The headline on this Daily Beast piece is a bit misleading: "Neil deGrasse Tyson Defends Scientology -- and the Bush Administration's Science Record."
Sure, both statements are true. But only in a certain context. Here's some of what astrophysicist Tyson says about Scientology.
So, you have people who are certain that a man in a robe transforms a cracker into the literal body of Jesus saying that what goes on in Scientology is crazy?
...But why aren’t they a religion? What is it that makes them a religion and others are religions? If you attend a Seder, there’s an empty chair sitting right there and the door is unlocked because Elijah might walk in.
OK. These are educated people who do this. Now, some will say it’s ritual, some will say it could literally happen. But religions, if you analyze them, who is to say that one religion is rational and another isn’t? It looks like the older those thoughts have been around, the likelier it is to be declared a religion.
If you’ve been around 1,000 years you’re a religion, and if you’ve been around 100 years, you’re a cult. That’s how people want to divide the kingdom. Religions have edited themselves over the years to fit the times, so I’m not going to sit here and say Scientology is an illegitimate religion and other religions are legitimate religions. They’re all based on belief systems.
Look at Mormonism! There are ideas that are as space-exotic within Mormonism as there are within Scientology, and it’s more accepted because it’s a little older than Scientology is, so are we just more accepting of something that’s older?
Great points. It reminds me of the saying that an atheist is someone who tells believers, "I just deny one more God than you do."
Meaning, every major religion (and maybe also every minor one) teaches that it knows who/what the True God(s) is or are. Beliefs, rituals, and such based on that supposed knowledge make great good sense to the religion's followers, while the practices of other religions are looked upon as misguided, if not bizarre.
Next Sunday countless Christians will worship on Easter, which celebrates the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
That is really a very weird belief. Sure, to Christians it isn't, but that's because they take it to be true. To them the idea that the angel Gabriel verbally revealed the Quran to Muhammed over about 23 years, though... that is clearly absurd.
Well, in religion one person's ridiculous absurdity is another person's blessed faith. Thus there are lots of different religions, each appealing to different groups of people. Which seemingly is a lot like music -- there are many different genres, classical, rock, hip hop, rap, blues, jazz, etc. etc. -- except it really isn't.
Because few people who like a certain type of music also claim that this type is objectively better than other sorts of music, whereas religions typically make objective truth claims.
Religions are popular because they make people feel better. So does listening to music. But people don't get into actual music wars, with killing and such. Nor do they try to justify social policies and laws based on their music preferences.
Religious believers do, though. Why?
Because in order to feel good about their religion, most devotees need to believe that its teachings are true, even without any demonstrable evidence for this. After all, how comforting would the notion of heaven be, if it was viewed as a fictional place rather than as an actual afterlife destination?
This objectification of a subjective belief, Tyson points out, causes problems.
Now, where the rubber hits the road is, since we are a free country where belief systems are constitutionally protected—provided they don’t infringe on the rights of others—then how do you have governance over “all” when you have belief systems for the “some”?
It seems to me that the way you govern people is you base governance on things that are objectively true; that are true regardless of your belief system, or no matter what the tenets are of your holy documents. And then they should base it on objective truths that apply to everyone.
So the issue comes about not that there are religious people in the world that have one view over another, it’s if you have one view or another based on faith and you want to legislate that in a way that affects everyone. That’s no longer a free democracy. That’s a country where the few who have a belief system that’s not based in objective reality want to control the behavior of everyone else.
...But the point here is that if you’re religious, and your religion tells you that being gay is bad, then don’t be gay. But you have to remind yourself that that’s your belief system, and there are other belief systems that don’t agree with that, so you should not be in the position to make legislation that affects other people.
Absolutely. Nicely said, Dr. Tyson.
However, I did have to pause and ponder the statement, "It seems to me that the way you govern people is you base governance on things that are objectively true." At first this seemed far distant from how legislators in this country actually govern, even when they govern well.
But the more I thought about it, it does seem that objective reality is indeed the basis for all legislation and executive action.
Laws and policies are intended to make a difference in the real world. So even though it isn't always obvious how "objectively true" is the touchstone for governing, it does seem to be, deep down.
For example, a few months ago the Oregon legislature considered a bill that would eliminate non-medical reasons for not immunizing children. I thought this was a good idea. Extensive research has show that immunizations are generally safe and effective, bringing many more health benefits than problems.
It shouldn't matter what people believe about immunizations; what counts are the objective facts about immunizations. These can be argued about and debated, but the goal is to learn what is objectively true.
Sure, personal values play a role in political discussions. These should be subservient to generally held facts, though. This was the theme of one of my first Church of the Churchless blog posts, "Religious values have no place in politics."
But I can’t think of any examples of opinions about political issues that are incapable of being founded on either proven or provable factual premises. Consider abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage—three issues that are commonly considered to comprise the core of “values-based” voting in the last election.
Opinions about each of these issues can, and should, be founded on objective facts derived from social science and medical science research. There are costs and benefits to various individuals and society as a whole from the presence or absence of abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage. These costs and benefits can be determined. They can be communicated. They can be discussed. They can be the basis for informed political decisions.
But you can’t determine, communicate, discuss, or decide anything on a religious or what-God-wants basis. The moral tenets of every religion are unproven and unprovable, using Volokh’s words. However, the moral tenets that flow out of political decisions founded on accurate real-world information can be proven, because the real world is provable.
For example, fetuses either feel pain or they don’t. If they do, then it should be possible to determine how much pain is experienced during an abortion. People could use this information to help decide when an abortion is justified and when it isn’t. Intelligent debates about the pros and cons of abortion could replace the frenzied moralistic “I’m right and you’re wrong!” screeching that now passes for political discourse in this country.
You can’t debate with someone who doesn’t have a defensible reason for why they believe what they do. You can’t debate with someone who responds to a reasoned argument with “Because the Bible says so” or “Jesus condemns sinners.”