Neil deGrasse Tyson is the new Carl Sagan

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This is probably not news to anyone who has seen him speak before, but I’m pretty well convinced that Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is the new Carl Sagan.

I watched some of the videos from Beyond Belief 2006 meeting, which as far as I can tell was an attempt by evangelical atheists to convert other academics to be evangelical atheists, so that eventually everyone in the U.S. will become evangelical atheists. (By the way, this plan gives a whole new spin to the term “delusion”, as the skeptical anthropologist Melvin Konner pointed out in his rambling, disorganized, but ultimately wise critique of the get-rid-of-religion folks.) The meeting was written up by the New York Times today, and the ID blogs are all happily clucking with disdain about it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson gave the final talk of the meeting, and thankfully, instead of bitter sniping at academics who have any empathy for religious people, which seems to have been the main activity of this meeting, Tyson took the only realistic route that scientists actually have to increase public support for science, and that is to explain why science is so important, cool, and amazing. I had only previously seen Tyson on PBS a bit, and recently on The Colbert Report, dissing Pluto and other pitiful iceballs.

While mocking iceballs is good fun, that short clip doesn’t get you the full picture of Tyson in action. Give him 30 minutes and a lecture hall, and watch him remind you what science is really about. (Link to huge mp4 file.)

(Note: Tyson’s talk is about the last third of the last mp4 file on this page. The mp4 file is 218 MB, so Right-Click, Save As to download, and give it a good 10-20 minutes. Maybe some friendly tech wizard could stop by, extract the Tyson lecture, put it on YouTube, and link to it in the comments.)

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That guy, Larry Moran…he seems to have been the final straw to tip a whole lot of people into twitterpated consternation. In particular, Ed Brayton, that sad panjandrum of the self-satisfied mean, medium, middle, moderate, and mediocre, has decl... Read More

152 Comments

Indeed, the evangelical atheists have all gone crazy.

The following excerpt from the article is revealing, I think:

By the third day, the arguments had become so heated that Dr. Konner was reminded of “a den of vipers.”

“With a few notable exceptions,” he said, “the viewpoints have run the gamut from A to B. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?”

His response to Mr. Harris and Dr. Dawkins was scathing. “I think that you and Richard are remarkably apt mirror images of the extremists on the other side,” he said, “and that you generate more fear and hatred of science.”

Dr. Tyson put it more gently. “Persuasion isn’t always ‘Here are the facts — you’re an idiot or you are not,’ “ he said. “I worry that your methods” — he turned toward Dr. Dawkins — “how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence.”

Chastened for a millisecond, Dr. Dawkins replied, “I gratefully accept the rebuke.”

*****

Indeed, you want to create hatred against science? Go on like that. How stupid.

We want that America falls behind in science and loses out to other nations? Evangelical atheism is the best weapon to achieve just that. Talking about shooting yourself in the foot with a nuclear bomb.

Indeed, as you pointed out, Nick, what a delusion some atheists suffer from, when they think they can convert the world to science by stomping on religion.

It’s not even necessary. You can be a believer and fully embrace science – I do.

Create awe for the natural world – I am all for it. But that’s all you need to do. Stick to science, and let all other things go the way they will go, one way or the other. In my case, awe for the natural world turned into more awe for God, for others it may turn out differently. But this is not the business of science.

Oh, I forgot, you cannot embrace science unless you embrace philosophical materialism. Yeah, we’ve heard that one before. If some atheists in their philosophical ignorance cannot distinguish between methodological materialism and philosophical materialim, they show that they are plain uninformed. Well, if you want to pride yourself to be a “rational” and “clear thinker”, you need to be an informed thinker, first and foremost.

Seriously, Nick, you guys at NCSE might need to write a follow-up book on “Not in Our Classrooms”: against promotion of atheism in science class, just like religion should not be promoted in science class, and also campaign with other means for that. I know, you guys probably will be very reluctant to do such thing, but if things continue this way, you might simply have no other choice in a few months.

And I can tell you that: big media attention will be guaranteed, and with this is almost guaranteed will be a hot new national debate about the issue, and science will have to rethink what it is and wants to be about: just science or primitive ideology.

Time to go big. Putting a little post on Panda’s Thumb like your above one doesn’t cut it.

How good is he at not saying “Billions and billions”? ;-)

Seriously, he is very good at what he does.

I realize that of course this post will be inundated with hundreds of replies before I return from work in 12 hours, but maybe I can squeeze one in before the deluge.

What, exactly, is the import of the term “evangelical” in the post supposed to be? Inasmuch as it means anything at all – and I know for a fact that Nick Matzke is not echoing the “hurr, atheism = just another religion lol” crowd – it just seems to mean “someone who wants to persuade other people that something is true”.

Why should “wanting to believe true things and disbelive false things” be disparaged with such an epithet?

I know that the NCSE does an excellent job, I am just saying that the situation appears to be drastically changing. ID may not be the main enemy anymore, but Dawkins & Company who, in their clumsy materialistic philosophical ignorance and simplemindedness, are on their best way to quickly and swiftly destroy the reputation of science in their efforts to “promote” it. It may turn out to be much worse than ID ever was. The battle lines are clearly hardening, and reaction is needed.

To clarify: with “no atheism in the classroom” I meant not just direct promotion in the classroom, but also indirect, by atheism as the public face (ouch) of science.

I see no need for yet another pointless 400-post religious war, so I won’t speak to that.

But I’ve heard Tyson on NPR a few times, and he is indeed an articulate, interesting and captivating speaker – a worthy successor to the much-missed Dr Sagan.

Seems like we have some evangelical agnostics as well.

By the way, just in case someone wonders if I pull the idea out of my hat that atheism in the classroom is unwanted by the NCSE:

Eugenie C. Scott wrote in a 1997 article about the Pope speaking out positively about evolution:

“I suggest that one’s personal beliefs should be kept out of the classroom whether one is a believer or a nonbeliever. Using the classroom to indoctrinate students to any belief or nonbelief is, first of all, a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution’s establishment clause; second, it will be misleading to students who will have difficulty separating science as a way of knowing from personal philosophy; and third, it is bad strategy for anyone concerned about the public understanding of evolution.”

The link was:

www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/ 1480_creationists_and_the_pope39_12_22_2003.asp

but it is now broken.

(If you doubt that she said that, just type “I suggest that one’s personal beliefs should be kept out of the classroom” or other parts of the quote into Google and see which link comes up.)

It’s about time someone gave Dawkins the bitch-slap he deserved. I’ve never heard of Tyson or Konner, but if they can publicly rebuke Dawkins – and make him like it – I’m starting to like them already.

Here is what evangelical atheism means to me (and I may very well be one of them):

It’s time to *respect* people of faith by arguing with them. Here is an example. Aboriginese have an oral tradition which says they have always lived in Australia. But genetics proves they share the same haplogroups as populations living in India and SE Asia. The Aboriginese’ faith in their oral tradition has led them to a factual error.

How should a knowledgable scientist handle this if it came up in a discussion with an Aboriginal? Talk to him a sappy-sweet tone and say, “Our Western science suggests your people may be decended from others who migrated from SE Asia. Of course, science is just one way of knowing and your oral tradition is equally valid.”

Bullshit.

That approach is DISRESPECTFUL to the aboriginal in question because it treats him like a child, assuming he can’t handle a weighty discussion of one of his core beliefs. He’s wrong, period, and scientists should say so. Nobody is served by allowing a plainly wrong belief to go unchallenged.

Creationists are wrong, and scientists should say so when ever the issue comes up. We should not be treating religious beliefs as if they are off-limits for serious challenge in polite company. I’m not advocating an approach in which we call the other person an idiot if they don’t agree with us. I’m only saying we should not be shy about having such discussions.

as far as I can tell was an attempt by evangelical atheists to convert other academics to be evangelical atheists, so that eventually everyone in the U.S. will become evangelical atheists.

I think that phrase does not mean what you think it means. If you want to see real evangelical atheists, look here.

Seriously, Nick, you guys at NCSE might need to write a follow-up book on “Not in Our Classrooms”: against promotion of atheism in science class

Strange thing; I read the entire NY Times article, and nowhere did I see mention of promoting atheism in the classroom. In fact the word “classroom” was not used in that article.

That’s the trouble with religion. It teaches people that making **** up is just as legitimate as actually providing evidence. Now if you can provide some actual evidence that the conference attendees want to promote atheism in the classroom, you come back and provide that evidence.

Wamba wrote:

Strange thing; I read the entire NY Times article, and nowhere did I see mention of promoting atheism in the classroom. In fact the word “classroom” was not used in that article.

That was not the point. It was about what the NCSE cares about, and I also had clarified:

“with “no atheism in the classroom” I meant not just direct promotion in the classroom, but also indirect, by atheism as the public face (ouch) of science.” (145852) Thus, the public face of science is (should be) very much the concern of the NCSE.

Oh, I’m sorry. Seems I’ve stumbled into the Uncommon Descent forums in error. I’ll go back to searching for The Panda’s Thumb now. Thank you.

… and no doubt, certain science teachers who would already be inclined to connect science to atheism, but did not do so yet, will likely be encouraged by the recent wave of “scientific” (yeah right) anti-religion campaign to actually make that connection.

Use science to teach people how to think and question using a well established mechanism in the scientific method. Evangelical atheists should understand that down the road this can only help their cause, but they seem to lack patience, which is funny because the development of science is all about patiently waiting through experiments.

While I am very sympathetic to the atheist cause (I am an atheist), bashing religion with science will indeed only turn people off of science. It will also dissuade people from looking at scientists as authority figures, which can only hurt in today’s political climate.

But, the nature of an evangelical makes it impossible for them to not bash competing religions using whatever tools are at hand.

Use science to teach people how to think and question using a well established mechanism in the scientific method. Evangelical atheists should understand that down the road this can only help their cause, but they seem to lack patience, which is funny because the development of science is all about patiently waiting through experiments.

While I am very sympathetic to the atheist cause (I am an atheist), bashing religion with science will indeed only turn people off of science. It will also dissuade people from looking at scientists as authority figures, which can only hurt in today’s political climate.

But, the nature of an evangelical makes it impossible for them to not bash competing religions using whatever tools are at hand.

… and no doubt, certain science teachers who would already be inclined to connect science to atheism, but did not do so yet, will likely be encouraged by the recent wave of “scientific” (yeah right) anti-religion campaign to actually make that connection.

That was not the point.

What is the point, Mr. Moritz? Suppose I ask, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Do you understand that it would be wrong of me to suggest that you beat your wife if I have no evidence that it is true? Do you understand that suggesting that you be stopped from continually beating your wife implies an accusation that you do indeed beat your wife? Are you getting my point, or is this too subtle?

“with “no atheism in the classroom” I meant not just direct promotion in the classroom, but also indirect, by atheism as the public face (ouch) of science.” (145852) Thus, the public face of science is (should be) very much the concern of the NCSE.

I see. So you are saying that the NCSE opposes freedom of speech, or should oppose freedom of speech.

Nick Wrote:

By the way, this plan gives a whole new spin to the term “delusion”

It’s good of you to admit that the plan to convert all of America to “evangelical atheism” is delusional, since that plan happens to be something you invented entirely on your own in this comment.

FastEddie:

Creationists are wrong, and scientists should say so when ever the issue comes up.

Isn’t there a difference between pointing out factual errors and trying to prove the unprovable?

Yes, observation and modern interpretation of the natural world is pushing God farther and farther away, but in the same way that we can say “We haven’t nailed down the details of the origin of life… yet”, we can also say “We haven’t proved there’s no God… yet.”

I think it’s been pointed out before that if someone is genuinely naive or duped, lashing out at them is going to just make them run away, not listen. I think we made that mistake with Evolution?, though to be fair he did come on like a troll at first.

If however, they’re being deliberately deceptive, game on.

Re: comment 145876. I agree with Deepsix. A thread filled with repeated supercilious declarations by the likes of Moritz who is so fond of instructing readers where the ulimate truth is, hardly makes PT worth reading.

Deepsix and reader: instead of merely calling Moritz’s comments “supercililious,” and hinting that differing opinions like his have no place on this forum, why don’t you try to, you know, refute them or prove them wrong? We’ve been happy to do that with creationists, so this shouldn’t be a problem – if you can prove him wrong, that is…

Atheists are a small minority, especially in the US. Even more so are strong atheists like Dawkins or Benneth. Atheists are practically all pro-science. While not all religious people are anti-science, almost all anti-science people are religious. Therefore, attacking atheists and labeling them with derogatory epithets like “evangelical” or asserting that they are “crazy,” is hardly helpful in the struggle for ensuring science its proper status.

God is the ultimate politician: all things to all people. This Baylor research gives the basic idea of it. God has the important role of validating your opinions on controversial subjects: He agrees with you! People are brought up to associate their deepest feelings, including fears, with God and church. God’s continued popularity seems assured.

Nevertheless, the God-is-a-right-winger politicians and the creationists have succeeded in provoking people to argue about God and religion. A number of thoughtful people think religion, including belief in God and the like, has major negative aspects. One certainly can not expect the latter group not to express themselves. The best place to dispute their views is Pharyngula.

How will it all play out? Only time will tell.

Deepsix and reader: instead of merely calling Moritz’s comments “supercililious,” and hinting that differing opinions like his have no place on this forum, why don’t you try to, you know, refute them or prove them wrong?

I think it’s because I already accomplished that.

Re: comment 145891 by Raging Bee. Everybody including Moritz may post a comment on this blog, expressing whichever views he/she adheres to. However, when a commenter repeats his notions time and time again, this is a display of superciliousness and of an inflated ego. BTW, Raging Bee: please use a spellchek. Chiao.

Mark Perakh wrote:

Therefore, attacking atheists and labeling them with derogatory epithets like “evangelical” or asserting that they are “crazy,” is hardly helpful in the struggle for ensuring science its proper status.

I did not call all atheists crazy. However, I do think that those who think that they need to “replace” religion with science show a fervor that can be called nothing but “evangelical”, and yes, I do think their efforts are “crazy” - or otherwise entirely delusional. And those efforts are indeed hardly helpful in the struggle for ensuring science its proper status.

What, exactly, is the import of the term “evangelical” in the post supposed to be?

A rather juvenile attempt to pick a fight.

People commonly say ‘evangelical atheist’ when they actually mean ‘hostile atheist’. I presume that these people don’t actually mean to say that atheists, unlike believers of different philosophies, should not promote their beliefs. Criticising someone as being an ‘evangelical atheist’ gives just this impression though. A little more caution when choosing words is in order.

If the discussions were heated, and Dawkins “rebuked”, it hardly looks like a session devoted to making all Americans “evangelical atheists”. And although I doubt it was Dawkins’ intention, I think he has diverted IDists considerably from their PR about ID being science, toward nakedly religious attacks upon atheism.

ID woke a lot of (generally irreligious) scientists up to the fact that constantly making room for religion has not produced a great deal of respect for science. So they get together and take the gloves off, after a good couple of decades when their opponents had their gloves off and were fighting science to its very core (conservative) epistemology. What is wrong with that?

Many religions have accommodated science, however well or poorly. Many religious people have taken on science as if it were demonic and already militantly atheistic. The idea that somehow science is going to lose out because some few scientists have decided to take the anti-science side at their word—that science is opposed to their idiotic religious assumptions—is more than a little absurd. Religion has been long coddled, and it is time to point out that some religions are simply wrong and dishonest (or that they all are, but I myself have never gunned at those who simply add superfluous concepts without denying solid science and good epistemology).

Basically, promoting any idea, including rabid-bat religions, is okay in America—oh, except for atheism. Get out there and say the obvious, that God has no clothes, body, or mind, and you’re the bad guy. What is the rationale for that?

Tyson’s fine (I watched a bit of ScienceNow (Nova), he being the moderator), however it’s absurd to call him the “next Sagan”. Sagan was definitely more nuanced in his atheism than is Dawkins (or PZ), yet he did a good job of showing how much better science was than religion at dealing with the wonders of the universe. Tyson himself appears to do well at revealing the power and strength of science, however he shies away from doing the obvious, demonstrating that science does a much better job than do the old ways, including religion and scholasticism.

What might soften the edges of science’s inevitable conflicts with religion would be to show how the ideas of “material” evidence eclipsed superstition, including in the minds of most religious folk. That persecution of witches ended when religious people realized (among other things) that real evidence for witchcraft didn’t exist. That no one would wish to be tried according to the “tenets” of ID, indeed, that justice demands the use of science to the exclusion of “the Satan did it at the witch’s behest”, or “God did it”.

Xian people might be put on the side of science if one were adept at tapping into Xian beliefs in reason, as opposed to superstition.

What I’m saying is that the epistemology of science has to be upheld over any other way of looking at “the material world”, at least whenever factual claims come into play. I don’t see Tyson doing this as he should. Indeed, one ought to appeal to the rational side of Xianity, to put at least some Xians onto our side prior to asking them to use science to answer questions of origins. Yet the superiority of science’s methods needs to be made clear.

The atheists let off a little pent-up steam for once? Who cares? They’ve been attacked as evangelical atheists for a long time, which is what has prompted them (some of them) to for once act like militant atheists. They need some emotion in order to act upon their realization that superstitious sorts still want to repeal the Enlightenment.

Militant atheism will not be what mainly wins the day for science, of course. But it’s well past time that the dullards who mistake Darwin and Lewontin for being “militant atheists” finally learn what real religion haters are like.

It is thanks to people like Dawkins that such a solid Xian evolutionist (if cosmological superstitionist) like Collins is actually praised over on UD. A few militant atheists might make Ken Miller look pretty good to religionists, and cause them to realize that science does not automatically destroy religion (though I think it does eat away at it). The mix of some genuinely militant atheists with a spectrum of non-believers and believers has done a fairly good job of gutting ID.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Quite a bit of irony there. Tyson seems to believe (incorrectly, to judge by Krauss’ response) that Krauss is an “evangelical atheist” who wants a 100% conversion rate, he makes an argument on the implausibility of that, and as a result Dembski decides that Tyson wants a 100% conversion rate. Discuss this topic long enough and someone’ll call you a fundie, no matter what you actually say…

Interestingly, it does look like Tyson, unlike most of the other attendees, views religious feelings as often harmful to good scientific practice. He spent a while talking about various scientists whose religion eventually became an obstacle to their research. By contrast, at least when I’ve heard Dawkins talk about that issue, he tends to trust scientists to compartmentalize or diminish their beliefs enough so that they don’t become a problem.

What people hate about Richard Dawkins is that he show that irrational belief makes no sense. If people want to believe in something for which there is absolutely not one shread of evidence, then they can do so. But don’t try to tie it in with science or rational thinking.

Is is just as rational to think Krishna or a fairy did it as Jesus of the generic gawd.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on November 22, 2006 1:26 AM.

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