Neil deGrasse Tyson on The Importance of Science Literacy

NeildeGrasseTyson - CopySubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Weekend Contributor

Last week, I wrote a post titled “Cosmos” Host Neil deGrasse Tyson Speaks Out about the News Media, Flat Earthers, Science Deniers, Climate Change Skeptics, Religion, and Dogma. Tysonan astrophysicist, director of the Natural History Museum’s Hayden Planetarium in New York City, and the host of Fox Networks’ new science series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odysseyappeared on a multi-part series on Moyers and Company in January. Tyson and Bill Moyers explored a variety of topicsincluding the nature of an expanding, accelerating universe (and how it might end), the difference between “dark energy” and “dark matter,” the concept of God in cosmology and why science matters.

In the final episode of the series—which I’ve posted below the fold—the two men discuss science literacy and why it’s so critical to the future of our democracy, our economy, and our country’s standing in the world. Their discussion lasts about twenty minutes.


“Science is an enterprise that should be cherished as an activity of the free human mind. Because it transforms who we are, how we live, and it gives us an understanding of our place in the universe.”

~ Neil deGrasse Tyson


~ Submitted by Elaine Magliaro

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

215 thoughts on “Neil deGrasse Tyson on The Importance of Science Literacy”

  1. Elaine M.

    Genesis vs. Geology
    The claim that creationism is a science rests above all on the plausibility of the biblical flood
    Stephen Jay Gould
    Sep 1 1982

    … Since science can treat only natural phenomena occurring in a context of invariant natural law, the constant invocation of miracles places creationism in another realm.
    That is from a used book store textbook (dated “1982”) and is a relic of religion:

    Why are we confident of that? We’re confident of that because we have a kind of metaphysical belief that there are laws of nature that are outside time and those laws of nature are causing the outcome of the experiment to be what it is. And laws of nature don’t change in time. They’re outside of time. They act on the system now, they acted on the system in the same way in the past, they will act the same way in a year or a million or a billion years, and so they’ll give the same outcome. So nature will repeat itself and experiments will be repeatable because there are timeless laws of nature.

    But that’s a really weird idea [for scientists] if you think about it because it involves the kind of mystical and metaphysical notion of something that is not physical, something that is not part of the state of the world, something that is not changeable, acting from outside the system to cause things to happen. And, when I think about it, that is kind of a remnant of religion. It is a remnant of the idea that God is outside the system acting on it.

    (If Cosmology Is “Off,” How Can Biology Be “On?”).

  2. Genesis vs. Geology
    The claim that creationism is a science rests above all on the plausibility of the biblical flood
    Stephen Jay Gould
    Sep 1 1982

    CREATIONISM reveals its nonscientific character in two ways: its central tenets cannot be tested and its peripheral claims, which can be tested, have been proven false. At its core, the creationist account rests on “singularities”—that is to say, on miracles. The creationist God is not the noble clock winder of Newton and Boyle, who set the laws of nature properly at the beginning of time and then released direct control in full confidence that his initial decisions would require no revision. He is, instead, a constant presence, who suspends his own laws when necessary to make the new or destroy the old. Since science can treat only natural phenomena occurring in a context of invariant natural law, the constant invocation of miracles places creationism in another realm.

    We have already seen how Whitcomb and Morris remove a divine finger from the dike of heaven to flood the earth from their vapor canopy. But the miracles surrounding Noah’s flood do not stop there; two other supernatural assists are required. First, God acted “to gather the animals into the Ark.” (The Bible tells us [Genesis 6:20] that they found their own way.) Second, God intervened to keep the animals “under control during the year of the Flood.” Whitcomb and Morris provide a long disquisition on hibernation and suspect that some divinely ordained state of suspended animation relieved Noah’s small and aged crew of most responsibility for feeding and cleaning (poor Noah himself was 600 years old at the time).

    In candid moments, leading creationists will admit that the miraculous character of origin and destruction precludes a scientific understanding. Morris writes (and Judge Overton quotes): “God was there when it happened. We were not there…. Therefore, we are completely limited to what God has seen fit to tell us, and this information is in His written Word.” Duane Gish, the leading creationist author, says: “We do not know how the Creator created, what processes He used, for He used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe…. We cannot discover by scientific investigation anything about the creative processes used by God.” When pressed about these quotes, creationists tend to admit that they are purveying religion after all, but then claim that evolution is equally religious. Gish also says: “Creationists have repeatedly stated that neither creation nor evolution is a scientific theory (and each is equally religious).” But as Judge Overton reasoned, if creationists are merely complaining that evolution is religion, then they should be trying to eliminate it from the schools, not struggling to get their own brand of religion into science classrooms as well. And if, instead, they are asserting the validity of their own version of natural history, they must be able to prove, according to the demands of science, that creationism is scientific.

    Scientific claims must be testable; we must, in principle, be able to envision a set of observations that would render them false. Miracles cannot be judged by this criterion, as Whitcomb and Morris have admitted. But is all creationist writing merely about untestable singularities? Are arguments never made in proper scientific form? Creationists do offer some testable statements, and these are amenable to scientific analysis. Why, then, do I continue to claim that creationism isn’t science? Simply because these relatively few statements have been tested and conclusively refuted. Dogmatic assent to disproved claims is not scientific behavior. Scientists are as stubborn as the rest of us, but they must be able to change their minds.

    In “flood geology,” we find our richest source of testable creationist claims. Creationists have been forced into this uncharacteristically vulnerable stance by a troubling fact too well known to be denied: namely, that the geological record of fossils follows a single, invariant order throughout the world. The oldest rocks contain only single-celled creatures; invertebrates dominate later strata, followed by the first fishes, then dinosaurs, and finally large mammals. One might be tempted to take a “liberal,” or allegorical, view of Scripture and identify this sequence with the order of creation in Genesis 1, allowing millions or billions of years for the “days” of Moses. But creationists will admit no such reconciliation. Their fundamentalism is absolute and uncompromising. If Moses said “days,” he meant periods of twenty-four hours, to the second. (Creationist literature is often less charitable to liberal theology than to evolution. As a subject for wrath, nothing matches the enemy within.)

    Since God created with such alacrity, all creatures once must have lived simultaneously on the earth. How, then, did their fossil remains get sorted into an invariable order in the earth’s strata? To resolve this particularly knotty dilemma, creationists invoke Noah’s flood: all creatures were churned together in the great flood and their fossilized succession reflects the order of their settling as the waters receded. But what natural processes would produce such a predictable order from a singular chaos? The testable proposals of “flood geology” have been advanced to explain the causes of this sorting.

    Whitcomb and Morris offer three suggestions. The first—hydrological—holds that denser and more streamlined objects would have descended more rapidly and should populate the bottom strata (in conventional geology, the oldest strata). The second—ecological—envisions a sorting responsive to environment. Denizens of the ocean bottom were overcome by the flood waters first, and should lie in the lower strata; inhabitants of mountaintops postponed their inevitable demise, and now adorn our upper strata. The third—anatomical or functional—argues that certain animals, by their high intelligence or superior mobility, might have struggled successfully for a time, and ended up at the top.

    All three proposals have been proven false. The lower strata abound in delicate, floating creatures, as well as spherical globs. Many oceanic creatures—whales and teleost fishes in particular—appear only in upper strata, well above hordes of terrestrial forms. Clumsy sloths (not to mention hundreds of species of marine invertebrates) are restricted to strata lying well above others that serve as exclusive homes for scores of lithe and nimble small dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

  3. Byron


    there are women who think the same way as the man in your video above.

    Or do you think only men are capable of thinking those thoughts?


    Not according to davidm. He claims that men and women think differently because their brains are different.

    davidm wrote: “I do not understand your logic, but living with many women in my household, I have come to accept that men and women have different brains and think differently.”



    Why don’t you talk to davidm about the possibility that some men and women may “think the same way?”

  4. David insists: “What I want is honest and meaningful acknowledgement that correlation analysis between atmospheric CO2 and temperature rise does not prove man has caused global warming.”

    Unfortunately, science isn’t like Burger King, where you can order it your way.

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