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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

female gazing at: Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Brainy is not the new sexy. Brainy has always been sexy.

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I saw deGrasse Tyson give a talk at the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC a few years ago, and you would have thought — from the response from the big big crowd — that he was a rock star, not a scientist.

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Did I say rock star? Goodness:

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If you don’t adore this guy, I don’t know if we could be friends. Sorry.

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(If you have a suggestion for someone we should female-gaze at, feel free to email me with a name or a link to a particular photo. But check to see whom we’ve already gazed at.)


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  • LaSargenta

    He is fantastic.

  • Bluejay

    A rock star? Most definitely.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sP6N1fVf3o8

  • Kathy_A

    Thank you for this, MaryAnn!! I lovelovelove NdGT. He really cracks me up when he shows up on Daily Show or Colbert Report. My favorite appearance of his on TDS was when he walked on to be the official answerer for a segment called “Bullshit or No Bullshit” re: asteroid mining, all while solving a Rubik’s Cube on stage.

  • crowTrobot

    It’s embarrassing he has to do it, but the man has been meticulously dismantling the creationist argument with Cosmos (not that it’s that difficult to do.) Hopefully such a high profile beat down will get less people listening to these loons.

  • It won’t. :-(

  • LaSargenta

    Is there a PinUp Scientists Calendar? He’d be a good candidate.

  • Jurgan

    It might get people who don’t know much about it to stop thinking “both sides are possible, we should teach the controversy.” Most debates are won not by converting the opponent but by convincing the middle.

  • Karl Morton IV

    Are you getting “Cosmos” over there? It’s quite wonderful, I think. Time was this sort of show seemed to be very easy to find on TV, but that had to be what, fifteen years ago? Apparently it’s doing quite well. :)

    I want a Spaceship of the Imagination for Christmas! If I can’t have a TARDIS, of course. And
    NDT needs to be on “Doctor Who” – just because. :D

  • LaSargenta

    A new Companion!!

  • crowTrobot

    I’m less pessimistic about it. I think most people respond to questions about Biblical literalism or evolution because they don’t really pay any attention to the issues and think it’s just the right way to answer them. Polls are showing Americans, especially younger Americans, are becoming less religious and a high profile show like Cosmos gives them more intellectual ammunition to continue to be so.

  • No, Cosmos isn’t on TV here, but I’ve been watching it online. It hasn’t been blowing my mind like the original Cosmos did, but I was like 12 for the first one, so I was more impressionable. Plus, I keep up with this stuff now, so I haven’t really learned anything I didn’t already know. But I love NdGT and his enthusiasm, so I’m watching.

  • Bluejay

    I’m greatly enjoying Tyson’s Cosmos too, but I do think he’s a bit more sedate on the show, for some reason. He’s more fiery and passionate when he’s speaking live and off-the-cuff.

    It’s also interesting to compare and contrast his version with Sagan’s. In the most recent episode, the visuals were movie-impressive when the gravity of a New York street was “turned off”; Sagan covered the same topic, charmingly and effectively, with illustrations of the Mad Hatter’s party from Alice in Wonderland. It was amazing what he could do with crude effects and eloquence.

    Not putting down NdGT at all, just appreciating different approaches.

  • I’m watching it with my 13-year old son, and we are both enjoying it very much. Sure, I’ve know a lot of what he’s talked about, but I’ve also learned a bit, too. Everyone and their children should be watching this show. Not just the already initiated.

  • bronxbee

    a year or two ago, i do believe there were calendars with well-known scientists… there was a male one for those who like that sex, and a female one… i particularly liked the month that had Phil Platte… i would love to have a NdGT calendar… the man could wear a different vest every month — or nothing.

  • bronxbee

    he just gets better as he gets older…. damn! he’s just lovely.

  • I could never decide. Stupid genders. Please mix and match all the sexy people.

  • Robert P

    If only he’d admit he’s an atheist and not feel a need to tapdance around it.

  • Bluejay

    I think he sincerely doesn’t like the term and doesn’t want the baggage that he feels comes with it. You don’t buy his “atheist vs agnostic” explanation? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzSMC5rWvos

  • Jerry Ross

    It’s gotta be that mustache.

    credit: http://hirsutehistory.com

  • crowTrobot

    I never thought about how light from distant stars so easily debunks the “earth is 6500 years old” BS. So simple.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Not if you sufficiently determined. In which case, you simply speculate, without a shred of evidence, that the speed of light has been decreasing over the course of that 6500. From there you’re just a stones throw from Last Thursdayism

  • Yeah, I thought that was pretty amazing, too. yet another reason to trust science over superstition.

  • Please. The light was created on course for Earth 6500 years ago and only *appears* to have traveled great distances. And dinosaur fossils are a test of our faith. Anything’s possible with magic and miracles!

  • Robert P

    He’s not wrong that many people make various knee-jerk assumptions when they hear the word “atheist” but if they do they’re not someone you’re going to have a meaningful discourse with.

    Atheism per se isn’t a philosophy – it’s an intellectual state that describes the absence of theism. While there are atheists who are vocal activists, you don’t have to be an “active” atheist or even have ever heard the term “atheist” to be an atheist. Everyone is born an atheist. So-called religious “belief” is an emotional state that’s the result of indoctrination.

    No matter how much he tries to wriggle and dance around it he can’t say he possesses a belief in a deity, he’s an atheist.

  • Bluejay

    I agree with you about atheism (I’m an atheist myself, and don’t mind calling myself one) but I’m fine with Tyson’s explanation. His term for his own attitude, agnosticism, isn’t “wriggly”; it’s less politically loaded but equally accurate. We could just as easily say that everyone is born agnostic, and that we’d all believe in God if presented with irrefutable material evidence.

    Tyson’s an educator and wants to reach as many people as possible. He recognizes that many people make assumptions when they hear the word “atheist,” but, unlike you, he’s not willing to write them off. He’s not shy about dismantling ID and creationist arguments, but he doesn’t want to alienate the many religious people (including, as Tyson has pointed out, many scientists) who have no problem accepting the findings of science while maintaining their personal faith.

    Consider what you did in your comment: you identified as atheist, and then made a broadside against religion in general, dismissing it as “so-called” belief and calling it the result of indoctrination. Immediately you’ve turned off any reasonable person who has no problem with science but who happens to be religious; they feel you don’t respect them at all, and any further conversation you have with them will be combative and confrontational. That’s perfectly fine for YOU to do, of course, if that’s what you want; but that’s exactly the kind of baggage that Tyson wants to avoid. If he can ditch the loaded terms so that he can have a civil, open-minded conversation with as many people as possible about the actual ideas and conclusions of science, he’ll do so. I applaud his efforts.

  • RobertP

    The point being, he’s still an atheist. He says he’s open to evidence – as am I – but if he doesn’t claim a belief in a deity, he’s an atheist.

    My assessment of the religious is from my experience with the religious. I call it so-called “belief” for a reason. To believe something you have to have a coherent idea of what it is you believe in. Not only have I never encountered someone who could express such a coherent description, much of religious doctrine declares that “god” is beyond the capacity of man to grasp. From the start they declare even asking the question to be out of bounds. They’re always a bit vague on how they know this.

    A favorite tactic of the religious is to assert that since currently there’s a lot not known about the universe, that somehow substantiates religion. Certainly since we don’t know exactly how the universe formed it adds weight to the notion that polar bears and walruses somehow made their way to an ark in the desert with nothing to live on and in an environment in which they couldn’t survive because an omnipotent being who supposedly created everything kept botching the job of making mankind to his liking and couldn’t come up with a way of fixing things other than drowning everyone. Obviously.

    Whatever rationalization they give, people embrace religion for emotional reasons. The basis isn’t reason-based and as such no matter what you say they’ll always default to the escape hatch of “I don’t care I believe anyway”. It’s always the same compendium of fallacy and circularity.

    I’d be very curious if NDT has ever persuaded a single “believer” to reject their previous beliefs. The only people I’ve known who were formerly religious and later denounced it were those who came to the conclusion on their own that the whole thing is a litany of nonsense.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    As an atheist, I have some questions:

    it’s an intellectual state that describes the absence of theism.

    How is this functionally or definitionally different from a philosophy?

    Everyone is born an atheist.

    This is an assertion made with no evidence that I see all too often, and I’d really like it if it were abandoned.

    No matter how much he tries to wriggle and dance around it he can’t say he possesses a belief in a deity

    Actually, he can say anything he likes. And whatever he chooses to say or not say, it will neither validate nor invalidate your choices. If you think that it will, the problem isn’t with Dr. Tyson. The problem is with you.

  • Robert P

    “…it’s an intellectual state that describes the absence of theism….”

    How is this functionally or definitionally different from a philosophy?

    A
    philosophy is an adopted construct. One can be an atheist – i.e. not
    possess theistic belief – simply because they’re unaware of the notion
    of theistic beliefs. An infant has no choice but to be an atheist
    because they lack the
    cognitive capacity to process the notion of religion or much of anything
    for that matter.

    Atheism doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re
    aware of various vocal atheists – Hitchens, Dawkins, Hawking, Ayn Rand,
    etc. that you read atheist blogs, that you engage in debates with the
    religious. He may not engage in “active atheism” and it’s his
    prerogative to not want to be considered as being associated with any
    particular movement but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s an
    atheist.

    The way people generally use the term “agnostic” to mean
    “I don’t know” still means they -don’t- possess theistic belief.
    They’re atheists.

    Actually, he can say anything he likes. And whatever he chooses to say
    or not say, it will neither validate nor invalidate your choices,

    It
    has nothing to do with my choices, it has to do with use of language.
    He can say he’s not a biped or a homo sapien and it also it won’t make
    it true. If he doesn’t hold theistic beliefs he’s an a-theist.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    OK, so, here are my problems with what you’re saying:

    1) You’re attempting to position “atheism” as some sort of natural, and therefore, prefered state of human philosophy. This is a supposition. It might be a reasonable one, but it’s still unsupported by anything resembling facts. We have no way of determining what infants “think” about anything. Nor do we have access to humans raised in total isolation of other humans to tell us what their theistic beliefs are. I’ve seen theists make similar arguments, from different sets of unsupported assumptions. It’s no more convincing when they do it than when you do.

    2) The kind of atheism you are proposing, incidentally, is a sort of accidental atheism. It’s entirely unexamined. I question, then, what use it is, what meaning it has, philosophically.

    3) You trying to tell other people who they are, what they think, and what they believe. at best, that’s exceedingly rude. I’ll ask you to kindly knock it off.

    4) if it’s not about your choices, then whether Dr. Tyson is vocal, or silent, or diplomatic about his beliefs shouldn’t matter to you. But they clearly do.

  • Bluejay

    I’d be very curious if NDT has ever persuaded a single “believer” to reject their previous beliefs.

    See, that’s exactly it: I don’t think Tyson regards this as his mission, at all. He doesn’t necessarily want to turn more people into atheists. He wants to turn more people on to science. This is not, in fact, the same thing. You don’t have to be an atheist to understand and appreciate physics, chemistry, biology. You don’t have to be an atheist to accept the consensus on climate change and the validity of evolution.

    Tyson’s main beef is with religious literalists who use the Bible to deny science, or who insist on having religious truth-claims taught in the science classroom — a very vocal group, true, but one that doesn’t represent all believers by any stretch. If you (the general “you”) can practice your faith and draw strength and inspiration from it without claiming that the universe was created in six days 6,000 years ago, then Tyson probably doesn’t have a problem with you.

  • Danielm80

    Technically speaking, you can say that Tyson is an atheist, in the same way you can say that a law student is not a lawyer. You can’t demonstrate that his atheism is a permanent condition, any more than you can show that a legal student will never practice the law.

    Tyson is presenting himself as a person in transition, or at least a person who’s open to new evidence. He may decide to become a full-blown atheist. He may decide to become a religious person. Right now, he seems to be leaning strongly toward atheism, but you don’t get to decide for him just because that’s the direction that you prefer.

  • Robert P

    you can say that Tyson is an atheist, in the same way you can say that a law student is not a lawyer.

    You’re using a conceptually incorrect example to make your point. You could say he’s an atheist the same way he’s a non-leprechaun/unicorn/hobbit believer. Assuming of course that he doesn’t currently believe there are leprechauns, unicorns or hobbits in real life.

    Atheism isn’t necessarily a permanent condition any more than being a theist is. If you one day decide you believe in the god of the bible for example then you’re no longer atheist. If you were raised Catholic and one day come to your senses and recognize it’s a big scam and reject religion then you’re no longer a theist.

  • Robert P

    You’re attempting to position “atheism” as some sort of natural, and therefore, prefered state of human philosophy.

    Re-read what I’ve said previously. You keep missing a key point. Atheism per se is *isn’t* a philosophy. It’s the absence of theistic belief. Which makes your point 2) completely moot. You don’t have to have a position to be an atheist. If you don’t possess theistic belief due to being unaware of religious notions – which infants don’t and aren’t – then you’re an atheist.

    You trying to tell other people who they are

    You know what you are? You’re a homo sapien! Go ahead, deny it. I’ve sure got *you* pegged.

    :)

  • Robert P

    “…I’d be very curious if NDT has ever persuaded a single “believer” to reject their previous beliefs…”

    See, that’s exactly it: I don’t think Tyson regards this as his mission, at all.

    No? Previously you stated:

    “…He’s not shy about dismantling ID and creationist arguments,…”

    Dismantling means negating, disagreeing. Demonstrating why it’s incorrect. Why would he bother to dismantle them if he’s perfectly fine with them being out there? Which is what motivated me to ponder whether he’s actually dissuaded anyone to abandon religiosity.

    “… but he doesn’t want to alienate the many religious people…”

    Which is also part of the notion of dissuading I mentioned above. In other words you feel he’s just not labeling himself an atheist as a cloaking tactic. Which I believe is true. I don’t believe for a second he seriously regards religiosity as having intellectual validity, otherwise he wouldn’t expend any energy dismantling aspects of religion.

  • Bluejay

    When you said you doubted whether Tyson has persuaded any believer to give up her beliefs, I took that to mean “persuaded any believer to give up belief in God.” That’s what I was responding to. He pushes back against religious empirical claims that intrude into the realm of science, yes. But that is not the same as trying to convince someone to abandon belief in God.

    I don’t believe for a second he seriously regards religiosity as having intellectual validity, otherwise he wouldn’t expend any energy dismantling aspects of religion.

    I didn’t say that he himself regards religion as intellectually valid. I’m arguing that he’s okay with other people being religious, as long as they keep their faith separate from science.

    Look, here’s an interview clip where he says (at 2:30): “I’m perfectly fine with having religious people who live all around me. I don’t care. We’re in a religiously pluralistic society… I’m okay with that. Just keep it out of the science classroom.”

    And here’s a lengthy clip of Tyson speaking at The Amazing Meeting, which is a gathering of atheists and skeptics. No need for him to have a “cloaking tactic” here, where he’s among like-minded nonbelievers.

    (Okay, it’s a little ironic that he’s at what’s essentially an atheist meeting when he’s claimed to disdain atheist meetings, but whatever; maybe this was a rare decision to attend.)

    But listen closely to what he says. (And I’m gonna quote at length here, ’cause I’m on a roll. Sorry!) First he acknowledges that religious belief drops as education level rises, with just 7% of “elite scientists” claiming faith in a personal god. Then he says this (starting at 2:40):

    “So here’s my problem… When you’re educated, and you understand how physics works, and you’re mathematically literate, and you understand data [and] experiment, and you go up to someone who doesn’t have that training, and… you ask them ‘why are you religious, and believing in invisible things that influence your life — what’s wrong with you?,’… that’s unfair. It’s not only unfair, it’s disrespectful, for the following reason. Until THAT NUMBER [7% of elite scientists being religious] is zero, you’ve got NOTHING to say to the general public. These are scientists among us, in the National Academy of Sciences, who are religious and pray to a personal god, and I know some of them. And you’re fighting the public for their religious beliefs? Figure THAT one out first. Because maybe there’s an asymptote. Maybe you can’t change everybody… Maybe there’s something in the brain’s wiring that positively prevents some people from ever being an atheist. If that’s the case, in a way they can’t help it. And you’ll never know it, because you’re NOT one of them. So I ask you first for compassion with the public.

    Still later, he says this: “Personally, I don’t care what people want to believe… I don’t have an issue with what you do in the church. But I’m gonna be up in your face if you’re gonna knock on my science classroom and tell me that I ought to teach what you’re teaching in your Sunday school. That’s when we’re going to fight.”

    And, just as importantly, this: “There’s no tradition of scientists knocking down the Sunday school door, telling the preacher ‘that might not necessarily be true.’ That’s never happened. There are no scientists picketing outside of churches. There’s been this coexistence forever.”

    So it seems to me that Tyson is drawing his lines pretty clearly and straightforwardly here.

    1) He doesn’t believe in God.

    2) He doesn’t mind at all if you do, except

    3) If you make unscientific empirical claims and try to force everyone to accept them as science, he will push back specifically against those claims. But apart from that,

    4) He’s not going to knock down your door and try to take apart your entire faith. (And this is where he parts ways with what he feels the “activist atheist” community is doing.)

    We seem to agree that Tyson is a nonbeliever (whether you want to call it “agnostic” or insist on “atheist”); that he wants everyone (believers and nonbelievers) to get excited about science; that he doesn’t want to turn off believers with polarizing labels. It’s just that you seem to be criticizing him for it, and painting his approach as sneaky and dishonest. I don’t think that’s the case at all; I think he’s being pretty upfront about what he believes, what’s important and not important to him, and what he’s trying to do.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’m not missing that point, I’m telling you that you’re not presenting it in a compelling manner. Your definition of philosophy appears to require that some effort be put into it, that some decisions be made. As you say to Danielm80, you can certainly make a conscious decision to “reject religion” (and for the sake of argument we’ll equate theism and religion) and become an atheist. So, then you’re talking about some special form of atheism, one that represents some sort of natural state for humans. But you can’t know this. You can’t know that, for instance, infants are “unaware of religious notions”. It may be reasonable to suppose it, but reasonable is not necessarily the same as true. Just as you can’t know, for example, that infants don’t see their mothers as god-figures. To claim otherwise is to claim special knowledge. It would, in other words, make you gnostic. But I note that knowing that you didn’t want to get into questions about gnostic versus agnostic atheism and theism.

    Point #2, that this kind of atheism is unexamined and weak, is most definitely not moot. Your natural atheism rather strongly implies that, given any amount of thought or effort or decision-making, one could as easily come to a conclusion to be a theist as an atheist. There was, after all, nothing compelling them towards atheism before. That kind of atheism, even if it existed, is in my view not particularly meaningful. But that is, of course, a value judgement.

    You know what you are? You’re a homo sapien!

    The obtuseness of this comment aside, this is not an apt comparison. There are external markers that identify me as homo sapiens, just as there are external markers that indicate that I am 5’8″ tall, or that water is wet, or that the sky is blue. But I can still claim that I am tall, the water is warm, and the sky is ugly. These are internal decisions, and you don’t get to make them for me. You can try, it you look like a jerk for doing it.

  • Robert P

    Your definition of philosophy appears to require that some effort be put into it

    Yes, a philosophy is consciously adopted and as such requires some kind effort. However atheism in itself isn’t a philosophy – it means you don’t have theistic belief.

    So, then you’re talking about some special form of atheism

    I’m talking about what makes atheism a-theism: Being without theistic belief – whether you’re simply ignorant of the notion of religious belief or have been introduced to it and reject it, either way you’re an atheist. NDT is an atheist.

    An infant can’t view its mother as a “god” figure since this requires conceptual constructs that an infant hasn’t yet acquired.

    You’re in dig-in-heels mode, there’s no point discussing it with you further. My response to anything else you have to say is “okay”. Carry on.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Dude, I’m on your side. I’m just trying to help you make better arguments.

    However atheism in itself isn’t a philosophy – it means you don’t have theistic belief.

    Repeating your assertions doesn’t make them any more supported.

    Being without theistic belief – whether you’re simply ignorant of the notion of religious belief or have been introduced to it and reject it

    The latter of those is, by your own definition, a philosophical position. The former is not. So, you have two different versions of atheism. I’m not making this up. And I don’t see why you a) need both; or b) think a non-philosophical form of atheism is preferential.

    An infant can’t view its mother as a “god” figure since this requires conceptual constructs that an infant hasn’t yet acquired.

    But how do you know this? How would you test for it? How can you measure it? How does an infant view its mother? What “conceptual constructs” are required to view something as a god-figure?

    Look, Robert, you’re not the first person to make this claim. I see it often, and it’s a bad argument. It’s just as bad a when theists try to claim that people are naturally theistic. Both are based on reasonable suppositions (“Every human culture has developed theistic notions…”) extended to unreasonable conclusions (“… therefore theism must be an innate human characteristic.”) And both of them try to maneuver their position into some kind preferred, natural state, thereby making the other position “unnatural” and therefore, bad.

    Again, man, I’m on your side (excepting that I think it’s kind of jerk-ish to make someone carry a label they’re either unwilling or uncomfortable carrying). But if you can’t convince me, what hope do you have convincing anyone else?

  • bronxbee

    i love this. a lot of atheists feel you’re a coward for saying you’re an agnostic. i like margaret atwood’s description of herself as an “orthodox agnostic.” i co-opted it to describe myself. i see no evidence of a god, creative intelligence, neither merciful nor vengeful. but i’m willing to consider evidence if presented to me.

  • bronxbee

    perhaps atheists such as dawkins or rand could more likely be called anti-theists?

  • Danielm80

    I was reading the Wikipedia article on agnosticism, and I found this quote from Thomas Henry Huxley, which I really like:

    Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle … Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.

    I wonder if, for Tyson, agnosticism isn’t just a lack of belief in a deity but a sort of call to action. He seems unusually eager to engage with people whose beliefs are different than his, and to listen to them with an open mind. If he actively seeks those people out, he’s taking the risk that they might change his mind on subjects he thought he was certain about–or, of course, that he might change theirs. And even if they both stick to their original opinions, they might still learn something new.

    I guess, in my mind, calling yourself an atheist is expressing intellectual certainty and calling yourself an agnostic is expressing a desire for further exploration. I’m not saying that atheists aren’t intellectually curious, of course, or that all agnostics like to be challenged. I’m just saying that “I don’t know” is often a really good starting point in life.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’ve been wondering if maybe that’s the term Robert has been grasping for as an alternative to atheism.

  • Robert P

    I’m talking about what makes atheism a-theism: Being without theistic
    belief – whether you’re simply ignorant of the notion of religious
    belief or have been introduced to it and reject it, either way you’re an
    atheist. NDT is an atheist.

    I forgot to include those who say – “I dunno” – they too are atheists. If the answer to the question “do you feel that you possess theistic religious belief” isn’t “yes” then you’re an atheist.

  • Robert P

    Social pressure/reinforcement/indoctrination – which is what religious “belief” is largely about, is very hard to overcome.

    Disconcerting that, at least in the US, the POTUS is always someone who falls all over themselves to (at least pretend to) make clear they embrace religion.

  • Bluejay

    When Tyson complains that he’s being “widely claimed by atheists,” clearly he means YOU. ;-)

    Tyson is very clear in describing what he actually thinks. He says he doesn’t see any compelling evidence for a deity, and therefore he can’t believe in one unless and until he sees such evidence. At some point, arguing about whether to call that position “agnostic” or “atheist” or “strong atheist” or “weak atheist” or “blueberry pie” is beside the point, don’t you think? This is exactly the kind of debate over terms and labels that he never wanted to have.

  • Danielm80

    I’m confused. Are you making a purely linguistic argument and claiming that the term agnostic is imprecise or misleading? Or are you also saying that Tyson is attempting to make a social change and he’s failing, somehow, because he chose an inappropriate word? I’m not sure I agree with either argument, but I’d at least like to be clear on what we’re arguing about.

  • Robert P

    He calls himself an agnostic. One problem with that is there are those who think there’s such a thing as a theistic agnostic. I regard their description as ludicrous nonsense-speak – so-called “belief” without knowledge or evidence isn’t a belief. It’s a whim, an emotion. But apparently the notion is embraced by some.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnostic_theism

    Everything Tyson says makes it clear he doesn’t hold to religious beliefs. He’s an atheist.

    This is exactly the kind of debate over terms and labels that he never wanted to have.

    LIke the various other things he has no problem saying *won’t* generate debate? You can’t even get 100 xtians to agree with each other on exactly what xtians are supposed to believe. I don’t care what people might erroneously attach to it – he’s an atheist.

  • Bluejay

    He calls himself an agnostic. One problem with that

    No, there is NO problem with that. Whatever he wants to call it, he’s very clear in laying out what he means by it (even YOU say it’s clear). Anyone can view his clips and interviews and understand what his position actually is. If he’s not a “theistic agnostic,” nobody will mistake him for one. And if they’re still wondering, they can always ask, and he’ll happily explain himself and his reasons for his position. That’s what he means by “exploring ideas in real time.” And it’s more valuable than going by labels and terms to which everyone seems to attach different definitions anyway.

    Like the various other things he has no problem saying *won’t* generate debate?

    There are useful debates and pointless debates. Debating whether Tyson’s nonbelief is valid is a useful debate. Debating what to CALL Tyson’s nonbelief is not.

  • Yeah it will… just takes a few each new generation who learn to question what their parents and sunday school teachers spoon-feed them. And every attempt is worthwhile.

  • Danielm80

    You don’t care what beliefs people might erroneously attach to the word atheist, but you do care what beliefs they might erroneously attach to the word agnostic? Why?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    The “some” in this case being philosophers and theologians. Plus anyone who’s ever undergone a crisis of faith. Add to that the historical basis of gnosticism, which would claim that any theist who is not a member of a gnostic sect is, by definition, agnostic.

    But just them.

    Really, you were better off when you stuck to a colloquial definition of agnostic, and we all just accepted that you meant “agnostic atheist”. I get the sense that you’d like to do away with the “gnostic/agnostic” qualifiers. Unfortunately, a many people find those distinctions important, and, as has been pointed out to you before, you don’t get to make those choices for other people.

  • Robert P

    Okay.

  • Robert P

    The term agnostic is a word that some people like to use to be non-committal by saying “I don’t know”. If they don’t feel they know they don’t possess theistic belief. They’re an atheist.

    With a so-called “agnostic theist” they’re saying they believe there is a god but they don’t know anything about it.

    NDT is an atheist.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Right. I forgot, I’m the one who’s dug in. *eyeroll*

  • Robert P

    NDT doesn’t want to be claimed by atheist groups because he doesn’t want it implied that he’s endorsing any group in particular – okay. It doesn’t change that he’s an atheist.

  • Tonio Kruger

    If his beliefs neither pick your pocket nor break your leg, why do you care what he believes? If he was spreading falsehoods in the name of science, I’d understand your concern, but no one is accusing him of that. Instead his biggest sin seems to be his desire to define himself in a way you do not approve of — even though it’s his right to define himself however he wants.

  • Robert P

    Tyson’s main beef is with religious literalists who use the Bible to
    deny science, or who insist on having religious truth-claims taught in
    the science classroom — a very vocal group, true, but one that doesn’t
    represent all believers by any stretch.

    Young Earth nonsense isn’t the only aspect of Christianity that flies in the face of reason. It’s not possible to claim religious belief without denying reality in some aspect.

  • Bluejay

    Look, I’M AN ATHEIST. You don’t have to keep telling me that religion is not based in science and cannot be proven with science.

    What I’m saying is that Tyson chooses to push back only against religion’s EMPIRICAL claims, and only when religious proponents insist that those claims be accepted, by everyone, as science.

    Many believers are happy to accept science but still rely on their religion (or at least their personal interpretation of their religion, which is what counts) for guidance, for community, for strength and solace during hard times, for personal inspiration to be a better person, and so on.* And sure, they may say that God is the force behind evolution, the Big Bang, the laws of physics, etc, and that science is HOW God works in the universe. But I think many of them recognize that that’s an article of faith, not science, and they’re comfortable with that distinction.

    YOU, clearly, are not. And you’re apparently so uncomfortable with OTHER people being comfortable with it, that you keep launching tirades against it, and you seem to want Tyson to do the same. Too bad he doesn’t feel like obliging.

    *And oh yeah, PLEASE don’t go into how people sometimes also use religion to justify doing bad things, not good things. First, I AGREE, that sometimes happens. And second, that has nothing to do with Tyson.)

  • Robert P

    The point being, he’s still an atheist. He says he’s open to evidence – as am I

    To clarify – the “evidence” that the religious have to offer is essentially a closed set. For Christians it’s centered around the Bible. When I say I’m open to evidence, I mean “besides what you’ve already presented”. No, I don’t anticipate that they’re going to come up with anything new and compelling. I don’t believe NDT thinks so either.

  • LaSargenta

    Oh, you all have GOT to watch this!!
    http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey/2014/04/22/these-forces-are-real-and-i-had-to-survive-them/
    There’s an embedded video in this page, the time in the corner makes it look like the thing is over an hour, but the player’s rigged to go right to the important bit. If you haven’t clicked over yet, the subtitle is “The Larry Summers Question: What’s Up With Chicks In Science?”

    The point he makes is/the points he makes are so clear (and, to so many of us who hang out on this site, are ‘givens’) and he does it so well, I know you’ll be entertained.

    Note, as well, he prevents Dawkins from making an ass of himself (again).

    Not that I’d care for Dawkins’ sake, but it’s nice not to have to hear something I’d cringe at.

  • Bluejay

    Love it. Also love how he answered it as a scientist: before you can accurately measure the variable, you should make sure all the other factors are constant!

    Also love what the Sesame Street scriptwriter had to say after that.

  • LaSargenta

    I found the panel discussion on uTub, but hesitate to invest the hour+ as when I have to listen to Dawkins too long, I start getting really irritated.

    I did listen, though, to Colbert’s interview of him…which was fun. Especially his beef with James Cameron. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXh9RQCvxmg Titanic’s sky was wrong. Nyah, nyah, nyah. ;-)

  • Bluejay

    You might enjoy this. (I hope it goes straight to the section I want; if not, just skip to the part about 30 minutes in.) Tyson doesn’t often speak about his struggles with “racial” identity and expectations very often, so I find it fascinating — and inspiring — when he does.

  • LaSargenta

    “I can’t think that I almost went and did something else…” Ties in well to bronxbee’s “…then the only thing she’ll be able to do is what she’s passionate about doing…” at http://www.flickfilosopher.com/2013/05/populaire-review-just-your-type.html#comment-1353978759

    And, wow. This is fantastic. About his ambitions, his sense of responsibility. He is more than a Rock Star.

  • Bluejay

    Yeah. I had some thoughts about this a few years ago (on my now-barely-alive blog). It’s an issue I find myself revisiting and my opinions on it keep getting nuanced and tinkered with, but Tyson’s perspective on it remains compelling and inspiring to me.

  • This made me cry. Happy tears.

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