Neil deGrasse Tyson (our generation’s Carl Sagan) takes what appears to be intellectual high ground by denying that the term “atheism” has any use in our society.
Would that this were true.
What he fails to acknowledge in his argument is the active anti-intellectualism that’s so rampant in our country. This is not merely a lack of intellectualism. No, that would easy to counter with his current approach. This is something much worse–namely an active and motivated pursuit against the very concept that we can, and should, try to know more about the world we live in.
And religion is at the core of this. Whether it’s Christianity here in the United States, or Islam overseas, those who oppose education are almost invariably seeking to replace it with faith.
So, no, it’s not ok for him to mockingly bask in the intellectual luxury of agnosticism. Not in these United States where nearly half the country disbelieves in evolution. Not in these United States where half the country thinks Jesus’ return is imminent.
To be agnostic in a world that is this scientifically illiterate is borderline negligent–especially for a science educator–since the exact thing that’s leading to this ignorance anti-knowledge is the religion that he’s so reluctant to oppose.
Quite simply, if he cares as much about educating others about the natural world, which he clearly does, then he must acknowledge that the primary cause of the problem is not a lack of knowledge, but rather the presence of a poisonous substitute.
That poison is none other than belief without evidence–commonly known as faith. And until educators like Dr. Tyson realize how retarding faith is to a young mind’s curiosity, and vow to name it and combat it directly, we’ll have people like him sitting smugly on the sidelines, hands in his pockets, while religious people in power remove the questions from our childrens’ minds using the dirty scalpel of religious dogma.
Dr. Tyson, I implore you: be an agnostic when we’ve reached a basic level of scientific education in this country. I’ll be there with you shedding the atheist title as an unneeded symbol of the past. But until then, identify yourself as one who actively opposes belief without evidence. Until then, be one who identifies religious interference in education as the primary enemy.
Until then, be an atheist.