Believing in the Intangible

From Discover Magazine this month is a Dialogue with Ann Druyan -- primarily about a private space exploration project, it also includes a tangent discussion from which I'd like to share an excerpt which gave me pause for thought...

Do you view religion and science as incompatible?
D: I think that superstition and science are incompatible. I think that the doctrine of unquestioning faith and science are antithetical....

Is there anything inherently wrong with someone believing in the intangible?
D: There's nothing wrong with having a sense of wonder about the things you don't understand, but I think it's wrong to commit to a belief in the absence of evidence, especially when what you believe is transparently a palliative for your fear. The search itself should be never ending. That's why the conclusive religions do not satisfy me spiritually, the way science does.

How is that different from believing there is life on other worlds when we don't yet have evidence?
D: I think you should withhold that belief. You should not believe anything for which there is no evidence. You can have hope -- I have a lot of hope, which I like to think is based on good evidence -- but that is very different than faith. For me, the method of science is a profoundly spiritual discipline, because it's saying that I will give up telling myself things that will make me feel better in exchange for knowing a little bit about the universe....

Why are people afraid of science?
D: The complexity and jargon are daunting ... and the Western religious tradition is based on a fear of knowledge. It goes right back to Prometheus and to the Garden of Eden, to God's threat that if we partake of the tree of knowledge, we will know only misery and death. So we keep one thing in our heads that says, yes, our cell phones work, our TVs work because of science, but we keep an infantile, geocentric view of the universe locked within our hearts.

How do you combat that?
D: Number one: Do not lie to your children. Do not tell them things that are probably untrue, because in a way you doom them to a perpetual infancy. Number two: Invest in education so that science becomes a way of seeing and thinking that is natural to all of us and not something reserved for the lucky few.... If only an elite minority understands science and technology, there is no hope of democracy, because then we, the people, cannot make informed decisions. We will always be manipulated.

Posted: Mon - October 27, 2003 at 09:45 AM