Friday, January 11, 2008

... No Sacred Truths

Two takes on religion that I've seen this week, basically saying the same thing, but from disparate sources and with distinctly different tones. The first, from the book I'm reading right now, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, one of my favorite people:

"Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? There isn't a religion on the planet that doesn't long for a comparable ability - precise, and repeatedly demonstrated before committed sceptics - to foretell future events. No other human institution comes close. Is this worshipping at the altar of science? Is this replacing one faith by another, equally arbitrary? In my view, not at all. The directly observed success of science is the reason I advocate its use. If something else worked better, I would advocate the something else. Does science insulate itself from philosophical criticism? Does it define itself as having a monopoly on the `truth'? Think again of that eclipse a thousand years in the future. Compare as many doctrines as you can think of, note what predictions they make of the future, which ones are vague,which ones are precise, and which doctrines - every one of them subject to human fallibility - have error-correcting mechanisms built in. Take account of the fact that not one of them is perfect. Then simply pick the one that in a fair comparison works best (as opposed to feels) best. If different doctrines are superior in quite separate and independent fields, we are of course free to choose several - but not if they contradictone another. Far from being idolatry, this is the means by which we can distinguish the false idols from the real thing.

Again, the reason science works so well is partly that built-in error-correcting machinery. There are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths ..."

And the second by Bill Maher on Conan O'Brien:

Wow ... pretty gutsy to say on network television. I'm not disagreeing with anything he said, but most people don't have the cojones to lay it out like he did. You could sense Conan's and the audience's discomfort. But, why shouldn't he be able to criticize religion publicly? Truly, there should be "no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths". The generally accepted leader of Christianity, the Pope, recently seemed to have no problem laying all the problems of the world at the door of atheism:

Pope Benedict states atheism is responsible for some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history ...

Well, if that's isn't the pot calling the kettle black. Hypocrisy, thy name is Pope Benedict.

1 comment:

wunelle said...

Two of my favorite people. I can stave off my despair for humanity a little longer when I know that there IS rationality in the world.

The Carl Sagan book I read about 20 years ago and, as I recall, loved it.

Thanks for a little ray of sunshine to start the day!