Thursday, March 30, 2006

Carl Sagan's Skepticism

I know, it’s taking me forever to finish this book! But it’s pretty dense, and I’ve been working nights. Not a lot of reading time there, dontcha know?

There’s a big debate in the skeptical community about taking a “hard-line” stance a la PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins or a softer stance, a la Michael Shermer and company. Well, apparently Sagan comes down on the Shermer side, which kind of surprised me at first, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was probably inevitable. Anyway, here’s the most recent nugget of Sagan wisdom:

And yet, the chief deficiency I see in the skeptical movement is in its
polarization: Us vs. Them – the sense that we have a monopoly on the
truth; that those other people who believe in all these stupid doctrines are
morons; that if you’re sensible, you’ll listen to us; and if not, you’re beyond
redemption. This is unconstructive. It does not get the message
across. It condemns the skeptics to permanent minority status; whereas, a
compassionate approach that from the beginning acknowledges the human roots of
pseudoscience and superstition might be much more widely accepted.

Notice that he never says to capitulate to the woo-woo crowd. Just treat them with a little compassion. You can respect a person without believing his particular myths. Heck, one of my best friends was a charismatic Christian when I met him. I thought he was a complete nutjob, but he wasn’t evil, just mistaken. And eventually, through his own search for answers, truths and the Truth, he came around to a more skeptical mindset. If I had hit him day after day with towering indignation that he dare be something so silly, he’d have hunkered down and set into a siege mentality. That’s human nature.

Being told you’re wrong is hard to hear. And it’s even harder to accept. We skeptics should remember that.

More from Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark…

More Wisdom From Carl Sagan
Satanic Cult Abuse And Fundamentalism
Beautiful Words From A Beautiful Mind

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain

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Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu