The 'Commandments' of Carl Sagan
I found myself turning to my "Bible" last week, but not the Old Testament nor the New. No, the closest thing to a holy book I adhere to is The Demon Haunted World, Carl Sagan's enduring treatise on science and skepticism. As I picked through its pages, slowing my skimming here and there to absorb some of my favorite passages, I wondered what lessons of Sagan's laid down in his book would compare to the biblical Ten Commandments put forth thousands of years prior? I distilled eight, but perhaps a few Sagan fans could provide more?
Here they are, with supporting quotes from Sagan written underneath:
Thou shalt show humility in all things.
“We have not been given the lead in the cosmic drama. Perhaps someone else has? Perhaps no one else has? In either case, we have good reason for humility.”
“Our memories are fallible; even scientific truth is merely an approximation; and we are ignorant about nearly all the Universe.”
Thou shalt demand evidence for claims to knowledge.
“If it were widely understood that claims to knowledge require adequate evidence before they can be accepted, there would be no room for pseudoscience.”
Thou shalt show kindness towards all human beings.
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the Pale Blue Dot."
Thou shalt cherish and preserve our planet.
“In all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate… Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.”
Thous shalt think scientifically.
“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it’s a way of thinking… every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test our ideas against he outside world, we are doing science.”
Thou shalt question authority.
“If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan, political or religious, that comes ambling along.”
“I wish that the both of citizenship taken by recent immigrants, and the pledge that students routinely recite, included something like ‘I promise to question everything my leaders tell me’”
Thou shalt always be curious and willing to learn.
“Bright, curious children are a national and world resource. They need to be cared for, cherished, and encouraged.”
Thou shalt treat everyone equally, judging them on their merits.
“Instead of judging people on their individual merits and deficits, we concentrate on one or two bouts of information about them, and then place them in a small number of previously constructed pigeonholes. This saves the trouble of thinking, at the price in many cases of committing a profound injustice.”
(It should be noted that one shouldn't follow these "commandments" based on Sagan's authority alone – he wouldn't have wanted that. Rather, one must critically analyze and judge them according to the facts and one's own ideals.)