this episode of Rationally Speaking, with a particular question to discuss: Should he call himself an atheist?
The impetus is a recent dust-up over Neil's appearance on Big Think, in which he explained that he avoids the label "atheist" because it causes people to make all sorts of unflattering (and often untrue) assumptions.
Julia and Massimo reply with some counterarguments, and along the way delve into the philosophy of language.
Neil's picks: The movie "Gravity," "IFLS," and the TV Shows "The Big Bang Theory," "CSI" and"NCIS."
About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Rationally Speaking podcast: Neil deGrasse Tyson on Why He Doesn't Call Himself an Atheist
Posted by Unknown at 8:20 AM
Labels: atheism, Neil deGrasse Tyson, podcast
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I have always thought it strange for people to define themselves negatively in terms of someone elses metaphysical systemReplyDelete
If I do not think, that there is any god, the sometimes either for me or somebody else, a word to describe this attitude comes in handy. So "atheist" is not defining oneself "against someone else's most favorite non-existing being", it also does not mean that I have to accept anything in order to say no to it and it also does not mean that it implies a belief by itself. It just means: I do not belief in any god.Delete
I often have the feeling, people intentionally want to misunderstand this - that way they can talk about language instead of the real issues.
Like those "antimaterialists"? :)Delete
I suppose it depends upon whether or not you are using the word to define yourself or your beliefs.
Your point about language cuts both ways. Not all gods represent the same claim.
Not believing in a particular being is one thing.
But to reject a claim about the fundamental nature of reality surely represents, in itself, a claim about the fundamental nature of reality.
So it can be equally true (but not always) that "atheism" is a language game to avoid questions about what that alternative belief is.
Yes, "Antimaterialist" is a good analogy.Delete
What, for example, does an atheist antimaterialist like Thomas Nagle believe about the nature of reality?Delete
You could hardly say that his position does not commit him to a particular belief.
However he has managed to stay non-committal about the details of that belief by defining it entirely in terms of what he doesn't believe.
Like people who believe in the supernatural?Delete
In terms of atheism, though, the use of the term shouldn't be strange in a culture where religious identification matters. It certainly shouldn't be strange when the question is whether / which god(s) one believes in that the answer is none. It would be odd, however, if people were claiming it as a worldview, which atheism is not and cannot be a meaningful signifier of.
It seems to me that , at least, the New Atheists are promoting it as a world view.Delete
"Supernatural" is a similar case, but not exactly the same. They are still defining their position in negative terms, not natural. But in this case they presumably agree that there is such a thing as "natural".Delete
>I have always thought it strange for people to define themselves negatively in terms of someone elses metaphysical system<Delete
I have always thought it strange for people to define themselves negatively in terms of knowledge. Why would people claim they don't know, when knowledge is almost never absolute? We have to take our best shots and if any god concept currently on file doesn't have enough evidence to make us believe, then why act as if we don't know?
The new atheists aren't promoting it as a worldview (Sam Harris, for example, argues that success would make the word atheist redundant - akin to how we don't define ourselves by not believing in astrology, rather they are promoting a scientific worldview where the irrationality of gods is just one part of it. The need for the books (which is what the new atheism is - a publishing phenomenon; the new atheism isn't anything new epistemically-speaking) was due to the perceived problems of religious thinking in our world. It's not a worldview based on a negative belief, but a movement based on a perceived problem. In that respect, the opposition of the new atheism is akin to groups that fight against poverty or racism. Thinking of it as a worldview is badly missing the point.Delete
I am not sure I see your point. If I don't know something then shouldn't I just say "I don't know"? Should I pretend to know something that I don't?
As it is there is no Naturalism concept currently on file that has enough evidence to make me believe, so should I then say that Naturalism is false?
But I don't know that Naturalism is false and so I say "I don't know".
If you think about it a statement of what you don't know is one of the most certain statements we can make.
I am all for a scientific world view.Delete
I think that we should put every sort of effective reasoning ahead of things like faith and tribalism. But I am not an atheist, nor am I a theist.
But it seems to me that, for example, Sam Harris is advancing a world view that is ahead of the evidence.
Tyson’s stupefaction regarding anti-golfism misses a serious point. If you’ve had some version of theism rammed down your throat your whole life or have had to cope in a society whose majority blinding endorses some version of it (Anglicanism, Catholicism, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.,) you’d be hell bent of defining yourself in oppositional terms if it didn’t so happen to be your cup of tea. Imagine your father is Tiger Woods and his esteem for you rests squarely on your adherence to and interest in the sport- I’d be taking a nine iron to his head.Delete
Reading the comments here demonstrates his point.Delete
There is so much ignorance and wilful deception when it comes to the term atheist.
What I find funny is the level of self-deception and the attempt to look reasonable while holding very unreasonable beliefs.
Like: how can you be atheist and theist? Or not theist and not atheist?
Either you believe something or you don't. It's digital. The cop-out of agnosticism doesn't work here either.
While I find it incredibly easy to understand that an atheist only lacks a belief regarding gods and carries no further baggage with it, people try to inflate this unnecessarily to a worldview or a belief system.
NDT total mehage.ReplyDelete
Yes, I'd also like to know why you would say such a thing.Delete
Well I've heard him say crazy things for example:Delete
Mayflies? What on earth is he on about?!
I think he comes off shallow philosophically. He didn't even seem to be aware of Bayesian inference. That's basic stuff for "promoters of reason".
I both enjoy and respect Neil's efforts to popularize science. I accept his decision to avoid becoming embroiled in the divisive quagmire of politics and religion, but i have many problems with his arguments in the interview. Let me pick one. At around 35 minutes he begins talking about the percentage of scientist who believe in god. He argues that unless you can convince 100% of the National Academy of Sciences that there is no personal god, you should "....shut up about what the rest of the public thinks and feels". Related to this, he seems to imply that if there is a real correlation between higher education and atheism, the number of believers in a personal god in the NAS should be zero. I think both Massimo and Julia tried a little redress, but Neil’s arguments seem very sloppy. I hope either host will post a little more about their thoughts on the discussion.ReplyDelete
I enjoyed Cosmos last night. I'm looking forward to watching the rest of the series.
I think that you are misrepresenting Neil a little here.Delete
If there is correlation between atheism and higher education then we could settle the matter directly by a well designed survey rather than having to make an indirect inference from the percentage of atheists in the NAS.
But if even a small percentage of the NAS (and a larger percentage of scientists generally) assent to a particular proposition then you cannot use the percentage who don't assent as evidence against the proposition, nor can you use this as evidence that people who assent are less intelligent than people who don't assent to it.
In terms of the NAS, I think it is less interesting to know what percentage of members hold which metaphysical position than having at least a brief description of how they arrived at those positions.Delete
Yeah that was a terrible argument. I cringed.Delete
Robin, perhaps you're right. It wasn't/isn't my intention to misrepresent Neil's arguments. I don't think I care at all about the number of atheist at the NAS, I was simply taken aback by some of his comments. The ones mentioned seemed a bit short sighted and sounded a little like informal fallacy, ( maybe black and white?) but he was also speaking off the cuff. I am certainly interested in how intellegent people like Neil reason. I want to think more carefully about my own life. It's why I listen to RS and appreciate both Massimo and Julia so much. Thanks for the response.Delete
Sorry Corey, I did not mean to imply that you were deliberately misrepresenting him.Delete
It seems that Tyson misconstrues Dawkins's views regarding cultural expressions of religion, and that the hosts contribute to that misconception. Dawkins has mentioned, on numerous occasions, that he says grace at Oxford, that he loves Bach's religious music--and appreciates the fact that religion motivated Bach's creativity--and that he admires the architecture of old churches. There are genuine criticisms to made of Dawkins, but this isn't one of them, and it distracts from the real issue at hand, in my opinion.ReplyDelete
If it distracts from the real issue at hand then why do so many people make a fuss about itDelete
Why not just accept that a particular person rejects a particular label and leave it at that?
It was Tyson who made a fuss about it, by making a spurious distinction between himself and Dawkins, and in so doing implying that atheists cannot appreciate religious works of art. I can personally attest to this claim being utterly false, just as it appears to be false for Dawkins and many other art-loving atheists.Delete
He would never have made that distinction if people had simply accepted his original rejection of the label.Delete
He has made this comparison here (and admitting up front that he does not know it to be true) because he is being asked to justify his rejection of the label.
I think it is just a storm in the teacup because someone pulled him up on saying "God speed" even though the use of the phrase does not actually imply a belief in God.
amen to that.Delete
Oh, right, I agree that the "controversy" surrounding Tyson's rejection of the the "atheist" label is overblown. I think his reasons are rather silly for doing so, however--as far as I'm concerned, atheism is simply the absence of an active belief in god--but he's free to call himself whatever he wants to call himself. My objection was simply to his unwarranted insinuation that atheists shouldn't be expected to appreciate religious art.Delete
Excellent podast again.ReplyDelete
I think the problem with labels is this:
I say "A,B and C are true of me".
Someone says, "A,B and C are true of Z'ists so you must be a Z'ist"
Someone else says "A,B,C and D are true of Z'ists and Robin is a Z'ist and so D must be true of Robin
But D might not be true of me.
But it's tiresome to have to say A, B and C all the time when you can just say Z, especially when Z doesn't necessarily entail D. Whoever assumes D is wrong, not whoever uses the label Z.Delete
There is nothing that a label necessarily entails, just what it means to people.Delete
If you feel happy using the label and Neil doesn't then why should there be a problem with this?
It is not as though this casts any doubt on his position.
If Neil doesn't want to be called an atheist, that's fine. But I want to call him an atheist because an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in god and he doesn't believe in god. If he's outraged by me calling him an atheist, that's his deal.Delete
I think that is perfectly reasonable, Jake, I would probably think of him as an atheist too. I don't have that connotation of atheists as most of the atheists I know are happy singing sacred music, visiting historic churches and even lighting candles there for the symbolic value.Delete
I agree with DM. Labels are models, and imperfect, but often very useful. There's nothing wrong with scrutinizing them, but to reject the very idea of labels outright (which NDT seems to be doing in this interview) is disingenuous.Delete
I label old people I meet as deserving of respect. I label children I meet as requiring sensitivity and understanding when they make mistakes. I label right-wing wind-bags as not worth my time. These labels aren't perfect, and sometimes fail me (they're not perfect models, you see), but they make life more efficient than if I pretended there is no such thing as useful generalization.
Again, it may be appropriate for him to challenge the labels that he is assigned (particularly as a public figure), but I don't accept his broad critique of such labelling, and I doubt he does in practice either.
The "remain unconvinced" stance has problems of it's own.ReplyDelete
Like Neil I remain unconvinced by evidence for the existence of a God.
But I also remain unconvinced by evidence for any known Naturalistic position such as Materialism or the Mathematical Universe.
So when someone is unconvinced by evidence for the existence of God, it still leaves something unsaid, that is their degree of convincedness for any alternative position.
Knowing that I could then find the reasons for that convincedness and decide whether or not I find those reasons, well, convincing.
And again I have to point out that the "unicorn" analogy is a false one because eliminating a theory about a unicorn does not imply an alternative theory, whereas eliminating a theory about the fundamental nature of reality does imply an alternative theory about the nature of reality.
"Sheahen: Speaking of artists, your field, some might say, is somewhat left-brain: science and math. Yet you often quote Yeats, for example. Who are your favorite right-brain people—poets, artists, musicians?ReplyDelete
Dawkins: I love Yeats, Housman, Keats, Shakespeare, Mozart, Schubert above all, Beethoven."
Neil DeGrass Tyson sure does love his straw men. Dawkins, who calls himself an ad hoc atheist in The God Delusion, doesn't seem that far from NDT in terms of belief.
In this case I think the straw man is all yours. I don't recall that Neil said anything about a liking for the arts.Delete
And he gave the caveat before that he didn't know what Dawkins' position was on the other things.
This dude worries too much.ReplyDelete
I don't see any evidence of him worrying at all.Delete
It is not him making the fuss about it. He is simply rejecting a particular label. If people just said "fine" then that would be the end of it.
So it is not Neil who is worrying, it is all the other commenters who are worrying.
Movement atheism should accept Tyson's public "unconvinced of a higher power" as a victory and move on. Atheism simply isn't his chosen cause, and attempting to force it on him only serves to make nonbelievers like him more likely to dive for cover than be honest about their views.ReplyDelete
only serves to make nonbelievers like him more likely to dive for cover than be honest about their views.Delete
Implying that he isn't being honest? why is agnosticism so hard for people to understand?
I don't think he's an agnostic, though, Deepak. I think his position (as he describes it) I would call "atheism".Delete
He's not being dishonest though. He just doesn't want to be confused with the new atheists, and that's understandable. As an atheist, I want to claim him as one of us only to show that not all atheists are confrontational and self-righteous.
(Although I am)
"Implying that he isn't being honest?"Delete
Deepak, not sure how you got any implication from me that he was dishonest. And I personally have no problem with agnosticism. I find definition arguments unproductive.
My complaint would be his use of the word "agnostic" where I don't think he is an agnostic in the way I understand the term.Delete
But, again, that is the problem with labels.
Self aware patternsDelete
I did quote your comment where you say that non believers like Tyson would cower rather than be honest about tier views - Id say that my comment is a fair comment - though if you meant something else then great!
I dont think Tyson's view are as clearcut because I remember he had answered somewhat differently a while ago - he didnt want to be associated with the label "atheist" - not "new atheist". I'd rather there was a term for a-religious since that would cover most of us.I can find common ground with you on the confrontational and self righteous front - though the closest label I'd choose for myself is agnostic
Robin, I suspect he would say he was a Huxley agnostic, not the careful neutrality that most people take for agnosticism today. But that's the problem with these types of discussions. There are differing conceptions of what Greek words like 'agnostic' or 'atheist' mean, and despite what many insist, they carry political implications. It's why I avoid labeling anyone with them unless it's a label they choose for themselves.Delete
I'd encourage you to reread the entire sentence that fragment came from.
i did - I dont see a difference - but Im happy to take your word that you meant something else
I don't think he is an agnostic in the way I understand the term.
Well , there seems to be a view that Agnosticism implies you are 50/50 on the question of God and the more you move in one direction or the other the more you move towards being an a/theist - That's not the usage Im familiar with and its not why I would call myself agnostic (It isn't how we use the term in different contexts either - if I say a programming language like java is platform agnostic , it doesn't mean it works 50% on linux!). There's also the "but of course we can never be 100% sure about anything so everyone is a technical agnostic so the term is redundant" - yes but thats not the only reason for agnosticism.
I'd say I'm agnostic for the simple reason , I cannot come up with a hypothesis as to what would count as evidence for a being that, by definition, exists outside our universe (and how it would interact with it - given that it exists outside the universe) - when I cant even frame that , much less evaluate it , I have to be agnostic on the question of Gods existence.
God's existence however is an irrelevant question , imo.
It only becomes relevant when you introduce religion into the mix - where now it vaguely defines God , the desires of this God and the actions that we must perform in order to please this God or curry favors from it. And I'd say that Im new- atheistic towards religion. The question of religion has been settled to my satisfaction.
I think when SAP said honest he meant forthright.Delete
Just like Dennett's project of finding clergy who question the dogma and teaching of the position, but work with him anonymously because being in the clergy is a public position. Scientists are not required to be atheists but need to maintain a neutral position professionally concerning religion and dogma, but are not publicly he's to the position which I think was one of his main points. He even mentioned the history of Jesuit scientists as proof of the historical connection of church and science which has had many positive points to offset the Galileo, Copernicus and Bruno disasters.ReplyDelete
Really enjoy reading these essays on science and religion http://avaxhome.cc/ebooks/religion/1847062180_1847062172_Reason.html
Putting on my theology hat the conception of God changes in the Bible itself between the BC OT and AD NT, so post Darwin and Einstein science offers a challenge and chance to mature Western faith. The advancement of brain science has not reached the point of explaining religion and science: http://philica.com/display_article.php?article_id=32
Enjoyed the pod cast with Neil deGrasse Tyson and happen to be sympathetic to his personal position in this matter. I take a slightly different approach regarding NdT's concern. The first thing that struck me in the interview was that NdT seemed to be seeking validation of a sort from Julia and Massimo. Validation regarding what? Whether or not that they think by declining membership in the NA club, he is somehow being intellectually dishonest as a scientist. This is not new. The go-to scientific genius on the God/No God debate less than 100 years ago was Einstein, except the recruitment of scientific authority was largely conducted theists back then.ReplyDelete
The discussions of etymology, labels and dogma were helpful in my opinion because they are sensitive to what goes wrong so often when one confuses a matter of personal belief with the pursuit of something that more and more is becoming only a matter of polemics. Still, by and large, one message from NdT was clear: I want to be remembered as a scientist, not as someone who is an advocate of either atheism or theism. I have read comments elsewhere about NdT that intend to denigrate his status as a scientist and as a person who has devoted his life to the pursuit of science. But he's become famous. And Massimo tried to get into the implications of one's status as a "public" thinker, but like much of the podcast, it was a topic that was not adequately explored. Much of this I think can be attributed to NdT. I sensed he was emotionally upset by the topic and perhaps the accusations that have been aimed at him.
Much popularization today, regardless of topic, seems somehow to get caught up in what can be described as celebrity (authority/expertise) mongering. Sometimes you get Ted Nugent or Tom Cruise, sometimes you try to get NgT who simply insists that he'd rather not participate. Then he's call a spoil sport, as if he's now in the public domain and fair game for anyone. Think of it as the commodification or branding of ideas and the personalities who support them. If he mentions that his favorite popular song is "Spirit in the Sky," it may be he simply likes it despite its theistic theme, not that it is evidence of some cognitive dissonance that he can't resolve. So NdT is sensitive about his current public image. Cut him some slack. He is also a black man who may be particularly sensitive to stereotyping and the caricatures of who one is and what one stands for. But this is in no way meant to suggest that he can't decide what battles he needs to fight, or whether he deems the battle personally worth fighting.
Looking forward to NGT and COSMOS:ReplyDelete
I should point out that there is no record, as far as I know, of the charges against Bruno.Delete
But it is highly unlikely that he was burned for any scientific view - his theological views would have been more than enough to enrage the murderous despots at the head of the church.
Bruno's suggestion that there was life on other planet was sourced from an earlier church figure Nicolas of Cusa and his views on heliocentrism come from Copernicus.
If he had been burned for these views then the source books would have been banned at the time, but Cusa's books were never banned (as far as I am aware) and Copernicus's book was not banned until later when Galileo was tried.
Casting him as a scientific martyr seems to be to be a wilful misrepresentation of history.
I am hearing from reviews that Giordano Bruno is being credited with ideas that he actually read from Nicolas of Cusa and is being hailed as a great pioneer on that basis.Delete
I certainly will not be bothering with the new Cosmos if that is the level of scholarship.
He's confusing atheism with anti-theism. I don't see anything in the definition of atheism that says you can't enjoy the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. If you enjoy songs about Santa Claus or even tell your children that Santa exists, that doesn't make you agnostic about Santa Claus.ReplyDelete
I'm an atheist that also enjoys Jesus Christ Superstar. And I know many many more that do, as well. Not sure what in the world Neil thinks that's significant.Delete
It seems he's upset because of a few snarky internet comments.
Max, I don't think he is at all confusing atheism with anti-theism. I think he could articulate a difference. But what would it accomplish in terms of how he views himself and his legitimate concern as to his public image. So he is very sensitive as to how the "public" perceives him and is sufficiently sophisticated to see that simple things can be distorted. Though it may be common knowledge in the philosophic and scientific communities that Thomas Huxley coined the word agnostic, the fact that he made reference to this fact suggests that he's given some thought to the matter. To my thinking, his citing his tastes in music are provided to suggest that some might use this bit of trivia to distort his views. And I think his concerns are well-placed. Why should his integrity be questioned because he draws his own line between his personal life and public image? Can you blame him when you want to suggest an analogy between the theism-atheist discussion and Santa Claus?ReplyDelete
Functionally the big difference is between assuming gods and not assuming them. "Don't knows" seem not to be functionally different from "Nots"; what rationally follows from assuming the former is very different from that following from the latter.ReplyDelete
I could say the same for the difference between assuming Naturalism and not assuming Naturalism?Delete
There is definitely a world view being advanced on the basis of the assumption of Naturalism but without the even playing field of evidence.
As I keep saying the "atheism" formula seems to be a mechanism for avoiding the need to define and defend Naturalism.
There seems to be an assumption that lack of evidence for metaphysical system A can count as positive evidence for metaphysical system B but not vice versa.
Michael, I've frequently heard people claim an agnostic position on other matters posted here. Louise Anthony says in her interview with Gutting: "When I claim to know that there is no God, I mean that the question is settled to my satisfaction. I don’t have any doubts. I don’t say that I’m agnostic, because I disagree with those who say it’s not possible to know whether or not God exists. I think it’s possible to know. And I think the balance of evidence and argument has a definite tilt." She also acknowledges that epistemic peers do not exist in the real world and that this claim, along with other differences, can be rationally relevant to a belief (and presumably for disbelief). So in her case, I don't think she would describe the positions of atheism and agnosticism as functionally equivalent. If you want to claim that an agnostic position on this matter is a sort of closet atheism, some will disagree, even the scientist who coined the word.Delete
Sorry, Michael. The more I read you comment ("what rationally follows from assuming the former is very different from that following from the latter") the more I think we are in agreement. Correct me if I'm wrong.Delete
More problems with labels. An agnostic says that when you don't know you should just say "I don't know".Delete
An agnostic does not say, as Louise Gutting suggests, that it is not possible to know.
She's not really addressing the agnostic point of view in the way you suggest. What she says is that she believes it's "possible" for an atheist to "know" that supernatural beings do not exist. She claims this possibility despite also claiming that knowledge does not entail "either certainty or infallibility." So I suppose the question becomes one of the adequacy of a position regarding what is acceptable in terms of one's theory of knowledge. She frames her belief or disbelief in terms of a theory. The agnostic takes a non-committal position regarding the question of the acceptability of that theory in forming a belief regarding the existence of what is called a supernatural being. Some would argue that Spinoza is either an atheist or a panentheist as opposed to an agnostic. So NgT's concerns about word usage are valid in my opinion.Delete
In retrospect, when discussing gods, agency seems the most salient point. Theologians run the gamut from advocating gods as only products of the human mind - existing internally - and symbolizing human aspirations to existing externally but never interacting to existing externally and interacting constantly. No wonder it is so confusing - tangled in definitions of real, exist, creation, revelation and so on. Perhaps, Massimo's take that gods are incoherent is the only one that makes sense; we are more likely to be discussing something for which we don't have a common language.Delete
please let my comments appear ?ReplyDelete
i would like to have a conversation with Disagreeable Me how can i do that?ReplyDelete
There is a contact form on my blog, which you can access by clicking my name.Delete
Agreed, Max. NDT is confusing atheism with anti-theism or at least something else. He volunteered that he liked JCS as though that was so unusual for an atheist and should by itself exclude one from the atheist label.ReplyDelete
This podcast was very trying to listen to from all involved. Very unfocused. When he says he doesn't care about the issue, it's like saying religion is irrelevant to society. He wants to say dogma is the problem, as though dogma is not an especially potent problem for religion. It's not as if people who deny science are represented equally from all demographics.
If I am the one who completes the ‘Final’ physics theory which describes the Nature to its last detail, I will immediately realize three facts when the last period is dotted on that paper.
a. I ‘am’ the inventor of this ‘Final’ physics model.
b. The details of this perfect model ‘was’ implemented for creating a something (which we call it as ‘this’ universe today) about 15 billion years ago by, by, by, …, not by me.
c. Jesus the God takes up ‘zero’ (absolutely zero) space in my invention, this perfect physics model.
With these three facts, I will have no problem to label myself as a die-hard non-atheist (with all the denotations and connotations that the word atheist carries).
Thanks, all of you, for your sane thread of comments regarding my appearance on Rationally Speaking.ReplyDelete
Dare I suggest that my interview has been overanalyzed by many of you? At no time was I trying to be deep. My point is simple and direct: If I tell people I am an atheist, most of them (>70%) will presume and assign a portfolio of incorrect ideas about my thoughts, behaviors, and outlooks -- ideas that would be mostly accurate for any new atheist. Because of this, I need a different word to describe me, or, as i've said before, my preference is no word at all.
And, may I remind some people that the (English) dictionary does not define words. Instead, after a time-delay, it describes words as they have come to be used.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, New York City
"Apatheist," as either Massimo or Julia suggested in the episode, although I don't think you heard. However, I don't know what's more insulting to a sensitive theist: saying that you don't care about a crucial part of their identity or that you don't believe in the major entity in their life? Either way, I understand your reasons for not wanting to be associated with the new atheists, but I do think labels are nice. I think you're an atheist based on your disbelief in gods, and I think that's what most people who know what atheist means would say you are too, so I hope you're not offended.Delete
Your dictionary point is odd to me. If someone says because you're a scientist you must hate Jesus, you may appropriately say, "Actually, a scientist is simply someone who does science." This is both descriptive and prescriptive and I don't know how you would disentangle those components.
Thanks for being such a fantastic science communicator. I loved the first episode of Cosmos and look forward to seeing the rest of the season.
Neil: Watched the first episode yesterday on my tablet and the art and storytelling was superb. As a scientist what we all are is storytellers, especially with You standing against the backdrop of the cosmos. In science we tell the story empirically and mathematically, but it is a story nonetheless. Human storytelling is as old as the campfire. The Bible is a system of stories which not only tell a cosmic history but also include stories of human social and psychological behavior told through the eyes of a tribal people who found the monotheistic god. It is the philosophers passion to make sense of it all.......Good LuckDelete
BTW Seth could have cast the cardinals more in a Peter Griffin character, " C'mon Giordano you gotta see the pickle we're in, we'd hafta rewrite all bibles.....so why don't ya just say ah ah maybe ahhhh...."
There are stereotypes about every group. For example, African Americans are the most religiously devout racial group in the nation. An overwhelming 87% of African Americans identify with a religious group. If you don't fit that stereotype, then what, you're not African American?Delete
The basic issue is when people attach too much baggage to a label, like equating atheism with anti-theism or with Communism, do you correct them or do you accept their distorted definition and try to find a new label?ReplyDelete
But what if they're attaching baggage not to the label but to what it represents, like equating disbelief in God with devil worship? Then, no matter what you call disbelief in God, it won't get rid of the baggage.
I think you're making Neil's point. He is an atheist, and he is an African American, but maybe he prefers being thought of as a complex, unique person than either. Labels are problematic for exactly the reason you highlight.Delete
That said, I think some labels are still too useful to ignore.
Note, the above was intended as a reply to a different commentDelete
If God is just is there would still be those who would say: is not!ReplyDelete
I'm apprehensive about listening to this episode after reading that they launch into a discussion about the philosophy of language. I'm sure I'm overreacting. It just seems like every discussion about what to label yourself has to travel down this giant philosophical rabbit hole that ends where you started. Then again, maybe I should just listen before complaining about things I haven't even heard yet...ReplyDelete
"he explained that he avoids the label "atheist" because it causes people to make all sorts of unflattering (and often untrue) assumptions."ReplyDelete
So now he's riding the euphemism treadmill.
agnostic and atheist are not mutually exclusive.ReplyDelete
Wow, I never realized how similarly deGrasse Tyson and I think. His entire position on atheism is a near mirror to my own. I've even used the non-golfer example before (though I didn't use specifically golf in mine), and I've said on many occasions that the problem is not faith but dogma (which the NA movement has no shortage of). I think I may go watch the new Cosmos now.ReplyDelete