How Anti-Religious “Defenders” of Science Undermine Science

How Anti-Religious “Defenders” of Science Undermine Science

Somebody uploaded a video on YouTube to send a message that scientists ought not believe in God. The speaker is Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He is an astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York.

(Click here if you cannot see the video.)

Some of the lecture was cut out, so I will not hold Tyson responsible for the error I’m about to describe. If I did, I would be guilty of the same (drawing a conclusion based on incomplete evidence). I will instead direct my comments toward the person who uploaded the video, who apparently intended us to conclude from it that religion hinders science. By extension, what I have to say here applies also to everyone else who has made the same mistake in any comparable way. And that includes a lot of people.

What I want to say is that this message about religion hindering science is completely unscientific; and the more it gets propagated, the more science is hindered.

Here’s why I say that. The error of which I speak is very painfully clear in this video, and it is quite specifically a scientific error. What the video does is to propose, on the basis of one snippet of history, that belief in God is harmful to the progress of science.

This is a statement that belongs in the field of social psychology and/or sociology. The claim goes like this: If a person (society) believes in God, the result in that person (society) will be deleterious to the progress of science.

I want to know where that has been scientifically measured and assessed.

The study could be done, though it would be difficult. It would require a sampling good-sized representative portion of the population, measuring the subjects’ religiosity, and a making correlative measurement of their attitudes toward, knowledge of, and contribution to science.

I want to know where that study has been conducted.

It would be a difficult study, because religiosity is a varied phenomenon, and it’s likely that a global measure of religiosity would obscure important detailed variables that would affect the outcome. Or in other words, it’s naive to assume that variances in Buddhist religiosity would have the same effect on scientific attitudes as variances in Muslim religiosity; and the same for all other religions. So the study would have to operationalize the relevant dimensions of religiosity so as to determine which of them correlate with attitudes toward science.

I want to know where that operationalizing work has been done.

“Science” is also a multi-dimensional term, and to claim that there is some correlation between religiosity and attitudes toward science calls for the question, which science? Is this a matter of attitudes toward science globally? Does the effect differ for different branches of science? Does it have something to do with scientific method, scientific assumptions, etc? These things need operational definitions for the sake of good correlational research.

I want to know where that operationalizing work has been done.

Every scientist knows that correlation does not prove causation. Where correlational findings support robust theory, it can sometimes be possible to draw at least tentative conclusions. Absent such theory, though, correlation absolutely cannot show causation. In the case of religiosity and science, a truly robust theory would necessarily depend on the above-mentioned operationalizing work in both religion and science.

I want to know where to find that robust theory, in any scientifically responsible stage of development.

Every scientist knows that small and unrepresentative samples lead to erroneous conclusions every time. Most of the claims I’ve seen of science hindering religion are based on anecdotes or minor snippets from deep history; or from a single class of religious objection to one minority branch of the sciences (theories relating to evolution and the age of the universe).

I want to know where a truly representative study has been conducted.

The video presented above makes every one of these scientific mistakes. The conclusion it presents, while claiming to support science, is profoundly unscientific. It draws the conclusion that belief in God is bad for science, but it does so without operationalizing that belief, without parsing out the relevant sub-variables in belief, and on the basis of one single snippet of history, a tiny and unrepresentative sample, to which no scientifically responsible theory has been applied.

Every scientist worth his or her salt (I am no longer claiming “every scientist”) knows that making unscientific claims, while speaking in the role of a scientist, undermines science. It misrepresents the way in which scientific knowledge is generated. Further, because the information for such claims comes from unscientific carelessness, there is a very large chance the claims are completely wrong; and science is not in the business of generating and propagating falsehoods.

The video above undermines science in exactly that way.

And until the proper studies have been run, every single person who claims, “religion hinders science,” is hindering science by making scientifically unsubstantiated, theory-free and evidence-free claims.

In conclusion: the mantra of today’s scientistic atheism is that all knowledge properly comes from properly conducted science. They also claim that religious belief interferes with science. Let’s all get in the habit of asking them, Where is the science to support that claim?

53 thoughts on “How Anti-Religious “Defenders” of Science Undermine Science

  1. Wow. I thought that talk was disingenuous. What I wanna know, for starters, is two things from Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

    1. Why does he try to create the impression that Arabic astrology was science?

    2. Why did the physicist “fast forward” past……Newton?

  2. I’m curious why he didn’t conclude that the evidence shows that we need an affirmative action plan for Nobel Prize winners? I mean, Muslims are under represented. Isn’t that the logic these days?

  3. Let me repeat a question I asked sault on the previous thread.

    “I found the first half to be fairly accurate. Indeed, Arabic scholars, mathematicians and natural philosophers (“scientists”) not only preserved Greek science, but actually made some original contributions of their own in astronomy, alchemy (chemistry) optics and mathematics… Were all these Arab scholars atheists?”

    Neil deGrasse Tyson claims that 800-1100 AD was a golden age of Arab science. Were the Arab “scientists” religious during this 300 year period? If they were, doesn’t this historical fact alone undermine Tyson’s thesis “that religion hinders science?”

  4. Wow. That’s some truely absurd stuff right there. Because some Islamic cleric “killed off” scientific endeavors in his world in 1100 we should reject God today?

    What about the support of science by Christianity at that same time. What about the fact that science flourished in the Christian world from 500 AD until the present.

    What about Nicholas Copernicus, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday, Gregor Mendel, William Thomson Kelvin, Max Planck. How much did their belief in God hinder their sceintific efforts.

  5. As I unfortunately wasn’t able to reply promptly enough, as I said in the other thread it is my view that conservative and fundamentalist factions are responsible for repressing scientific discovery. When the claim that religion is anti-science is made, I think that it is made because of the effects of fundamentalist people using their faith and religion for their own ends.

    As I also said in the other thread, I would be surprised if any of those Arabic scientists were atheists. Just as there have been many great and influential Christian scientists, their faith certainly didn’t get in the way of their scientific pursuits… I daresay that it motivated them in many ways!

    However, the Islamic culture did change over time, and I think that was the reason that scientific discovery in the field of astronomy (astronomy being Neil’s area of expertise, probably why he focused on it in the video) suffered.

    Without trying to get too political, there are conservative politicians now who are doing the same thing politically that certain factions were doing religiously – pushing a fiercely anti-scientific agenda to further their own ends.

    I don’t think that NDT is anti-religious… he hasn’t come across to me that way in the movies that I’ve seen him in. He certainly isn’t a Dawkins or Hitchens! FWIW, I think that he’s agnostic.

    I’m not sure that I want to comment on this any further. Miscommunication blows…

  6. Sault, where the word “view” appears in your comment, if you’re honest, you will insert, “unscientific, anecdotal, and unsupported by any properly tested theory.” Every place “I think” appears, you will (if you are honest) insert, “even though I am not aware of any scientifically valid data to support it” (not relevant in the final paragraph).

    Or if you are really honest, you will retract those statements pending some real knowledge.

    (That’s if you are of the persuasion that only science yields knowledge. I don’t happen to think that’s true.)

  7. “…there are conservative politicians now who are doing the same thing politically that certain factions were doing religiously – pushing a fiercely anti-scientific agenda to further their own ends.”

    Care to name names or expose what their “fiercely anti-scientific agenda” is. I don’t know of any such conservative agenda. I think I’m reasonably informed about political goings on.

  8. sault:

    I don’t think that NDT is anti-religious… he hasn’t come across to me that way in the movies that I’ve seen him in. He certainly isn’t a Dawkins or Hitchens! FWIW, I think that he’s agnostic.

    If Tyson is not anti-religious why does he leave us with this question: “I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences reject God, I want to know why 15% of the National Academy don’t?” That is hardly a neutral/ diplomatic statement.

  9. I would offer this as a “footnote” on this topic.

    I have just read and can’t recommend highly enough Rodney Stark’s “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success”.

    This work gives a fascinating perspective on this topic and illuminates the theological and philosophical underpinnings that lead to the success of western civilization. It is simply brilliant.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Victory-Reason-Christianity-Capitalism/dp/1400062284

  10. This book describes the failure of the Islamic world to think scientifically in spite of their astronomical success (pun intended).

    This book points out that a large part of the science-preserving effort in the Arabic world was actually Christian (its just history folks; get over it).

    This book describes the Islamic theological trajectory from “science-friendly” (in the “golden age”) to “science-hindering” shortly thereafter.

  11. Wow, I was quite interested in the talk, then all of a sudden it ended with 85% and 15%.

    Sorry, but how did that follow…….?

    And why does he cite anti-big-bangers? I too could cite crazy stuff from atheists. Why not interact with the best Christians have to offer? Straw man anyone?

    Also what I don’t get is the atheist fear regarding failing science in the USA and attributing it to religion. Is this not happening at the same time that Christianity is waning also in the USA?

    This correlation makes sense to me as loss of a big meta-narrative (e.g. including God) renders life ultimately meaningless, thus why work hard in science discovering the Creator’s handiwork when you can do something much easier and earn lots more money like economics or accountancy?

  12. “And why does he cite anti-big-bangers?”

    The interesting thing about that comment is that anti-big-bangers are probably just as prevalent on the secular side as on the theist side. After all the big bang fits just perfectly into the Genesis account but creates “big” problems for the “something-from-nothing” crowd.

  13. Anti-Big-Bangers?

    Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître was a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven.

    He was the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble. He was also the first to derive what is now known as the Hubble’s law and made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant which he published in 1927, two years before Hubble’s article.

    Lemaître was also the first to propose what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, which he called his hypothesis of the primeval atom.

    Like ALL atheists, Tyson ignores inconvenient truths.

  14. Did you notice the contradiction in Tyson’s talk? When he was describing the “golden age” of Arab science he talks glowingly about what a cosmopolitan and tolerant place medieval Baghdad was, but when he talks about the 21st century it is not tolerable that 15% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences don’t reject belief in God. I don’t understand. Did I miss something?

  15. Another way that would-be defenders of science against religion hinder science is by erecting barriers to entry to scientific careers. Nincompoops like Richard Dawkins aside, surely no one thinks that the sciences (and society as a whole) would benefit by applying an Atheological Purity Test that effectively excludes people who might have turned out to be very talented scientists simply because they aren’t atheists. I think you can accept that as a practical matter even if you wrongly hold that religious scientists must “compartmentalize” their religious belief and practice and their science in order to be successful.

    Imagine the hue and cry that would be raised if NDT delivered a lecture replete with cherry-picked evidence and hamfisted interpretation about how women have hindered science, and concluded by asking something like, “I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are men, I want to know why 15% of the National Academy aren’t?”

  16. Adam, excellent points.

    Most scientific work can be done without any consideration to whether (a)theism is true or false.

    My science work is theo-agnostic, as is most science, and probably even most biology.

    NDT is babbling on like a little Hitler, doing his best to ostracize and dehumanize non-atheists. What’s next? Forcing the 15% wear the star of David?

    The intolerance of these secularists is vile — and their logic is appalling.

  17. One has to wonder if scientists like Tyson know anything about the history of civil rights. For example, did religion play any role in ending the institution of slavery? Advancing racial equality and civil rights? I suppose when you have attained the level of stature and success that Tyson has attained you can take those things for granted.

  18. It would be interesting to see where the conversation would go if someone were to say in response, “So what if religion does hinder science. How is it wrong to do that?”

  19. Sigh, deleted another post accidentally – repost:

    Anti-science-ism in America seems as political as it is religious – or perhaps its a unique combination of the two. The undercurrent has always been there, as far as I know, but its seems to have swelled in recent times, or at least that’s my impression.

    I actually think global warming has something to do with it. From the beginning, the issue has been religious conservative vs environmentalist left. And of course, the science bodies and academics, all side with the left, at least in terms of scientific facts (if not on public policy). And so the demagogues (on both sides really) went to work on the issue. On the right side of the aisle, this translated into a fierce campaign against the institution of science, and academia. Even to acknowledge purely scientific claims unrelated to public policy, was an unacceptable concession to the left wing (which in their minds also means a concession to atheism, marxism, communism, fascism, big government, anti-religiousness, moral relativism – viewing these as disparate categories is hardly thinkable from the pulpit of the religious right, these days)

    Other situational factors made that mistrust easy to sow. Academia was already trending left for a while. Evolution has always been an issue of suspicion. You’ve got groups like the DI promoting the narrative that biologists are in a vast materialist conspiracy.

    All this is to say, things are vastly more complicated than the picture Tyson paints. On the other hand, one might get the mistaken impression from reading this site, that all Christians are well-read Phd’s in the sciences, who just love the heck out of it. You don’t have to venture very far to find quite a different situation, where there are conservative Christian’s aplenty who can make you cringe like you are listening to a Richard Dawkins speech.

  20. Define anti-science-ism, please. I don’t think it has a definite meaning, and I think that lack of meaning renders the whole of your comment equally meaningless. Even though in many ways you have tried to make your comment even-handed and fair, you have still fallen into the very trap identified in the OP.

    This is further evidenced by your use of the vague and undefined language of “the institution of science,” and your statement that the right has been “fiercely campaigning” against it, whatever it is (academia, too!–whatever that means). I think you’re vastly, and irresponsibly, globalizing and over-generalizing the case. I think you are taking a disagreement over policy issues concerning global warming and turning it illegitimately into opposition to “the institution of science,” which for all your evenhandedness remains shoddy, sloppy, thinking. So I ask you to re-read the OP here and take that as directed toward yourself as well.

    What I’m trying to say here is that it’s time to call a sudden and complete halt to this deceptive and careless messaging about “anti-scienceism.” If you believe in honesty and science you will do more than try to present a balanced approach. You will explain what in the world you’re talking about; and where you offer opinions concerning facts, you must either explain, clarify, and support, or else retract; for otherwise all your concern for science is undermined by your poor practice of scientific thinking and methodology.

  21. How is it wrong to hinder science, SteveK? I would say that hindering science is perfectly ethical when the “science” in question is unethical, either in the methods or research or the likely way the learning might be applied.

    It might be okay when the science in question is out of proportion. For example, when the Space Station was being debated in Congress, many, many scientists opposed it as being a hugely disproportionate expenditure in view of the limited science they expected to come of it. They wanted the money for other, much more productive kinds of projects.

    Something similar could have been said about it (and maybe was; I don’t remember) in relation to other non-science uses to which the money could have been put, including not spending it at all. That sort of thing could also in some circumstances be a defensible “hindering” of science, in my opinion.

    In other words, it’s not always wrong to hinder science.

    But I would say that apart from considerations like those, it is usually wrong to hinder science. Learning is good when it is in proper proportion and ethically justified.

  22. d,

    I would agree with you in some respects as I’m not especially a fan of ID as (good) science. However, when it comes to global warming (AWG) I think it’s the conservatives who have been on the side of (good) science. After “Climategate I” and “Climategate II” and the amount of junk science Al Gore tossed around it’s hard to make a case the environmentalists are on the side of science. After all, this is a movement that began with the lies of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. Not a great beginning if you want (good) science to be your standard.

  23. Anthropogenic Global Warming?

    Sheesh! Talk about “invisible friends” that non-critical thinkers need to get them through the day.

  24. I think the key the problem here is an ignorance of the history of science. If religion had been the hindrance to science that some people have imagined, modern science could have/ would have never have developed in western Europe.

    However, in Tyson’s case the ignorance is very selective and that’s inexcusable. It’s like he could know the truth but doesn’t really want to know the truth. Why is that?

  25. Every winter, I participate as a science fair judge at the local Christian High School. Their disproportionate participation in the prizes at the regional fairs doesn’t do much to support the “religion hinders science” mind-virus.

  26. Doug @ 11 lists some books that help explain what happened between the collapse of Arab science about 1100 AD and the rise of modern science in the late 16th century. However you don’t need to go out and buy these books to learn some significant things about this period. Try googling the names listed below. I’ll guarantee that you’ll learn something new.

    Gerbert of Aurillac (955-1003 AD)

    Gerard of Cremona (1114–1187 AD)

    Jean Buridan (1300 –1358 AD)

    Ironically most people probably have never heard of these men. Nevertheless, without medieval scholars like them (I happen to think these three men are the best of the best) there would be no Kepler, Galileo or Newton, and therefore no modern science. They represent an historical bridge which links ancient Greek science via the Arabic culture to the modern world.

  27. Tom, loving your comments. Very reasoned and with a slightly aggressive tone that I think is much needed. The same goes for the book whose tone I have also particularly liked so far. A little cut-and-thrust, but no ad hominem!

    It is indeed time to stop messing around and start putting our hands to the plough and fighting back against these guys.

    I think that what Tyson is really doing is using a few small parts of science where there is definitely opposition (AGW, Darwinism, ID etc) and concluding (incorrectly) that those opposers thus also oppose all of science.

    This is stupid and pathetic thinking, and evidences clearly the Bible’s claim that man’s reason is far from pure and clean, but is rather a mixture of the heart and the mind.

    It also shows how desperate Tyson et al. are that they have to stoop so low in order to reach so high.

  28. Anyone know who he is talking to and when this was? Note at the very end, he says to the audience that “we” need to talk about the 15%. He says “We really gotta address this, otherwise the public is secondary to this.”

  29. Tom,

    Oh, I only offered a highly subjective viewpoint of one small piece of the landscape, as I see it. It could turn out to be entirely wrong, or too vague as to be meaningless. In short, it was just conversation, not a rigorous work, with sources to cite or anything. Just my own observations, from my own experience. No problem admitting that.

    I don’t think valuing science (philosophy too), its methods or rigor prevents us from talking in that manner, does it?

    When I speak of anti-scienceism, I am speaking roughly of the religious right’s public mistrust or outright opposition towards various scientific endeavors, like evolution, global warming, environmental research in general, and a general distrust of academics in higher education.

    Whether all that should earn the label of “anti-scienceist” or not, is debatable. It may be unfair, though I don’t think obviously so. But sure, there are lots of ways to be anti-science that don’t involve publicly thumbing your nose at scientists or some of their work.

    It may be that some circles of the religious right just have a few, particular anti-science traits, while the left may have their own distinct (and perhaps less noticeable) anti-science traits, that are as widespread, and that never get talked about in the public discourse. Totally a possibility. (and FWIW, I’m hover somewhere near center right, politically speaking – I have no high opinion of the left)

    But even if we’re all equally guilty, there are some things to fix about the religious right and their general attitude towards science.

  30. BillT:

    Global warming may or may not be true, I’m pretty agnostic on that front. However, I think it remains an important research area that we need to take seriously, and we need to stop conflating facts with policy.

    I did make a hobby out of reading science articles in the popular press, and corroborating quotes, content against the actual journal articles and things like that, for a little while. I already knew you couldn’t trust the press, but had never imagined just how bad, and untrustworthy it really was. Almost every article, no matter which side it slanted, if any, contained outright lies, or things so exaggerated or misstated as to be false. Outrageous stuff.

    But anyways, climate gate and all, I came out of that process having much more trust in the work of climate scientists who, as a whole, tend to be far more reasonable and measured in their opinions and predictions than its generally made out (there are exceptions) and far less trust in the cottage industry of skeptics like McIntyre et al.

    And the bad part, is its these bad sources of information that seem to be steering public opinion. Anyhow, guess this is all really off topic, so I’ll stop now.

  31. @Mike

    Tyson’s talk is from the the 2006 Beyond Belief conference sponsored by The Science Network.

    http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/beyond-belief-science-religion-reason-and-survival

    Here is Tyson’s full presentation (session #2, audio only):

    http://thesciencenetwork.org/media/videos/212/bb-2.mp3

    It seems to me like Tyson is almost advocating a kind of totalitarianism… Well, maybe he is advocating totalitarianism for scientists. Listen to the Q & A session afterward. Tyson actually talks about converting people– like science is a religion.

  32. It may be that some circles of the religious right just have a few, particular anti-science traits, while the left may have their own distinct (and perhaps less noticeable) anti-science traits, that are as widespread, and that never get talked about in the public discourse. Totally a possibility.

    Totally a reality. Here are some examples off the top of my head.

    1. Back in the 1960s/70s, the Left played a role in shutting down NASA’s moon program, as they argued the money was better spent on social programs.

    2. Military research is opposed by the Left.

    3. The Left opposes agricultural research involving GMOs.

    4. The anti-vaccination crowd comes mostly from the Left.

    5. The homeopathy movement comes mostly from the Left.

    6. The Left opposes animal research. They are currently in the process of shutting down primate research. And of course, this leftist opposition to science includes acts of terrorism, as the animal rights extremists have prevented science labs from being built and have caused scientists to abandon scientific research for fear of their lives.

    It is instructive to note that while Oxford University was under attack from animal rights terrorists, Richard Dawkins never wrote or spoke one word in defense of his scientific colleagues.

  33. Almost every article, no matter which side it slanted, if any, contained outright lies, or things so exaggerated or misstated as to be false. Outrageous stuff.

    I have had the same experience. I hesitate to suggest it, but maybe this means that popular media is anti-science! (or at very least too scientifically incompetent to play cheerleader for it)

  34. “And the bad part, is its these bad sources of information that seem to be steering public opinion.”

    And by far the largest of these bad sources of information is the mainstream media. And their complete support of AWG as a fact is undeniable.

  35. d,

    Global warming may or may not be true, I’m pretty agnostic on that front. However, I think it remains an important research area that we need to take seriously, and we need to stop conflating facts with policy.

    Some who would disagree with you regarding the importance of researching this, would likely get branded as anti-science. But are they really? I don’t see that they are, necessarily.

    It might be that they just don’t think it is a priority, or something we can ultimately figure out, or worth spending money on, etc. etc.

  36. AAARGH. Most of this thread is worthless. You guys are relying on some chopped-up misleading edit of Tyson. At the “Beyond Belief” conference, Tyson was one of the people who was *pro*-tolerance of religious people, *pro*-having an open mind about seeing the value of things other than science, etc. He is himself an atheist I think, and he is also worried about the fact that certain versions of religion have a very bad record when it comes to science [1]. But at the Beyond Belief conference, Dawkins et al. were basically trying to convert other prominent scientists and scholars to the down-with-religion cause, and they basically failed — they failed with Melvin Konner, Eugenie Scott, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, etc. The Beyond Belief conferences basically died out a year or two later I believe.

    This was my reaction at the time:

    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/11/neil_degrasse_t.html

    Here is a fuller quote that begins to indicate what Tyson was getting at with the 15% remark. (This was the most I could find quickly, there may be more.)

    Tyson: I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences reject God, I want to know why 15% of the National Academy don’t. That’s really what we’ve got to address here. Otherwise the public is secondary to this. [Moderator then turns to the panel for responses.]

    Larry Krauss: It’s hard to know how to respond to Neil, ever. But the question you asked about “Why 15%” disturbs me a little bit because of this other presumption that scientists are somehow not people and that they don’t have the same delusions — I mean, how many of them are pedophiles in the National Academy of Sciences? How many of them are Republicans? [laughter] And so, it would be amazing, of course, if it were zero. That would be the news story. But the point is I don’t think you’d expect them in general to view their religion as a bulwark against science or to view the need to fly into buildings or whatever. So the delusions or predilections are important to recognize, that scientists are people and are as full of delusions about every aspect of their life as everyone else. We all make up inventions so that we can rationalize our existence and why we are who we are.

    Tyson: But Lawrence, if you can’t convert our colleagues, why do you have any hope that you’re going to convert the public?

    Tyson’s point was that it’s pointless for Dawkins, Krauss et al. to be trying to convert the world to atheism, when they can’t even convert everybody in the NAS, even though the NAS contains the most brilliant scientific minds in the country. Tyson thinks that anti-science religion should be criticized, but pro-science religion and religionists should be left alone, and that overall it would be far more effective for scientists to focus on promoting science to the public, than promoting atheism.

    (Now, please don’t pretend like I’m basing my whole argument on the quote provided — that was just as much as I could find in text online in a quick search. I watched the entire video of Tyson’s presentations and discussion back in 2006. When you understand that Dawkins et al. were continuously raining hot death on religion and the religious at that meeting, and trying to get the “accomodationists” to join in, you see the significance of even slightly roundabout criticisms like the one which is (only partially) given by Tyson in the quote. If this is too subtle for people to get, I won’t bother responding.

    Basically, the commenters above have got Tyson’s view precisely backwards. Googling the 15% quote, it looks like some atheists have also, and are passing Tyson’s quote around (as are some evangelical and ID/creationism sites) as an anti-religion quote. But that wouldn’t be the first time that both atheists and fundamentalists both agree on something which is handy in the culture war, which turns out to be lazily researched and wrong.

    Shame on you.

    1. (Note: Conservative and fundamentalist religionists, this means you, and if you decide to argue, please tell me your view on the age of the earth and the common ancestry of humans and chimps. The generic fact that religion can and has sometimes aided science does not help the case for conservative religionists, where there are numerous instances of the repression or attempted repression of science and scientists.)

  37. Nick, I am pretty sure that Tyson bashes and mocks and ridicules religion with a big 2×4 in other videos. Am I wrong?

    So I would love to know what your definition of “tolerance” is.

    The sort of atheist hate-speech and vitriol espoused by your atheist friends — including Tyson — will likely drive many young Christian people away from science as they envisage science as an army of hostile Christian haters.

    My personal experience (small sample, outside of the USA) has been that most academics are really nice people and treat Christians fairly and equally. These fundamentalist nasties (Tyson, Dawkins, Scott et al.) on the other hand are a snarly bunch whose rhetoric is quite honestly disgusting.

    But I’m sure you are telling them this.

    Btw, why don’t you tell Dawkins to man-up and defend his God Delusion book in public debate.

  38. Nick’s point is well taken, as far as this point, at least: I don’t know the full context of Tyson’s speech, and I don’t know what he believes about this issue overall, but I do know that based on this video none of us could know. Recall the I distinction I made in the OP, and that my criticism was directed toward whoever it was who uploaded the video, because something was edited out of it.

    Just as I hate to be taken out of context, I hate to see us do it for others.

    Not that there aren’t hints in there. I wonder why Tyson used medieval astrology as he did, and made it look like science, without at least specifying what was going on there. Maybe something about that was edited away. Medieval astrology was an interesting mix, by the way: it gave us some marvelous impetus for, and progress in, astronomical observation, while getting cause-and-effect relations completely wrong in ways they could have tested.2 He might have mentioned that. Astrolabes and horoscopes (or their medieval Muslim corollaries) must intersect somewhere. Tyson made it seem like it was all observation and scientific application. Was something like that removed? I’m withholding judgment. I just wonder.

    Regardless of where Tyson fits in to the mix, the editor/uploader of this video is guilty as charged, for undermining science in the manner I described in the OP. Dawkins is too. Coyne is too. Scott is too. Matzke is too.

    Every person who implies that religion is a force against science, and who makes that claim without testing it through proper science, is denying their own belief in testing knowledge through science. If Tyson isn’t one of them, then there are lots and lots of others, including whoever it was who might have co-opted his speech this way.

    2 Other astronomical errors they made were understandable for state of the times: they didn’t know about universal gravitation, there was no strong observational evidence for heliocentrism, and some evidence (the lack of parallax shifts) against it, etc.

  39. P.S. I intend no criticism of commenters who have broader knowledge of Tyson beyond this video, and used that knowledge in their criticism of him. (I need to view the video that JAD linked to in #36.)

    In other words, I’m not saying that any of these criticisms of Tyson are wrong. I don’t know if they are or not. I am saying that the chopped-up lecture leads to a wrong conclusion, by scientifically wrong methods. I’m also saying that I myself do not have enough information to know whether the whole lecture does the same, and neither does anyone else without actually going there and finding out. I need to see it and then I’ll have more of my own opinion on that.

  40. James,

    Here’s another short video where Tyson is saying that we should value our religious diversity, freedom, and he’s not out to convert anyone… of course, this could also be out of context, so who knows.

    Probably the snarkiest video I can remember of him, but it was his “stupid design” video – but that was really just about ID (and it was pretty hilarious):

  41. Nick,

    Tyson’s point was that it’s pointless for Dawkins, Krauss et al. to be trying to convert the world to atheism, when they can’t even convert everybody in the NAS, even though the NAS contains the most brilliant scientific minds in the country. Tyson thinks that anti-science religion should be criticized, but pro-science religion and religionists should be left alone, and that overall it would be far more effective for scientists to focus on promoting science to the public, than promoting atheism.

    Okay, this makes sense. The problem is that he should have made this case in his talk instead of cherry picking from history in a manner that ends up supporting the way Dawkins et al. were continuously raining hot death on religion and the religious . The talk creates the impression that the 15% are somehow a hindrance to scientific advances. After all, that’s precisely how Larry Krauss interpreted it at the time (according to the quote you provided).

    Interestingly enough, the Gnus have reached the opposite conclusion from his point, as they seem invested in trying to target scientists who are religious. That is, it’s almost as if they see this as a challenge – “We can’t even convert everybody in the NAS? That’s because we haven’t really tried.”

    Thus, Jerry Coyne’s #1 target is Francis Collins and BioLogos. Thus, the whole “incompatibility argument.” Thus, Victor Stenger claiming in New Scientist that science CAN determine whether or not God exists. Thus, Victor Stenger’s recent HuffPo piece:

    I want to urge those of you who are not scientists to try to convince those who are to stop pussyfooting around with religion and confront the reality of what it is and always has been — a blight on humanity that has hindered our progress for millennia and now threatens our very existence.

    And I believe Dawkins made a similar call in his Reason Rally speech.

    Of course, which is more likely to happen? The Gnus convert all/most scientists into Gnus? Or the Gnus increasingly marginalize themselves?

  42. I just finished listening to (again) Tyson’s talk that I linked to above @36. I agree that he is a “moderate” in the sense that he is less militant and more tolerant than Dawkins, Harris et al. However, he is still someone IMO who has bought into the conflict thesis that religion(faith) and science(reason) have always been at war and that the world would be a better place without religion. I for one do not believe that “science” can or will solve all our problems.

    PS Tyson’s tirade (his word not mine) against ID that d links to (2nd link) is part of what was edited out of the video Tom links to in his OP.

  43. Okay, this makes sense. The problem is that he should have made this case in his talk instead of cherry picking from history in a manner that ends up supporting the way Dawkins et al. were continuously raining hot death on religion and the religious . The talk creates the impression that the 15% are somehow a hindrance to scientific advances. After all, that’s precisely how Larry Krauss interpreted it at the time (according to the quote you provided).

    No, Tyson raised the 15% as a problem for one of the Gnus’ implicit theses, which is basically “all smart well-educated people are athestis”. Krauss understood it that way, you can see him backpedalling in his response, basically saying “well some scientists are deluded too, they are only human.”

    Tyson was being a little indirect about it, but that made it hit harder actually, because it was phrased in premises that the gnus themselves had been promoting, and thus was harder to avoid. Probably this is because Tyson is a master communicator, among other things. Of course this apparently has now gotten him widely misunderstood outside the meeting as the 15% quote has been spread around the internet.

    The problem is that he should have made this case in his talk instead of cherry picking from history

    Perhaps you are relying on the misleading edits of the video here. IIRC Tyson made at least 2 historical points in the lecture, one of them not discussed at all in this thread so far. (1) Islamic science flourished, but then crashed when religious conservatives took over. (2) Newton flourished, but his progress in solar system dynamics stopped when he proposed that God intervened to tweak planetary orbits. The solution was found later by Laplace. (Ironically, some people in this thread thought Tyson had skipped over Newton.)

    One can’t address everything on these topics that might be brought up about such topics, and you could spend entire lectures or even courses just on each of these topics by themselves. And in any lecture you have to pick only a few examples. But the point is entirely reasonable to make that there are some prominent examples in history of religion unnecessarily getting in the way of the progress of science. Tyson doesn’t think and didn’t say that religion-in-general-is-bad-or-anti-scientific; his 15% remark was part of his attempt to challenge that idea, as were several other questions he asked and remarks he made at the meeting.

    (Tyson had another whole lecture where he talked about how he hated being forced to take an art class, because he was a hard-core science student, but then he realized the value of art, and that there is more to life than science…he says it much better than I’m recounting it, of course.)

    You’ve also got to consider the audience, and the fact that Tyson is aware of the audience. He knows the leadership and motivation of that particular meeting is harshly anti-religion. If he’s going to communicate anything, he’s got to get them to listen first and establish some cred. So, he puts in some of his anti-ID and anti-fundamentalism material. Once he’s got them on board, he brings up the problems he sees with the harsh anti-religion position. It’s quite possible that this method is quite effective and smart with an anti-religious audience, but is bound to backfire with a pro-ID, conservative evangelical internet audience that doesn’t appreciate the inside baseball of the Beyond Belief meeting, and which thinks that any criticism of ID and fundamentalism is a critique of religion-in-general.

    I haven’t done a super-serious investigation, but here is my gut sense of the Big Picture. The 2006 Beyond Belief meeting was an early attempt to enlist academia at large in the Gnu Atheist quest. It basically crashed and burned in that goal, and since then gnu atheism has largely been a movement outside of academia, and has mostly been criticized by academic commentators. I suspect Tyson was a substantial part of that result at the meeting. So was the basically negative report on the meeting from the New York Times.

  44. Thus, Jerry Coyne’s #1 target is Francis Collins and BioLogos. Thus, the whole “incompatibility argument.” Thus, Victor Stenger claiming in New Scientist that science CAN determine whether or not God exists.

    I don’t think Coyne seriously thinks he can *convert* Collins, do you? He’s doing something else. Trying to “make an example of him” or something.

    Coyne’s bashing of BioLogos, along with the Stenger quote:

    I want to urge those of you who are not scientists to try to convince those who are to stop pussyfooting around with religion and confront the reality of what it is and always has been — a blight on humanity that has hindered our progress for millennia and now threatens our very existence.

    …are both evidence that (a) gnus regularly experience opposition to their project from scientists (many of whom consider the Gnu Project Not In Their Job Description), and (b) the gnus are deeply annoyed by this, probably because it contradicts their fundamental premises.

    The “attack the moderates” position was the one pretty novel feature of the New Atheist movement, and they made it pretty hairy for a few years with that, but now my sense of it is that their focus has shifted to building atheist institutions and events, and the inevitable difficulties and arguments that have taken up much of the bandwidth on these topics.

  45. Nick,

    I accept the idea that Tyson first wanted to establish some street cred with the anti-religious crowd so that he could make an indirect argument during the Q&A portion of the talk. The fact remains that the talk itself does not make this point and instead feeds the Gnu mindset. Chalk it up to the way YouTube can foster miscommunication.

    Perhaps you are relying on the misleading edits of the video here. IIRC Tyson made at least 2 historical points in the lecture, one of them not discussed at all in this thread so far. (1) Islamic science flourished, but then crashed when religious conservatives took over. (2) Newton flourished, but his progress in solar system dynamics stopped when he proposed that God intervened to tweak planetary orbits. The solution was found later by Laplace. (Ironically, some people in this thread thought Tyson had skipped over Newton.)

    Yes, I was relying on the video. But the cherry picking that fuels the “incompatibility” talking points that Gnus promote still exists. (1) Why ignore the prominent role of astrology when “Islamic science flourished?” (2) Are we to believe that Newton’s views of a Creator who is a Law-Giver had nothing to do with his science flourishing?

    The reality is that the relationship between science and religion has always been complex and cannot be fitted into the warfare template without cherry picking. But as you note, if one is trying to play inside baseball to get the attention of the Gnus, I guess you’d have to make faulty arguments to communicate to them given that the Gnu position is premised on faulty arguments.

    I haven’t done a super-serious investigation, but here is my gut sense of the Big Picture. The 2006 Beyond Belief meeting was an early attempt to enlist academia at large in the Gnu Atheist quest. It basically crashed and burned in that goal, and since then gnu atheism has largely been a movement outside of academia, and has mostly been criticized by academic commentators. I suspect Tyson was a substantial part of that result at the meeting. So was the basically negative report on the meeting from the New York Times.

    I would agree with this. The Gnus tried to enlist all of academia in their movement and it failed, so they’ve opted to follow in the footsteps of the ID movement. In fact, there seems to be a growing resentment building among the Gnus given that more scientists have not joined their cause:

    http://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/victor-stenger-threatiness-gone-wild/

    I don’t think Coyne seriously thinks he can *convert* Collins, do you? He’s doing something else. Trying to “make an example of him” or something.

    No, I don’t think he is trying to convert him. And I think it is something like making an example. I think what the Gnus want to accomplish is to silence scientists who are as religious as much as possible. They want religious scientists to keep their religion entirely private. If they could accomplish that, in their minds, it would be easier to go to the public and force them to choose between religion and science. Anyway, the irony is that Collins has contributed more scientific knowledge to humanity than Coyne and all the Gnu leaders combined.

    BTW, Nick, I for one do truly appreciate the fact that you have actively taken on the Gnus. For those who don’t know, Nick has posted several times on Coyne’s echo chamber to criticize his arguments and has in turn been viciously attacked by Coyne, Dawkins, and their acolytes.

  46. Nick has posted several times on Coyne’s echo chamber to criticize his arguments and has in turn been viciously attacked by Coyne, Dawkins, and their acolytes.

    Go, Nick!

  47. Jerry Coyne is a loudmouth ignoramus on every field/topic outside of evolutionary biology (which, even if correct, is not very important).

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