One more point about Carl Sagan and Cosmos – in the last episode, Sagan makes explicit the connection he appears to draw throughout the series between the value of critical thinking in the scientific realm and the value of critical thinking in all human endeavors. While standing in a recreated library of Alexandria, he asks why the knowledge of the Ancients failed to bring us swiftly into the Enlightenment and instead disintegrated into the Dark Ages, only to reemerge hundreds of years later.
I cannot give you a simple answer, but I do know this. There is no record in the entire history of the library that any of the illustrious scholars and scientists who worked here, ever seriously challenged a single political, or economic, or religious assumption of the society in which they lived. The permanence of the stars was questioned – the justice of slavery was not.”
I’ve written several times before on the connection between atheism and social justice, the skeptical movement and other political movements. I’ve argued that anyone who cares about the religiosity of a society also needs to care about politics – that the two are intertwined and cannot be untangled, and that perhaps it is even the political and social arrangements of a society that have the greatest impact on the level and destructiveness of its religiosity. I can’t say how pleased I was to see Sagan invoking the same point – science without a social conscience cannot justify itself all on its own, and if we challenge the irrationality of theism but not of oppression, it is quite possible we will, in the long run, accomplish very little indeed.