Neil DeGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium, responded to Richard Dawkins’ overall anti-religious attitude at the 2006 Beyond Belief conference. Tyson is quite articulate himself. Watch him:
(By the way, many of the Beyond Belief sessions are available to download and watch on your iPod.)
I started to agree with Tyson that Dawkins would do well to be more of the educator and less of the bulldog. I mean, part of being a teacher is understanding where your students are coming from, reaching them where they are, and taking them along the way to proper understanding.
Evolution isn’t an easy concept. I’ve read tons of books on the subject and I would still have a hard time explaining many of the intricacies to a stranger on the street.
So, of course, we who believe in the scientific method need to do a better job of explaining evolution to those who are blinded by faith.
But, like I said, I only started to agree… Then I changed my mind.
Having heard many people attack Dawkins for being so against the idea of religion, and having also read most of his major works, I do think he explains himself very well. However, his books aren’t intended for people who know nothing about science. You have to have some background in science before you can get the most out of his books. The people who are doing the attacking are generally people who have very little scientific understanding in the first place.
So I can understand Dawkins’ frustration and why he lashes out against religion. Some of the blame on Dawkins not being an educator is misplaced. I think it’d be a waste of his time to try and explain the basics of evolution to those who don’t understand it. That’s what high school teachers are for. I’d rather see him explaining evolution more in-depth to those of us who can and do understand the evolutionary process, which is why The Ancestor’s Tale is my favorite Dawkins’ book. It goes into elaborate detail about how evolution works, details I never read about anywhere else since much of the popular evolution literature deals with the mere basics.
I don’t want to see Dawkins dumb himself down. Sometimes, I feel like we missed out on his full potential because he stopped writing about hard-core evolution research (as he did in The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype) in order to explain evolution “basics” (I use that term loosely), and now he has shifted to writing about religion and how it stands in the way of scientific progress. What other works might he have produced if evolution was properly understood and he didn’t have to reinvent the wheel for those who don’t understand it each time?
Again, like Tyson says, Dawkins might be more effective in explaining his theories if he was sensitive to religious people. But we need people like him to do more to advance Evolutionary Biology understanding for the rest of us. He shouldn’t have to worry about those who don’t get it. I do believe it’s only a matter of time before evolution is a given, and even if Dawkins isn’t around when that happens, his writing will be. And even if it’s not appreciated now, it will be later.
So I’m starting to care less about how Dawkins comes across. You just have to accept him as he is. He’s like the John Kerry of the atheist world. You want to root for him if you’re on his side, but sometimes, he just says things that create easy bait for the opposition. When you get down to real substance, though, I believe Dawkins has it.
Either way, I would like to see Neil DeGrasse Tyson get a little more exposure. If you’ve seen him on The Colbert Report, you know he does a marvelous job of explaining his positions no matter who his audience is. He’s the type of spokesperson that would get positive attention from a much wider audience.
[tags]Richard Dawkins, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Hayden Planetarium, evolution, atheist, atheism, Christianity, John Kerry, Colbert Report, scientific method, The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Ancestor’s Tale[/tags]