Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson joined Andrew Klavan to promote his new book Accessory To War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military, and was asked about the science world’s thought process regarding the topic of God. Watch how he responded on Thursday’s episode of “The Andrew Klavan Show.”
Video and transcript below:
Andrew Klavan: This is something I’ve always wanted to talk to a real science writer about. I read a lot of science books, and I love it, and I’m also a devout Christian. I have noticed almost every book I read now has chapter after chapter explaining to me why God doesn’t exist. The arguments – the people who are writing are fantastically intelligent and informed, but their arguments are not really theologically informed. I wonder if it is a problem to have scientists talk about this in the same it’s a problem to have actors talk about politics. Do you ever feel that you’re being taken away from your expertise on this question?
Neil deGrasse Tyson: So, a couple of reactions to that. First, let’s look at some numbers. These numbers are accurate, the last I knew of them – if there’s an updated survey I’d have to check on that. If you look at the percentage of Americans who are religious, there’s an interesting way to ask that question unambiguously. Rather than ask “do you go to church every weekend?” There are people who go to church just for the cupcakes, or to meet people, and you don’t want to count them amongst those who are religious just because they say they go to church, you want to ask a deeper question. So, you can ask “do you pray to God, with the expectation that God’s divinity will touch you in some way, and come and influence events or phenomena in your life?” If you answer “yes” to that, you’re religious. We’re good with that, ok? That’s a really clean, sharp divider.
This also weeds out people who say “oh I’m spiritual” – but do you have any plan, you know? If you ask that question, something like 85 percent of Americans are religious. Now you go to academia, so people who are highly educated folks in any field, that number drops to about 60/65 percent. You go to science trained fields, that would be engineers, mathematicians, and the physical sciences, it drops further – you get to about 40 percent. Then you want to divide it up, you get to sort of the biologists, they’re actually down to around 15 percent. My field is a little more than that, maybe 18 percent.
My point is, whatever books you’re reading, if they’re trying to argue that God doesn’t exist, and they’re written by science-trained people, it’s not written by the 40 percent who pray to God. That’s fact number 1.
Fact number 2 – I don’t know what books you’re reading, but most science books I read don’t mention God at all! Are you attracted to the ones that try to pick a fight? I don’t know which ones you’re reading.
Klavan: Well, I’m attracted to books that have a big outlook – and I’m reading books like “Sapiens” and “Enlightenment Now.”
deGrasse Tyson: Ok, big philosophical sweeps – ok yes, yes, now I get where you’re coming from. If you’re just reading a book on black holes, they’re not talking about God (laughs). If you read the larger philosophically driven books, there will likely be, if not a part of a chapter, a whole chapter addressing it. I can’t speak for them, but I can speak for myself, and I will here and now. What I’ll say is, my only issue with – let’s take Christianity specifically because that’s most familiar to us in the United States and presumably to both of us. My only issue is if you are using your Christianity to interpret the bible in such a literal way, that directly conflicts with objectively established scientific evidence – and by the way, I don’t even have a problem with that – I only have a problem with that if you now want to take that into the science classroom and present it as science. It’s not science, it’s theology, it’s religion. If it’s anywhere, put it in the religion classroom, put it in comparative religion, put it in Sunday school.
Here’s something I think is interesting, you don’t have scientists, much less atheists, picketing outside of churches saying “that might not necessarily be true!” That doesn’t happen. In America, there’s generally respect for what you do on a Sunday, or if you’re Jewish on a Saturday. Unless you’re in a really rabid, racist neighborhood, you’re not gonna harm the Muslim who’s praying the 5 times a day. In this country, the free expression of religion is one of its most beautiful, strongest points. That’s what attracted so many immigrants, because they couldn’t practice the freedom of religion where they came from.
Meanwhile, while you don’t have atheists picketing churches, you have fundamentalist Christians try to influence school boards to change the science curriculum. Now what I will say there is, a simple response: because education is not mentioned in the constitution, by default it means it’s now the purview of the states. Anything not explicitly forbidden in the constitution is allowed and controlled by the states. Which means states control education. School boards control education. If you are on a school board, and you’re deeply devout, to the point of being fundamentalist – that is every word in the bible is literally true – and you want to put that in your science classroom, no one can stop you. You can outvote anybody who wanted to keep science as it is traditionally taught. But I can tell you what will happen – those students will not know what science is, or how and why it works. Science, that knowledge, is fundamental to the future of the economic growth of the nation, our health and our security.
Klavan: So your objection is not to God per say, no matter what your personal beliefs are –
deGrasse Tyson: No! Personally, I’m speaking for myself, No. You don’t see me debating anybody on this. Comb the internet, ok? Some of my more viewed videos, I do mention God, but I mention God in 1/10th of 1 percent of anything I say publicly – but everybody focuses on that, and it sort of grows out of proportion with my actual material. But if I’m ever there, I’m simply commenting – however religious you are, we need you to know the difference between theology and science. And that science is a fundamental driver of everything we care about in modern civilization. When you start interfering with that, you’re interfering with the future of what the country can be relative to any other country that is heavily investing in science.
Klavan: A fair response. Neil deGrasse Tyson, the book is Accessory To War, thanks so much for coming on.
deGrasse Tyson: By the way, thanks for asking me. If all the books you read on science, they’re all saying God doesn’t exist, and you bring a scientist on your show (laughs).
Klavan: I love science! (laughs). And it was an absolutely fair response, and I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
deGrasse Tyson: Nice talking to you, thanks.