I’ve never identified with any movement. I just am what I am and occasionally a movement claims me because there is resonance between my writings and speeches and what they do, and that’s fine; I don’t mind that. But no, I have never been politically or organizationally active in that way. Astrophysics — that’s what I identify with.
He went on to mention that, on his wiki page, he had to adjust the applied label
agnostica couple of times; apparently somebody (and indeed, who knows who it could have been on Wikipedia) felt some urgent need to
pin the Scarlet A on the astrophysicist.
The comments and discussion following the post, I must say, were the best I've seen yet in a secular blog. Kudos to the courage of Janiece, who said
Isn’t it a bit of a non-starter to debate someone else’s religious self-identification?
If he says he’s an agnostic, then that’s what he is. Claiming he’s really an atheist in order to use his fame to promote your own movement makes you no better than the dipsticks who try to claim the U.S. is a “Christian nation.”
And my hat is off to an anonymous poster who argued very eloquently about the labeling issue:
For what it’s worth, I’m disappointed in atheists who insist that other atheists should always accept and embrace the atheist label. It’s that same identity politics mentality – your atheist in-group comes first, and everything else comes second. I disagree.
I think Neil provides a sound example of when your atheism should come second. Scientific literacy and/or critical thinking are far more important than accepting that there is no God. You won’t get people to accept that God doesn’t exist if they don’t think critically or are not scientifically literate to begin with.n the
A concrete example is the evolution-creationism debate. I agree with evolutionary biologists that real biology would be better served if atheists just butted out.
I don’t mean that atheists shouldn’t contribute to the defense of evolution. But they shouldn’t defend evolution under the banner of atheism. That is utterly stupid and counterproductive – it just reinforces religious resistance to taking science seriously, or to asking questions critically. It actually turns people away (religious people) from becoming scientifically literate or critical thinkers.
If you care about scientific literacy and/or critical thinking, you should be willing to admit that there are times when identity politics doesn’t trump everything else. Promoting atheism is important, but not as important as educating the public about science, or getting people to examine questions in a thoughtful way.
I see this as the biggest divide within organized atheism. Most groups think that identity politics comes before all else, but a few recognize that their atheism isn’t everything. This is probably why the Center for Inquiry has a secular humanism wing over here, and a skeptic wing over there. There is an implied recognition there that getting non-atheists to think critically is more important than getting them to accept atheism.
I am in complete agreement with both Janiece's and anonymous' thinking, and I'm concerned that anonymous may have felt the need to remain anonymous because of his or her perfectly okay, but dissenting, viewpoint. Is it not well within the definition of
free thoughtto be able to discuss differences of opinion within the community openly and without fear of jerk retaliation?
I have no problem with Tyson's desire to just pursue his science. I'd be happy to do the same. My question to those who criticize his decision is, in some perfect world where we eventually achieve acceptance for the secular worldview, what is the secular activist to do? The answer's simple:
retirefrom the activism and concentrate on things that really matter, like exploring the bigger questions of how the natural world - and the universe - works. We harp so much about defending science, but then we toss it into the back seat in favor of the War. Strange.
And it's not like Tyson hasn't been pulled into the conflict anyway.