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On Predicting Sagan's Orbits

How is it that Carl Sagan, "America's best-known space scientist," is so predictable in his public policy commitments? How is it that a person who claims to be led by "scientific evidence" regularly ends up defending the latest collectivist fad? From the portent of a nuclear winter to myths of environmental disaster, Sagan consistently arrives on the scene like a high-priest of scientism.

The high priest has recently spoken again. This time he has used his authority in astronomy to evaluate the scientific questions surrounding abortion -- a nice leap.

In "Is it Possible to be Pro-Life and Pro-Choice?," Sagan and his co-author grieve that "minds are closed" on this issue. He claims to oppose the absolutism of both sides and offer a sane, open-minded, middle ground between all the "partisan flinging of accusations."

Now who could oppose sanity and the middle ground? Sagan and his co-author even confess their own humble open-mindedness on the issue: "We wrote this article to understand better what the contending views are and to see if we ourselves could find a position that would satisfy us both." Persuasive stuff. Oh, despite the breast beating about compromise and open-mindedness, the authors conclude that "we find Roe. v. Wade to be a good and prudent decision." Surprise, Surprise.

Sagan has to devote a few paragraphs to critiquing Pro-abortionists, such as questioning whether they would really support abortion just prior to delivery. Sagan concludes that Pro-abortionists who would allow such late term abortions are simply dismissing an entire category of human beings, which is a move characteristic of the "injustice" of "sexism, racism, nationalism, and religious fanaticism" -- a trendy slander of Christianity for good measure.

Nevertheless, the bulk of the critique is predictably aimed at Pro-life arguments.

First, Sagan suggests that no major group truly holds to a "right to life" since most people kill animals and plants daily. Pro-life advocates are primarily concerned with protecting human life. We are supposed to feel guilty for this, though, in fact, it is a Sagan-style collectivism which is responsible for most environmental damage.

Second, Sagan informs us that life does not begin at conception since it is an "unbroken chain dating back" long ago. This would be a beautiful smokescreen if it didn't impose his own religious outlook and equivocate between classes and individuals -- minor difficulties for the open-minded.

Third, Sagan enlightens us with the fact that sperm, eggs, and fertilized eggs are each "alive." And since fertilized eggs require "certain circumstances" and often perish naturally, then "neither a sperm and egg separately, nor a fertile egg, is more than a potential baby." So if we don't grant special protection to sperm and eggs, then we shouldn't grant special protection to fertilized eggs. But the ridiculous premise is that an individual sperm is a potential baby. Did Sagan miss health class? If an individual sperm is a potential adult, then is a hub cap a potential Porsche? No, of course not, and Sagan himself later concedes the difference between "genetic halves" and wholes.

Sagan even takes time to dance around Old and New Testaments (tripping over a mistranslation of Ex. 21:22 in the process).

The high priest continues his "open minded" case against the Pro-life position by labeling it an "outrageous posture." He describes the unborn child at points as "a parasite" that "sucks blood," a "worm," a "tadpole," as having a "reptilian face," a "piglike" face, and a "primate." Who else but someone drenched in the cultural myths of modern scientism could impose such a caricature?

These sorts of religious outbursts in the midst of a supposedly dispassionate analysis at least provide an answer to my original question. Why is Sagan so predictable? He, like us all, has basic commitments which dictate his conclusions.

The high priest of scientism is driven by a religious commitment, but he maintains the charade of "open- mindedness" since such an approach is much more culturally acceptable.

The important question is: which religious commitments are defensible and true? The important lesson is that the abortion debate, like so many others, is not ultimately fought in the field of science but in the field of ethics. And this is where Sagan will fail so miserably and predictably. DMJ

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