Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick

Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses how religions destroy civilizations.

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.

Tags: decline of civilization, religion

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