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Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Atheism

11 May

I’m pretty sure most people have seen NDT’s video on why he doesn’t call himself an atheist. (If you haven’t, here it is).

I just want to put a spotlight on a recent Facebook post of his where he wrote:

Thanks for all your candid comments on this wall regarding my short atheism-agnosticim clip on “Big Think”. I found them illuminating for their breadth as well as their depth. I note a few other possibly unexpected things about me: Not only do I not embrace labels, you will never see me debating people on the subjects of UFOs, Religion, Alternative Health practices, Astrology, or Pseudoscience in general. My speeches at TAM 6 & 9 were given reluctantly (I don’t normally attend). I don’t sign petitions. I don’t write to, or lobby congress (although I am happy to testify when asked). I don’t lead or participate in rallies. I don’t picket. And I don’t publicly align with organized causes. Meanwhile, labels and causes have, now and then, aligned themselves with me. In any case, I’m rather specific about how I invest my energies. As an educator, I have found that people are more receptive to learning when they know you don’t have an agenda, and when they determine that your goal is to teach them how to think rather than what to think. Such is the universe I have created for myself

I have to agree 100% with his reasoning, both in the video and his quote here. Because of the current juncture in history, “atheism” is a cause; an identity. And it needs to be, because the adjective “atheist” has been one of the longest lived insults in the history of the human race and that has to change. The fact of the matter is that NDT is an atheist, he just chooses not to apply that label to himself because the people who do that usually have some agenda. And being associated with that agenda he argues would hinder his primary goal as an educator.

Agnostic is in another class altogether so creating a dichotomy between the two is nonsensical. Agnosticism can be a reason for atheism, but it could also be a reason for theism. The way I see it, the way you live your life determines your brand of theism or atheism (or deism or polytheism or misotheism etc.). If you go about your life as though a god exists, then you’re a theist. If you go about your life as though no god exists, then you’re an atheist. You can be agnostic about either proposition, but what you do more accurately reflects your “real” beliefs more than what you say.

What you do will always be more powerful than what you believe. Which is why I think the biggest crime against the human spirit is to reject someone, not because they treat you badly, but because they believe the “wrong” thing.

As a counterpoint to bring up an issue where “agnostic” makes sense, I’m agnostic about whether Jesus existed or not. The existence or non-existence of Jesus makes absolutely no bearing on how I go about my life, so how I act wouldn’t be a good gauge for what I think in regards to that guy’s historicity.

So yeah, even though he might not like it, I consider NDT to be on “my team”: Team atheism (the same is true of Bart Ehrman, sorry lol). But it’s not only because NDT is an atheist, but because we went to the same high school (of course about 20 years apart) 😉

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