Saturday, November 17, 2007

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Point of Inquiry

Neil deGrasse Tyson is the guest of this week's episode of Point of Inquiry. Overall it's a great interview about communicating science to the public, which was also the topic of the panel that Tyson was on at the CFI conference. The part that I found particularly interesting was Tyson's account of a question he once posed to Francis Collins. He asked him what he would say if, in the future, it was shown that religiosity and the ability to believe in something for which there is no evidence was purely electrochemical activity in a part of the brain, that is active more in some people than in others. Collins's answer, which Tyson was appropriately disappointed with, was that he doesn't think religious belief is as simple as that, and he thinks that there is something much deeper that connects us.

This statement, by the head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, plainly shows the inherent conflict between religion and science. A scientist, to be intellectually consistent, needs to believe that science has the capacity to explain all natural phenomena. And the second a scientist says "No, that is out of the domain of science" he is closing himself off to future discoveries in that field. A scientist who is religious is far more likely to do this than a scientist who is not because the religious scientists believes there are somethings that a supernatural power is responsible for. For all practical purposes, this is not such a huge problem, since there are plenty of nonreligious scientists who will keep asking the important questions. Nevertheless, I cannot buy into the NOMA theory, of anything of the sort, simply because science has to keep pushing the boundaries of what we can understand, and something like NOMA would prevent that.

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