From CARL SAGAN
Pale Blue Dot
What do we really want from philosophy and religion? Palliatives? Therapy? Comfort? Do we want reassuring fables or an understanding of our actual circumstances? Dismay that the Universe does not conform to our preferences seems childish.
But if our objective is deep knowledge rather than shallow reassurance, the gains from this new perspective far outweigh the losses. Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs—in time, in space, and in potential—the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.
We gaze across billions of light-years of space to view the Universe shortly after the Big Bang, and plumb the fine structure of matter. We peer down into the core of our planet, and the blazing interior of our star. We read the genetic language in which is written the diverse skills and propensities of every being on Earth. We uncover hidden chapters in the record of our own origins, and with some anguish better understand our nature and prospects. We invent and refine agriculture, without which almost all of us would starve to death. We create medicines and vaccines that save the lives of billions. We communicate at the speed of light, and whip around the Earth in an hour and a half. We have sent dozens of ships to more than seventy worlds, and four spacecraft to the stars.
We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions…
There is in this Universe much of what seems to be design. Every time we come upon it, we breathe a sigh of relief. We are forever hoping to find, or at least safely deduce, a Designer. But instead, we repeatedly discover that natural processes… can extract order out of chaos, and deceive us into deducing purpose where there is none…. But, amid much elegance and precision, the details of life and the Universe also exhibit haphazard, jury-rigged arrangements and much poor planning. What shall we make of this: an edifice abandoned early in construction by the architect?
The evidence, so far at least and laws of Nature aside, does not require a Designer. Maybe there is one hiding, maddeningly unwilling to be revealed. Sometimes it seems a very slender hope.
The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable.
If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal…
The pioneering psychologist William James called religion a “feeling of being at home in the Universe.” Our tendency has been… to pretend that the Universe is how we wish our home would be, rather than to revise our notion of what’s homey so it embraces the Universe. If, in considering James’ definition, we mean the real Universe, then we have no true religion yet.