05 / 06
birds birds birds

Neil deGrasse Tyson on God Part 2

January 25, 2015     Time: 16:07
Neil deGrasse Tyson on God Part 2


Dr. Tyson declares Intelligent Design is not science in the continuation of this interview.

Transcript Neil deGrasse Tyson on God Part 2


Kevin Harris: Welcome back to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We are going to pick it up where we left off. Last time we were listening to an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson on God and science. If you didn’t hear that podcast, listen to that one[1] and then come back and catch this one. This is part two. We are going to continue with this interview from the Opie and Anthony show.

Interviewer: You didn’t go into this. It seems like on your Wikipedia page, the public first has called you an atheist and you had to respond to it. I know you have spoken about this before, but why is the distinction important to you, especially as a public figure?

Dr. Tyson: I am not so much concerned with the definition – the formal definition – of the word “atheist” and the formal definition of the word “agnostic.” What concerns me is the behavior of people who call themselves those words because that becomes the definition of the word. Of course, the dictionary really doesn’t define words; it describes the words as they are used in society, and hence you have evolution of words in the English language. So when I see people who say they are atheists and the energy that they invest in that fact, that is just simply not me. There has got to be some other word for someone who really just simply doesn’t care on that level. So agnostic seem to be something a little more accurate given my actual behavior in the presence of these philosophies.

I don’t like labels because it is an excuse for not actually thinking about the thoughts that the other person has. And it ignores what might be nuances or information that lingers at the boundary of the parameters that the other person defines for that category. So the only “ist” that I am is a “scientist” and the only “ism” that – I don’t even think I am an “ism.” The people who see a few things that I’ll say or do and say, “Oh, he is a ‘this’” or “He’s a ‘that’” then label it, and I’m thinking, “What are you doing?” And not only that, if you look carefully at the arguments I’ve given – most of them now are just scattered all over YouTube – but if you actually listen carefully, I’m at no point expressing an opinion. It may feel that way because I think I have a lot of sort of energy when I am in front of an audience, but it is not about my opinion. It is about sort of what is going on in life.

Kevin Harris: He says “agnostic” best describes him, and that words can be in flux; definitions we find in the dictionary may or may not reflect the usage that is going on among people now.

Dr. Craig: It is certainly true that language evolves. We all know that. But nevertheless, words do have meaning according to those that native language users use. I think it would be accurate to say his view is agnosticism, not atheism. He is not claiming that God does not exist. He is just saying I am not convinced.

As for labels, labels are very useful in helping us to understand each other. Labels are vital when you go to the grocery store and want to know what is in the can – if it says pickles rather than ketchup. That is really important for you to know what you are getting. So labels are important. When a person says to you “I am a Muslim” or “I am a Christian” or “I am a Hindu” that helps us to understand where he is coming from. So descriptive labels are very useful. We don’t need to label one another. We can label ourselves and tell others descriptively via labels what we believe. So there is nothing the matter with using labels insofar as they are correct descriptions of what is there.

Kevin Harris: He says, I really don’t care much about this. I am a scientist. I am not out to give me opinion. Do you get from that, Dr. Craig, that he is saying I am going to deal in the factual world and you guys can be over here in the opinion world. That is where religion belongs.

Dr. Craig: Well, I don’t know. I wondered about that when he said it. When he says “I am a scientist” that is a label, right? I am not a golfer. I am not a dancer. I am not a philosopher. I am a scientist. That is a self-descriptive label.

Kevin Harris: You guys can have all your labels. I am a scientist. You all can be labeled all day.

Dr. Craig: So he uses a label to describe who he is, which is fine. But then he says, I don’t have any opinions, when he just told us a few moments ago that God cannot be all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing, and yet there be the suffering in the world.[2] That is certainly an opinion. Everything he says that is an assertion is presumably an opinion that he holds to.

Kevin Harris: Surely he must get that.

Dr. Craig: Otherwise, we would expect some sort of scientific proof for, for example, the claim that God and evil are incompatible with each other, whereas he didn’t give any sort of argument for that much less a scientific argument. If he claims he has no opinions but is merely stating scientific facts then, my goodness, he’s got a lot of evidence to provide for all of the assertions that he’s made.

Kevin Harris: Let’s continue and see what he says.

Dr. Tyson: I think the most viewed among YouTubes that I’ve put out there that people associate with atheism or religion or spirituality was my presentation at the Beyond Belief conference in 2006. This was in San Diego. We talked about intelligent design. It was freshly in the news because of the Dover, Pennsylvania case. I simply said that intelligent design, if you think of it as someone reaching the limits of their knowledge and then invoking the hand of something more intelligent than they (historically that simply would have been God), there is plenty of precedent for that among the world’s most famous scientists throughout history. So it is not a new thought to think that God has something to do with the universe beyond the understanding that humans have been able to muster. So part of the talk was to present that fact and not sweep it under the rug, and then to say that intelligent design – since it embraces the ignorance beyond your limits of understanding – it cannot possibly, when expressed that way, it cannot possibly serve the philosophy of discovery, which is what science is about.

Kevin Harris: He talked about two things there concerning intelligent design. One is that scientists in history have always invoked God when they kind of get to the limits of their understanding. Then he comes back and says that it is also a conversation stopper – a science stopper – in a sense. Once you invoke God then you have stifled discovery.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is the assertion. Unfortunately, not having heard his original talk we don’t know what justification he would give for these assertions. I think he has caricatured intelligent design. I know the works of people who are in that movement and people like William Dembski, in his book The Design Inference published by Cambridge University Press, offers a principled justification to inferring design. Dembski points out that we make design inferences all the time in life – as deGrasse Tyson said, “what is going on in life.” In determining on a crime scene that a fire is the result of arson rather than an accident. In detecting cases of plagiarism as opposed to just an accidental coincidence. In cryptography where we decode something that looks like gibberish to find an intelligent message in it. In insurance fraud where the insurance investigator determines that something was actually deliberate rather than just by chance. We make design inferences all the time. What Dembski tries to do in this book is to lay out a very principled way in which one can justifiably make a design inference. The claim of these folks who apply it to biology is that in biology this principled inference pattern will yield the inference to some sort of intelligence behind the biological complexity in the world. So it is not just a sort of God of the gaps invoking something because we’ve reached the bounds of our knowledge. Rather, it is a principled inference following a familiar pattern of reasoning that we use all the time in life.

Now, maybe the ID theorists are wrong about this. But if so, that needs to be shown. You can’t just caricature them by failing to come to grips with their model of design inferences.

Kevin Harris: He says something, Bill, as well that is worth commenting on. He complains that, in the world of YouTube and social media, that you can be portrayed a certain way based on what is most often placed out there on YouTube. He says There is a big percentage of YouTube videos about me that just deal in what I said about intelligent design.[3] He says, The atheist community wants to own me. In fact, they keep going to his Wikipedia and changing that he is an atheist when he claims to be an agnostic. He is saying, Quit it! Anyway, that is one of the phenomenon we find in social media today – what’s out there on YouTube is not necessarily representative of the full body of your work but may just . . .

Dr. Craig: Yes, I’ve experienced that myself. I’m constantly amazed at how folks have only seen these popular-level debates that I’ve engaged in and they’ve never bothered to read any of my published work, much less the scholarly published work that is in peer-reviewed journals or with academic presses. So I can understand his complaint.

Kevin Harris: Let’s wrap up the audio from Dr. Tyson.

Dr. Tyson: Science is about taking the unknown and figuring it out. Intelligent design as presented in the Dover trial and as is widely discussed takes what is unknown and doesn’t try to figure it out, says we can’t figure it out, and ascribes it to a higher intelligence. End of story.

Dr. Craig: That is a caricature of his own invention. I would challenge him to cite supporting passages for us from the books of intelligent design theorists like Michael Behe, William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, Michael Denton. You can’t get away with making these kinds of caricatures unless you are prepared to give citations from the works of these people that support the portrayal that you are offering of them. I think that this is a strawman. It doesn’t accurately represent the work of these theorists. Whether you agree with them or not, part of scholarly responsibility is to represent accurately the views of your opponents.

Kevin Harris: It certainly wasn’t very generous and he even tried to qualify it by saying as it was presented at the trial, and as people commonly use it. If you are familiar with the works of Behe, Dembski, Richards, Johnson, then you are going to know a lot more than what was covered in the press at the trial. That would be a caricature and not representing the view very well.

Dr. Tyson: So all I said was it’s not science, therefore it does not belong in the science classroom. Want to put it somewhere? Fine, put it in philosophy class or history class or religion class. It is not science. That entire argument which summarizes the thirty-minute talk does not contain an opinion. There is not an opinion there. Science is about discovery. Intelligent design doesn’t lead to discovery. It is not science. It is not an opinion. Period.

So people said, Oh he’s an atheist. Let’s make him an atheist! And they put it in my Wiki page. I was just fascinated by that. I said, “No, I’m not really that. I’m more agnostic.” They went back, they changed it back to atheist. So what intrigues me is the urge to claim me in the movement when I don’t even write about this stuff. And, in fact, the extent to which I have addressed it occupies maybe 1.5% of my total speeches and writings. Maybe 1.5% and is 98.5% the universe. But what happens is these bits get clipped, put on YouTube, and that is what people gravitate to. So if you do the YouTube statistics of my output, it looks like I am 40% arguing about intelligent design. But I just don’t care. Just keep it out of the science classroom. What you do with it after that, I don’t have the time, the interest, the energy to fight it. You are not going to see me debating religious people. You are not going to see me marching. You are not going to see me picketing. I’d rather just get people thinking accurately and honestly from the get-go. And what they do with their mind after that is their business.

Kevin Harris: Poor Neil! He’s got a PR problem!

Dr. Craig: Once again, you have this expression that “I don’t have any opinions” where he has just offered his opinion that intelligent design is not science because it doesn’t aid discovery. Now, how is that not an opinion? Even if it is true, it is still his opinion and it is one that is, I think, disputable. The caricature of ID that he has offered might not be science, but ID theorists have tried to show how intelligent design can yield testable predictions that would be very different from the standard neo-Darwinian model of biological evolution. He is just not interacting responsibly with the material on the other side.

Besides that, notice that he is happy to have intelligent design debated in the philosophy class, the history class, or the religion class.[4] I’d be very happy with that. As a philosopher, that is where I would want to see them discussed as well. Intelligent design theorists do claim that what they are doing is part of science. But I see that as really just a kind of corollary of intelligent design. The inference to an intelligent designer, I would be very happy with characterizing as a philosophical inference and that therefore this belongs in the philosophy class. I don’t think of myself as offering a different scientific theory when I say that God is the best explanation, say, for the fine-tuning of the universe. It is the same theory but I would just use that as support for a premise in a philosophical argument leading to a conclusion that has theological significance.[5]