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Druyan on Sagan

Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow, had a great piece in the Nov/Dec 2003 Skeptical Enquirer (reprinted here at FindArticles). If you missed it then, as I did, read it now. Druyan talks about “the distorted view of science that prevails in our culture,” and assigns the blame for this situation squarely on religion:

I think the roots of this antagonism to science run very deep. They're ancient. We see them in Genesis, this first story, this founding myth of ours, in which the first humans are doomed and cursed eternally for asking a question, for partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

She questions the conventional wisdom that Eden was a perfect place:

It's puzzling that Eden is synonymous with paradise when, if you think about it at all, it's more like a maximum-security prison with twenty-four hour surveillance. […] God places Adam and Eve in a place where there can be no love; only fear, and fear-based behavior, obedience. God threatens to kill Adam and Eve if they disobey his wishes. God tells them that the worst crime, a capital offense, is to ask a question; to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What kind of father is this?

She follows this up with an idea I had not previously read:

Perhaps Genesis should be read as an ironic story. Here's a god who does not give us the knowledge of good and evil. He knows we don't know right from wrong. Yet he tells us not to do something anyway. How can someone who doesn't know right from wrong be expected to do the right thing? By disobeying god, we escape from his totalitarian prison where you cannot ask any questions, where you must never question authority. We become our human selves.

After some Copernican cosmology, Druyan discusses “a corrupt treaty that resulted in a troubled peace” between religion and science:

The churches agreed to stop torturing and murdering scientists. The scientists pretended that knowledge of the universe has no spiritual implications. It's a catastrophic tragedy that science ceded the spiritual uplift of its central revelations: the vastness of the universe, the immensity of time, the relatedness of all life and it's preciousness on this tiny world.

[…]

What I find disappointing about most religious beliefs is that they are a kind of statement of contempt for nature and reality. It's absurdly hubristic. It holds the myths of a few thousand years above nature's many billion-yeared journey. It says reality is inferior and less satisfying than the stories we make up.

She doesn’t dwell on the malicious myths of Sagan’s alleged “deathbed conversion,” instead preferring to talk about their life together:

Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don't ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous… […] I don't think I'll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful. [emphases added]

(Thanks to God Is for Suckers! for the tip.)

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