One World, Two Views
It's important to realize that often times the conversations revolving around science are not scientific conversations – rather they are philosophical and/or theological conversations taking place in the background of scientific thoughts, ideas and discoveries.
One example of such a conversation has to do with our place in the universe. Or, as Carl Sagan put it – where are we in the universe and who are we. For Sagan, the answers were related. As we shall see, though, the ID movement and those of a similar mindset have a different perspective on the matter.
Carl Sagan's View
For Sagan, the cosmos tell us that the universe (or at least our role in it) is inherently meaningless and insignificant. There is nothing special about us, nothing of particular note.
But, Sagan assures us, not all is lost – there is still hope. While there is no outside, independent source of meaning or significance, there is an internal source. We can give our lives meaning and "make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers."
If we ask good questions and come up with solid, deep answers then life and even the cosmos themselves will become significant. How? He doesn't say. But it sounds good – and evidently that's enough for us to move on.
And move on he does as he immediately segues into an inspirational call to action. We are told that "exploration is in our nature" and as such, we should set our sails in a new ocean – the ocean of the night sky. We have a new horizon to conquer, new worlds to discover.
The Message Is Clear
In Sagan's view, the message is clear (albeit not explicitly stated). There is no G-d Who created us in His image. We are not holy beings created with a higher purpose in mind. To bring in similar viewpoints from the likes of Stephen Hawking and various evolutionary biologists – we are a cosmic mistake, a brief moment on the evolutionary timeline. There is nothing special or significant about us. We are just byproducts of an impersonal, uncaring, totally natural world. Nothing more and nothing less.
Most likely, Sagan et al knows that our questions and answers (no matter how courageous or how deep) and all the other ways that we attempt to bestow meaning upon our lives and this world are really futile attempts. No matter what we do or how we do it, the simple fact will remain that we are a lonely, insignificant, unintended result of a blind, inpersonal cosmological process that has no interest or awareness of us and what we do.
Such a reality can't really be made significant. At best, it can be dealt with or psychologically transcended. That is why Sagan can't let his words about the insignificance of our place in the universe take their full effect. He has to give us an indication that there is some way out of this hopeless situation. The idea is just too depressing and debilitating to deal with otherwise. We'd either commit suicide, drink ourselves into oblivion or both.
That's also why we need the quest to once again explore new worlds. Beyond the courage of our questions, we can also tap into our exploratory nature (after all, if it's natural, it must be good and followed). So, says Sagan, take advantage of this innate nature of ours and move on. Join in the wonder of it all – the grandeur of discovering the unkown, exploring the yet to be explored. Surely it will be marvelous. Surely it will be worth it. And it's far better than sinking into the deep depression that my view of the universe really demands.
The ID View
The ID view doesn't dispute the facts of Sagan. We are still talking about the same universe with the same number of galaxies, stars and planets. But in the ID view, it's not the number of planets or their position which determines whether or not we are significant and/or wanted, but rather what it takes for us to be here (or anywhere) in the first place. In other words, fine-tuning has replaced position.
The old model of the universe had us placed in the center of the universe – a fact which seemed geometrically significant and by extension indicated that we were of prime importance and significance. The new model doesn't allow for geometric significance. As Sagan so clearly points out, geometrically speaking we are as insignificant as can be in the universe as we now understand it.
But, ironically enough, Sagan is philosophically working in the old model. He took the time to note that the new model of the universe undermines the philosophical ramifications of the old model. What he didn't do is take the time to see what would be considered philosophically significant within the framework of the new model of the universe. Sagan scientifically moved on, philosophically, though, he's still stuck in the geometric viewpoint of the universe.
The ID community, though, did move on and did take the time to understand what makes us significant in our modern understanding of the universe. In the universe that we inhabit, position does not (directly) indicate significance. But existence (or rather what it takes to have existence) does.
To have a planet full of life does not seem to be such a simple task. In fact, it seems to be a rather difficult task. And in that context, position itself has actually taken on a new meaning. When we look at the universe and our position in it – we find that we are once again placed in a significant spot. This time, though, the spot is significant not because of it's geometric importance, but because of it's technical importance.
The spot that we inhabit enables us to be here. We are placed just where we need be in order to exist. The right distance from the sun, at the right tilt of the axis, and in the right spot in the galaxy.
What's more, it seems that there is nothing in the laws of physics or statistical probability that indicates that the earth should both inhabit this fortunate position and also possess all the other qualities, properties and factors that are necessary for life to exist.
And so, argues the ID movement, it seems that the cosmos themselves are once again stating that we are wanted and echoing that which we already knew from the Chumash. As such, we don't need to create our own meaning and significance. Rather we need to discover that meaning and purpose for which we were created.
The Real Conversation
As is plain to see, the real conversation is not about how many stars there are or our position in relation to them. The real conversation is about the meaning of life and where that meaning comes from. In other words, this is a philosophical conversation, not a scientific one. Science is just the background within which the conversation takes place.
There is an important point that we can glean from this. Namely, that scientists are not necessarily experts in philosophy. In fact, they may be rather poor philosophers at time. As such, we need to differentiate between the scientists ability to discover how our world works and his ability to understand the meaning of his discoveries.
If the scientist wants to engage in philosophical conversations, that's fine, but he should do so as a philosopher, not as a scientist. To claim special philosophical insight because of their scientific understanding is to abuse their status as scientists.
Another point we can glean from this is that these types of conversations do not end just because the facts change. Whether or not life is meaningful and has inherent purpose is not dependent upon whether or not the earth is in the center of the universe or is finely placed within a immensely vast universe.
What it is dependent on, among other things, is whether or not there is a Creator Who willingly created us for a particular purpose. The question then becomes whether or not the cosmos provides confirmation of that point. If our view of the cosmos change, then the way that we seek to answer that question also needs to change. Carol Sagan's mistake was not to take this fact into account. In this regard, the ID movement is much more in touch with the philosophical significance of modern cosmology than Sagan was or other modern scientist are.
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