Monday, June 06, 2005

Sagan sez...

I can't say I know enough about intelligent design (ID) to say whether or not it's true. But at this point, one doesn't have to be an expert in Darwinism to tell that his theory is trouble: one only has to know a little street sociology.

The Darwinians and the major media have taken great pains to convey to any and all their histeria that ID might even be discussed (should we call it "the theory that has no name"?). Actually, let me take that back: their histeria is actually that Darwinism just might possibly be questioned. As I wrote in the past couple posts, despite their claims that this is "science," their belief is a matter of faith and an inflexible fundamentalist faith at that; their blind rage is the proverbial blood in the water...and even the dumbest piranha can smell it.

In researching for the evolution posts, I ran across some interesting material on Carl Sagan. Dr. Sagan opens his book Cosmos with this:

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us—there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

The religious tone of this paragraph screams out.

As an analytic exercise, let's examine just the first sentence. Is there scientific evidence to back up the claim that the universe is all? A better question would be: is it possible for science to address this claim even in principle? The basis of everything we call "science" is empirical verifiability. We can't measure the past1 and we can't measure the future. By its nature, science deals with the here and now: anything else is extrapolation, supposition. Even more importantly, science can't say anything about anything outside the universe.

It's not a scientific claim, but a religious claim. Sagan tells us "we are approaching the greatest of mysteries"—the materialist Sancto Sanctorum, it would seem. Sagan is the high-priest of smug atheism (pantheism?).

There is only the Cosmos and Sagan is its prophet.

I ran across a summary of Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit on one of his disciple's pages (also here: The Kit is drawn from Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (oh yes, scientists like Joseph Mengele "illuminating" our path to paradise on earth...).

It is more than ironic that many of the Darwinian arguments rely on these logical-rhetorical fallacies from Sagan's "detector":

  • Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile). [Cf., the secularists' blind terror at the idea that Darwinian "science" might undergo rigorous scientific examination]
  • Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack. [E.g., calling a non-religious film "religious"]
  • Further, they ignore Sagan's tools for detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:

  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view. [E.g., firing anyone even sympathetic to dissenters to Darwinism, like Rick Sternberg.]
  • Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result? [in the minds of its proponents, Darwinism it seems is beyond question]
  • I had thought that non-hypocrisy was to the modern mind a virtue, but perhaps hypocrisy is a modern virtue... and the howls against it simply mask a more cynical hypopcrisy.


    1. We can argue about the past based on the explanatory power of theories about it, but this form of argument is much less convincing.

    In looking up Sagan, I ran across this provocatively titled piece by Terry Mattingly: "Carl Sagan: TV Evangelist."

    Phillip E. Johnson, "Book Review: The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark," National Review (April 22, 1996):

    Plainly, one thing that is missing from Carl Sagan's baloney-detector kit is a device capable of distinguishing science as a method of investigation from scientific atheism, a philosophy uncritically accepted by many scientists. Have scientific experiments demonstrated that non-living chemicals can arrange themselves spontaneously into living organisms? Does the claim that natural selection can turn a bacterium into a butterfly rest mainly upon an unsupported extrapolation from instances of variation within a species? Perhaps we should consider the alternative hypothesis that it is the dogmatic Darwinists who are less than assiduous in exposing themselves to the evidence, and that the reason so many Americans are skeptical of the more expansive claims of Darwinism is that they have their own baloney detectors working.

    Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (Ballantine Books, 1997).

    Carl Sagan, Cosmos (Ballantine Books, 1985).


    Anonymous said...

    Interesting review of Demon Haunted World from Amazon:

    [one star] Tiresome book by a self promoter, February 25, 2001
    Reviewer: A reader
    It amazes me that this book is so extravagantly over praised. It really is a dull, creaky, moldy hymn to the belief that science can substitute for religion. Wrong. In a materialist universe, nihilism is the only point of view justified by the facts and the only objection to even crimes against humanity such as genocide is that you don't personally like it (as Bertrand Russell admitted). Every evil and every good become nothing but a matter of personal taste and the terms have no other meaning. Disapproving of murder has no more moral weight than preferrring relish to onions on your hot dogs. Sorry, Carl, we can't sustain any kind of humane world on what you have to offer.Besides, it seems to me that many of the things that science has brought us has actually made the world worse (bio-terrorism, nuclear weapons, the complete medicalization of human existence, the Tuskeegee syphillis experiments, etc). And don't give me that line about how science is pure and it is only when humans misuse it that it becomes evil. The same thing could be said about the religions that you so despise. The diference is that the great religions have a self correcting moral vision and are capable of reform. Science lacks, and can never have, a moral vision. It (and scientists) always sells itself out to the largest corporate bidder. Don't talk about science, Carl, talk about science, inc., since that is the only way it exists. Oh, and the reason why this review is anonymous is because I got tired of receiving hate filled, venom drenched email from all of the supposedly cool headed fans of this book.

    Anonymous said...

    [one star] Excellent scientist, Excellent writer, poor philosopher, December 29, 2000
    Reviewer: jim bennett
    Loved all his books but this one. Be warned, this book not only deals with psuedo-science but also attempts to debunk religion. Most of Sagan's ardent followers may diagree, but there is some compelling evidence for this. I did some research on Sagan and found out some very little known things about him. 1. I always thought he had multiple degrees from some of the biographies about him, but found he has one legitamate one in astronomy from Cornell, the rest are 'honorary'. 2. Sagan was an active Secular Humanist. Secular humanists believe that the only way to achieve world peace is through the elimination of religion (don't take my word for it, check out the secular humanist manifesto posted on the web, very scary). No-one in my opinion can honestly believe that this book did't have some serious political and athiest underpinnings. If Sagan had simply stuck to pseudo-science, I would have given it 5 stars. In conclusion, this book is a handbook for secular humanist beliefs which so happens to be marketed by the publisher as objective science. Sagan attempts to equate science and reason with athiesm, and religion with irrationalism. pure philosophy.

    Bonnie said...

    Imago Dei and The Dawn Treader had some posts on Sagan awhile back -- Serge's post is here, and it contains links to TDT.


    Lawrence Gage said...

    Anonymous, thanks for those clips.

    Bonnie, thanks for the link. I actually left a comment.


    Anonymous said...

    From Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos:

    This chapter, as well as other parts of the book, owes a good deal to Carl Sagan's splendid picture book, Cosmos. I hope he will not take offense at some fanciful extrapolations therefrom. Sagan's book gave me much pleasure, a pleasure which was not diminished by Sagan's unmalicious, even innocent, scientism, the likes of which I have not encountered since the standard bull sessions of high school and college—up to but not past the sophomore year. The argument could be resumed with Sagan, I suppose, but the issue would be as inconclusive as it was between sophomores. For me it was more diverting than otherwise to see someone sketch the history of Western scientific thought and leave out Judaism and Christianity. Everything is downhill after the Ionians and until the rise of modern science. There is a huge gap between the destruction of the library at Alexandria and the appearance of Copernicus and Galileo. So much for six thousand years of Judaism and fifteen hundred years of Christianity. So much for the likes of Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Grossesteste. So much for the science historian A.C. Crombie, who wrote: "The natural philosophers of Latin Christendom in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries created the experimental science characteristic of modern times."

    So much, indeed, for the relationship between Christianity and science and the fact that, as Whitehead pointed out, it is no coincidence that science sprang, not from Ionian metaphysics, not from the Brahmin-Buddhist-Taoist East, not from he Egyptian-Mayan astrological South, but from the heart of the Christian West, that although Galileo fell out with the Church, he would hardly have taken so much trouble studying Jupiter and dropping objects from towers if the reality and value and order of things had not first been conferred by belief in the Incarnation.

    Yet one is not offended by Sagan. There is too little malice and too much ignorance. It is enough to take pleasure in the pleasant style, the knack for popularizing science, and the beautiful pictures of Saturn and the Ring nebula.

    Indeed, more often than not, I found myself on Sagan's side, especially in his admiration for science and the scientific method, which is what he says it is—a noble, elegant, and self-correcting method of attaining a kind of truth—and when he attacks the current superstitions, astrology, UFOs, parapsychology, and such, which seem to engage the Western mind now more than ever—more perhaps than either science or Christianity.

    What is to be deplored is not Sagan's sophomoric scientism—which I think I like better than its counterpart, a sophomoric theism which attributes the wonders of the Cosmos to a God who created it like a child with a cookie cutter—no, what is deplorable is that these serious issues involving God and the nature of man should be co-opted by these particular disputants, a popularizer like Sagan and fundamentalists who believe God created the world six thousand years ago. It's enough to give both science and Christianity a bad name.

    Really, it is a case of an ancient and still honorable argument going to pot. Even arguments in a college dormitory are, or were, conducted at a higher level.

    It is for this very reason that we can enjoy Cosmos so much, for the frivolity of Sagan's vulgar scientism and for the reason that science is, as Sagan says, self-correcting. One wonders, in fact, whether Sagan himself has not been corrected, e.g., by Hubble's discovery of the red shift and the present growing consensus of the Big Bang theory of the creation of the Cosmos, which surely comes closer than Sagan would like to the Genesis account of creatio ex nihilo.