Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me the note reproduced below the line, which he intended to post as a comment. Since I’ve put up two posts within one week about his views on science and faith (here and here), I thought it only fair to elevate his comment to a full post, allowing everyone to see it easily. (His comment was intended to follow the first link given above.) I present it here without any response on my part. I have verified by email that this is indeed Tyson himself.
I won’t respond myself, but if you have comments for Dr. Tyson, please add them to this post. As always, be polite!
I’m impressed by the energy invested in this thread. Thanks for everyone’s interest in my few comments on God and spirituality. I’d like to offer some observations on them:
1) My total output on God and spirituality sums to less than 1% of all that I have delivered in speeches and written in books. Although you would not know this given how heavily that 1% has been lifted to YouTube and viewed by the interested public.
2) My Beyond Belief talk, which birthed this thread, was derived from a previously written article in Natural History magazine. So the article should be what’s used as the formal reference to that content.
3) I mis-spoke in that talk: The percent of religious members of the National Academy of Sciences is half that which I cited, but the error does not change the overall point being made.
4) Odd that I would be credited with declaring that more educated people are less religious — as some kind of militant posture — when I’m just citing the data.
5) I can only conclude that my overall message during the Beyond Belief talk was not 100% clear since Prof Coyne as well as a NYTimes reporter present at the talk were left with identical (yet unintended) reactions to my comments. Are they both not as intrigued as I am that religiosity drops with education, especially with science education, but does not drop to zero, not even for members of the National Academy? I think that’s an amazing statistic, which tells us something about the human mind that is not yet understood. (FYI: The workshop was held at the Salk Institute and the audience was rich in neuroscientists.) And I referenced that fact as an argument to try to get my strident Atheist colleagues to lighten up on the public since up to 40% of our scientific brethren pray to a personal God. And as long as religiosity is not zero for scientists, to assume that science education of the masses would somehow rid the world of religious thinking is a false expectation.
This heavily viewed clip was from the same workshop, by the way:
As was this, where I comment that my deepest thoughts on the universe just may trigger neuro-synaptic firings in my head that resemble those of a religious zealot.
6) When I say I don’t care if people are religious, but that I care that religious philosophies stay out of the science classroom, I’m alerting the listener of how I choose to invest my time and energy. To fight for the rights of women within religions, for example, does not require the community of scientists to participate in the same way that fighting to preserve the science curriculum does. I’ve simply chosen my battles there. And even then, it’s less than 1% of my energy and time.
7) Most of the (American) public does indeed embrace science as a way of knowing. Science is more than evolution, of course. It’s engineering, it’s medicine, it’s chemistry, it’s physics. It’s the R&D for every tech company. The percent of total funded science that ruffles the feathers of non-fundamentalist religious people is small. And for the moment, religious fundamentalists still represent a small (but of course vocal) minority.
8) For the record, here is everything I have ever written on the subject of God and spirituality. Anything I have ever said publicly on the subject derives almost entirely from these several essays:
So as best as I can judge,in spite of my failure to communicate my intended sentiment in the posted Beyond Belief talk, I think my thoughts have been quite consistent on the matter. And, if you look carefully, almost all views I offer are not opinions but shared observations.
Again, thanks for the collective interest in my work. And sorry of the stupid length of this post. I now return to trying to get NASA back on track.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
New York City