Unlike some scientists, Tyson works for a broader audience, regardless of religious beliefs

Neil deGrasse TysonNeil deGrasse Tyson is just an awesome guy. He is not only among the most brilliant men in his field today, but he is also among the most likable guys anyone could ever meet. What makes Tyson, and his brand of science, so accessible is the very nature of Tyson himself.

For those unfamiliar with him, Neil deGrasse Tyson is an Astro-Physicist that works for the Hayden Planetarium and American Museum of Natural History, located in New York. Lately he has become better known for his reboot of the “Cosmos” series, in which he gained both praise and scorn.

Most of the scorn, of course, came from religious objectors who disliked Tyson’s drive to teach real science in the homes of average Americans. Cosmos was a series that was once created by Tyson’s mentor Carl Sagan, back in 1980. It received equal criticism in its day as well, by the same types of people we see today.

I followed Tyson before he helped reboot Cosmos, and found that he is perhaps one of the best chances we have to make science more accessible and open to those who might otherwise not understand, or are afraid to understand.

What makes Tyson such a great public figure in this regard is the fact the he acts as two separate agents. An agent of knowledge, and an agent of setting the record straight. On the one hand, Tyson doesn’t force himself on anyone. He is not a particularly aggressive personality, and doesn’t go out of his way to attack religious beliefs. However, whenever he hears faulty science or just outright nonsense spoken in his presence, he is not afraid to correct the record and ensure bogus science isn’t passed off without a challenge.

Tyson is a person that a middling creationist might swing to. The problem with men like Richard Dawkins is that, while they may be correct on many issues, the masses of those who believe in religion, but are not anti-science are repelled by his perceived “militancy” when it comes to religion.

While I respect Dawkins for his tenacity, his aggressive works about religion will often turn off people who believe in God, but are not convinced that the earth is 10,000 years old. This is not a strike against Dawkins, necessarily, it just shows different intents for different audiences.

Tyson works for a broader audience because, while he seems like a warm and open guy, he is also not afraid to state the facts. He doesn’t attack anyone’s beliefs, but does not allow their beliefs to cloud out facts when it comes to science.

Two great examples of this are as follows: Tyson is asked a question by a child of whether or not he believed in God. Personally, I found his response to be classic. He both defended his position, and acted as the great reconciler he is.

The second example is Tyson, setting the record straight on Bill O’Reilly. Many progressives I’m sure are familiar with O’Reilly’s famous “tides go in, tides go out, you can’t explain that” gaffe. Tyson was asked to respond to this, his response, once again, classic.

While I often get challenged for being antagonistic towards religion and religious beliefs, I am actually a fairly neutral character when it comes to this. My red line tends to be when religion has negative effects on public policy, but I usually could care less what people want to believe. Yet, when it comes to facts, I can’t allow someone’s beliefs to cloud the issues.

I like Neil deGrasse Tyson because he is this great reconciler, that many other scientific-minded people are not. While Tyson does not act aggressively towards religion, he is clear that religion is not above criticism and that it can’t be allowed to drive science out of science classrooms. This has made Tyson this generations Science Guy (Sorry Bill Nye), and I find his efforts to be very successful. Hey, he even praised Pope Fancis’ efforts at speaking out against the religious-right.

Tyson is the type of guy whose best qualities are what those who care about science and education look for. He isn’t flippant, but he also isn’t going to cower to superstition either.

1 COMMENT

  1. There are actually many, many, many—I don’t know how many, but many—“religious” people [Excursus: Ah, a “philosophical” question that merits examination: What defines a person as being “religious?”] who have the utmost regard for science and, indeed, find little or no conflict between their religious beliefs/practices and the thinking/findings of scientific inquiry.

    I am one of those many, many, many “religious” people. Indeed, like many of my similarly-constituted brethren and sistren, I seriously think that history provides any number of exemplary instances wherein the valuing process of religious thinking provided a helpful context within which science defined ethical guidelines/boundaries per its inquiry and the application of its findings.

    As much as I weary of “religious” people doing constant battle against science, however, I weary just as much of those who appreciate scientific diligence doing constant battle against “religion.” Both are tiring and, in the end, they simply talk past each other. It may be because each either has little respect for the discipline—yes, “religious thinking,” like “scientific thinking,” is also a measured, calibrated and academically-accepted discipline, too—they so oppose or little true understanding of it and how it functions in the human community.

    Mr. Dawkins’ “tenacity” in barking at “religion” or “religious people” is unattractive and unappealing not because it in any way casts doubt on his scientific beliefs but because it is the measure of a man whose thinking—and person—is neither mature nor integrated enough to support an understanding of what the “religious” people he so opposes are really expressing when they attack him and/or his science.

    Mr. Tyson’s thinking and his person reflect maturity and integration and my guess is that, while he disagrees with those “religious” people who disagree with him, he just may understand where they’re coming from and what his scientific work may represent to them. Such understanding tends to lead to conversation and not rant.

    I admit that I laughed out loud when I read your reference to Mr. Tyson’s praise for Pope Francis. I suppose I wondered, at the moment, why that would be the occasion for surprise?

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