Thursday, July 24, 2008

Carl Sagan Was Naive - part 2

"How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'? Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths."--Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot.

I think what I should do is just pick apart this statement piece by piece. I shall try to be merciful but justice demands swift punishment of such blatant and willful ignorance in a man professing to be so full of knowledge and wisdom.

And one other thing before I do that. Blaming the ignorance quoted above on marijuana use is just too easy an out for me to give Mr. Sagan. I am certain he believed this way all the time, not just when under the influence. But it was fun giving him the jab.

Sagan: "How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, . . ."

I doubt if Sagan knew much, if anything, about any major religion. The appalling ignorance in this particular quotation is prima facie evidence of this.

Why would religion spend its time looking to science? Religion looks to the God of science, not to science. It deals with things that cannot be tested with the scientific method.

Sagan: "How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant'?"

Is he asking why religion has not elevated science to the status of religion like he has?

I can't speak for other religions, but I can for the Christian faith. I can think of no biblical prophet who downgraded the universe. They conceived of a universe as grand, subtle, and elegant as their limited capacity to understand it would allow them. What they did understand they praised and pointed to its grandness as proof of the greatness of God.

At least two major religions could point Sagan to Psalm 8:

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
. . .
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Or the prophet Amos:
He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the LORD is his name;
Or how about the oldest book in either the Christian or Hebrew canon? Read as Job quotes God on the wonders of the universe pointing to the greatness of God (and the humility which should be displayed by man in the face of it and Him.)--Job 38

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no man is,
on the desert in which there is no man,
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground sprout with grass?

“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
or given understanding to the mind?
Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods stick fast together?

“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food?

I could go on . . . and on . . . and on. But my point, I think is made. The prophets proclaimed a grand, subtle, meticulous, orderly, wonderful universe and used it as evidence to point to the greatness of its God. For the Christian (or the orthodox Jew for that matter) the bigger science can demonstrate the universe to be, the more wondrous the world around us, the more praiseworthy is our God. All of this just renders Sagan's comment, well, stupid.

Sagan: "Instead they say, 'No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.'"

It would be nice to see some evidence of this negative assertion about the major religions. Again, I cannot speak for all of them, but I can certainly speak for the Christian faith and perhaps the Jewish one as well. We have the grandest view of God imaginable. That is why we conceive of him in terms that begin with "omni-" and "all-". You know, like omnipotent, omniscient, all-wise, all-seeing, omnipresent, etc. In fact, it is impossible to conceive of a God more grand than the Christian God and the larger science discovers the universe to be--the more complex, the more subtle, the more wondrous--the greater this God becomes in our conception.

Sagan: "A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths."

And how would Sagan know this has not happened or is not happening seeing he had nothing to do with the major religions his entire adult life? And did he (and does Dawkins) really believe that science holds a monopoly on reverence and awe for creation?


I cannot resist one more sripture quotation, this time from the prophet Isaiah (chapter 40):

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.

Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
Comes across as a small God, doesn't it? Small universe, small God. Right. Gotcha.

(all Scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version)

6 comments:

56895689 said...

Great job, James. Our god is bigger an mightier than their science!

Debbie J

Tatarize said...

So to paraphrase your blog post "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way."

James Spurgeon said...

So to paraphrase your comment "No, no, no! My mind is a little mind and I want it to stay that way."

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