A while back, an anonymous poster contributed a quotation from Walker Percy that is excellent enough to bear repeating:
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, Grosseteste. 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.
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: the Last Self-Help Book (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983), 201-202.