Percy on Sagan

The Curt Jester pointed to the quotation from Walker Percy below, via the Deeps of Time blog:

“Yet one is not offended by Sagan. There is too little malice and too much ignorance. It is enough to take pleasure in the pleasant style, the knack for popularizing science, and the beautiful pictures of Saturn and the Ring Nebula.

Indeed, more often than not, I found myself on Sagan’s side, especially in his admiration for science and the scientific method, which is what he says it is — a noble, elegant, and self-correcting method of attaining a kind of truth — and when he attacks the current superstitions, astrology, UFO’s, parapsychology, and such, which seem to engage the Western mind now more than ever — more perhaps than either science or Christianity.

What is to be deplored is not Sagan’s sophomoric scientism — which I think better than its counterpart, a sophomoric theism which attributes the wonders of the Cosmos to a God who created it like a child with a cookie cutter — no, what is deplorable is that these serious issues involving God and the nature of man should be co-opted by the present disputants, a popularizer like Sagan and fundamentalists who believe God created the world six-thousand years ago. It’s enough to give both science and Christianity a bad name.

Really, it is a case of an ancient and still honorable argument going to pot. Even arguments in a college dormitory are, or were, conducted at a higher level.

It is for this very reason that we can enjoy Cosmos so much, for the frivolity of Sagan’s vulgar scientism and for the reason that science is, as Sagan says, self-correcting.”

Not surprising, Percy is way nicer than I am. I’m seeing plenty of malice, and, while I do enjoy “the beautiful pictures of Saturn and the Ring Nebula”, it doesn’t make up for the smarmy, snide sniping, nor the cheer leading for Science! even at the expense of the truth. But hey, Percy died before pictures like these were available – today, you can get an even better beauty-rush without having to tolerate Carl.  More important, he manages to look on human frailty with a certain affection that I can only aspire to.

Even more important, Percy may not have lived long enough (he died in 1990) for the full (let us call it) “Eisenhower Effect” to kick in – of the government paying the scientific piper and so calling the tune. Science! only discovers stuff that backs the agenda of government that funds it. Sagan, perhaps (I say, in an effort toward Percian broadmindedness) didn’t realize that, once he started using Science! to promote his agendas (nuclear disarmament, SETI), the government would do the same – in fact, co-op his efforts for its goals – to expand its size and control as much as possible. Science may be self-correcting, but Science! is not. Or, worse, Science! only self-corrects when the politics underlying it self-correct – and those times tend to be very interesting and unpleasant.

Thought I had read that book (Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos) but I must not have – I’d remember that quote for sure. Oh, well, add it to the reading list.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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