Tag: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Must science be testable?

Source: Aeon.co

Author:Massimo Pigliucci

emphasis mine

The general theory of relativity is sound science; ‘theories’ of psychoanalysis, as well as Marxist accounts of the unfolding of historical events, are pseudoscience. This was the conclusion reached a number of decades ago by Karl Popper, one of the most influential philosophers of science. Popper was interested in what he called the ‘demarcation problem’, or how to make sense of the difference between science and non-science, and in particular science and pseudoscience. He thought long and hard about it and proposed a simple criterion: falsifiability. For a notion to be considered scientific it would have to be shown that, at the least in principle, it could be demonstrated to be false, if it were, in fact false.

Popper was impressed by Einstein’s theory because it had recently been spectacularly confirmed during the 1919 total eclipse of the Sun, so he proposed it as a paradigmatic example of good science. Here is how in Conjectures and Refutations (1963) he differentiated among Einstein on one side, and Freud, Adler and Marx on the other:

Einstein’s theory of gravitation clearly satisfied the criterion of falsifiability. Even if our measuring instruments at the time did not allow us to pronounce on the results of the tests with complete assurance, there was clearly a possibility of refuting the theory.

The Marxist theory of history, in spite of the serious efforts of some of its founders and followers, ultimately adopted [a] soothsaying practice. In some of its earlier formulations … their predictions were testable, and in fact falsified. Yet instead of accepting the refutations the followers of Marx re-interpreted both the theory and the evidence in order to make them agree. In this way they rescued the theory from refutation … They thus gave a ‘conventionalist twist’ to the theory; and by this stratagem they destroyed its much advertised claim to scientific status.

The two psycho-analytic theories were in a different class. They were simply non-testable, irrefutable. There was no conceivable human behaviour which could contradict them … I personally do not doubt that much of what they say is of considerable importance, and may well play its part one day in a psychological science which is testable. But it does mean that those ‘clinical observations’ which analysts naively believe confirm their theory cannot do this any more than the daily confirmations which astrologers find in their practice.

As it turns out, Popper’s high regard for the crucial experiment of 1919 may have been a bit optimistic: when we look at the historical details we discover that the earlier formulation of Einstein’s theory actually contained a mathematical error that predicted twice as much bending of light by large gravitational masses like the Sun – the very thing that was tested during the eclipse. And if the theory had been tested in 1914 (as was originally planned), it would have been (apparently) falsified. Moreover, there were some significant errors in the 1919 observations, and one of the leading astronomers who conducted the test, Arthur Eddington, may actually have cherry picked his data to make them look like the cleanest possible confirmation of Einstein. Life, and science, are complicated.

This is all good and well, but why should something written near the beginning of last century by a philosopher – however prominent – be of interest today? Well, you might have heard of string theory. It’s something that the fundamental physics community has been playing around with for a few decades now, in their pursuit of what Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg grandly called ‘a theory of everything’. It isn’t really a theory of everything, and in fact, technically, string theory isn’t even a theory, not if by that name one means mature conceptual constructions, such as the theory of evolution, or that of continental drift. In fact, string theory is better described as a general framework – the most mathematically sophisticated one available at the moment – to resolve a fundamental problem in modern physics: general relativity and quantum mechanics are highly successful scientific theories, and yet, when they are applied to certain problems, like the physics of black holes, or that of the singularity that gave origin to the universe, they give us sharply contrasting predictions.

Physicists agree that this means that either theory, or both, are therefore wrong or incomplete. String theory is one attempt at reconciling the two by subsuming both into a broader theoretical framework. There is only one problem: while some in the fundamental physics community confidently argue that string theory is not only a very promising scientific theory, but pretty much ‘the only game in town,’ others scornfully respond that it isn’t even science, since it doesn’t make contact with the empirical evidence: vibrating superstrings, multiple, folded, dimensions of space-time and other features of the theory are impossible to test experimentally, and they are the mathematical equivalent of metaphysical speculation. And metaphysics isn’t a complimentary word in the lingo of scientists. Surprisingly, the ongoing, increasingly public and acerbic diatribe often centres on the ideas of one Karl Popper. What, exactly, is going on?

I had a front row seat at one round of such, shall we say, frank discussions last year, when I was invited to Munich to participate in a workshop on the status of fundamental physics, and particularly on what some refer to as ‘the string wars’. The organiser, Richard Dawid, of the University of Stockholm, is a philosopher of science with a strong background in theoretical physics. He is also a proponent of a highly speculative, if innovative, type of epistemology that supports the efforts of string theorists and aims at shielding them from the accusation of engaging in flights of mathematical fancy decoupled from any real science. My role there was to make sure that participants – an eclectic mix of scientists and philosophers, with a Nobel winner thrown in the mix – were clear on something I teach in my introductory course in philosophy of science: what exactly Popper said and why, since some of those physicists had hurled accusations at their critical colleagues, loudly advocating the ejection of the very idea of falsification from scientific practice.

In the months preceding the workshop, a number of high profile players in the field had been using all sorts of means – from manifesto-type articles in the prestigious Nature magazine to Twitter – to pursue a no-holds-barred public relations campaign to wrestle, or retain, control of the soul of contemporary fundamental physics. Let me give you a taste of the exchange, to set the mood: ‘The fear is that it would become difficult to separate such ‘science’ from New Age thinking, or science fiction,’ said George Ellis, chastising the pro-string party; to which Sabine Hossenfelder added: ‘Post-empirical science is an oxymoron.’ Peter Galison made crystal clear what the stakes are when he wrote: ‘This is a debate about the nature of physical knowledge.’ On the other side, however, cosmologist Sean Carroll tweeted:

My real problem with the falsifiability police is: we don’t get to demand ahead of time what kind of theory correctly describes the world,’ adding ‘[Falsifiability is] just a simple motto that non-philosophically-trained scientists have latched onto.’ Finally (but there is more, much more, out there), Leonard Susskind mockingly introduced the neologism ‘Popperazzi’ to label an extremely naive (in his view) way of thinking about how science works.

This surprisingly blunt – and very public – talk from prestigious academics is what happens when scientists help themselves to, or conversely categorically reject, philosophical notions that they plainly have not given sufficient thought to. In this case, it was Popper’s philosophy of science and its application to the demarcation problem. What makes this particularly ironic for someone like me, who started his academic career as a scientist (evolutionary biology) and eventually moved to philosophy after a constructive midlife crisis, is that a good number of scientists nowadays – and especially physicists – don’t seem to hold philosophy in particularly high regard. Just in the last few years Stephen Hawking has declared philosophy dead, Lawrence Krauss has quipped that philosophy reminds him of that old Woody Allen joke, ‘those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach, teach gym,’ and science popularisers Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye have both wondered loudly why any young man would decide to ‘waste’ his time studying philosophy in college.

Loud debates on social media and in the popular science outlets define how much of the public perceives physics.

This is a rather novel, and by no means universal, attitude among physicists. Compare the above contemptuousness with what Einstein himself wrote to his friend Robert Thorton in 1944 on the same subject: ‘I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today – and even professional scientists – seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is – in my opinion – the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.’ By Einstein’s standard then, there are a lot of artisans but comparatively few seekers of truth among contemporary physicists!

To put things in perspective, of course, Einstein’s opinion of philosophy may not have been representative even then, and certainly modern string theorists are a small group within the physics community, and string theorists on Twitter are an ever smaller, possibly more voluble subset within that group. The philosophical noise they make is likely not representative of what physicists in general think and say, but it matters all the same precisely because they are so prominent; those loud debates on social media and in the popular science outlets define how much of the public perceives physics, and even how many physicists perceive the big issues of their field.

That said, the publicly visible portion of the physics community nowadays seems split between people who are openly dismissive of philosophy and those who think they got the pertinent philosophy right but their ideological opponents haven’t. At stake isn’t just the usually tiny academic pie, but public appreciation of and respect for both the humanities and the sciences, not to mention millions of dollars in research grants (for the physicists, not the philosophers). Time, therefore, to take a more serious look at the meaning of Popper’s philosophy and why it is still very much relevant to science, when properly understood.

As we have seen, Popper’s message is deceptively simple, and – when repackaged in a tweet – has in fact deceived many a smart commentator in underestimating the sophistication of the underlying philosophy. If one were to turn that philosophy into a bumper sticker slogan it would read something like: ‘If it ain’t falsifiable, it ain’t science, stop wasting your time and money.’

But good philosophy doesn’t lend itself to bumper sticker summaries, so one cannot stop there and pretend that there is nothing more to say. Popper himself changed his mind throughout his career about a number of issues related to falsification and demarcation, as any thoughtful thinker would do when exposed to criticisms and counterexamples from his colleagues. For instance, he initially rejected any role for verification in establishing scientific theories, thinking that it was far too easy to ‘verify’ a notion if one were actively looking for confirmatory evidence. Sure enough, modern psychologists have a name for this tendency, common to laypeople as well as scientists: confirmation bias.

Nonetheless, later on Popper conceded that verification – especially of very daring and novel predictions – is part of a sound scientific approach. After all, the reason Einstein became a scientific celebrity overnight after the 1919 total eclipse is precisely because astronomers had verified the predictions of his theory all over the planet and found them in satisfactory agreement with the empirical data. For Popper this did not mean that the theory of general relativity was ‘true,’ but only that it survived to fight another day. Indeed, nowadays we don’t think the theory is true, because of the above mentioned conflicts, in certain domains, with quantum mechanics. But it has withstood a very good number of high stakes challenges over the intervening century, and its most recent confirmation came just a few months ago, with the first detection of gravitational waves.

Scientific hypotheses need to be tested repeatedly and under a variety of conditions before we can be reasonably confident of the results.

Popper also changed his mind about the potential, at the least, for a viable Marxist theory of history (and about the status of the Darwinian theory of evolution, concerning which he was initially skeptical, thinking – erroneously – that the idea was based on a tautology). He conceded that even the best scientific theories are often somewhat shielded from falsification because of their connection to ancillary hypotheses and background assumptions. When one tests Einstein’s theory using telescopes and photographic plates directed at the Sun, one is really simultaneously putting to the test the focal theory, plus the theory of optics that goes into designing the telescopes, plus the assumptions behind the mathematical calculations needed to analyse the data, plus a lot of other things that scientists simply take for granted and assume to be true in the background, while their attention is trained on the main theory. But if something goes wrong and there is a mismatch between the theory of interest and the pertinent observations, this isn’t enough to immediately rule out the theory, since a failure in one of the ancillary assumptions might be to blame instead. That is why scientific hypotheses need to be tested repeatedly and under a variety of conditions before we can be reasonably confident of the results.

Popper’s initial work pretty much single-handedly put the demarcation problem on the map, prompting philosophers to work on the development of a philosophically sound account of both what science is and is not. That lasted until 1983, when Larry Laudan published a highly influential paper entitled ‘The demise of the demarcation problem,’ in which he argued that demarcation projects were actually a waste of time for philosophers, since – among other reasons – it is unlikely to the highest degree that anyone will ever be able to come up with small sets of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions to define ‘science,’ ‘pseudoscience’ and the like. And without such sets, Laudan argued, the quest for any principled distinction between those activities is hopelessly Quixotic.

‘Necessary and jointly sufficient’ is logical-philosophical jargon, but it is important to see what Laudan meant. He thought that Popper and others had been trying to provide precise definitions of science and pseudoscience, similar to the definitions used in elementary geometry: a triangle, for instance, is whatever geometrical figure has the internal sum of its angles equal to 180 degrees. Having that property is both necessary (because without it the figure in question is not a triangle) and sufficient (because that’s all we need to know in order to confirm that we are, indeed, dealing with a triangle). Laudan argued – correctly – that no such solution is ever going to be found to the demarcation problem, simply because concepts like ‘science’ and ‘pseudoscience’ are complex, multidimensional, and inherently fuzzy, not admitting of sharp boundaries. In a sense, physicists complaining about ‘the Popperazzi’ are making the same charge as Laudan: Popper’s criterion of falsification appears to be far too blunt an instrument not only to discriminate between science and pseudoscience (which ought to be relatively easy), but a fortiori to separate sound from unsound science within an advanced field like theoretical physics.

Yet Popper wasn’t quite as naive as Laudan, Carroll, Susskind, and others make him out to be. Nor is the demarcation problem quite as hopeless as all that. Which is why a number of authors – including myself and my longtime collaborator, Maarten Boudry – have more recently maintained that Laudan was too quick to dismiss the demarcation problem, and that perhaps Twitter isn’t the best place for nuanced discussions in the philosophy of science.

The idea is that there are pathways forward in the study of demarcation that become available if one abandons the requirement for necessary and jointly sufficient conditions, which was never strictly enforced even by Popper. What, then, is the alternative? To treat science, pseudoscience, etc. as Wittgensteinian ‘family resemblance’ concepts instead. Ludwig Wittgenstein was another highly influential 20th century philosopher, who hailed, like Popper himself, from Vienna, though the two could not have been more different in terms of socio-economic background, temperament, and philosophical interests. (If you want to know just how different, check out the delightful Wittgenstein’s Poker (2001) by journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow.)

Wittgenstein never wrote about philosophy of science, let alone fundamental physics (or even Marxist theories of history). But he was very much interested in language, its logic, and its uses. He pointed out that there are many concepts that we seem to be able to use effectively, and that yet are not amenable to the sort of clear definition that Laudan was looking for. His favorite example was the deceptively simple concept of ‘game.’ If you try to arrive at a definition of games of the kind that works for triangles, your effort will be endlessly frustrated (try it out, it makes for a nice parlour, ahem, game). Wittgenstein wrote: ‘How should we explain to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: ‘This and similar things are called games.’ And do we know any more about it ourselves? Is it only other people whom we cannot tell exactly what a game is? […] But this is not ignorance. We do not know the boundaries because none have been drawn […] We can draw a boundary for a special purpose. Does it take that to make the concept usable? Not at all!’

The point is that in a lot of cases we don’t discover pre-existing boundaries, as if games and scientific disciplines were Platonic ideal forms that existed in a timeless metaphysical dimension. We make up boundaries for specific purposes and then we test whether the boundaries are actually useful for whatever purposes we drew them. In the case of the distinction between science and pseudoscience, we think there are important differences, so we try to draw tentative borders in order to highlight them. Surely one would give up too much, as either a scientist or a philosopher, if one were to reject the strongly intuitive idea that there is something fundamentally different between, say, astrology and astronomy. The question is where, approximately, the difference lies?  But this is not ignorance. We do not know the boundaries because none have been drawn […] We can draw a boundary for a special purpose. Does it take that to make the concept usable? Not at all!’

Rather than laying into each other in the crude terms, scientists should work together not just to forge a better science, but to counter true pseudoscience.

Similarly, many of the participants in the Munich workshop, and the ‘string wars’ more generally, did feel that there is an important distinction between fundamental physics as it is commonly conceived and what string theorists are proposing. Richard Dawid objects to the (admittedly easily derisible) term ‘post-empirical science,’ preferring instead ‘non-empirical theory assessment’, but whatever one calls it, he is aware that he and his fellow travellers are proposing a major departure from the way we have done science since the time of Galileo. True, the Italian physicist himself largely engaged in theoretical arguments and thought experiments (he likely never did drop balls from the leaning tower of Pisa), but his ideas were certainly falsifiable and have been, over and over, subjected to experimental tests (most spectacularly by David Scott on the Apollo 15 Moon landing).

The broader question then is: are we on the verge of developing a whole new science, or is this going to be regarded by future historians as a temporary stalling of scientific progress? Alternatively, is it possible that fundamental physics is reaching an end not because we’ve figured out everything we wanted to figure out, but because we have come to the limits of what our brains and technologies can possibly do? These are serious questions that ought to be of interest not just to scientists and philosophers, but to the public at large (the very same public that funds research in fundamental physics, among other things).

What is weird about the string wars and the concomitant use and misuse of philosophy of science is that both scientists and philosophers have bigger targets to jointly address for the sake of society, if only they could stop squabbling and focus on what their joint intellectual forces may accomplish. Rather than laying into each other in the crude terms sketched above, they should work together not just to forge a better science, but to counter true pseudoscience: homeopaths and psychics, just to mention a couple of obvious examples, keep making tons of money by fooling people, and damaging their physical and mental health. Those are worthy targets of critical analysis and discourse, and it is the moral responsibility of a public intellectual or academic – be they a scientist or a philosopher – to do their best to improve as much as possible the very same society that affords them the luxury of discussing esoteric points of epistemology or fundamental physics.

 

See: https://aeon.co/essays/the-string-theory-wars-show-us-how-science-needs-philosophy?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=eba5a1d6e4-Daily_Newsletter_10_August_20168_10_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-eba5a1d6e4-68915721

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 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

Does the Internet Spell Doom For Organized Religion?

From: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

“As we head into a new year, the guardians of traditional religion are ramping up efforts to keep their flocks—or in crass economic terms, to retain market share. Some Christians have turned to soul searching [3] while others have turned to marketing. Last fall, the LDS church spent millions on billboards, bus banners and Facebook ads touting “I’m a Mormon.” In Canada, the Catholic Church has launched a “Come Home [4]” marketing campaign. The Southern Baptists Convention voted to rebrand itself [5]. A hipster mega-church[6] in Seattle combines smart advertising with sales force training for members and a strategy the Catholics have emphasized for centuries: competitive breeding.

In October 2012 the Pew Research Center announced [7] that for the first time ever Protestant Christians had fallen below 50 percent of the American population. Atheists cheered while evangelicals beat their breasts and lamented the end of the world as we know it. Historian of religion Molly Worthen has since offered [8] big-picture insights that may dampen the most extreme hopes and allay the fears. Anthropologist Jennifer James [9], on the other hand, has called fundamentalism the “death rattle” of the Abrahamic traditions.

In all of the frenzy, few seem to give any recognition to the player that I see as the primary hero, or if you prefer, culprit—and I’m not talking about science populizer and atheist superstar Neil deGrasse Tyson [10]. Then again, maybe I am talking about Tyson in a sense, because in his various viral guises—as atalk show host [11] and tweeter [12] and as the face [13] of scores of smartass Facebook memes—Tyson is an incarnation of the biggest threat organized religion has ever faced: the Internet.

A traditional religion, one built on “right belief,” requires a closed information system. That is why the Catholic Church put an official seal of approval on some ancient texts and banned or burned others. It is why some Bible-believing Christians are forbidden [14] to marry nonbelievers. It is why Quiverfull [15] moms home-school their kids with carefully screened textbooks. It is why, when you get sucked into conversations with your fundamentalist Uncle George from Florida, you sometimes wonder if he has some superpower that allows him to magically close down all avenues into his mind. (He does [16]!)

Religions have spent eons honing defenses [17] that keep outside information away from insiders. The innermost ring wall is a set of certainties and associated emotions like anxiety and disgust and righteous indignation that block curiosity. The outer wall is a set of behaviors aimed at insulating believers from contradictory evidence and from heretics who are potential transmitters of dangerous ideas. These behaviors range from memorizing sacred texts to wearing distinctive undergarments [18] to killing infidels. Such defenses worked beautifully during humanity’s infancy. But they weren’t really designed for the current information age.

Tech-savvy mega-churches may have Twitter missionaries, and Calvinist cuties may make viral videos about how Jesus worship isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, but that doesn’t change the facts: the free flow of information is really, really bad for the product they are selling.

Here are six kinds of web content that are like, well, like electrolysis on religion’s hairy toes.

1. Radically cool science videos and articles.

Religion evokes some of our most deeply satisfying emotions: joy, for example, and transcendence, and wonder. This is what Einstein was talking about when he said that “science without religion is lame.” If scientific inquiry doesn’t fill us at times with delight and even speechless awe at new discoveries or the mysteries that remain, then we are missing out on the richest part of the experience. Fortunately, science can provide all of the above, and certain masters of the trade and sectors of the Internet are remarkably effective at evoking the wonder—the spirituality if you will—of the natural world unveiled.  Some of my own favorites include Symphony of science [19], NOVA [20], TED [21], RSA Animate [22], and Birdnote[23].

It should be no surprise that so many fundamentalists are determined to take down the whole scientific endeavor. They see in science not only a critique of their outdated theories but a competitor for their very best product, a sense of transcendent exuberance.  For millennia, each religion has made an exclusive claim, that it alone had the power to draw people into a grand vision worth a lifetime of devotion. Each offered the assurance that our brief lives matter and that, in some small way, we might live on. Now we are getting glimpses of a reality so beautiful and intricate that it offers some of the same promise.

2. Curated collections of ridiculous beliefs.

Religious beliefs that aren’t yours often sound silly, and the later in life you encounter them the more laughable they are likely to sound. Web writers are after eyeballs, which means that if there’s something ridiculous to showcase, one is guaranteed to write about it. It may be a nuanced exposé or a snarky list or a flaming meme, but the point, invariably, is to call attention to the stuff that makes you roll your eyes [24], shake your head in disbelief, laugh, and then hit Share.

3. The kinky, exploitative, oppressive, opportunistic and violent sides of religion. 

Of course, the case against religion doesn’t stop at weird and wacky. It gets nasty, sometimes in ways that are titillating and sometimes in ways that are simply dark. The Bible is full of sex slavery, polygamy and incest [25], and these are catalogued at places like Evilbible.com [26]. Alternately, a student writing about holidays can find a proclamation [27] in which Puritans give thanks to God for the burning of Indian villages or an interview on the mythic origins of the Christmas story. And if the Catholic come-home plea sounds a little desperate, it may well be because the sins of the bishops [28] are getting hard to cover up. On the net, whatever the story may be, someone will be more than willing to expose it.

4. Supportive communities for people coming out of religion.

With or without the net (but especially with it) believers sometimes find their worldview in pieces. Before the Internet existed most people who lost their faith kept their doubts to themselves. There was no way to figure out who else might be thinking forbidden thoughts. In some sects, a doubting member may be shunned, excommunicated, or “disfellowshipped” to ensure that doubts don’t spread. So, doubters used to keep silent and then disappear into the surrounding culture. Now they can create Web sites, and today there are as many communities of former believers as there are kinds of belief. These communities range from therapeutic to political [29], and they cover the range of sects:Evangelical [30], Mormon [31], Jehovah’s Witness [32], and Muslim [33]. There’s even a web home for recovering clergy [34]. Heaven help the unsuspecting believer who wanders into one of these sites and tries to tell members in recovery that they’re all bound for hell.

5. Lifestyles of the fine and faithless.

When they emerge from the recovery process former Christians and Muslims and whatnot find that there’s a whole secular world waiting for them on the web. This can be a lifesaver, literally, for folks who are trapped in closed religious communities on the outside.  On the web, they can explore lifestyles in which people stay surprisingly decent and kind without a sacred text or authority figures telling them what to do. In actuality, since so much of religion is about social support (and social control) lots of people skip the intellectual arguments and exposes, and go straight to building a new identity based in a new social network. Some web resources are specifically aimed at creating alternatives to theism, like Good without God [35], Parenting Beyond Belief [36] or the Foundation Beyond Belief [37].

6. Interspiritual okayness. This might sound odd, but one of the threats to traditional religion are interfaith communities [38] that focus on shared spiritual values. Many religions make exclusive truth claims and see other religions as competitors. Without such claims, there is no need for evangelism, missionaries or a set of doctrines that I call donkey motivators (ie. carrots and sticks) like heaven and hell. The web showcases the fact that humanity’s bad and good qualities are universal [39], spread across cultures and regions, across both secular and religious wisdom traditions [40]. It offers reassurance that we won’t lose the moral or spiritual dimension of life if we outgrow religion, while at the same time providing the means to glean [41] what is truly timeless and wise from old traditions. In doing so, it inevitably reveals that the limitations of any single tradition alone.

The  Dalai Lama, who has led interspiritual dialogue for many years made waves recently by saying as much: “All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”

The power of interspiritual dialogue is analogous to the broader power of the web in that, at the very heart it is about people finding common ground, exchanging information, and breaking through walls to find a bigger community waiting outside. Last year, Jim Gilliam, founder of Nationbuilder, gave a talk titled, “The Internet is My Religion [42].” Gilliam is a former fundamentalist who has survived two bouts of cancer thanks to the power of science and the Internet. His existence today has required a bone marrow transplant and a double lung transplant organized in part through social media. Looking back on the experience, he speaks with the same passion that drove him when he was on fire for Jesus:

I owed every moment of my life to countless people I would never meet. Tomorrow, that interconnectedness would be represented in my own physical body. Three different DNAs. Individually they were useless, but together they would equal one functioning human. What an incredible debt to repay. I didn’t even know where to start. And that’s when I truly found God. God is just what happens when humanity is connected. Humanity connected is God.

The Vatican, and the Mormon Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Southern Baptist Convention should be very worried.”

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/belief/does-internet-spell-doom-organized-religion?akid=9929.123424.Cam74x&rd=1&src=newsletter777738&t=7&paging=off