Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cosmos: Mostly Wrong

Andrew O'Hehir:

One mistake Druyan never makes, either in “Cosmos” or anywhere else, is the arrogant historicism sometimes displayed by Richard Dawkins and other prominent scientific atheists. By that I mean the quasi-religious assumption that we stand at a uniquely privileged position of near-perfect scientific knowledge, with just a few blanks to fill in before we understand everything about the universe. “I’m sure most of what we all hold dearest and cherish most, believing at this very moment,” Druyan has said, “will be revealed at some future time to be merely a product of our age and our history and our understanding of reality.” Science as a process, as “the never-ending search for truth,” is sacred. But what we now know, or think we know, is always a matter for humility and doubt.

I have a very clear memory of arguing with my parents about a sixth grade oral report on quasars based mostly on my copy of Cosmos. I wanted to say, for example, "Quasars are 4 to 6 billion years old," and that was not acceptable. I had to say "scientists currently believe..." At the time that seemed quite tedious and pedantic. Of course Carl Sagan had to be right!

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