Friday, February 13, 2015

DeGrasse Tyson being coherent and tactful

Here is a video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson's response to those who would teach religion in the science classroom.  While tactfully staying out of the question of the reasonableness or absurdity of fundamentalist Christian doctrine (and thus avoiding the gossipy circus that passes for public intellectual debate these days), he forcefully argues that religion, that subjective belief of any kind, does not belong in the science classroom, and should not play a role in the formation of future scientific thinkers.  Of course the question is actually a bit more complex than this, because scientists are also people, and thus imbued with subjective beliefs that do indeed shape the questions they ask and the way they interpret results.  In addition, scientists, as all people, should (though often don't) guide their work with certain ultimately subjective values, such as respect for human life, respect for the integrity of the planetary ecosystem, solidarity with the marginalized, rejection of oppression, etc.  So we can't just say that science is entirely objective, because as a human endeavor it can't be, nor should it be.  But for most intents and purposes, deGrasse Tyson does us all a great service when he clearly lays out why subjective religious belief doesn't belong in the science classroom.

One other note, in what's beginning to sound like faint praise for someone I truly do admire.  I'm not too into his using economic utilitarian logic to justify the merit of honest scientific inquiry, as when he makes the point that high-quality science education makes for more economic prosperity.  It does, but that's not why he or most of us who consider science important believe in its importance.  But I do understand that these sorts of economic arguments can often find wide,uncontroversial acceptance in the general public.  Also, by focusing on economic utility, he again successfully avoids the more abstract, subjective, and ultimately fuitless argument of whether the value of sincere scientific inquiry outweighs the value of profound religious reflection.

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