All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists

Source: New Yorker

Author:Lawrence M. Krauss

Emphasis Mine 

A a physicist, I do a lot of writing and public speaking about the remarkable nature of our cosmos, primarily because I think science is a key part of our cultural heritage and needs to be shared more broadly. Sometimes, I refer to the fact that religion and science are often in conflict; from time to time, I ridicule religious dogma. When I do, I sometimes get accused in public of being a “militant atheist.” Even a surprising number of my colleagues politely ask if it wouldn’t be better to avoid alienating religious people. Shouldn’t we respect religious sensibilities, masking potential conflicts and building common ground with religious groups so as to create a better, more equitable world?

I found myself thinking about those questions this week as I followed the story of Kim Davis, the country clerk in Kentucky who directly disobeyed a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and, as a result, was jailed for contempt of court. (She was released earlier today.) Davis’s supporters, including the Kentucky senator and Presidential candidate Rand Paul, are protesting what they believe to be an affront to her religious freedom. It is “absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberties,” Paul said, on CNN.

The Kim Davis story raises a basic question: To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it? It’s possible to take that question to an extreme that even Senator Paul might find absurd: imagine, for example, a jihadist whose interpretation of the Koran suggested that he should be allowed to behead infidels and apostates. Should he be allowed to break the law? Or—to consider a less extreme case—imagine an Islamic-fundamentalist county clerk who would not let unmarried men and women enter the courthouse together, or grant marriage licenses to unveiled women. For Rand Paul, what separates these cases from Kim Davis’s? The biggest difference, I suspect, is that Senator Paul agrees with Kim Davis’s religious views but disagrees with those of the hypothetical Islamic fundamentalist.

The problem, obviously, is that what is sacred to one person can be meaningless (or repugnant) to another. That’s one of the reasons why a modern secular society generally legislates against actions, not ideas. No idea or belief should be illegal; conversely, no idea should be so sacred that it legally justifies actions that would otherwise be illegal. Davis is free to believe whatever she wants, just as the jihadist is free to believe whatever he wants; in both cases, the law constrains not what they believe but what they do.

In recent years, this territory has grown murkier. Under the banner of religious freedom, individuals, states, and even—in the case of Hobby Lobby—corporations have been arguing that they should be exempt from the law on religious grounds. (The laws from which they wish to claim exemption do not focus on religion; instead, they have to do with social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage.) The government has a compelling interest in insuring that all citizens are treated equally. But “religious freedom” advocates argue that religious ideals should be elevated above all others as a rationale for action. In a secular society, this is inappropriate.  

The Kim Davis controversy exists because, as a culture, we have elevated respect for religious sensibilities to an inappropriate level that makes society less free, not more. Religious liberty should mean that no set of religious ideals are treated differently from other ideals. Laws should not be enacted whose sole purpose is to denigrate them, but, by the same token, the law shouldn’t elevate them, either.

In science, of course, the very word “sacred” is profane. No ideas, religious or otherwise, get a free pass. The notion that some idea or concept is beyond question or attack is anathema to the entire scientific undertaking. This commitment to open questioning is deeply tied to the fact that science is an atheistic enterprise. “My practice as a scientist is atheistic,” the biologist J.B.S. Haldane wrote, in 1934. “That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career.” It’s ironic, really, that so many people are fixated on the relationship between science and religion: basically, there isn’t one. In my more than thirty years as a practicing physicist, I have never heard the word “God” mentioned in a scientific meeting. Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature—just as it’s irrelevant to the question of whether or not citizens are obligated to follow the law.

Because science holds that no idea is sacred, it’s inevitable that it draws people away from religion. The more we learn about the workings of the universe, the more purposeless it seems. Scientists have an obligation not to lie about the natural world. Even so, to avoid offense, they sometimes misleadingly imply that today’s discoveries exist in easy harmony with preëxisting religious doctrines, or remain silent rather than pointing out contradictions between science and religious doctrine. It’s a strange inconsistency, since scientists often happily disagree with other kinds of beliefs. Astronomers have no problem ridiculing the claims of astrologists, even though a significant fraction of the public believes these claims. Doctors have no problem condemning the actions of anti-vaccine activists who endanger children. And yet, for reasons of decorum, many scientists worry that ridiculing certain religious claims alienates the public from science. When they do so, they are being condescending at best and hypocritical at worst.

This reticence can have significant consequences. Consider the example of Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers are calling for a government shutdown unless federal funds for Planned Parenthood are stripped from spending bills for the fiscal year starting October 1st. Why? Because Planned Parenthood provides fetal tissue samples from abortions to scientific researchers hoping to cure diseases, from Alzheimer’s to cancer. (Storing and safeguarding that tissue requires resources, and Planned Parenthood charges researchers for the costs.) It’s clear that many of the people protesting Planned Parenthood are opposed to abortion on religious grounds and are, to varying degrees, anti-science. Should this cause scientists to clam up at the risk of further offending or alienating them? Or should we speak out loudly to point out that, independent of one’s beliefs about what is sacred, this tissue would otherwise be thrown away , even though it could help improve and save lives?   Ultimately, when we hesitate to openly question beliefs because we don’t want to risk offense, questioning itself becomes taboo. It is here that the imperative for scientists to speak out seems to me to be most urgent. As a result of speaking out on issues of science and religion, I have heard from many young people about the shame and ostracism they experience after merely questioning their family’s faith. Sometimes, they find themselves denied rights and privileges because their actions confront the faith of others. Scientists need to be prepared to demonstrate by example that questioning perceived truth, especially “sacred truth,” is an essential part of living in a free country.

I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, but in fact the same values apply in both realms. Whenever scientific claims are presented as unquestionable, they undermine science. Similarly, when religious actions or claims about sanctity can be made with impunity in our society, we undermine the very basis of modern secular democracy. We owe it to ourselves and to our children not to give a free pass to governments—totalitarian, theocratic, or democratic—that endorse, encourage, enforce, or otherwise legitimize the suppression of open questioning in order to protect ideas that are considered “sacred.” Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend.

If that is what causes someone to be called a militant atheist, then no scientist should be ashamed of the label.

See: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/all-scientists-should-be-militant-atheists?intcid=mod-latest

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When Neil deGrasse Tyson Says ‘Evolution’ on National TV, Creationists Go Into Full Panic Mode

Source: alterNet

Author: Dan Arel

If there is one topic in each week’s Cosmos that sends the Christian fundamentalists into a frenzy, it is evolution.

You see, scientists understand that most sciences cannot be done correctly if you ignore the scientific fact of evolution. Yet, week in and week out, creationists critique the job Tyson and his team of writers are doing, callling them speculative and misleading.

Creationists would have you believe that Tyson and his crew are force-feeding viewers a story of evolution dreamed up in the minds of those who simply want to refute God and spread atheism.

Calling evolutionary biologists names such as “evolutionists”—a word not used outside of the creationists sphere—is an attempt to demean the science as nothing more than a religion; ironically, the very thing they are trying to sell you on.

This week’s episode, titled, “The Electric Boy” was about scientist Michael Faraday. Faraday’s study of electricity led to some of the biggest discoveries and inventions in the history of mankind, ranging from the electric motor to the discovery of electromagnetic waves that surround just about everything.

How on earth could creationists be upset with electricity? Well, Tyson had the audacity to mention that Faraday’s discoveries helped us explain how birds navigate the globe using the earth’s electromagnetic waves, and that their brains are evolutionarily wired for such a task.

Writing for Answers in Genesis, the young earth creationist’s organization, Elizabeth Mitchell writes:

“Evolutionists assume our existence and the existence of birds must have an evolutionary explanation. Yet molecules-to-man evolution—depending as it does on both the spontaneous emergence of life from non-living elements and the evolution of organisms into new, more complex ones—demands that we believe things that violate the laws of nature (e.g., law of biogenesis).”

One can assume these words are barely Mitchell’s, as they puppet the same narrative week after week. First they claim scientists “assume” these evolved traits, ignoring the evidence behind the claim, and then quickly move on to false naturalistic claims such as broken laws of nature.

What Tyson is saying in this episode is far from controversial; in fact, you would find it very challenging to locate scientists who would want to debate Tyson’s bird claim because it is so well understood.

Conceding to this, however, would destroy the very foundation of creationism, the foundation of lies and misinformation.

Mitchell continues:

“God did indeed equip birds and many other animals with a seemingly uncanny ability to navigate.”

For someone claiming scientists are full of assumptions, it’s fantastic to see Mitchell confidently speaking to what some invisible creator did or did not do.

Creationists are creating their own weekly controversy over Cosmos and its host, Tyson. Modern science is so damning to their ancient claims they have to openly attack even the most fundamental sciences and try to dupe their followers into believing that Tyson and the Cosmos team are trying to fool them.

Instead, creationists could have celebrated this episode featuring two prominent scientists, Michael Faraday and James Clark Maxwell, who were very devoted to their Christian faith. Faraday’s religious beliefs were even discussed, though complaints that Maxwell’s faith was ignored (as it wasn’t relevant to the story) have driven both Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute mad with anger.

Tyson did not demean their faith and only showed that these great men accomplished great things. Faraday’s legacy will live on forever in his discoveries and through his now annual lecture series started in 1855, the Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institute in Great Britain.

But AiG found the feature on these lectures just as offensive as the claim that birds are an evolved species:

“As the Cosmos program took a visual hop through history noting prominent presenters at these events, we see the devout creationist Christian Faraday himself featured in 1855, followed by a parade of prominent evolutionists: evolutionary astronomer Robert Stawell Ball, eugenics proponent Julian Huxley, evolutionary anthropologist Desmond Morris (who rather than addressing the biblical account of how suffering entered the world says the Christian God must be a “monstrous designer”), evolutionary naturalist and Darwinian TV promoter David Attenborough, and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins.”

In fact, it is AiG that parades these names falsely for their readers. Calling Julian Huxley a “eugenics proponent” is meant to encite rage at the thought of the eugenics experiments ordered by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, while ignoring the fact that Huxley spoke out against extreme eugenics. While history has taught us enough to understand that any use of eugenics is wrong, in Huxley’s time this was simply not the case.

Then they attacked their all-time favorite punching bag and number-one enemy, Richard Dawkins. Anyone who has watched Dawkins’ amazing Christmas Lecture would know he did not attack or demean religion, and simply displayed the amazing powers of science.

AiG saw the inclusion of these scientists as a shot at religion, when in fact the “Cosmos” team selected a group of well-known lecturers who would give credibility to the series. It had nothing to do with bashing religion, as the show didn’t even highlight each speaker’s beliefs. Only AiG did that.

Creationists are upset because just as in the show “Cosmos,” the Royal Institutes series does not give time to creationists to spread false scientific claims backed by nothing more than biblical scripture. We are once again left with jealous fits of rage at Tyson and his brilliant team of writers for sharing evidence-based scientific discoveries with the world. Science wins the day again, as evidence is shown to once again matter more than faith.

Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular advocate who lives in San Diego, Calif. Follow him on Twitter: @danarel

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/when-neil-degrasse-says-word-evolution-tv-creationists-go-full-panic-mode?akid=11818.123424.4lWOG9&rd=1&src=newsletter993484&t=5

Creationist Battle With Neil deGrasse Tyson of Cosmos Is Humiliating For America

Source: Politics USA

Author: Rmuse

Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a premise to be true. Belief is closely related to faith that is confidence in a person, deity, or religious dogmata absent of facts. Faith is often a synonym for hope, and hope is relevant to any discussion of religion because without a shred of proof a religion’s dogma is true, its adherents can only hope they are not being deceived by teachings with no basis in fact. Young children believe a kindly senior citizen from the North Pole who makes an overnight visit to every child on Earth, and even as they start suspecting Santa Claus is a myth they still hold out hope he is real. Obviously hope, belief, and faith are no substitutes for facts, and yet there is a large segment of Americans that contend without reservation their religious beliefs are immutable and unquestionable truths uttered from their deity’s lips.

The ongoing, and one-sided, battle between creationist Ken Ham of “Answers in Genesis” notoriety and highly-regarded astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson of Fox’s Cosmos is humiliating for America because Ham typifies the right wing evangelical Christian ignorance founded on ancient mythology. Dr. Tyson is not involved in Ham’s battle because one thing he likely learned early in life is that it is futile for a scientist to dialogue with religious fanatics who base their arguments on factless faith. Each episode of the scientific series brings a new charge from Ken Ham, and it is apparent that his primary target is not Neil deGrasse Tyson or Cosmos, but science itself.

Each week without any “answers in Genesis” to support his claim that Cosmos and Tyson are wrong about the Universe, age of the Earth, or why evolutionary theory is fact, Ham resorts to Republicans’ Koch brother tactic of questioning the veracity of scientists. If Ham could find the “answers in Genesis” he claims repudiate science or Neil deGrasse Tyson’s empirical data to back up facts supported by peer-reviewed scientific research, he certainly would have presented them by now. Despite offering no facts to support his creationist sophistry except “bible,” it has not stopped Ham from weekly assertions that science is fraudulent because, like every good scientist, Tyson readily admits science, by nature, is an evolving process and does not have all the answers. That is the primary difference between science and devotees of the creation myth; creationists claim to have all the answers because god.

After the first Cosmos episode, creationists led by Ham demanded the program give equal time to young Earth creationists who were livid that Tyson dared assert the Universe and life on earth started without god. Of course, giving the ignoramus sect parity with a leading scientist to promote their absurd contention that all Americans need to know about the cosmos is that in less than a literal week Christianity’s deity created the Universe, Earth, as well as life. Maybe the program’s creators should have given Ham a very, very short segment to expound how the Universe came into being in six days if for no other reason than exposing the bible creation story for what it really is; an inconsistent child’s fantasy.

Generally, an answer is a reply to a question that is relevant to the said question, and since Ken Ham represents about half the American population clinging to the Genesis creation myth, it is worth summarizing the creation story to expose its inconsistency with itself. Ham and about 150-million Christian Americans take it on faith the answer to how the Universe and life on Earth came into being is in Genesis, but it is likely they never read farther than “In the beginning, god created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). If they read all 21 verses in Genesis chapter one, they would comprehend why they are the subject of ridicule for claiming science is an abomination and the creation myth is an immutable truth.

According to answers in Genesis, on day one god created heavens and Earth and said, “Let there be light” and divided light from darkness and called the light day, and the darkness he called night. On day two, god made the firmament in the midst of the waters and divided the waters under the firmament and above the firmament, and god called the firmament heaven in spite of already creating heaven on day one. On day three, god said “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” He called dry land Earth and the waters seas, and while he was at it he created vegetation.

On day four there are more recreation events where god said, “Let there be lights to divide the day from the night; God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day (Sun) and the lesser light to rule the night (Moon).” He made stars as well that, like the day and night on day one, were already created as part of “the heavens and Earth” and divided the light from the darkness he called day and night. On day five, god said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”

On day six, it appears god recreated day five’s “every living creature” and “created man in the image of god he created him; male and female.” According to “answers in Genesis,” god rested on the seventh day, but he should have kept working because in Genesis 2 it says, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And god blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because in it he rested from all his work which god had created and made.” But in verse seven, god recreated “man of the dust of the ground, breathed into him the breath of life that made him a living being.” Later in verse 21, god remade the woman from one of the man’s ribs and it begs a question the “answers in Genesis” never answers; why did god create man and woman, day and night, heaven and Earth twice?

The truth is that it does not matter one iota what the bible creation myth says, or that 46% of Americans believe it is factual. However, it does matter that men like Ham, the Koch brothers, and Republicans use the ancient bible mythology to deny science that is having a deleterious effect on the whole of humanity. There is no difference between Ham challenging Neil deGrasse Tyson by sowing doubt about science with no “answers in Genesis,” and the Koch Republicans who spending millions in advertising questioning the validity of the overwhelming majority of scientists’ assertions that global climate change is real and poses an existential threat to mankind. Neither the Kochs nor religious fanatics like Ham ever present valid arguments to prove their positions because they do not exist, and they clearly understand that a tragically large segment of the population will reject science for irrational belief because god and bible.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is doing America a great service by attempting to educate the population about science and how it has taken humanity from believing religion has the only answers to dispelling every religious preconception men in positions of power still use to control superstitious people into supporting them as they rape and pillage the Earth. It is likely that creationists, and 46% of the population that clings to Genesis for answers, are incapable of comprehending even a fraction of the science Neil deGrasse Tyson is exposing to the masses every week because their cognitive abilities have been permanently retarded by childish dependence on archaic bible mythology.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.politicususa.com/2014/04/27/creationist-battle-neil-degrasse-tyson-cosmos-humiliating-america.html

Neil deGrasse Tyson Under Attack from Christians Who Want More Biblical Creationism on His Show

Source: AlterNet

Author: Amanda Marcotte

“Conservative Christians are really mad about the reboot of the legendary science series Cosmos, starring Neil deGrasse Tyson. The complaint? That an ancient myth about creation invented by Hebrews thousands of years ago is not being included in a show that is there to teach science. Christian conservatives have been taking to the airwaves complaining about the non-inclusion of ancient myths in a science program, with Danny Faulkner of Answers in Genesis whining, “Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them,” and Elizabeth Mitchell of the same organization decrying the show for having “blind faith in evolution.” (She’s just straight up lying here. Evolution is well-established by evidence, something Cosmos covers in its second episode.)

While it’s tempting to laugh off the idea that a creation myth should be injected into what is supposed to be a science program, maybe it’s not as zany as it initially seems. After all, anthropology is a science, and a creation myth segment could be a great way to introduce the way scientists study ancient cultures. But there’s no reason it has to be the one in the Bible, which everyone knows already. There’s been thousands of creation stories throughout time, so in the interest of fair-and-balanced, why not given one of these others a chance? Here are some potential creation stories, and the pros and cons for telling each one.

1. The ancient Greeks. Chaos, a goddess who also happens to be the entire universe, gave birth to Gaia, the Earth, and Uranus, the sky. Brother and sister married and gave birth to a bunch of Titans. One of those Titans, named Cronus, had a bad habit of eating his children, but Gaia was able to hide one of those babies, named Zeus, away from him. Zeus’ wife managed to get Cronus to barf up all his eaten children, and those children ended up, alongside Zeus, defeating their father in battle to become the Greek gods we all know and love. The invention of people is something of an afterthought in this legend, but a big deal is made out of how one gentle Titan, Prometheus, gave the people fire. This irritated Zeus, because he just really didn’t like people for some reason, and so he chained Prometheus to a mountain and made a bird steal his liver on the daily. He then punished people for fire-stealing by giving them a woman named Pandora who opened a box that released sin into the world.

Pros: The image of the sky copulating with the earth is pretty cool. The animations you could come up with for Cronus vomiting up his children would also be entertaining.

Cons: Just as with the story of Eve and the apple, this is a misogynist creation myth that blames all the misery and sin in the world on women.

2. Ancient Japanese creation myth. The gods, kicking around in the formlessness of space, decided to stir Earth into being so they had something to occupy their time. Two of them, a man and woman, do this little stirring dance-like routine, but the lady steps on the man’s lines, speaking before he does. This causes their babies to be rejects they have to throw out. So the couple redoes their little stirring routine and she acts more submissive this time around. Female submission, being magic, means that this time around, she is way better at producing usable children. Those children end up being a bunch of islands, because Japan, as you know, is a bunch of islands.

Pros: Many creation myths show the gods copulating the world into being, but few really spend much time on their pre-child dating life. This story has the appeal of a rom-com, complete with a dance scene.

Cons: Misogyny, just like in the Bible and the Greek creation myth. For some reason, men the world over were fond of making up creation stories that concluded with a lesson about how women are always screwing things up and therefore should not be allowed to have power.

3. Ancient Egyptian creation myth. The first god to emerge from chaos is named Atum. He, um, spits–okay, let’s be honest, he masturbates–and out shoot his two children, Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. (That, or he masturbates into his own mouth, rolls it around, and spits out his kids. I mean, it’s not, objectively speaking, any grosser than the methods we use today.) They commit incest, which is common in creation stories, making a god of earth and a goddess of sky. More incest results in more godly grandchildren, who get into ugly power struggles that result in the creation of the underworld, which was a big deal to ancient Egyptians.

Pros: This one is a winner for fans of body fluid. Not just because of Atum’s baby-making strategies, but because Tefnut’s name actually invokes body fluids in ancient Egyptian. Not particularly misogynist, either, suggesting that you can have a creation story without making “and women are terrible” the kicker.

Cons: People seem really unimportant to this story, so the narcissists in the audience might get bored. Also, as entertaining as Atum’s baby-making methods are, showing it on prime time TV would be impossible to get past the censors, even with Seth McFarlane’s support as a producer.

4. Ancient Norse creation myth. Fire and ice meet in the middle of nowhere to create Ymir, a large and sweaty giant who produced other giants by sweating them out. There was also a giant cow who licked salt licks until gods emerged from them. A salt lick god and a giant-sweat giantess got it on and produced Odin, who is their major god. Odin killed Ymir, the sweat creator, and built the earth out of his body, which means that if you’re taking a dip in the ocean, you’re swimming in sweat giant blood. The gods made people out of trees, which is a little nicer than the Bible’s God making people out of mud and ribs.

Pros: For one thing, the Avengers movies have made Norse mythology a little more familiar with their use of the god Thor as a character. More importantly, you can show giants emerging from another giant’s armpit while the gods bust out of salt licks. What’s not to love?

Cons: While watching a giant sweat out other beings is safer for broadcast television than watching an Egyptian god ejaculate out his children, it’s also not nearly as entertaining. Also, while you have to give points to the Norse for the loopiness of the image of a cow licking a salt lick until it ejects gods, cows just don’t make for good TV.

No one wants to hear the same old snake-and-apple routine we’ve all heard a thousand times before, but Cosmos could definitely give “equal time” to a creation myth while making it entertaining and educational. Just pick one of these four, or any of the thousands of others anthropologists have gathered over the years. Not that this would placate the conservatives demanding that ancient mythology be given a spot on a science education program. After all, a segment on creation myths would only serve to show that the myth in the Bible is just one of many, and lead many viewers to conclude that there was no more an Eve eating an apple than there was a Pandora opening her box.

Emphasis Mine

See:http://www.alternet.org/belief/neil-degrasse-tyson-under-attack-christians-who-want-more-biblical-creationism-his-show?utm_source=Amanda+Marcotte%27s+Subscribers&utm_campaign=e55cac7c27-RSS_AUTHOR_EMAIL&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_f2b9a8ae81-e55cac7c27-79824733

Neil deGrasse Tyson on “Cosmos,” How Science Got Cool, and Why He Doesn’t Debate Deniers

tyson_on_cosmosSource: Mother Jones, via Portside

Author: Chris Mooney

“Last Sunday’s debut of Cosmos, the rebooted series from Fox and National Geographic, made television history. According to National Geographic, it was the largest global rollout of a TV series ever, appearing on 220 channels in 181 countries and 45 languages. And, yes, this is a science show we’re talking about. You will have to actively resist the force of gravity in order to lift up your dropped jaw and restore a sense of calm to your stunned face.

At the center of the show is the “heir apparent” to legendary science popularizer and original Cosmos host Carl Sagan: the impassioned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who appeared on this week’s episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast to talk about what it’s like to fill Sagan’s shoes (stream below). On the podcast, Tyson discussed topics ranging from what we know now about the cosmos that Sagan didn’t (top three answers: dark matter and dark energy, the profusion of discovered exoplanets, and the concept of parallel universes, or the “multiverse”) to why science seems to have gotten so supercool again. After all, not only has Cosmos garnered such a reach, but The Big Bang Theory is currently the No. 1 comedy on TV.

“I wake up every morning saying, ‘How did I get 1.7 million Twitter followers?'” Tyson joked while discussing science’s newfound popularity. “Should I remind them that I’m an astrophysicist? Maybe I should tell them, ‘Folks, I’m an astrophysicist. All right? Escape now.'”

Thanks in part to Cosmos, Tyson is arguably the single most visible public face of science in America today. And as such, he may have to walk a difficult line. Many science defenders want Cosmos to do nothing less than restore our national sanity by smiting all science denial, especially when it comes to the issues of evolution and global warming. It’s an impossible task, but the theme was nonetheless quite apparent at a November Library of Congress gala dedicating Carl Sagan’s papers, where Cosmos producer Seth MacFarlane denounced science’s “politicization on steroids,” and Cosmos writer Steven Soter remarked that Sagan would have been “appalled” by today’s attacks on climate scientists.

Carl Sagan himself often took strong stands on science-based political issues of the day. He clashed with the Reagan administration over arms control and the “Star Wars” program, and the debate over his ideas about “nuclear winter” served as a kind of preview of the current battle over global warming. Sagan also openly debated pseudoscientists like Immanuel Velikovsky, who posited that the planet Venus had started out as a comet ejected by Jupiter, and had caused various events described in the Bible on its way to its current position. Indeed, Sagan even took on Velikovsky in the fourth episode of the original Cosmos, explaining in depth why his ideas were wrong.

By contrast, Tyson made clear on Inquiring Minds that he does not plan to follow in Sagan’s footsteps in this respect (or for that matter, those of Bill Nye the Science Guy, who went straight into the creationists’ den to debate evolution last month, and was faulted by some for doing so). “Carl Sagan would debate people on all manner of issues,” said Tyson. “And I don’t have the time or the energy or the interest in doing so. As an educator, I’d rather just get people thinking straight in the first place, so I don’t have to then debate them later on.” (To be sure, Tyson has on occasion been drawn into such debates in the past.)

The deniers, of course, are already out in force over the new Cosmos, whose first episode brought up both evolution and global warming, and whose future episodes will tackle human evolution in greater depth. At the creationist website Answers in Genesis, one writer even goes so far as to dispute the show’s treatment of the Big Bang, writing, “The big bang model is unable to explain many scientific observations, but this is of course not mentioned.”

(N.B.: the announcement on 17 March –

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2014/03/a-scientific-breakthrough-lets-us-see-to-the-beginning-of-time.html , or –

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gravity-waves-cmb-b-mode-polarization/

solidify the Big Bang.)

Tyson certainly has plenty of criticism for those who would deny science. “I claim that all those who think they can cherry-pick science simply don’t understand how science works,” he explained on the podcast. “That’s what I claim. And if they did, they’d be less prone to just assert that somehow scientists are clueless.”

But at the same time, and unlike many science champions (such as the biologist Richard Dawkins), Tyson is quite careful not to pit science against religion. For instance, the first episode of the new Cosmos tells the story of Giordano Bruno, an Italian monk who was persecuted and ultimately burned at the stake by the Inquisition over his ideas about the universe, including the notion that there are an infinite number of suns and worlds beyond our own. Some have argued that to tell this story is in effect to pick a fight over science and religion, but Tyson counters that “Giordano Bruno himself was a deeply religious person. In fact, you could argue that he was more religious than the people prosecuting him.”

The stance of Cosmos, Tyson emphasizes, is not anti-religion but anti-dogma: “Any time you have a doctrine where that is the truth that you assert, and that what you call the truth is unassailable, you’ve got doctrine, you’ve got dogma on your hands. And so Cosmos is…an offering of science, and a reminder that dogma does not advance science; it actually regresses it.”

In other words, Tyson’s view appears to be that in an age rife with science denial, Cosmos rises above that fray by instilling in us wonder about the nature of the cosmos and our quest to understand it. And given the breathtaking quality and stunningly wide distribution of the show, there’s much to say for that approach. Every time you pick a fight, whether over climate change or over evolution or over religion, you lose some of the audience (even as you fire up another part of it).

In the end, however, scientific knowledge, and wanting to do something about the problems that science reveals, are inseparable. And as soon as you want to change something in the world because of science, you inevitably run up against interests, emotions, and denial.

Global warming is the case in point: Just as Carl Sagan worried about nuclear holocaust because of science, so we today worry about the planet’s steady warming. Indeed, that kind of thinking is central to the Cosmos legacy. Asked on the podcast about the warming of the planet, Tyson explained the ultimate message of Cosmos: “You are equipped and empowered with this cosmic perspective, achieved by the methods and tools of science, applied to the universe. And are you going to be a good shepherd, or a bad shepherd? Are you going to use your wisdom to protect civilization, or will you go at it in a shortsighted enough way to either destroy it, or be complicit in its destruction? If you can’t bring your scientific knowledge to bear on those kinds of decisions, then why even waste your time?”

So in the end, we should all thank Tyson—as well as Fox, National Geographic, and the show’s many writers and producers—for making the new Cosmos happen. It will contribute immeasurably to the appreciation of science in America and beyond. It will make kids think harder about pursuing science careers by showing them that the cosmos is intensely awesome, and the act of understanding it is downright heroic. But, can it ultimately stay above the political fray?

Maybe in some universes.”

Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist, podcaster, and the host of Climate Desk Live. He is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science.

Emphasis Mine

See: https://portside.org/2014-03-18/neil-degrasse-tyson-cosmos-how-science-got-cool-and-why-he-doesnt-debate-deniers

Neil deGrasse Tyson Chastises Media For Giving ‘Flat Earthers’ Equal Time in the Climate Change Debate

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Source: AlterNet

Author: Cliff Weathers

“Neil deGrasse Tyson, the star of Fox Networks’ Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, says its time to stop giving equal time to science deniers and chastised the media for creating a false equivalence in its coverage of scientific issues.

Tyson, who is also the director of the Natural History Museum’s Hayden Planetarium, appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources program on Sunday, where he talked about the hypocrisy of people dismissing scientific theory while simultaneously embracing the fruits of scientific discovery “that we so take for granted today.”

Reliable Sources Anchor Brian Stelter inquired if Tyson thought the media had a responsibility in portraying science correctly, particularly when discussing controversial issues such as climate change. Tyson replied that the media was giving “equal time to the flat-earthers.”

“The media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but it doesn’t really apply in science,” Tyson said. “The ethos was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view. And then you can be viewed as balanced.”

“Science is not there for you to cherry pick,” said Tyson. “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it. Alright? I guess you can decide whether or not to believe in it, but that doesn’t change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.”

From 2006 to 2011, Tyson hosted the educational science television show NOVA ScienceNow on PBS and has been a frequent guest on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Jeopardy! Tyson said he hopes his new television show, which premiered yesterday to high ratings and rave reviews, can help Americans learn how to discern science from politics, and help make people better stewards of the Earth.

Cosmos is a follow-up to the 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, presented by the late astronomer Carl Sagan. The executive producers are Family Guy Creator Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow. It premiered simultaneously in the across ten Fox Networks channels. According to Fox Networks, this is the first time that a television show premiered in a global simulcast across their network of channels.

Emphasis Mine

See: http://www.alternet.org/environment/neil-degrasse-tyson-chastises-media-giving-flat-earthers-equal-time?akid=11586.123424.gMkh2F&rd=1&src=newsletter968911&t=18