Belief

Is Not Knowing Something A Sign of Weakness? Creationists Think So

The anti-science patrol is again attacking Neil deGrasse Tyson, this time over his take on the origins of life, the economy and climate change.

LOS ANGELES - Jan 13: Neil deGrasse Tyson at the FOX TCA Winter 2014 Party at The Langham Huntington Hotel onJanuary 13, 2014 in Pasadena, CA
Photo Credit: Helga Esteb

Those who reject science frown upon intellectual honesty. Not knowing how something works or happened is seen as a weakness. This week on Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson said the word “somehow” when describing how the origins of life began, saying, “Somehow, carbon-rich molecules began using energy to make copies of themselves.”

Creationists think they “got him!” Tyson, like all other scientists, is not sure exactly how life originated on earth. This is intellectually honest, since a great mystery is still being worked out. Many great hypotheses exist, some of which Tyson went into detail about, but how can not knowing something be a weakness? Surely all of us don’t know a great deal of things; are we all intellectually challenged?

The real answer is no, the real knowledge is accepting that there are things you don’t know. If you claim to have all the answers, as creationists love to do, you are being dishonest. There is no wisdom in pretending to know things you do not know.

One hypothesis Tyson spent a great deal of time on is called panspermia. Again, this is nothing but a hypothesis with an okay amount of evidence being collected and studied. The Mars Rover is one major example of our study of the origins of life.

Of course, the anti-science fellows over at the Discovery Institute take issue:

“After some passing references to Earth-based models of the origin of life (which of course omit any mention of intelligent design as a possibility), Tyson devotes two lengthy segments of the episode to panspermia -- the idea that life arrived on Earth from space -- and the existence of alien life.”

However this is not what Tyson said, nor suggested. He briefly brushed over the idea that life could have originated on a planet like Mars and been carried to earth during a massive impact in the distant past, but he didn’t stay here long and moved onto a more plausible explanation. Of course, creationists stopped listening here.

Tyson seems to come back to saying life originated on earth and then gives a great explanation for it surviving so many extinction-causing impacts on earth, explaining that life could have been shot into space on rocks. We have evidence to suggest microbial life can do a very fine job of surviving such a journey, and eventually these rocks can find themselves impacting with earth again, bringing life back to the planet.

Here is a key part creationists missed: Tyson never once made the claim these are scientific facts, just that they are reasonable explanations. The Discovery Institute took immediate issue with Tyson never suggesting life was intelligently created on earth, but why would he? What scientific basis does that fall under? They find it a stretch that life can originate on its own, yet they can concede that some invisible being can just randomly create life.

Every single suggestion Tyson put forward in this episode has some reasonable amount of scientific data behind it to make it worth mentioning. The scientific evidence that a god created anything, or even exists, is zero.

While panspermia is not the be-all-end-all of scientific explanations for the origins of life, Tyson is proposing that viewers open up their imaginations to all the possibilities of nature. If every event after the origin of life has a natural explanation, it is more than reasonable and logical to assume that events before do as well.

The folks at the Discovery Institute also took strong issue with Tyson's view on the economy and the industrialized world's impact on the climate:

[Tyson] Promotes a pseudo-socialistic view, claiming (wrongly) of our economic system that it assumes resources are "infinite," and lamenting that it is "profit driven" and thus only focused on "short term gain."

Wrongfully? Is capitalism not a profit-driven economic system? The free market, the very basis of capitalism, openly condones a “by any means necessary” profit-driven mission. Look at the BP oil spill, our use of fossil fuels, and water contamination in the south. There are endless examples of profits coming before the health of the environment.

They attack his stance on climate change:

[Tyson] Strongly promotes a form of environmental alarmism, pointing to the "scientific consensus that we're destabilizing our climate," and claiming that those who disagree with him are "in the grip of denial" and in a "kind of paralysis."

And they continue to explain why this is so alarming:

Tyson rejects the consensus on panspermia (while failing to disclose that fact). Yet he uses the "consensus" on global warming as a club to bully dissenters. After claiming that climate dissenters are "in the grip of denial," Tyson says: "Being able to adapt our behavior to challenges is as good a definition of intelligence as I know." So if you don't agree with Tyson's views about global warming and the policies that are necessary to fix it, then you're either not intelligent, or you're not using your intelligence. Instead, you're in "denial."

Again, Tyson does not need to disclose the scientific consensus on panspermia because he is not asserting it as a fact, just a possibility. Climate change on the other hand is a well-known fact, and he is not wrong in asserting that if you deny it, you are either ignorant of the facts or in denial.

Discovery Institute continues:

For myself, I'm very open to the possibility that the "consensus" on climate change is correct. But I can't condone the use of propagandistic labels, Nazi-comparisons, and epithets like "science denial" to shut down discussion on an important topic.

This is not surprising; when you are trying to force a debate about evolution for a career you can’t exactly deny climate deniers their chance to spew their ignorance.

Just as denying the evidence for evolution is science denial, so is denying climate change. You are shoving your head in the sand, plugging your ears and deciding that the scientific evidence does not align with your religious views, so you discard it, or at the very least claim it is up for debate.

Well, just like evolution, climate change is not up for debate. The debate is over, and the evidence is in. The anti-science advocates have lost; they could not provide evidence to support their irrational claims, and they now stand by the mantra that there should be a debate. There won’t be.

Once again, Tyson is skewed as a scientific dogmatist who is attacking religion, when week after week religion goes widely untouched, often mentioned only in passing if it has a historical significance to the topic at hand.

Unlike their religion, however, science is not based around one man, but the natural evidence that surrounds us. They can attack a scientist's character all they want; it doesn't change a thing about the evidence.

Dan Arel is the author of Parenting Without God and blogs at Danthropology. Follow him on Twitter @danarel.