It’s not that anybody of stature claims Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of our greatest minds; instead, it has been said he is a harmless entertainer. In this there is some truth. But he is also a sort of snide yet jolly secular priest, and a harmful one because the religion he preaches—scientism—is a false one. Don’t believe me: let’s let Tyson prove this in his own words, taken from his sermon “What Science Is — and How and Why It Works“.
Science distinguishes itself from all other branches of human pursuit by its power to probe and understand the behavior of nature on a level that allows us to predict with accuracy, if not control, the outcomes of events in the natural world.
This sounds like a boast, but it is only a definition. Who didn’t know the job of science? We could have also said, for example, Literature distinguishes itself from all other branches of human pursuit by its power to probe and understand the behavior of people on a level that allows us to probe with accuracy, if not control, the outcomes of events of people’s lives. Science is only one branch of knowledge.
The scientific method, which underpins these achievements, can be summarized in one sentence, which is all about objectivity:
Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is.
However, this “method” is also the one that applies in literature, philosophy, mathematics, theology, and so forth. Science has no special case to make in the pursuit of truth. Yet Scientist Tyson intimates that because science does a superior job at discovering scientific truths, scientific truths are superior to other truths. This is obviously false, not the least because science could not do its job without the truths from the other areas of human endeavor. Indeed, a strong case can be made that scientific truths are the least important to mankind because no scientific truth gives us any insight into life and death, the purpose and meaning of our lives, morality, and so forth.
Since [Galileo and Bacon], we would further learn not to claim knowledge of a newly discovered truth until multiple researchers, and ultimately the majority of researchers, obtain results consistent with one another.
A “newly discovered truth” is a truth regardless of how many researchers believe or can prove it. This is just Tyson writing poorly. He meant to say that we should not say new claims are true until the claims have received consistent verification. Yet since the advent of Big Science, we know that grandiose claims made by breathless press releases often receive the biggest reward. And those claims which further the Establishment (particularly government) are often claimed to be true contrary to evidence.
Science discovers objective truths…
Once an objective truth is established by these methods, it is not later found to be false. We will not be revisiting the question of whether Earth is round; whether the sun is hot; whether humans and chimps share more than 98 percent identical DNA; or whether the air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen.
Science is not alone in discovering objective truths, and science can only discover truths about the contingent world. Also, science would a dull field indeed were it only to catalog contingent objective truths. It doesn’t take a full-fledged “scientist” to say the sun is hot or even that the earth is round (despite the many fictions that have grown up claiming mankind only knew this latter objective truth recently). Science is therefore not a dry collection of objective truths, but an attempt at understanding the (secondary) causes of these truths. Why is sun hot? That requires an explanation, a theory, which is subject to revision, to revisting.
So the only times science cannot assure objective truths is on the pre-consensus frontier of research, and the only time it couldn’t was before the 17th century, when our senses — inadequate and biased — were the only tools at our disposal to inform us of what was and was not true in our world.
Once again, Scientist Tyson has confused observation with explanation. And somehow he forgets that our senses—inadequate and biased—are still the only tools we have to make sense of the data presented to us. It is only the case that we have created tools which provide our inadequate and biased senses with new data. A microscope still presents to the eye an image which must be interpreted.
Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality, such as the value of pi; E= m c 2; Earth’s rate of rotation; and that carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases. These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true, whether or not you believe in them.
This is the product of a mind overtaxed. Not all these statements can be verified by anybody. But that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, for instance, is of itself of only minor interest. How much influence it has is another question entirely. Tyson does not appear to understand the difference.
Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions…You don’t have to like gay marriage. Nobody will ever force you to gay-marry. But to create a law preventing fellow citizens from doing so is to force your personal truths on others. Political attempts to require that others share your personal truths are, in their limit, dictatorships.
I’m guessing where a migrant to hold at knife at Scientist Tyson’s throat, his “personal truth” that murder is wrong would at least come to his mind if not his lips. Would he try to force this personal truth on his would-be slayer? That murder is wrong is not, of course, a scientific answer. Science is mute on morality and on, for instance, gay marriage. It is only a mind saturated in scientism that could say if you don’t like gay marriage, you don’t have to participate in it. It’s like saying that you don’t have to like murder, you don’t have to participate in it.
Note further that in science, conformity is anathema to success.
It is here I doubled over in laughter and could not follow the remainder of the sermon to its end.