Okay, so what brings this up? For a long time, there's been something sticking in my craw- the dismissal of science as a tool to help us. I have met and carried on conversations with people who actually advocate a return to a nomadic hunter gather lifestyle. Apparently, the deaths of billions don't weigh on their conscience at all- because billions would need to die. Those that argue the benefits of sustainable agriculture are more tolerable- because there is some truth to their claims. With the lower per-acre crop yields however, I do not think that we would meet the worldwide needs (and certainly not in the developing world!). Strangely, these folks stand on the opposite end of the political spectrum from the other anti-science league, religious nut-bags that advocate Creationism (Or Intelligent Design, Creationism in a fancy suit). People who take the "God of the Gaps" strategy to section off areas of knowledge and tell us there are things that man should not know. People who try and shrink the Universe down to a speck, to fit their tiny idea of what God must be like- when pressed, I think most of them would admit, in their heart-of-hearts, that they prefer the Geocentric hypothesis so that the Earth is at the center of the Universe, like they think it should be.
I make a horrible advocate for science and rational thought because, despite the strength of my convictions, (and the extra twist of my love of Discordianism, the direct antithesis of rational thought (which makes perfect sense if you think about it)) I don't communicate them constructively.
Which brings me to the real point of this post. I gave Minna her Christmas presents early, and we've both been digging into them (making them not as much her presents as ours- we both enjoy them equally). The list? "Cosmos" (TV series by Carl Sagan, back in the days when PBS actually produced things), The Pale Blue Dot, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark- all by Carl Sagan.
Carl Sagan... was an amazing man. Growing up, I remember by dad talking about him, I remember going to an astronomy class in third grade (a special extra-curricular activity that really shaped much of my life) and hearing about Carl- and he was always "Carl" to people- even if they had never met him. It's a tragedy of my youth that I didn't learn to appreciate his contributions to the world until long after he was dead. Carl shared my convictions, but was able to express them empathetically in a way I could never dream of. His knowledge was broad, deep, and his sense of wonder finely honed. His enthusiasm for everything about this world runs off the pages of his books.
Western society is starting to collapse under its own weight. Fear and hopelessness abound, driving people towards superstitions and mysticism. Only a few pages into The Demon Haunted World I can already see how frighteningly prescient Carl was. And that makes me wish he were still here...
The world needs another Carl Sagan. The world needs someone that can express the wonder of the natural world and make people care about it. The world needs someone that can cast an optimistic vision of the future- a vision that's something to strive for. The world needs to be educated about what science really is- and what it means to us. And the dangers of a society that isn't scientifically literate. More than anyone, Carl tried to take science out of the ivory towers and into the streets- because that's the power of science versus religion.
Science is verifiable, science is communicable. Religion always requires someone else's words, whether the source is a holy book or a priest's ramblings, Religion can't be truly shared in the way science can. Anyone can learn about science, replicate experiments and understand how the world works. To push the boundaries might require special knowledge, but to appreciate the discoveries- that's something that's accessible in an intimate way.
So here's to Carl Sagan. May he still be behind the controls of his "Spaceship of the Imagination", the dandelion seed of the Cosmos.