Neil deGrasse Tyson On Intelligent Design

11 04 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

I’ve often cited the famed Hayden Planetarium astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as one of my favorite living science communicators, an assertion which I had previously discussed at length here. For those of my readership who opt to avoid reading that admittedly lengthy-post, allow me to submit the following clip for your consideration in which Dr. Tyson provides an impassioned defense of supporting NASA and astronomical exploration in general:

However, for the purposes of this post, this next segment from an earlier is more relevant:

I’ve recently finished reading Tyson’s wonderfully intriguing “Death By Black Hole And Other Cosmic Quandaries”. This volume nearly epitomizes the ‘Popular Science’ genre, as it’s not only understandable to someone without an ounce of outside knowledge in the field of astronomy (a fact which I partially resolved to remedy after observing a comparatively more astronomically-literate associate utilizing his telescope and insight of the cosmos to impress girls, a tactic which was apparently embraced by Tyson himself while in college) but it’s also routinely amusing, as the author frequently selects from a unique gang of scientifically-charged one-liners.

However, as an activist in the endless ‘debate’ between evolutionary biology and the demonstrably pseudoscientific enterprise known as ‘intelligent design’, I found Tyson’s thoughts on the subject to be among “Death By Black Hole”‘s most interesting segments. Hence, I’ve taken the liberty of quoting my favorite segment of this discussion, which emerges at the book’s conclusion.

“[One practice] that isn’t science is embracing ignorance. Yet its fundamental to the philosophy of intelligent design: I don’t know what this is. I don’t know how it works. It’s too complicated for me to figure out. It’s too complicated for any human being to figure out. So it must be the product of higher intelligence.

What do you do with that line of reasoning? Do you just cede the solving of problems to someone smarter than you, someone who isn’t even human? Do you tell students to pursue only questions with easy answers?

There may be a limit to what the human mind can figure out about our universe. But how presumptuous it would be for me to claim that if I can’t solve a problem, neither can any other person who has ever lived or will ever be born? Suppose Galileo and [Pierre-Simon] Laplace had felt that way?…

Science is a philosophy of discovery. Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. You cannot build a program of discovery on the assumption that nobody is smart enough to figure out the answer to a problem…

To deny or erase the rich, colorful history of scientists and other thinkers who have invoked divinity in their work would be intellectually dishonest. Surely there’s an appropriate place for intelligent design to live in the academic landscape. How about the history of religion? How about philosophy or psychology? The one place it doesn’t belong is the science classroom.

If you’re not yet swayed by academic arguments, consider the financial consequences. Allow intelligent design into science textbooks, lecture halls, and laborotories, and the cost to the frontier of scientific  discovery– the frontier that drives the economies of the future– would be incalculable. I don’t want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don’t understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity. The day that happens, Americans will just sit in awe of what we don’t understand, while we watch the rest of the world boldly go where no mortal has gone before.”

I certainly couldn’t have said it better myself.

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5 responses

11 04 2010
Ian

That’s brilliant! Thanks for sharing it. Not only is he a good communicator, he also has a great sense of humor.

11 04 2010
tanystropheus

Indeed he does! That’s just one of his many aspects which I greatly admire. 🙂

14 04 2010
Doug

I have to wonder: could that guy possibly be any more awesome?

14 04 2010
tanystropheus

I seriously doubt it!

17 04 2010
Ahmed

Thank you very good theme

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