When you buy a used car, you kick the tires, you look at the odometer, you open up the hood. If you do not feel yourself an expert in automobile engines, you bring a friend who is. And you do this with something as unimportant as an automobile. But on the issues of the transcendent, of ethics, of morals, of the origins of the world, of the nature of human beings, on those issues should we not insist upon at least equally skeptical scrutiny?
There is no other species on Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works. It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything.
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 thrives on, indeed requires, the free exchange of ideas; its values are antithetical to secrecy. Science holds to no special vantage points or privileged positions. Both science and democracy encourage unconventional opinions and vigorous debate. Both demand adequate reason, coherent argument, rigorous standards of evidence and honesty.
I'm struck again by the irony that spaceflight-conceived in the cauldron of nationalist rivalries and hatreds-brings with it a stunning transnational vision. You spend even a little time contemplating the Earth from orbit and the most deeply engrained nationalisms begin to erode. They seem the squabbles of mites on a plum.
An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.
We've tended in our cosmologies to make things familiar. Despite all our best efforts, we've not been very inventive. In the West, Heaven is placid and fluffy, and Hell is like the inside of a volcano. In many stories, both realms are governed by dominance hierarchies headed by gods or devils. Monotheists talked about the king of kings. In every culture we imagined something like our own political system running the Universe. Few found the similarity suspicious.
In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.
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