I was probably born a skeptic (oh sure mom, you *say* squash is good for me but you also seem to think that a baby brother was an awesome idea.) but my natural inquisitive nature (But why? But why? But why?) didn’t blossom into the cynical eye rolling fun that you see today until I read Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World.”
In junior high and high school my steady diet of Christopher Pike novels led to the somewhat common geeky desire to flirt with the occult – I went through a very amusing “I want to be a witch!” phase (and people wonder why I was still a virgin at graduation time…) and fantasized about a career as a “parapsychologist” (That is the most embarrassing thing that I have ever written.) until my Dad announced that he would not be funding a degree is such nonsense. I think most teens (even most people) want to believe in magic – teenage life tends to suck a lot(unless you’re having one of those enchanted adolescent experiences) and a little spell casting or alien abduction could certainly have helped out with bullies or boys. To make matters worse the media seems insistent on presenting fantastical stories in the light of real science (I think things are actually better than they were when Sagan was alive – shows like Myth Busters and Penn and Teller: Bullshit! seem to be helping to clarify what is science).
The biggest revelation that “The Demon Haunted World” inspired was the idea that the real world is already so fantastic that we shouldn’t need to make up stories. Reality is amazing. The fact that all the pieces of the universe fit together to create stars and planets and earth and forests and life is infinitely more exciting then any story about magic (The Lord of the Rings excepted – that’s some awesome fantasy with one hot elf piece of ass). I also find the reliability of science appealing, things happen in a consistent manner even if we don’t always understand the why or how (I realize this might make things seem less special but I’d argue that consistency is pretty damn special to begin with). I am constantly trying to force this book on others (somewhat unsuccessfully I might add – no one seems interested in reading a science book *sigh*), I feel like if everyone were able to see our universe as wonderful they would have no need for astrology and crystals and Nostradamus and society could get on with advancing instead of dreamily devoting energies to pseudoscience.
While criticizing pseudoscience Sagan is very careful not to trample on any of the world’s dominant religions (if I remember correctly he has very few qualms about offending Wiccans and followers of fairies) but it seems that religion is currently the biggest threat to science. I hate to fall into the trap of speaking for the dead but I think we all know that Carl (not to mention the founding fathers and Elvis) would not be happy with the way we currently side step science when it comes to politically controversial (though not factually controversial...) issues such as euthanasia, evolution and contraception. Religion should be used as a crutch not as an excuse to lie (Why am I so tempted to end this sentence with “to children”? Please try not to lie to anyone.).
Woo – got a bit preachy and off track there.
Everyone – please read “The Demon Haunted World,” it is awesome. I’d offer to read some mumbo jumbo about numerology in trade but I’d be lying and I just got done advocating against that.
you can read more musings on Sagan here