Thursday, July 21, 2005

Sagan on Science and Democracy

I'm sorry for quoting so much Carl Sagan lately, but this is just too good to stay confined within the spine of the The Demon Haunted World. What follows is Sagan's appreciation of science and democracy as kindred souls.
The values of science and the values of democracy are concordant, in many cases 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...Science thrives on, indeed requires, the free exchange of ideas; its values are antithetical to secrecy. Science holds to no special vantage points of 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.

As Sagan and Jefferson understood, there is one method that will protect liberty and human rights from the avarice of politicians, priests, and charltans; that method is reason. When it is no longer valued by society or the state, freedom and democracy become tenuous, threads we grasp at, yet are hard to rewrap into the cohesive whole they once were.