Author Topic: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion  (Read 33757 times)

Offline ka9q

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Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« on: January 13, 2013, 07:19:25 PM »
Plus, he knows Superman.;D
Wow, I hadn't heard that. I'm a big fan of Tyson, and as a few people in the comments say, he has finally filled Carl Sagan's empty shoes as a popularizer of science. If anything, I think Tyson does a better job. (And I say that as a Cornell graduate who saw a lot of Sagan in his prime.)

It was also interesting to see the discussion on the NPR site about Tyson vs Dawkins. I'm among those who think their tactics are complementary, but anyone who thinks Tyson can't get as hard-edged as Dawkins when he wants hasn't seen him in action. Tyson gives an entertaining and passionate talk about how religious fundamentalism destroyed a once-flourishing Islamic scientific community, and how it's now destroying us. I saw him give it in Las Vegas in 2011 at the JREF convention. His talk alone made the trip worthwhile.


« Last Edit: January 13, 2013, 07:21:33 PM by ka9q »

Offline raven

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2013, 07:40:22 PM »
Maybe it's just me and my upbringing, (growing up in a Christian home of young earth creationists who at the same time encouraged my scientific curiosity) but Dawkins comes across as, well, an asshole. :-[
Dr. Tyson is great at encouraging the wonder and enthusiasm of science, the majesty and marvel of creation, like a more grand and mature Bill Nye, or, yes, Sagan.

Offline Echnaton

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2013, 08:16:17 PM »
Maybe it's just me and my upbringing,...but Dawkins comes across as, well, an asshole.
No it is not just you.  Dawkins is a scientific genius but is also very politically anti-religious and his judgmental nature comes across clearly.
The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. —Samuel Beckett

Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2013, 04:08:23 AM »
Look for videos of Tyson's talk. He's given variations of it for some time, and you'll find some of them on Youtube.

Maybe he was unusually blunt because the JREF conference where I saw him was attended largely by atheists, but he wasn't at all accommodating to religion.

In fact, he reminded me much of Dawkins in the way that he dissected the "God of the Gaps" argument. He cited examples of how even Isaac Newton, who he felt was not only the greatest scientist but also the smartest human who ever lived (and he's probably right), fell for the God of the Gaps when discussing something he didn't understand yet scientifically -- but which we do now.

Sure, one is an astronomer while the other is a biologist, and they have different personal styles, but they often say the very same things.



Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2013, 04:22:25 AM »
he's solely preaching to the choir.
And, uh, we're not?  ;)

Offline gillianren

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2013, 12:17:13 PM »
he's solely preaching to the choir.
And, uh, we're not?  ;)


No, we're not.  We, at least most of us, are actively trying to avoid antagonizing those people who might disagree with us on an irrelevant social issue.  It's also why I'm so determined that throwing mindless insults that cover all people in a category is a bad idea, no matter what that category is.  By insulting religious people so generally, what Dawkins is doing is ensuring that the very people who need the education most--those who don't believe in evolution because they only understand the strawman certain religions have put up--will ignore anything he has to say.  He can explain evolution in the most beautiful, accurate language, language which makes it obvious how little you understand the world around you if you don't accept it, and it won't matter.  The people who need the explanation won't listen to him, because he insulted them in the title of his book.
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Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #6 on: January 15, 2013, 05:45:40 AM »
I actually agree that we need religious people who understand, accept and can clearly explain evolution simply because so many creationists refuse to even listen to anyone they know (or suspect) to be an atheist or agnostic. That's why Brown biology professor Ken Miller (a Catholic) is such an effective opponent of "intelligent design". (Then again, many fundamentalists don't even consider Catholics -- or anyone who accepts evolution, for that matter -- to be legitimate Christians.)

People like Miller can also make a theological argument for evolution that I could never make (at least not honestly): "Who are you to tell god how he can or can't work?"

That said, Dawkins, as a humanist philosopher and social critic has important things to say about the harmful effects of religion that only an atheist like him can say without being hypocritical. I don't think he really needs to pull any punches; he just needs to be more explicit about whether he's speaking as a biologist or as a philosopher.


« Last Edit: January 15, 2013, 05:53:50 AM by ka9q »

Offline Valis

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2013, 07:28:03 AM »
That said, Dawkins, as a humanist philosopher and social critic has important things to say about the harmful effects of religion that only an atheist like him can say without being hypocritical. I don't think he really needs to pull any punches; he just needs to be more explicit about whether he's speaking as a biologist or as a philosopher.
Educating the public is role in which he's seen in popular media. Books like The Blind Watchmaker and God Delusion are part of this role; respectively, they try to tell in easy terms how complexity can arise from simple beginnings and rules, and why a theistic belief is intellectually dishonest. His books targeting the general audience are scientific only in the sense as is Hawking's A Brief History of Time: A simplified overview of the current understanding.

I don't think that any "New Atheist" book can convert a true believer, in the same vein that true Apollo hoax believers can't be converted (cf. Heiwa). However, it's the fence-sitters who can learn the feeble basis of a theistic belief compared to our scientific knowledge, and Dawkins's site has plenty of reader stories about this. Another example is the late Christopher Hitchens, who also had a book with a seemingly insulting title (God Is Not Great) making an impact even among Christian preachers: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/dennett-and-lascola-study-on-nonbelieving-clergy/

Elaborate philosophical arguments don't work in theistic belief/non-belief for the general public. Nietzsche for example had little impact, and same goes for Bertrand Russell. In a world where Jesus appearing on a toast is taken as a sign of a higher power, basic education in an easily accessible form is definitely needed, and a way to get people to actually read it is using pointed titles.

Offline raven

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2013, 07:55:06 AM »
Eh, just because you are religious doesn't mean you automatically think some toast burned in a pareidoliac pattern is actually some kind of miracle. It fascinates me, sure, but only because the way the human brain so easily latches onto face like patterns fascinates me.
It's as much a stereotype as saying *all* atheist are all Dawkins clones.
What makes stereotypes wrong is not that there isn't examples of the stereotype, but that it assumes everyone who has one thing in common necessarily has another.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2013, 07:58:10 AM by raven »

Offline Valis

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #9 on: January 15, 2013, 08:17:33 AM »
Eh, just because you are religious doesn't mean you automatically think some toast burned in a pareidoliac pattern is actually some kind of miracle.
That's not what I said. What I said that in a world where we still have individuals taking such things as miracles, there's a definite need for public education.

Offline raven

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2013, 08:37:29 AM »
Perhaps I did overreact, I apologize. :-[

Offline Echnaton

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2013, 08:43:58 AM »
the feeble basis of a theistic belief
The basis for theistic belief only look "feeble" from a reductionist point of view.  If one does not hold a reductionist point of view, then beliefs, theistic or not, can be firmer than any narrative or proof offered by science.  The "problem" is that humans are by nature not universally reductionist.  My reading of Dawkins is that he dismisses the human characteristic of "wholism," for lack of a better word.  A characteristic that make up the essential nature of a sizable portion of the human kind, and always will.  That is what make him come off as an ass to many people. 
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Offline Valis

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2013, 08:54:24 AM »
The basis for theistic belief only look "feeble" from a reductionist point of view.
No. The basis is feeble from a scientific point of view, i.e. the one where evidence is what matters.
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My reading of Dawkins is that he dismisses the human characteristic of "wholism," for lack of a better word.  A characteristic that make up the essential nature of a sizable portion of the human kind, and always will.  That is what make him come off as an ass to many people.
I have no idea what you are talking about here. What do you mean by "wholism"?

Offline Echnaton

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2013, 10:38:44 AM »
The basis for theistic belief only look "feeble" from a reductionist point of view.
The basis is feeble from a scientific point of view, i.e. the one where evidence is what matters.
That is certainly true.  But science does not matter to all people in all circumstances.
 
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Quote
My reading of Dawkins is that he dismisses the human characteristic of "wholism," for lack of a better word.  A characteristic that make up the essential nature of a sizable portion of the human kind, and always will.  That is what make him come off as an ass to many people.
I have no idea what you are talking about here. What do you mean by "wholism"?

Sorry for the confusion, it is properly spelled "holism."  Holism is the counterpart to reductionism.  It is the view that takes things as a whole, with no objective basis for a reduction into constituent parts.   We get into trouble when we apply reductionism to what is not reducible, either because it is inherently irreducible or because we lack sufficient knowledge of the constituent parts.  Reductionism has been the game since modern science, from Newton, began to show its vast explanatory power.  Since that time, people have sought to apply it everywhere.   

Literature is one category that reductionism does not work well on and romanticism is a literary response to the over reaching of reductionism.  Many fundamentalist use a reductionist strategy to explain theological beliefs and give meaning to the Bible.  Breaking the Bible, for instance, into chapter and verse and selecting individual constituents to make a larger point.  The wrongness of the approach starts with the fact that that division or groupings in literature are largely arbitrary, that is non-empirical.  We divide literature in a way that makes sense to us, not because the division approximates something in nature.  The conception that God, envisioned as an all powerful supernatural entity, can be reduced by looking at essentially arbitrary chapters and verses of the Bible has always appeared to me as the height of arrogance. 

One poor use of reductionism that scientist are prone to is extending into areas where the knowledge of nature is far to incomplete for a meaningful division to me made.  I have read critiques of Dawkins books from fellow atheist evolutionary biologist that make this claim.  Sorry I don't have citations, just casual reading.  The technique is useful in  developing hypothesis, but Dawkins appears to some, to extend his claims regarding religion from the hypothetical into a scientific theory without sufficient evidence.  That is what, in my opinion, makes him arrogant.

The reductionist explanation appeals to modern humans because we are so used to accepting its explanatory power.  Many of us on "faith," because few of us can personally perform an empirical check.  The dark side of reductionism is that when misapplied it gives us a false sense of the underpinning of our beliefs.  I think we should embrace holism, for what it is, and be adamant in pointing out the overreaching of reductionism when it occurs.

edited for clarity
« Last Edit: January 15, 2013, 11:52:26 AM by Echnaton »
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Offline gillianren

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2013, 11:35:43 AM »
And the thing is, he does need to pull punches if he wants to convince people.  Very few people are fence-sitters on the subject on religion; I'm pretty rare because I know my religious beliefs don't make any sense, and that if it were entirely under my control, I wouldn't believe.  Belief in a deity is not scientific, because I have no evidence and I know it.  However, I believe nonetheless and cannot explain why.  Is it a delusion?  Perhaps.  Is telling me so going to change what I believe?  No.  And if I can't be reasoned out of my beliefs, who is he going to convince?
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