***Update***: Dr. Tyson has responded to this thread here.
This is weird for me to say: Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t get it.
In the video below, he claims to be an agnostic… but when you listen to his reasoning, it doesn’t seem like he knows the difference between an agnostic and an atheist.
[Agnostic refers] to someone who doesn’t know… but hasn’t yet really seen evidence for it… but is prepared to embrace the evidence if it’s there… but if it’s not, won’t be forced to have to think something that is not otherwise supported.
So he’s someone who won’t say definitively that god doesn’t exists, but he open to the evidence.
In other words, he’s an atheist… at least that’s the term I’ve always used for that definition.
Without going into (boring-to-me) philosophy that breaks the categories down even further (“He’s a weak atheist,” “He’s an agnostic atheist”), it sounds like Tyson is just trying to back away from using the A word.
To some extent, I understand that. He doesn’t want to be known to the public as an “atheist scientist” (like Richard Dawkins). He wants to be known as a scientist, period. There’s a huge advantage to that.
But one of the reasons so many of us respect Dr. Tyson is because he tells it like it is (and he’s so effective in the process). I have a hard time believing he just misunderstands the terminology (at least as it’s used by the general public).
He goes on to explain that one of the reasons he’s not an “atheist” is because the atheists he knows are fervent activists, fighting for that cause, debating god’s existence, etc. But again, that’s not what makes someone an atheist. You can be an atheist and never talk about it with anyone. If you don’t believe god exists, you’re an atheist. End of story. What you do with that belief is your business, but you don’t become a “bigger” atheist because you talk about it openly, and you’re not a “lesser” atheist if you don’t come out of the closet.
At the end of the video, he talks about how he wouldn’t join a group for people who don’t enjoy golf… as if all atheists do is sit around and not pray. As if there is no anti-atheist discrimination to fight against. As if we’re not opposing attempts to make this a “Christian nation.”
If people who didn’t play golf were discriminated against, then we’d make a bigger deal about that, too. But people who don’t play golf can still get elected to Congress all across the country. People who don’t believe in god are banned from even running for office in several states (at least in the books).
I’ve never said this before, but I’m really disappointed in Neil deGrasse Tyson after watching that video.
Had he just stuck to his opening statement of explaining that he doesn’t like labels — “the only ‘ist’ I am is an ‘scientist'” — it would’ve been fine. A copout perhaps, but a respectable copout. But hearing him elaborate on those ideas, he just fell into misguided definitions and false accusations we so often hear from Christian apologists. He should know better than that.
Am I off base?