December 20th, 2006


One Year Ago Today: NYC Transit Strike and a Blow to Intelligent Design

On December 20, 2005, two events of significance took place.

The first one mainly affected New Yorkers. The workers for the MTA, which runs the subway and buses in New York City, went on strike and forced commuters to find other ways to get to work. If I recall correctly, the strike only lasted for one day, but it did turn that Tuesday into an adventure for many of my friends.

The other event was the ruling in the case of Kitzmiller et. al. v. Dover School District. Judge John Jones declared that intelligent design had no place in a public school science curriculum, as it violated the separation of church and state. Jones said that the entire point of the ID movement was to promote religion. As of today, the ID movement has not recovered from this blow; in fact, the Dover School Board was overturned last year, even before the ruling came down.

If you're interested in these blasts from the past, you can see what I said on this day last year here. My entries for the day included good wishes to my New York City friends and choice quotes from the court ruling.

My Contribution to the Carl Sagan Blog-a-thon

As many of you may already know, today is the tenth anniversary of Carl Sagan's passing. Bloggers around the world are participating in a blog-a-thon to commemorate Carl Sagan, and here's my contribution.

I never met Sagan, although a few years ago Nomi and I had the pleasure of meeting his son Nick at the Boston World Science Fiction Convention. But it would not be exaggerating to say that Sagan had a major influence on my life. His PBS TV show Cosmos came out when I was a kid, and I was enthralled by it. I watched every episode of the show as many times as I could. We didn't have a VCR then, and DVDs didn't exist, so my only chance to watch it was when PBS chose to broadcast it.

I remember certain scenes vividly, such as the scenes with actors portraying Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, as Sagan discussed the history behind our understanding of planetary motion. I loved the spaceship of the mind that Sagan rode through the universe, allowing viewers to witness astronomical phenomena up close. And I will never forget the lesson imparted by the final episode, "Who Speaks for Earth?" in which Sagan told his viewers that all of us living on the planet have the right to speak for Earth.

For years afterwards, I read Sagan's books, always delighted by the plain-spoken way in which he presented difficult concepts. Although there were points with which I disagreed with Sagan, I always appreciated the way he made me think. If I had to credit any one person with inculcating a love of astronomy in me, it would have to be Carl Sagan.

Years later, when I found myself teaching astronomy, I made a point of showing as many episodes of Cosmos as I could to my classes. I can only hope they got the same sense of wonder out of the series that I did.