The rational appeal of science

John Scalzi explains rather more than I think he intended:

When I was eleven, I thought Carl Sagan was the coolest guy in the world. And that was because he was speaking right at me. At the age of 11, in 1980, I was a kid utterly convinced that he was going to grow up to be an astronomer — I loved the stars, I loved the science, I loved the toys — and here on my TV came Sagan, suave in his red turtleneck and buff jacket, surrounded by special effects and Vangelis music and telling everyone (but especially me) about how the cosmos is everything that ever was, everything that is, and everything that ever will be.

I fell for Carl with the sort of blissful rapture that I strongly suspect is only available to pre-pubescent geeks, a sort of nerd cursh that, to be clear, had no sexual component, but had that same sort of swoony intensity. This was the guy I wanted to be, when I was age eleven.

I have no doubt that there are those who genuinely discover a lifelong devotion to Truth via a rational process. But as Scalzi illustrates here, the ironic reality is that most self-proclaimed dedication to rationalism has a basis in irrational emotion, which is why it is usually so very easy to demonstrate that their rationality is, in fact, nonexistent.

Does anyone believe that Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins have given up on the idea that religion causes or enables war? Now, it is likely that neither of them have encountered my criticisms of their arguments, but even if they had, there is almost no chance that either of them would modify their irrational, ignorant position one iota, Dawkins’ little story about his fellows clapping “their hands red” notwithstanding.

Science is an ideal every bit as unattainable on this Earth as Jesus Christ; the theoretical arguments about scientific detachment fail (ironically again) in the face of the empirical evidence.

I’m not criticizing Scalzi here, quite to the contrary, I admire his continued attachment to his childhood ideal. Considering that mine was apparently an amalgamation of Richard Garriot, John Taylor and JRR Tolkein, he appears to have escaped lightly. But I see it as a good example of the way personal development actually works in human beings, as opposed to the way that most rationalists would like to believe it works.