What do Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins have in common?

Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
What do Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins have in common?

A more general post about wonderism:

What do Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins have in common?

Quite a lot, actually, IMHO.

A lot of people use Carl Sagan as an example of how Richard Dawkins should change his ways to be more accommodating of religion. But aside from differences in 'tone', I think they have a lot more in common, in terms of their personal philosophies, than they have differences. If Sagan was alive today, I think he would get along very well with Dawkins, and vice versa. I could even imagine them working together on the common project of promoting reason and science to the larger public.

It was around the time I started to get more involved in online atheist activism (around 2004) that I started to notice these similarities in the philosophies of various science-minded people, especially including the most outspoken atheists. Similarities like reliance on science and evidence-based reasoning, logical and rational thought, use of popular media to reach a broader public audience than science magazines and academic books, openness to reasonable criticism and a willingness to engage in public criticism of their own, etc.

I tried to boil it all down to one concept, and that's where I hit on the idea of 'wonder'. So, I started to work on collecting these common ideas, and called it 'wonderism'. See What is wonderism? for my current position on this idea.

A few quick quotes:

"I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true." -- Sagan

"Far from science not being useful, my worry is that it is so useful as to overshadow and distract from its inspirational and cultural value. Usually even its sternest critics concede the usefulness of science, while completely missing the wonder." -- Dawkins

"I wonder why I wonder why. I wonder why I wonder. I wonder why I wonder why I wonder why I wonder!" -- Feynman

"It is our responsibility as scientists, knowing the great progress which comes from a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, the great progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought, to proclaim the value of this freedom; to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed and discussed; and to demand this freedom as our duty to all coming generations." -- Feynman

"All of my life, I have been fascinated by the big questions that face us, and have tried to find scientific answers to them. If, like me, you have looked at the stars, and tried to make sense of what you see, you too have started to wonder what makes the universe exist." -- Hawking

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." -- Darwin

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." -- Einstein

Who would not think these were people all striving for the same thing? I think there is something more to this than just nice quotes. I think there is a genuine agreement on some basic ideas and values. I know many, many atheists who would concur with these very same foundations.

We all have our differences of opinions, for sure. But is it also not true that many of us share more in common than merely atheism? Would identifying this common ground be a worthwhile endeavour?

Am I on the right track in pointing out this similarity? I'm I completely off my tracks? Eye-wink Questions. Questions. Always questioning. Always wondering....

Wonderist on Facebook — Support the idea of wonderism by 'liking' the Wonderism page — or join the open Wonderism group to take part in the discussion!

Gnu Atheism Facebook group — All gnu-friendly RRS members welcome (including Luminon!) — Try something gnu!


The Doomed Soul
atheist
The Doomed Soul's picture
Posts: 2148
Joined: 2007-08-31
User is offlineOffline
I'll take.... Grey hair for

I'll take.... Grey hair for $200, Alex


darth_josh
High Level DonorHigh Level ModeratorGold Member
darth_josh's picture
Posts: 2650
Joined: 2006-02-27
User is offlineOffline
I wonder why humans

I wonder why humans typically look for similarities between two wholly separate individuals.

Metaphor and simile break down into nothing more than trite when referencing human differences or comparisons.

We only have so many zoomorphisms as well. lol. Rottweilers, Bulldogs, et al.

"He wasn't like him." isn't even a good enough answer and patently unwarranted. Without explanation, it's left to whomever to fill in the discrepancies for themselves.

When comparing things or ideas to another, it's easier. However, humans are not just descriptive nouns.

To me, the utterance of something as obnoxious as 'Sagan-esque' or 'Dawkins-esque' or 'Hawking-esque' is nauseating. "Oh. Look. Dawkins should try to be more Sagan-esque."   BLLLEEECCCCCCHHHHHH!

The very thought that someone should conform to another person's methodology, regardless of merit, goes against what I believe to be at the very core of freethought.

Some pay entirely too much attention to style and almost completely ignore substance even where there is an entirely disparate set of ideas presented by the same person or two people presenting the same idea.

 

Atheist Books, purchases on Amazon support the Rational Response Squad server, which houses Celebrity Atheists.


Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
Not sure I follow you,

Not sure I follow you, darth_josh. Are you saying I'm wrong to mention the similarities in Sagan's and Dawkins' philosophical views? Or that critics of Dawkins are wrong to compare him with Sagan, as if he should conform to someone else's methods? Or both?

I agree Dawkins' critics are misguided, but I think I can defend the similarity in their views on wonder and science. Not sure if your comments were directed at the article as a whole.

Wonderist on Facebook — Support the idea of wonderism by 'liking' the Wonderism page — or join the open Wonderism group to take part in the discussion!

Gnu Atheism Facebook group — All gnu-friendly RRS members welcome (including Luminon!) — Try something gnu!


darth_josh
High Level DonorHigh Level ModeratorGold Member
darth_josh's picture
Posts: 2650
Joined: 2006-02-27
User is offlineOffline
Yes. They are both in wonder

Yes. They are both in wonder and science or Wonderism 'ideals'. I agree.

However, it pains me when we start talking tactics methodology. I feel that comparing the two in that regard denigrates the both of them.

Was one too soft? Was one too harsh? It falls into subjective analysis and that is what is harmful to even the promotion of your idea of wonderism. Did Sagan attract people to science with wonder? Yes. Does Dawkins attract people to science with wonder? Yes. From a pragmatic standpoint, that is where we should stop in comparative analysis of the two because those are the only facts we have. Do you see what I mean?

Extended thought: It forces humans to create a virtual priority list of better/worse conditioned responses of their own creation. Why do we do that? I don't know, but it happens and I would like to one day figure it out or simply be able to abstain from it.

Atheist Books, purchases on Amazon support the Rational Response Squad server, which houses Celebrity Atheists.


Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
Quote:Did Sagan attract

Quote:
Did Sagan attract people to science with wonder? Yes. Does Dawkins attract people to science with wonder? Yes. From a pragmatic standpoint, that is where we should stop in comparative analysis of the two because those are the only facts we have. Do you see what I mean?

That is actually what I was saying in the post. Perhaps I wasn't clear.

The whole thing about method was really just a throw-away line to show that in fact differences in method are not that important. There is a deeper similarity, which I wanted to emphasize. I think the critics of Dawkins are focused on petty issues. The post was not supposed to be about method, it was supposed to be about a shared, common philosophy, underlying all of those different voices. I guess that's why I was confused by your response, as it seemed to be saying I shouldn't focus on method, when I wasn't even trying to.

It's like if two people are arguing over whether John Glenn or Neil Armstrong was the better astronaut, and I come along and say, "Actually, the two had more in common than they had differences. They both showed the values of X, Y, Z, and that's why they were both great astronauts. Let's focus on X, Y, and Z instead."

So I guess I'm still not clear on what you're saying. Do you still see a problem with what I was saying? If so, could you quote me to show me where? Maybe it was ambiguous language?

Wonderist on Facebook — Support the idea of wonderism by 'liking' the Wonderism page — or join the open Wonderism group to take part in the discussion!

Gnu Atheism Facebook group — All gnu-friendly RRS members welcome (including Luminon!) — Try something gnu!


Cpt_pineapple
atheist
Cpt_pineapple's picture
Posts: 5492
Joined: 2007-04-12
User is offlineOffline
Oh hey Eloise, didn't

Oh hey Eloise, didn't realize you changed your username.

 

 

 


Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
Don't see any pantheistic

Don't see any pantheistic deistic whateverthefuck there. Just natural expressions of wonder. For the record: Wonderism and atheism

Wonderist on Facebook — Support the idea of wonderism by 'liking' the Wonderism page — or join the open Wonderism group to take part in the discussion!

Gnu Atheism Facebook group — All gnu-friendly RRS members welcome (including Luminon!) — Try something gnu!


darth_josh
High Level DonorHigh Level ModeratorGold Member
darth_josh's picture
Posts: 2650
Joined: 2006-02-27
User is offlineOffline
natural wrote:Quote:Did

natural wrote:

Quote:
Did Sagan attract people to science with wonder? Yes. Does Dawkins attract people to science with wonder? Yes. From a pragmatic standpoint, that is where we should stop in comparative analysis of the two because those are the only facts we have. Do you see what I mean?

That is actually what I was saying in the post. Perhaps I wasn't clear.

The whole thing about method was really just a throw-away line to show that in fact differences in method are not that important. There is a deeper similarity, which I wanted to emphasize. I think the critics of Dawkins are focused on petty issues. The post was not supposed to be about method, it was supposed to be about a shared, common philosophy, underlying all of those different voices. I guess that's why I was confused by your response, as it seemed to be saying I shouldn't focus on method, when I wasn't even trying to.

It's like if two people are arguing over whether John Glenn or Neil Armstrong was the better astronaut, and I come along and say, "Actually, the two had more in common than they had differences. They both showed the values of X, Y, Z, and that's why they were both great astronauts. Let's focus on X, Y, and Z instead."

So I guess I'm still not clear on what you're saying. Do you still see a problem with what I was saying? If so, could you quote me to show me where? Maybe it was ambiguous language?

 

It was the first two paragraphs focusing on same/different philosophy and placing the generalization of 'a lot of people'.

Essentially, I was answering your questions at the end. I think the facts of difference regarding the two men preclude any examination other than subjective analysis concerning their similarities.

Now, if we were to analyze the qualities of an astrobiologist I am sure that an argument using the alleged qualities regarding the separate fields of the two men could be made. However, we would still be speculating with only our own opinions.

For instance, taking the rest of the post and replacing the first part with "Why did 'so-and-so' attract people to wonder?" without using someone else to say what the other is 'not', but what they are.

 

Atheist Books, purchases on Amazon support the Rational Response Squad server, which houses Celebrity Atheists.


Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
darth_josh wrote:It was the

darth_josh wrote:


It was the first two paragraphs focusing on same/different philosophy and placing the generalization of 'a lot of people'.

Essentially, I was answering your questions at the end. I think the facts of difference regarding the two men preclude any examination other than subjective analysis concerning their similarities.

I still don't get what you're saying. I don't think they are that different at all. Do you actually think they are that different? To me they are peas in a pod, one slightly more wrinkly than the other. What are these Earth-shattering differences you see?

Quote:
Now, if we were to analyze the qualities of an astrobiologist I am sure that an argument using the alleged qualities regarding the separate fields of the two men could be made. However, we would still be speculating with only our own opinions.

I really, truly, have absolutely no clue what you're talking about. I don't see how this is anywhere close to the territory my OP is about. Could you please put things in concrete terms, and perhaps quote me and explain your reaction to what you quote me saying?

Quote:
For instance, taking the rest of the post and replacing the first part with "Why did 'so-and-so' attract people to wonder?" without using someone else to say what the other is 'not', but what they are.

Taking the rest of the post, and replacing the first part, and what? I don't think you finished your thought there. I certainly don't understand what you're trying to say.

My OP said:

1, A lot of people say they are very different. This is true. A lot of people do say that.

2, I don't see it that way. I think they are very similar, and the only real differences are in tone, which is trivial. Do you have a problem with that idea?

3, The similarities are significant, in that they are shared by many people who all seemed to share a core philosophy about communicating the wonder of the natural universe discovered through science. Do you disagree with that?

4, Many atheists, especially 'new atheists', share these same values/philosophy, and I think it's worth pointing this out and acknowledging it. Is there a problem with that?

From what you've written, I can't make heads or tails of what you're trying to say. Sorry. I'm trying to understand, but I can't figure it out. It seems disconnected from my OP, and I can't see the connection.

Wonderist on Facebook — Support the idea of wonderism by 'liking' the Wonderism page — or join the open Wonderism group to take part in the discussion!

Gnu Atheism Facebook group — All gnu-friendly RRS members welcome (including Luminon!) — Try something gnu!


darth_josh
High Level DonorHigh Level ModeratorGold Member
darth_josh's picture
Posts: 2650
Joined: 2006-02-27
User is offlineOffline
I luv ya, but I find it

I luv ya, but I find it almost ridiculously ironic that you request 'concrete terms' when we're discussing a subjective comparative analysis of two people. lol.

 

natural wrote:
1, A lot of people say they are very different. This is true. A lot of people do say that.

2, I don't see it that way. I think they are very similar, and the only real differences are in tone, which is trivial. Do you have a problem with that idea?

And a lot of people say they are very .... It gets us nowhere.

Differences:

Astrophysicist / Evolutionary biologist

Stars / Genes

Chemistry / Taxonomy

Mathematics / Punnett Squares

 

Similarities:

Scientist / Scientist

Author / Author

Television / Television

Public Speaking / Public Speaking

What exactly does that do for us?

 

natural wrote:
3, The similarities are significant, in that they are shared by many people who all seemed to share a core philosophy about communicating the wonder of the natural universe discovered through science. Do you disagree with that?

No. I pointed to that as being truth. Both men attracted people to science using wonder. However, I don't see their similarities as significant.


natural wrote:
4, Many atheists, especially 'new atheists', share these same values/philosophy, and I think it's worth pointing this out and acknowledging it. Is there a problem with that?

I'm going to ignore the reference to 'new atheists' because it is you I am engaging and I know we are both unapologetic.

Yes, it is worth pointing out that these men quotes attracted people to science with wonder, WITHOUT referencing this line to disagree with:

"A lot of people use Carl Sagan as an example of how Richard Dawkins should change his ways to be more accommodating of religion."

Starting with that as a precept for you you to disagree with puts the concept on a defensive stance in my opinion.

With each post, I have tried to answer the questions at the end of your OP as to my subjective appraisal of the comparison and whether or not I felt it was worthwhile.

Atheist Books, purchases on Amazon support the Rational Response Squad server, which houses Celebrity Atheists.


Wonderist
atheist
Wonderist's picture
Posts: 2479
Joined: 2006-03-19
User is offlineOffline
darth_josh wrote:I luv ya,

darth_josh wrote:

I luv ya, but I find it almost ridiculously ironic that you request 'concrete terms' when we're discussing a subjective comparative analysis of two people. lol.

 

natural wrote:
1, A lot of people say they are very different. This is true. A lot of people do say that.

2, I don't see it that way. I think they are very similar, and the only real differences are in tone, which is trivial. Do you have a problem with that idea?

And a lot of people say they are very .... It gets us nowhere.

Differences:

Astrophysicist / Evolutionary biologist

Stars / Genes

Chemistry / Taxonomy

Mathematics / Punnett Squares

 

Similarities:

Scientist / Scientist

Author / Author

Television / Television

Public Speaking / Public Speaking

What exactly does that do for us?

See, this is why I was asking you to quote me directly from the OP. Here is what I actually said in the OP link:

Quote:
A lot of people use Carl Sagan as an example of how Richard Dawkins should change his ways to be more accommodating of religion. But aside from differences in 'tone', I think they have a lot more in common, in terms of their personal philosophies, than they have differences.

I clearly made several qualifications as to the subject matter of the comparison (bolded for emphasis). I'm not talking about their general lives, I'm talking about how they communicate science in regards to religion. A lot of people do, in fact, compare Sagan to Dawkins in an attempt to show that Dawkins should change to be more accommodationist. Here's an example:

Chris Mooney wrote:

But a still bigger issue is that no matter how many people see him or read him, Dawkins is no Carl Sagan. In the book, we explain how Sagan approached religion very differently from Dawkins. Especially since The God Delusion, Dawkins has become a “divider.” You either strongly like him or….you feel otherwise. That’s fine, that makes him very popular with some–but that wasn’t Sagan’s approach. Sagan strove to be a uniter–a vast difference.

We can go further. When Sagan was most prominently under fire, it was because he was taking political stands relating to science–standing up for arms control, opposing “Star Wars,” etc. And in these actions, he sought to form broad coalitions, including the religious. He was standing up for causes that everyone, every kind of person, could get behind. Dawkins, on the other hand, is standing up for a particularly uncompromising form of atheism. Again, that’s his right. But it’s vastly different from a cause like nuclear disarmament.

We encourage folks to consult our book for more on Sagan, Dawkins and religion.

Given that this is the context of comparison, I proceed to try to emphasize that aside from a minor difference in tone, their personal philosophies with regard to communicating science and religion are far more similar than those critics imagine. They are like peas in a pod in that regard, one slightly wrinklier (tone) than the other.

So, your talk of which science they study or where they grew up or whatever is completely tangential to that point, and hence why I had no idea where you were going with it.

Quote:

natural wrote:
3, The similarities are significant, in that they are shared by many people who all seemed to share a core philosophy about communicating the wonder of the natural universe discovered through science. Do you disagree with that?

No. I pointed to that as being truth. Both men attracted people to science using wonder. However, I don't see their similarities as significant.

Perhaps that's the root of our misunderstanding. Because I see it as highly significant. Have you been following the ongoing debate in the science blogs about accommodationism vs. 'new atheism'? Search: accommodationism "new atheism". It has since been framed as an 'atheist schism' (which is silly, but hey, that's what people are talking about). Search: atheist schism. This is what my post is about. If you don't see this debate as significant, then I guess it's not intended for you. However, I think it's very relevant, especially to groups like the RRS who take a strongly unapologetic approach. When faced with the critique that Dawkins (and by implication 'we') is rude and should be more like Sagan, my article provides a strong counter-argument (IMHO).

Quote:
natural wrote:
4, Many atheists, especially 'new atheists', share these same values/philosophy, and I think it's worth pointing this out and acknowledging it. Is there a problem with that?

I'm going to ignore the reference to 'new atheists' because it is you I am engaging and I know we are both unapologetic.

I wish you wouldn't ignore it, because it's a core topic of my post. To ignore it would be to completely miss the concluding point of the post. BTW, I use 'new atheists' there as the popular label for the popular authors of atheist books, blogs, etc. This includes people like PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Ophelia Benson, Russell Blackford, etc.

The whole point of the post is about how the common philosophy about communicating science via wonder a) really exists, b) is mostly unrecognized, and c) is shared by many of the outspoken and popular atheists:

Quote:
I know many, many atheists who would concur with these very same foundations.

We all have our differences of opinions, for sure. But is it also not true that many of us share more in common than merely atheism?

Given a), b), and c), I think it would be worthwhile to acknowledge this common philosophy and bring it out into the open. It can help define a subset of the recent atheism movement as more than simply 'atheists'. It also provides a well-supported method of communicating about science in relation to religion, something both Dawkins and Sagan would likely have agreed upon, despite what the critics of Dawkins say.

Quote:
Yes, it is worth pointing out that these men quotes attracted people to science with wonder, WITHOUT referencing this line to disagree with:

"A lot of people use Carl Sagan as an example of how Richard Dawkins should change his ways to be more accommodating of religion."

But that is directly relevant to the topic of attracting people to science with wonder. That's the whole reason for making the argument I'm making in the first place. People say they are so different in the communication, I say they are the same because they share this common philosophy of using wonder. That's the main point. The second point is that atheists would do well to acknowledge this, because they also (many of them) share the same philosophy.

Quote:
Starting with that as a precept for you you to disagree with puts the concept on a defensive stance in my opinion.

That's probably because it is a counter-argument to a common argument about how we should communicate science/atheism with regards to religion.

Quote:
With each post, I have tried to answer the questions at the end of your OP as to my subjective appraisal of the comparison and whether or not I felt it was worthwhile.

I think I understand much better where you were coming from. Thanks. I appreciate you taking the time to explain it to me. I wonder what your opinion is on the whole accommodationism/schism controversy? Do you really think it is irrelevant? I mean, there have been more than one book written on the topic (e.g. Mooney's Unscientific America). It's the basis of Stephen J. Gould's Non-Overlapping Magisteria Argument (NOMA).

Wonderist on Facebook — Support the idea of wonderism by 'liking' the Wonderism page — or join the open Wonderism group to take part in the discussion!

Gnu Atheism Facebook group — All gnu-friendly RRS members welcome (including Luminon!) — Try something gnu!