Monday, December 20, 2010

Video - A Universe Not Made for Us

Though he's been dead for fourteen years now, there are still few people who can speak more eloquently about the tension between science and superstition than Carl Sagan. Sagan had the uncanny ability to distill the conflict down to its essential points and convey both the majesty of the reality of the universe revealed by science, and the petty and provincial smallness of the explanations most religions developed, and which many people continue to adhere to.

YouTube user callumCGLP (Callum Sutherland) has put together a series of tribute videos featuring Sagan. In this first one, Sagan takes the anthropomorphic visions contained in religious traditions to task, exposing both their falsity and their confined vision constrained by the limited imaginations of the innocently ignorant people who promulgated them. As Sagan notes, a few hundred years ago there was no shame in clinging to these concepts, we simply didn't have the tools to evaluate or understand the reality of the universe. But today we have a much clearer understanding, and mountains of evidence showing that the universe is older and grander than even the most fanciful superstition could have imagined, and also apparently entirely indifferent to our existence.

And of course, it is that apparent indifference that seems to cause many people to reject the reality that evidence points towards and attempt to substitute their fantasies of Gods and gardens and cosmic eggs and so on. It gives a false significance to their lives to believe that the universe was somehow created for them, and that there is a cosmic entity out there that cares. But this shrinks paradoxically the universe to pettiness, sapping the weight that this supposed significance grants to the believer. I'll stand with Sagan on this issue - the universe is bigger and more awesome than any religious tradition, and if we accept the meaning in our lives is constrained by the triviality that accompanies such superstition, then we are surrendering the greater meaning that science has given us - that our fate is in our own hands, and depends upon how we use the knowledge that generations have fought so hard to acquire.

This is the biggest dream ever dreamed by man: the universe does not care and our future is what we make of it. We should embrace this rather than clinging to mythology and sheilding our minds in self-imposed darkness.

Subsequent video in the series: Consider Again That Pale Blue Dot.

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