Carl Sagan: Science and Hope

b0e540cf7ed9Except from Carl Sagan’s, “The Demon-Haunted World”, “Science and Hope”.

“For me, there are four main reasons for a concerted effort to convey science-in radio, TV, movies, newspapers, books, computer programs, theme parks, and classrooms – to every citizen. In all uses of science, it is insufficient – indeed it is dangerous – to produce only a small, highly competent, well-rewarded priesthood of professionals. Instead, some fundamental understanding of the finding and methods of  science must be available on the broadest scale.

  • Despite plentiful opportunities for misuse, science can be the golden road out of poverty and backwardness for emerging nations. It makes national economies and the global civilization run. Many nations understand this. It is why so many graduate students in science and engineering at American universities – still the best in the world – are from other countries. The corollary, one that the United States sometimes fails to grasp, is that abandoning science is the road back into poverty and backwardness.
  • Science alerts us to the perils introduced by our world-altering technologies, especially to the global environment on which our lives depend. Science provides an essential early warning system.
  • Science teaches us about the deepest issues of origins, natures, and fates  – of our species, of life, of our planet, of the Universe. For the first time in human history we are able to secure a real understanding of some of these matters. Every culture on Earth has addressed such issues and valued their importance. All of us feel goosebumps when we approach these grand questions. In the long run, the greatest gift of science may be in teaching us, in ways no other human endeavor has been able, something about our cosmic context, about where, when, and who we are.
  • The values of science and the values of democracy are concordant, in many case indistinguishable. Science and democracy began – in their civilized incarnations – in the same time and place, Greece in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Science confers power on anyone who takes the trouble to learn it (although too many have been systematically prevented from doing so). Science thrives on, indeed require the free exchange of ideas; its values are antithetical to secrecy. Science holds to no special  vantage points or privileged positions. Both science and democracy encourage unconventional opinions and vigorous debate. Both demand adequate reason, coherent argument, rigorous standards of evidence and honesty. Science is a way to call the bluff of those who only pretend to knowledge. It is a bulwark against mysticism, against superstition, against religion misapplied to where it has no business being. If we’re true to its values, it can tell us when we’re being lied to. It provides a mid-course correction to our mistakes. The more widespread its language, rules and methods, the better chance we have of preserving what Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues had in mind. But democracy can also be subverted more thoroughly through the products of science than any pre-industrial demagogue ever dreamed.

Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the serious problems that face us – and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, a world of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who saunters along.”

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