Friday, December 21, 2012

Twelve Apostates - Neil deGrasse Tyson

The single most requested person[1], as far as speakers at atheist conferences go, doesn't even identify as an atheist.  He got himself into some trouble with how he chose to word that choice in a video for Big Think, but his point was a good one.  The man may not self identify as atheist, but he quite clearly is.  He's just not an activist for atheism.  Or at least not openly.

He values his role as an educator and correctly fears identifying as an atheist would him less effective in that role.  It's an odd situation for someone to be in.  He's in a rare position where he can do more for atheism if he's not labeled as one of us and while his intention has nothing to do with atheism, other than the coincidence of it being the only honest position to take.

Whether he identifies with the Atheist Movement or not, he does more for it than most.  He gets people to see why science is a good thing.  And he calls out the fact that somehow people still don't understand that it is.  He has done a better job than anyone debunking the ridiculousness that they call "Intelligent Design", brilliantly destroying its claims of being scientific.

In responding to Bill O'Reilly's tides comment, he made one the best arguments against the God of the Gaps I've ever seen.

Tyson has earned his spot as the successor to a role once filled by Carl Sagan.  He advances science, by showing the wondrous things we can learn by using it properly.  If Congress would listen to him, scientific advancement would be improved across the board.  He understands that the Space Race was about much more than getting to the moon.

He is able to do this because he appeals to a "mainstream" audience.  In other words, many Christians like him.  This means Christians listen to what he has to say.  This is why I didn't like it when PZ Myers criticized Brian Dunning for being proud that his podcast has a lot of Christian listeners.  Congress won't be asking David Silverman to testify in front of them.  But they've done so with Neil deGrasse Tyson.  A Republican (or even a Democrat) President won't be asking PZ Myers or Richard Dawkins for their input, but George  W Bush appointed Neil deGrasse Tyson to two different advisory committees[2].

A big part of why I included James Randi & Christopher Hitchens on this list was that the fact that they get their message to more than just those who agree with them.  Preaching to the choir is to convincing people as masturbation is to procreation.  It's fun, but it's unlikely to get you the results you're looking for.

So, he may not vocally support our movement, or actively participate in the atheist community, but he sure as hell[3] helps our cause.  It's the inevitable byproduct of promoting truth, science, and recognition of reality.

1.  I base this on a conversation with a Skepticon organizer and my own experiences volunteering with planning a conference.
3.  Pun intended

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