It is the story of Kepler, born into a superstitious dark age, who found the laws of planetary motion – and found that they did not agree with his dearest illusions of cosmic order.
This is the heart of science – throwing away the most closely held, the most heart-felt of beliefs – because they do not agree with the data, they do not agree with the world we live in.
Which is what terrifies and angers me about the current rally of superstition and pseudoscience. It is a system that allows arguments like “oh, it’s been done for thousands of years” or “oh, it’s what we believe.” Kepler spent six years getting his mother cleared on charges of witchcraft. How many years could he have put humanity ahead if that had not happened?
Skeptics, we may be the last hope of the world. As Carl Sagan said in “The Demon Haunted World,” in 1995.
“I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”