Monday, January 19, 2009

Atheist Quote of the Week 18

History is full of people who out of fear, or ignorance, or lust for power have destroyed knowledge of immeasurable value which truly belongs to us all. We must not let it happen again.
~Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Knowledge and its continued availability, not faith in some supreme power, is the means to immortality. In increasing somehow the sum of human understanding, even just by a small amount, and passing that knowledge on to others, we become a part of that intelligence. Though we as individuals may die and disappear, our contribution to society lives on as others use it at a starting point upon which to build their own understanding.

One depressing thing about the series The Universe is the sobering reality of the fact that someday the Earth is going to be obliterated, either by our sun dying, or by a nearby larger cosmic phenomenon, or by the universe ripping itself apart atom by atom. It is very difficult to accept that, no matter what we do or how hard we try to survive, reproduce, and pass on our experiences to the next generation, someday all of our effort will disappear, as if it had never happened at all. It's important to focus on the present, sure, and the pursuit of knowledge has innate value, but no matter what we do to prevent ignorant human beings from destroying sources of human understanding, someday our universe will destroy every hint that we ever existed not due to malice, but due to the laws of physics. I can see why believing there is intelligence controlling the universe is comforting, because knowing that it is simply the sum total of fundamental forces with no central mind to choose to protect us is terrifying. Nothing out there cares what happens to our tiny little planet in our insignificant corner of the universe, and we can't make anything care, no matter how smart we are, or how nice we are, or how much we want to believe in its existence. It's not there. Nothing is out there caring about our little primate species, or about anything at all whatsoever.

We need to stop hoping that something out there will protect us and save us from destruction, because nothing will. Someday, each and every one of us will die. Far in the distant future, someday our planet will be obliterated and all evidence of our existence will disappear. There's nothing we can do about that. We need to focus on what is innately valuable, even if it will inevitably be lost in the future - we need to forget about our petty disputes over land and resources and (pettiest of all) religious worship sites. We need to work together to achieve great things and improve the quality of life for everyone. If each generation is happier and more peaceful than the last, and each one increases our knowledge of the universe, then we are doing valuable things with our lives. It's important to focus on the big picture. Life is too short and the capabilities of human beings are too unusual to waste both on war and religious dogma.

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