Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Little does not equal worthless

Frank Schaeffer may be better known for his odd book Why I'm an atheist that believes in God, but he recently penned a blog about atheism and worth that quite misses the mark...
Sagan played for higher stakes than Duchamp had. He attempted to “de-deify” our entire species. His beautiful, secular psalm dedicated to our demotion is unsurpassed. In Psalm 8, King David described us as only a little lower than the angels while in Pale Blue Dot, Sagan takes great pains to obliterate any sense of cosmic significance:
How does Sagan's Pale Blue Dot do a disservice to humanity? The Pale Blue Dot speech that Sagan made famous on his Cosmos TV series is both inspirational and humbling. Here's what he said:
We succeeded in taking that picture and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you know, everyone you love, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines. Every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. 

This is not a quote about humanity being meaningless or worthless, but about the amazing scale of the cosmos.
Yet even post-Sagan, we value life so highly that we seek it elsewhere in the universe as if on a quest for the Holy Grail. The secular theology of nothingness is in conflict with itself. Ever since Darwin published On the Origin of Species, we learn that all living things are intrinsically equal. We’re no longer “suspended above nature” as if by some metaphysical “skyhook,” as the militantly secular philosopher Daniel Dennett puts it. We are nature herself, at her worst. And yet scientists strive to find signs of life elsewhere, life that presumably would be as ultimately insignificant as our own.
Where is Frank getting the idea that any of this means nonbelievers view human life as insignificant. The very significance of life is why we are looking for it elsewhere. And Frank thinking Sagan was slighting humanity with the pale blue dot, betrays how little he apparently knows of Sagan. Carl also said:
We are in the cosmos and the cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.
We may be small, but we give consciousness to the universe. We are far from insignificant, and Sagan states as such!

I have a nagging question though: if we’re nothing, why bother to convince us of our nothingness? Who cares? I would like to have asked Sagan why he bothered to write with such poetic skill and beauty about the meaninglessness of writing, given our transitory and diminutive place in the universe.
And my question would be if Frank is being deliberately obtuse. Pointing out that the universe is so staggeringly huge does not impact the worth of life. Also, he acts as though there is  no middle-ground between 'we are what it is all about and the most important of all beings' and 'we are worthless'. We may not be the be-all end-all, but we certainly aren't nothing. Life is still big to us, and important as well. The claim that life is worthless to Sagan and other non-believers is nothing but patently false.

-Brain Hulk

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