Those that have watched the redone television series “Cosmos” featuring uber self-promoter errr scientist extraordinaire Neil deGrasse Tyson are sure to have noticed that while Tyson knows his science, his knowledge of the history of ideas, philosophy, and theology are rather lacking. Well now we know why the series has featured such a pathetic grasp of the history and relationship between religion and science. Turns out Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks philosophy is a waste of time. If you listen to the interview linked in the article below, he shows himself to be deeply misinformed about what philosophy is really about. He plays on cartoonish stereotypes, nothing more. He thinks it is all just a lot of ridiculous and pointless questions. Intro to philosophy students know better than he does (and are capable of making better arguments than Tyson, Dawkins, and Hawking). Tyson’s attitude is basically: Shut up with that crap and let me do my science (as if his scientific knowledge is immune to legitimate philosophical investigation).
I don’t blame him for his ignorance. I know a little something about philosophy but I don’t know much at all about physics. But there is one difference that is crucial: He dumps on what he does not understand, I do not. Many of the most religious philosophers in history, including contemporaries like Saint John Paul II or Pope Benedict, have a deep and abiding value for scientific inquiry. Why can’t these popular scientists return the favor? (I am thinking of Dawkins, Tyson, Hawking, and others). Of course, they are not just doing science but instead are making sweeping metaphysical claims. That my Intro students are capable of clearer thinking on those fronts does not seem to bother them a bit from pretending that their expertise in their particular field of empirical science makes them experts on metaphysics. To be clear – I am perfectly fine with them making metaphysical claims. Just admit your ignorance when you are, in fact, ignorant. I happily do so when the conversation turns to quarks.
Alas, to admit such ignorance and to allow for non-scientific inquiry (including inquiry into the validity of scientific reasoning) would force Tyson to admit that his “objectivity” is not quite what he thinks it is and that his chosen field is not the master science of everything. That is, apparently, just too much to ask. In addition, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s high horse is so tall that if he climbed off it, the fall would be fatal. It is probably safer for him to stay up there; we’ll just have to endure him.
Here is the article, “Why Neil deGrasse Tyson is a Philistine.”