Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Video - The Backbone of Night

So here is another video in CallumCGLP's (Callum Sutherland) series of tribute videos to Carl Sagan. In this one, mostly drawn from Sagan's Cosmos series, Sagan talks about the meaning of the night sky, which seems to have been a source of fascination for humans for uncounted thousands of years. Sagan traces humanity's relationship with the stars and the mysterious band of light that spans the sky from our earliest speculation based superstitions to our present evidence based understanding of what they truly are. In parallel, Sagan draws the comparison to an individual's journey from ignorance to knowledge. In short, we all travel the path laid down by humanity as a whole, able to traverse intellectual territory that took our species as a whole centuries to cover in a single lifetime.

Unspoken in his discussion of the matter is the sad fact that so many desire to take us back to the days of superstition and darkness, rejecting reality in favor of the comfortable illusions falsehood provides. Sagan references the !Kung people of Botswana, saying they believe that the Milky Way is the "Backbone of Night", a modern day example of a superstition based guess at what the phenomena we see in the sky actually is. But the !Kung can be excused for their superstitions - there is generally no way for them to learn the actual answer, and thus they are left to muddle through as best they can. The same could be said for the ancient Greeks, left to try to come up with an explanation for what they saw in the heavens, they invented a fanciful story about Hera and breast milk. Lacking the modern technology that allows us to peer into the vast void between the stars, they had no capability to come up with anything better.

But for the modern purveyors of superstitious ignorance, such as Kent Hovind, Ray Comfort, or Ken Ham, there is no similar excuse. Their hawking of flim-flammery dressed up in a religious costume is simply inexcusable. Though Sagan addresses the fact that the body of superstition that served to promote the stars to gods resulted in a vast network of priests leeching parasitically off the rest of humanity, dedicated to propitiating the imaginary manifestations of our fears, but not so much to advancing our knowledge (and in some cases actively working to hinder our pursuit of knowledge), an issue that Sagan addressed in his book The Demon Haunted World. And now we have dishonest purveyors of anti-science like "Young Earth Creationism" and the misnamed "Intelligent Design" building "creation museums" that expose their laughable ignorance, and which would be laughable if so many people weren't sucked in by their complete bullshit claims. Not only that, these purveyors of nonsense seek to not merely halt or retard the progress of science, but to reverse it. Despite being destroyed every time they bring their anti-scientific religion-based hokum before a judge, they keep trying to dress up their religion in new clothes and hope that they can sneak it into science class.

And it is up to everyone who believes that our children should be given true knowledge to make sure that the worthless garbage that the Hovinds, Hams, and Comforts of the world try to wedge into our schools is kept out. Because the future of our children depends powerfully upon them having true and accurate knowledge, and not the half-baked Bronze Age superstitions of wandering desert tribesmen given a patina of respectability solely because of their age. And the creationist wingnuts keep trying to repackage their junk, even going so far as to engage in the hilariously poorly executed cut and replace job that resulted in a draft of the amateurishly bad creationist/intelligent design book Of Pandas and People that spoke about "cdesign proponentsists". There is no excuse for the scientific ignorance of the Discovery Institute and their satellite creationist allies, and Sagan clearly and succinctly explains why.

Somehow it is fitting that the anniversary of Carl Sagan's death is also the date that the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision, eviscerating the intelligent design movement and forcing it to go back and try to come up with new clothes for their naked Emperor, was handed down. I think he would be pleased.

Previous video in the series: The Gift of Apollo.

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