Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

This is a terrific talk, in which Tyson discusses the danger of "revelation replacing exploration." He uses the example of how the world of Islam went from being the intellectual center of the world in science and discovery during its "Age of Enlightenment," the 300-year period from 800 AD through 1100 AD to where it is today, when the Middle East has given us nearly no Nobel Prize winners and is full of strife and poverty. Why? Because they turned away from scientific exploration and embraced religion. Why would they give up the wonders they had developed? Because religious leaders like Imam Hamid al-Ghazali declared that "mathematics is the work of the devil." These people invented math, but the dangerous religious meme of anti-intellectualism destroyed their Age of Enlightenment and helped collapse their civilization.

Then Tyson turns the mirror on the US, where the same thing is spreading like a disease across our landscape. Good lord (so to speak), this is scary, something we've been watching march toward us for years (click here to watch if it doesn't appear below):

You don't need to be a genius astrophysicist to see where we're headed.

If you're religious, please talk to your fellow faithful about this danger. Keep the conversation going to drown out those who use the name of religion to oppose real education or devalue understanding. "Intelligent design" and anti-evolutionism, prayer in schools and religious arguments against legal rights - these things are exactly the same kinds of dangers to our future that Hamid al-Ghazali was to the great Islamic culture of the 12th Century. Use Tyson's example and ask your fundamentalist friends if the Islmaic world is better off since it turned away from science and growth, since it replaced exploration with religion. Ask if we would be better off if we did the same thing to ourselves. Especially express this to the most reasonable-sounding among them, because the radicals will play to their fears and faith and win in the end.

Those who worry about Islamic fundamentalism are right to worry, because such radicalism is the root of much terror and oppression and war in the world today. But I'm more worried about Christian fundamentalism, because those are the folks who are the primary threat to Western world, especially in my own country.

Why? Not just because of people like Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. I fear we are treading the same path that the Islamic world stumbled down after al-Ghazali and his ilk.

Tyson nails on the head the number-one threat to humankind. Anything else, I believe we can deal with. Global warming? With enough research and creative energy, humans can find a solution. Vanishing easy sources of energy? Again, we'll find a solution if we have the intellectual and technological infrastructure to keep looking. Disease? Killer asteroids? Zombie apocalypse? I believe we can save the human species from any of these threats.

But only if our civilization promotes learning, investigation, and new ideas. Only if math, science, and creative pursuits are valued and respected will we remain capable of taking care of ourselves. If the West follows the Middle East into poverty and internescine strife, if we promote obsolete religious notions over scientific progress, if we look backward instead of forward - if we seek to be saved from outside rather than seek solutions ourselves, we're doomed as a species. Because we must find solutions to problems that will destroy the human species - and soon. If science and progress is considered a threat and a danger, we will not survive.

Science is not the enemy of religion; that is a meaningless distinction. Fundamentalist religion is the enemy of civilization, the enemy of the human species.



( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 8th, 2011 03:56 pm (UTC)
Aug. 8th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
Tyson nails on the head the number-one threat to humankind. Anything else, I believe we can deal with.

I agree. And how tragic that it's the internal threat that presents the most danger. Is that irony?
Aug. 8th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
The irony arises when those who fear the external threat so much that they destroy their own civilization without any help from the outsiders.
Aug. 8th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)
I was watching Rome when I realized that the more advanced a civilization becomes, the fewer gods they tend to believe in. (There are exceptions I am sure.) Even in the time of Julius Caesar the upper classes didn't believe in their gods. They followed ritual because that was their culture, but it was the lower classes who really believed in the power of the gods.

In primitive societies they needed the gods to explain how things work. The more we learned about how things work, the fewer gods were needed to explain it all. From a religious point of view I can see how that trend can make science seem a threat to faith.

In my first attempt at college, my biology teacher was also a priest. In our first class he explained that he is able to believe in God and also be a man of science because science explains how God works. It was the only mention of God in that class. He was probably one of the best teachers I've ever had.

Anyway. It's a really interesting discussion when all heads can remain calm. Definitely fun to think about.

As an aside, I told my most recent therapist that I consider myself an Atheist these days. She assumed that I was angry at God. How can you be angry at something you don't believe exists? :P
Aug. 8th, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
I know that most religious folks are not radical fundamentalists who fear science and want to destroy civilization, and that's why I included the plea for the religious. In fact, when I feel spiritual connection it's when I'm doing science!

Atheism = anger at God? Just o_O
(no title) - silk_noir - Aug. 8th, 2011 04:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 8th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
I think the issue of Hamid al-Ghazali is a little bit more complex than that, and that pointing at him as the sole smoking gun is a mistake.
Aug. 8th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
Sure, I understand, but Tyson uses him because al-Ghazali represents what went wrong with the Islamic world and serves as a great example of the kind of thing that could go wrong with the Christian world.
Aug. 8th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC)
People seem to get offended when I tell them that I think religious belief is tantamount to mental illness. When little kids talk to their imaginary friend, it's cute. When adults do it, that's not the sign of well-being.

And when politicians do it, that's a serious fucking problem.
Aug. 8th, 2011 04:36 pm (UTC)
(this was posted too quickly to provide nuance; while I personally find religious belief to be problematic, if someone else finds value in their faith, as long as it doesn't have any bearing on others, go for it.)
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - silverfae - Aug. 9th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - etcet - Aug. 8th, 2011 05:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no title) - miischelle - Aug. 8th, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - miischelle - Aug. 8th, 2011 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - miischelle - Aug. 8th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no title) - clevermanka - Aug. 8th, 2011 07:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 8th, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
One problem here is that anti-intellectualism and resistance to the implied change through new ideas is not symptomatic of religious revelation, but that's the outer form that some repressive societies grasp. Take a look at Stalin for an example of anti-religious repression. In our own time, I see many people my age who used to make a religion of 'Science' or 'Progress' losing that faith because of things like global warming.

Another problem is that the very nature of anti-intellectual fundies of whatever stripe refuse to listen. They are shutting out the scary world, and sticking hard to a set of rules that seems controllable.

Just as a data point, the few times I've been part of a dialogue between ultra conservative fundies and liberal or even radical Christians (many of whom are scientists) the first thing the fundie says is "You are not really a Christian if you can support X [evolution/gay marriage/genetic research/pick a cause any cause]." Not seeing the hearbreaking irony in that, because the first tenet of Christianity was inclusion of everyone. And that effectively ends the dialogue.
Aug. 8th, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC)
I think the reason Tyson (and I) use religious fundamentalism as the bogeyman in situations like this is that it creates repressive societies. This is because cynical (religious and government) leaders use it as they use other powerful, psychological tools and -isms to control their people and gather power.

Because the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) all claim God as their own and dismiss others' religious notions as misdirected at best, it's a more powerful tool for control than anything else. If you drug your people to control them, eventually that'll fail or the people will rise up against it; if you use the stick and carrot of God to control people, by definition they can't question the dictates.

I, too, am driven crazy by hypocrisy. Religion is full of it, as is politics, and they're even smug about their hypocrisy because they know they're right. GAAAAH!
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 8th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
I wish I had cable so I could see things like that!
(Deleted comment)
(no title) - mckitterick - Aug. 8th, 2011 06:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 8th, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC)
Hi Chris-

Awesome post. (Although I, too, think Tyson's interpretation of the impact of Hamid Al-Ghazali was a little oversimplified. One must also ask why the society in which he lived was so ready to accept his teachings?)

I want to recommend, once again, the movie 'Agora' to you. It's a sobering commentary on the power of fundamentalism to destroy the scientific enterprise & all the benefits it offers our society.

Pura Vida.
Aug. 8th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, I understand. If the people hadn't been primed by organized religion, al-Ghazali and his ilk wouldn't have been able to ruin things.

We need to find a cure for religion.
curious/interesting - justaqt - Aug. 10th, 2011 10:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: curious/interesting - mckitterick - Aug. 10th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 9th, 2011 12:51 am (UTC)
I notice that right after the he puts the big bang billboard up the video kinda skips ahead... I wonder what we missed?
Aug. 9th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
I would love to see the full video!
Aug. 9th, 2011 09:11 pm (UTC)
Great post! I've been listening to his "Star Talk" podcast & enjoying the hell out of that too.
Aug. 9th, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
Oooh, I need to find this podcast!
Aug. 9th, 2011 11:28 pm (UTC)
This is the guy that will be hosting the sequel to Cosmos!

Interesting post & video, Chris.

Of course we gotta give thanks to Bush for exciting and co-opting the religious vote so well. That, in my opinion, legitimized idiotic discourse about religious values in politics, education, individual rights, etc. I don't doubt the guy is Christian, but it seemed he was more than willing to play up the religious overtones (GOD'S NATION!!!!!!1) to push his own agenda. Selfish, short-sighted, and dumb. Par for the course, I guess.
Aug. 10th, 2011 02:39 am (UTC)
Wow, that's so exciting about Cosmos! I'm not sure if I'm more excited about Tyson doing a Cosmos remake or worried that Fox is hosting it....
Aug. 10th, 2011 06:14 am (UTC)
justaqt likes this
Aug. 10th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
Re: justaqt likes this
I love the idea of that and how he presents it and Tyson is awesome!!11!!
( 45 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

April 2019
Powered by LiveJournal.com