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Neil deGrasse Tyson on religious people

Luke Breuer
2016-12-09 01:57 UTC

YouTube: Neil deGrasse Tyson on religious people

0:00 I wanna make an important point. This is not all people in the world, this is Americans, religious people. It depends on which study you get—[e.g.] "Do you pray to a personal God?"—these numbers vary, but they're high and they're up around 90%. It might be 85%—that difference is not important for the point I'm about to make—it's high, in the West, in America. 90%.

0:30 What percentage of educated people are religious? The number drops. I'm talking about graduate degrees, here. Among all people with masters and PhDs, the religiosity drops—somewhere around 60%, maybe 65%. The point is that it drops, with education level.

0:51 Now let's bring in scientists. What percentage of scientists in America are religious? If you average over all the branches, it's 40%, maybe 35%. In there there's a range, of course. Biologists, physicists, astrophysicists are lower; the engineers and mathematicians are higher. It averages out to about 40%.

1:15 So this looks like scientists are 40% down from 90%, from the general public. But that's the wrong—No, it's 40% down from 60%, 'cause all scientists have graduate degrees. So the graduate degree in any subject gets you halfway there. The science is the increment from the educated degrees—from all educated people. That takes it down to 40%.

1:47 Now you go to the elite scientists; this is a well-known number: 7% are religious—claiming "a personal God to whom they pray and intervene in their lives". I submit to you that with the current atheist... "fervor" that has taken on over the past several years—I would say... launched by the Dawkins book and Hitchens book and Sam Harris book and the like. And I was just in Borders recently and I couldn't believe it—I was sorry I didn't have a camera! Border's books: there it was, a section called "Atheism"! It was like, I had never seen that before! [6s applause] There it was. They had enough critical mass of books to make a section.

2:39 So, here's my problem, here's my concern. When you're educated and you understand how physics works and you're mathematically literate and you understand data and you understand experiment and you go up to someone who doesn't have that training and they are religious and you ask them, "Why are you religious, and believing in invisible things that influence your life—what's wrong with you?" That's unfair. It's not only unfair, it's... disrespectful. For the following reason: until that number is zero, you've got nothing to say to the general public. These are scientists among us, in the National Academy of Sciences who are religious and pray to a personal God—and I know some of them! And you're fighting the public for religious beliefs!

3:39 Figure that one out first. Because maybe there's an asymptote. Maybe ya can't change everybody. Maybe that's telling us something. Maybe there's something in the brain wiring that positively prevents some people from ever being an atheist. And if that's the case, then in a way they can't help it—and you'll never know it, because you're not one of them. So I ask you first for compassion with the public, but you should target your exercise and your experiments on understanding that number.

4:15 Because that's not 0%. Yes, it's low, but it's not 1% or 0.5% or 0.1%; it's 7%. One out of fourteen. If this were the National Academy of Sciences, you'd have... 65 people in here, among elite scientists, praying to their personal god.

4:53 I don't care—I personally don't care what people wanna believe. This country was founded on religious freedoms. That's how that happened. What enabled the religious freedoms is that our Constitution makes no mention of God at all, which means nobody's God reigns supreme over anyone else's. And there, it is the religious freedom which attracted all these waves of immigrants for centuries.

5:17 I don't have any issue with what you do in the church. But I'm going to be up in your face if you gonna knock on my science classroom and tell me that I gotta teach what you're teaching in your Sunday School. 'Cause that's when we're gonna fight. [6s applause]

5:39 There's no tradition of scientists knocking down the Sunday School door, telling the preacher, "That might not necessarily be true."—that's never happened! There are no scientists picketing outside churches! There has been this coexistence forever.

5:59 So to have the religious communities knocking down the science door—there's something wrong there, and I think back to Al-Ghazali in the twelfth century and the fall of that intellectual empire. And it's got me scared, in America.

6:16 Do you remember that case in Jersey—I met him—Matthew McClare, do you remember this? In his history class, the teacher was saying that Jesus is the only one and true savior and Christianity is the only one and true religion and if you were not, you were damned to hell. And he pointed to a Muslim girl and said she's damned to hell already—it's too late for her. And that Noah's ark carried dinosaurs on it and that the big bang and evolution are not scientific—he recorded this and submitted it to the New York Times. And it became a whole expose on this teacher. And then what happened? The ACLU came out: "Separation of church and state!" And it's a violation of the separation of church and state.

7:02 And I said, "I normally don't get in those arguments"—'cause I've got the universe to worry about. Normally, I let that go. But then I thought: No! People are missing something here. It's not a case of a separation of church and state—it's not, it's not. I looked at the comments and the transcript. I ignored the part of Jesus being your savior. I ignored the part of Christianity being the one and true religion. I paid attention to the statement that "Noah's Ark carried dinosaurs." And so, I wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times that they printed and I will read to you.

7:40: NYT letters to the editor:

December 21, 2006
"A Teacher, a Student and a Church-State Dispute"

To the Editor:

People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah's ark carried dinosaurs.

This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it's about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, New York, Dec. 19, 2006

8:02 [14s applause]

8:17 Let's fix this one once and for all. Yes Einstein and God were like that [shows fingers crossed gesture]. It's like, "God doesn't play dice with the universe"—it turns out God does, that's what quantum mechanics is all about. He was wrong about that. He mentions God a lot, and religious people like claiming him, because he's famous and he's unimpeachably smart. And if you get famous, smart scientists in your camp, that boosts your camp.

8:47 But Let's straighten this out, once and for all. Here's a letter from Albert Einstein, in his later years (1954)—a couple years before he died.

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

Albert Einstein
Letter dated 24 March 1954
included in "Albert Einstein: The Human Side"

Case closed. So if anyone says "Einstein was religious", just show 'em this letter.