Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) fired out a tweet on Wednesday, June 29:
Earth needs a virtual country: Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence
… and the response was weird.
I know absolutely nothing about Tyson’s motivation, but I suspect he put it out there in mild and humorous frustration at how utterly NON-rational current society and government is. Suggesting ONE way it could be better — with a more-rational, rather than more-religious, or more-politically-factional, approach to social problems.
This is also a TWEET — you know, 140 characters? — so if he meant something beyond that, there was no way to explain it IN THIS ONE TWEET. It’s ludicrous to expect otherwise, don’t you think?
Some people took the suggestion not only seriously, but as if it was a dire threat to all mankind. They lost their collective shit, not just saying it was a bad idea, but likening it to the French Revolution, Hitler, and eugenics. Some even took swipes at Charles Darwin for good measure.
“Scientism” is the belief that all we need to solve the world’s problems is – you guessed it – science. People sometimes use the phrase “rational thinking”, but it amounts to the same thing. If only people would drop religion and all their other prejudices, we could use logic to fix everything.
Scientism refuses to see this. The myopia of scientism, its naive utopianism and simplistic faith, bears an uncanny resemblance to the religious dogmatisms that people such as Tyson and Dawkins denounce.
The republic of reason Tyson thinks will logic away the world’s problems has been tried before. It was called the French Revolution, and it caused a lot of people to lose their heads—literally and figuratively.
Tyson, too, has a philosophy, whether he realizes it or not. It’s called “scientism,” the belief that science is the only valid source of knowledge. The rule-by-self-identified-experts he envisions for the happy land of Rationalia is scientism’s logical outcome. But when you insist that facts and evidence speak for themselves, it has a funny way of silencing everyone else. As one intrepid Twitter user replied to Tyson’s initial tweet, “Convenient how the ‘evidence’ always seems to line up with Tyson’s personal beliefs.”
Politicians already misuse science, construe evidence, or outright ignore evidence to get what they want. Do we want scientists doing the same in their studies if they think their findings could influence laws based on their own beliefs?
Professor Tyson, who may be the dumbest smart person on Twitter, yesterday wrote that what the world really needs is a new kind of virtual state — he wants to call it “Rationalia” — with a one-sentence constitution: “All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” This schoolboy nonsense came under withering and much-deserved derision. Conservatives, who always have the French Revolution in their thoughts, reminded him that this already has been tried, and that the results are known in the history books as “the Terror.”
Man, I’m glad we settled that. Now back to the utterly perfect world we currently live in.