It was several hundred years before the public really thought about this, and took seriously what Copernicus was saying. The last four centuries of disconnect between what our elders told us and what we knew was true has been costly for our civilization.

    I think we still have an acute case of post-Copernican-stress syndrome. We have not resolved the trauma of losing our infantile sense of centrality in the universe. And so as a society we lie to our children. We tell them a palliative story, almost to ensure that they will be infantile for all of their lives. Why? Is the notion that we die so unacceptable? Is the notion that we are tiny and the universe is vast too much of a blow to our shaky self-esteem?

    It has only been through science that we have been able to pierce this infantile, dysfunctional need to be the center of the universe, the only love object of its creator. Science has made it possible to reconstruct our distant past without the need to idealize it, like some adult unable to deal with the abuse of childhood. We’ve been able to view our tiny little home as it is. Our conception of our surroundings need not remain the disproportionate view of the still-small child. Science has brought us to the threshold of acceptance of the vastness. It has carried us to the gateway of the universe. However, we are spiritually and culturally paralyzed and unable to move forward; to embrace the vastness, to embrace our lack of centrality and find our actual place in the fabric of nature. That we even do science is hopeful evidence for our mental health. It’s a breakthrough. However, it’s not enough to allow these insights; we must take them to heart.

    What happened four or five hundred years ago? During this period there was a great bifurcation. We made a kind of settlement with ourselves. We said, okay, so much of what we believed and what our parents and our ancestors taught us has been rendered untenable. The Bible says that the Earth is flat. The Bible says that we were created separately from the rest of life. If you look at it honestly, you have to give up these basic ideas, you have to admit that the Bible is not infallible, it’s not the gospel truth of the creator of the universe. So what did we do? We made a corrupt treaty that resulted in a troubled peace: We built a wall inside ourselves.

  31. RTC wrote: “Why is it you dismiss the vast body of solid scientific data supporting evolution out of hand, yet you insist on the existence of Intelligent Design, even though nothing your ID cult has offered up is able to stand up to peer review.”

    First, the process of evolution is a fact, so it is misdirection to claim that creationists deny evolution as a process and the empirical data associated with that. The question of origins concerns Darwin’s grand theory of the origin of species by means of Natural Selection. This is a model of gradualism, which every paleontologist and biologist worth his salt knows is not supported by the fossil record.

    Second, it is ignorance to claim that evidence of creationist theories has not been published in peer reviewed journals. I’ve previously posted references to Science, Nature, and other journals. The problem is the paucity of such studies since the mid 1980’s when the AAAS proclaimed war against creationists. As has been well documented, bigotry from the Enlightenment bias hinders such publications, forcing such researchers underground, meaning they must be silent about the creationist interpretation of the data and hope the reviewers don’t see the implications. Or it forces them to have to create their own peer reviewed science journals, which then promptly gets categorized as religion (therefore not science), despite the emphasis on the scientific method and scientific data.

    Third, it is not MY ID cult. I am a scientist who has published in traditional science journals. I have never published in ID journals. I have attended typical science conferences and presented my science papers there. I have never attended an ID seminar and presented results there. I simply understand that science can understand the Creator through studying the empirical world, and this bias against acknowledging the Creator is political and philosophical rather than scientific.

    I’m working on a book titled, “A Scientific Theory of Intelligent Design.” I’m sure when I publish it, you will throw it in the rubbish bin because it does not go along with your own views. Such is the modern book burning methodology of modern readers afraid of alternative analysis.

  32. Absolutely not, David. I would be very interested in seeing evidence, if you have any, of an intelligent design. If it’s valid, I’d be more than willing to accept it, too. Mind you, I will be skeptical, but I’m sure you would expect no less.

    It’s curious that you would conclude that I would dismiss your publication out of hand. I recall that when I recommended Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”, you dismissed because A) It only covered a thirty year period of economic development, and B) She’s Canadian. That’s the type of critical thinking we’ve come to expect from you, Dave.

    One would think that anyone who had spent nine years in college would appreciate the concise, focused study of a subject, like “Shock Doctrine”, rather than having to page through an entire history of capitalism. For example, if you try and learn about the Populist movement by reading most of the history books on American history or politics, all you get is a few pages at best. More often, the topic is limited to few paragraphs.

    The “Shock Doctrine” should provide an excellent example of a thoroughly documented, well researched study for you to base your own work on. Most significantly, she did not self-publish her work, and no one has filed any lawsuits against her or her publisher, despite her highly critical revelations. Another book I’d recommend, more on point here, is “Climate Wars and the Hockey Stick”, by Dr. Michael Mann, a climatologist at the forefront of climate research. I believe that whatever funding he’s received in the form of grants has not compensated for the heavy toll of all the personal attacks he’s been subjected to. And when I say I’d recommend it, I know that even if you did read it, you wouldn’t accept a single conclusion in it; you won’t believe in climate change until the archangels come down and grab you by the scruff of the neck.

    Incidentally, where gradualism isn’t supported in the fossil record, science must look to other sources of data, like the contemporary phenomena of changes occurring in bird beaks and plant life. That’s science.

  33. Science, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
    Union of Concerned Scientists

    Section 4: Why Intelligent Design is not Science

    The intelligent design movement is exceptionally good at creating false controversies and misconceptions. Yet their basic claims are easily debunked.

    – There is scientific controversy over evolution: There is no debate about evolution among the vast majority of scientists, and no credible alternative scientific theory exists. Debates within the community are about specific mechanisms within evolution, not whether evolution occurred.

    – Structures found in nature are too complex to have evolved step-by-step through natural selection [the concept of “irreducible complexity”1]: Natural selection does not require that all structures have the same function or even need to be functional at each step in the development of an organism.

    – Intelligent design is a scientific theory2: A scientific theory is supported by extensive research and repeated experimentation and observation in the natural world. Unlike a true scientific theory, the existence of an “intelligent” agent can not be tested, nor is it falsifiable.

    – Intelligent design is based on the scientific method3: Intelligent design might base its ideas on observations in the natural world, but it does not test them in the natural world, or attempt to develop mechanisms (such as natural selection) to explain their observations4.

    – Most scientists are atheists5 and believe only in the material world: Such accusations are neither fair nor true. The scientific method is limited to using evidence from the natural world to explain phenomena. It does not preclude the existence of God or other spiritual beliefs and only states that they are not part of science. Belief in a higher being is a personal, not a scientific, question.

  34. david,
    thank you for the faulty discussion of faith. I will stick to what the Benedictines taught. How in the heck can anyone prove spirits? That is all part of the faith of believing things you cannot see.

  35. Someone just learned “eristic” and they are using it every chance. You know someone has hit a nerve when the compulsive links start coming in rapid fire.

  36. RTC wrote: “where gradualism isn’t supported… science must look to other sources of data…”

    Typical Darwinist response. A comprehensive theory of origins should not ignore any data, and that is exactly the problem with selling Darwinism. The answer for Darwinists is along the lines of wait, give us more time, ignore these facts and look at these other facts over here, and eventually we will figure it out. Well, I say it is time to build a comprehensive theory of understanding of all facts that we have at present rather than dogmatically claiming we know the truth without the facts.

    For what it is worth, I never dismissed “Shock Doctrine” but critically asked your opinion about what some reviewers wrote about it. I took time to look at the work and read some reviews. You should take time to read some of the 1 star reviews about the book on Amazon and offer some kind of rebuttal. Based upon my read of these reviews, Klein’s opinions are somewhat superficial and one sided. Your response further turned me off from making time to read it because you falsely claimed that I refused to read it. You have now repeated that several times in this forum as if it were against my religion to read it. As with most people, my time is limited and I don’t plop down money to read books just because an anonymous person on the internet recommends it. If you really wanted to pique my interest in reading it, you would at least share something interesting from the book that would make me want to read more.

  37. avidm2575

    RTC wrote: “where gradualism isn’t supported… science must look to other sources of data…”

    Typical Darwinist response. A comprehensive theory of origins should not ignore any data, and that is exactly the problem with selling Darwinism.


    Many intelligent people have accepted the theory of evolution. No one has to sell us on it. It’s creationists/Biblical literalists who don’t/won’t accept it because it conflicts with their beliefs–which are based on faith…not on data and evidence.

  38. Elaine M wrote: “Many intelligent people have accepted the theory of evolution. No one has to sell us on it. It’s creationists/Biblical literalists who don’t/won’t accept it because it conflicts with their beliefs–which are based on faith…not on data and evidence.”

    Elaine, excuse me, but your Freudian slip is showing. On the one hand we are being sold the idea that there is a clear consensus among scientists that no creator was involved with our origins. But why then did you say “MANY” intelligent people have accepted the theory rather than “MOST” or “ALL”? There also are “MANY” intelligent scientists who interpret the data differently.

    But there is another problem in how you framed your statement. Which “theory” of evolution is the accepted one? You see, almost everybody who says they “BELIEVE” in evolution can’t even discuss the various theories of evolution, much less point to what empirical data convinces them that a creator was not involved. The truth is that there is no data that convinces them that their positivist presupposition is correct. They accept that presupposition based upon no data. It is simply their working paradigm in the same way that a “Biblical literalist” (whatever exactly that is) has his presupposition that the Bible is correct.

    When you claim that it is Biblical literalists who won’t accept it, that is just more misdirection. Granted, Biblical literalists will not accept it because the Bible clearly indicates that a Creator was responsible for the diversity of life we observe today. However, there are many scientists who are not Biblical literalists who are open to exploring how the empirical evidence supports a model of origins that includes the idea of an Intelligent Designer. There also are many scientists who are willing to test the theories of evolution; meaning, they are open to try to falsify various specific theories of evolution in order to determine which theory has better explanatory powers of the evidence. In like manner, there are scientists who are open to testing theories of origins involving a Creator; meaning, they are open to try to falsify such theories. As long as ID theories make empirical predictions that could be proven false, such theories are open to classical Popperian falsifiability.

    Where we get into problems is that many scientists use rhetoric and politics to fight against scientific theories that should be fought based upon empirical evidence. These scientists deceive the public by falsely claiming there is no data or evidence for theories of origins involving a Creator. Such is simply false.

    As an educator, you may want to read a book available free online called “Creation’s Tiny Mystery.” It was written by a Biblical literalist named Robert Gentry, but his experience as a scientist may enlighten your understanding about how some scientists who also are creationists (just like Galileo who you have mentioned) do look at empirical data to understand our world around us. His published studies in scientific journals may be a little difficult for the novice to understand, but the book attempts to give enough science background to the novice so they can better understand the science aspect of his peer reviewed published studies. Another redeeming quality of the book is showing examples of how a single sentence or two in a science paper that is suggestive of alternative models of origins is enough to cause papers to be rejected from publication. He gives clear examples of the kind of censorship that happens in science.


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