I ran across a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson a while back and was going to write on it at the time, but of course didn’t. I saved it anyway thinking that at some point I would comment about the tweet.
I’m not a fan of Tyson; I don’t disparage his contribution to astrophysics, it’s just that it seems to me at least he’s more interested lately in being a political/social commenter than an advocate of science. That’s fine, as any of us, he can do what he wants, say what he wants. When someone places their celebrity above their discipline though, that’s where I have an issue.
The tweet itself is fairly innocuous at first glance, but when I stopped to think about what was written, I had a couple of problems with it:
Today, the greatest threat of extinction we face is not asteroids or climate change or disease or famine. It’s society’s refusal to heed the warnings of scientists.
It’s really the second sentence that caught my attention. I’ve written about this before. Science, nor scientists are infallible. I’m not saying here that we should never believe what scientists tell us, it’s just that as we know, over time, what we think we know, may change. Advances in techniques and technology will often allow for insight into areas that we once thought were impenetrable. That we think something is true today, doesn’t mean that in 5 or 10 years, we may discover that we only had part of the answer. To me, that’s good; It’s really the beauty of the scientific method that makes all of this possible.
Next, which scientists of a particular disciple should I heed? Is there a specific list of approved scientists? Yes, a little snark here but as most of us understand there are scientists within the same field that have disagreements on current research. That’s not bad either and again, I think what it does is move whatever endeavor we want to refer to, forward. So, we can’t just heed the warnings of scientists without knowing which scientists we should heed.
Finally, as atheists we are accused of abandoning the One True God to worship at another alter, another god: Science. We need to dispel that myth amongst believers. Having trust in methodology that proves or disproves something is not worship or obeisance to it.