“You can’t lie yourself to Mars.”
In this partial quote by Ann Druyan, wife of and collaborator with esteemed late cosmologist Carl Sagan, she is referring to the truths of science in relation to the fancies of pseudo-science and religion, which are often proclaimed as “divine truths.”
In other words, Druyan is fairly implying that even employing the entirety of ancient religious scripture not only can’t get us to Mars but can’t even get us into orbit around our own planet. That requires testable, verifiable, repeatable facts. Which is to say, science.
This is important to note in our current, hopefully temporary “post-truth” moment in American history, where nonfactual “fake news,” “alternative facts” and political spin are ascendant in influence over public discourse.
Druyan was speaking at the opening late last year of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) West in Los Angeles, California, and the inauguration of the center’s Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan Theater. The CFI is a nontheist activist organization that, according to its website, “strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”
Prominent international atheism promoter Richard Dawkins, whose book The God Delusion (2006) was a seminal catalyst of the New Atheists movement in the first decade of the new millennium, spoke of Sagan from the audience at the CFI inaugural festivities.
“I was a huge admirer of Carl,” Dawkins said. “Carl was a modern Shakespeare.”
But the poetry of science was the language used by astronomer, including in the script he co-wrote with his wife of the hugely popular 13-episode Cosmos science series they produced for PBS (in 1980).
During her remarks at the CFI inaugural, Druyan thanked Dawkins for his tribute to her husband and lamented that the well-earned reputation of science and reason as “a shining light in the darkness” was under attack now in this “dark time” in America.
Druyan’s use of the term “darkness” harkens back to Carl Sagan’s 1997 best-seller The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, which debunked a litany of pseudo-science, paranormal and supernatural concepts.
Noting how empowering it is “to be surrounded by people to whom it matters what’s true,” Druyan was quoted by Skeptical Inquirer (SI) magazine as also saying, “Science delivers the goods. You can’t lie yourself to Mars.”
She explained, SI wrote, that space missions, for example, “require thousands of steps, and all of them better be done correctly.”
“None of them can be B.S.,” she said.
But B.S. remains the order of the day in the present fact-averse Trumpian world.
The SI article pointed out that the same week CFI inaugurated its center and theater, both devoted to science and reason, the New Yorker magazine published a feature article online that investigated the surging appeal with younger Americans of pseudo-scientific astrology (not to be confused with actual scientific astronomy). The article noted that young people are “looking for meaning in an uncertain world.”
One might emphasize that much of the current uncertainty is caused by a new enthusiasm for discrediting demonstrable facts, and for politicians and government officials knowingly lying when characterizing them as something else.
“Astrology is another form of prejudice,” Druyan said with disappointment that it is becoming culturally more accepted in the U.S. “It judges a person on some things that are completely meaningless.”
As you think about this, keep in mind Encyclopaedia Britannica’s definition of this ancient pseudo-science:
“[A] type of divination that involves the forecasting of earthly and human events through the observation and interpretation of the fixed stars, the Sun, the Moon, and the planets. Devotees believe that an understanding of the influence of the planets and stars on earthly affairs allows them to both predict and affect the destinies of individuals, groups, and nations. Though often regarded as a science throughout its history, astrology is widely considered today to be diametrically opposed to the findings and theories of modern Western science.”
In other words, it’s a fanciful invention that somehow has long appealed to human minds.
It’s important to remember, as you’re reading your horoscope, that the useless information you glean will not transpsort you across the room much less to any of the heavenly bodies it is supposedly based on.
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