Atheist Believers

tyson1Neil deGrasse Tyson recently hosted the Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the American Museum of Natural History. The topic was whether or not our universe is a simulation.

This might sound strange and silly at first glance, but an awareness of consciousness has been an essential part of western philosophy ever since Rene Descartes first posited, “I think, therefore I am.”

In more recent history, the highly acclaimed Matrix movie franchise brought this topic of consciousness into the American mainstream. It continues to be a source of fascination, especially for academics like Tyson and his PhD friends on stage – cosmologists, astrophysicists, and philosophers.

Over the course of the two-hour debate, the conversation eventually drifted to the nature of “The Simulator” behind the simulation. At the 51:40 mark in the debate video (linked below), on one of the experts says,

“Who knows if there’s actually a simulator doing any of this. But if you do take the simulation hypothesis seriously, it’s got a couple of elements of a traditional god. This person could be all-knowing about our universe and could be all-powerful. The one thing which is probably missing…is wisdom and benevolence. (looks to the sky) If there is a simulator, I refuse to worship you. You may be out there but you have not established yourself as being worthy of worship!”

This is met with laughter by the panelists on stage and some awkward support from people in the audience.

However, when you arrive at the 1:39:30 mark, Neil deGrasse Tyson begins his closing remarks. Sobering the group up, he says that humans have a certain hubris about our understanding of and interaction with the universe. He makes the case that though we have a high percentage of DNA overlap with chimpanzees, dogs, etc., we look at those animals as very stupid comparatively. He continues,

“What if we found some life form that was an equal gap between us and the chimpanzee, but beyond us instead of below us? What would we look like to them? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence.”

This is met by sheepish quiet and defensive posture from the panelists, and an obvious curiosity from the audience.

Winding down his concluding statement, Tyson adds:

 “And if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment. I’m saying, the day we learn that it is true, I will be the only one in the room saying, ‘I’m not surprised.'”

Ooookkkaaay. So….the more I read leading atheist voices, the more I continue to see myself as being forever indebted to them. Tyson, along with Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Hawking, etc. are simply producing the best material out there for theo-apologetics. This debate is no exception.

Tyson, though claimed by many atheists, rather considers himself an agnostic.

But any way you slice it, he currently doesn’t believe in God. Despite that, taking out some of the pejorative “for their entertainment” verbiage, Tyson also just said in the debate, “it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity…I’m saying, the day we learn that it is true, I will be the only one in the room saying, ‘I’m not surprised.'” 

Uhhh…Nope. That’s not true. Maybe when saying “I will be the only one in the room” Tyson is referring very narrowly to the audience at the AMNH debate. But if he’s trying to claim insider knowledge on a divine creating being (i.e. Simulator), I’m calling NONSENSE. I’m sorry, Columbus, but you can’t land in America, look some Native Americans in the eye, call them Indians, and then claim you’re some genius explorer. All you are is last to the table. And it’s insulting and patronizing to the natives to say you discovered the place.

Why do I care what Neil deGrasse Tyson has to say? For those who don’t know, Tyson was the driving force behind the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey series. Not only was it wildly successful in ratings and won a Peabody for educational content, but it’s now frequently being shown in public school classrooms around the country as a scientific basis for understanding the universe. It’s not particularly friendly toward a biblical worldview, as Tyson himself is not. In other words, Tyson is to kids of this generation what Bill Nye was to kids of the 90s – the single largest scientific academic influence on American youth, helping to shape an anti-God worldview.

Tyson is totally likable, by the way. He’s not only extraordinarily well-versed in a variety of scientific fields, but as a brilliant educator, he has an exceptional talent for breaking down complicated data into palatable sizes that even children (or I) can understand. What he doesn’t understand, however, ironically, is his own anti-God bias. And presenting his conclusions as scientific and “neutral” to a generation of kids (and adults) is what I think is the spiritual charlatanism.

In other words, I teach kids to believe in a Creator. That’s because I have a pro-God bias. Despite his recent imagining that “everything in our lives is the creation of some other entity/simulator” talk, Tyson teaches kids to believe in macro-evolution, and he presents that as being neutral, thinking-for-himself, pro-science…not as being anti-God. That’s where our worldviews collide. He believes that he is a blank slate capable of only rational thought. I believe that the science of genetics (nature) and environment (nurture) as well as the predisposed spiritual condition of mankind (sin) make every single human inherently biased. Consequently, I don’t think I can trust anyone who refuses to admit their own bias. This most recent demonstration of Tyson speaking out of both sides of his mouth furthers my opinion.

In the end, everyone has to decide. Are we the products of a Divine Creator? If so, the clear implication is that we have a responsibility to this being, to know him and what he wants from us. Or, are we the products of happenstance, merely accidental? If so, the clear implication of being without design is that we are purposeless, and nothing we do has any meaning. Tyson’s gotta pick a lane.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20)

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2 thoughts on “Atheist Believers

  1. Matt says:

    “…the science of genetics (nature) and environment (nurture) as well as the predisposed spiritual condition of mankind (sin) make every single human inherently biased.”

    Since my early twenties I’ve been fascinated by the intersection between one’s biases and their religious convictions. One of things I respect about your work is a self-awareness of biases that can tends to escape folks in the Lutheran tradition. (To be fair, it also tends to escape folks in every Christian tradition and human beings in general).

    Of course, you’ve done such work here:

    https://pastorjameshein.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/so-many-denominations-but-this-is-why-im-wels-lutheran-2/

    But I think it’s important to wrestle with the relationship between one’s own biases and Biblical hermeneutic. Truth be told, I really have no point but encourage people to engage in that fascinating wrestle.

    And speaking in the sense that we’re both staunch monergists that love Jesus, the results of that wrestle can be quite compelling as well. Your confessional Lutheran convictions are a result of a self-aware Biblical analysis aimed at remaining as faithful to the Scriptures as possible, and my reformed convictions are a product of the same.

    AND beyond this, (in my opinion) what’s even more fascinating is how such self-awareness and the recognition of self-awareness in other Christians affects the way in which we speak to each other — particularly among monergists.

    The camp I’m in is mongerstic, Trinitarian, upholds the deity of Christ, upholds all the solas, and upholds the complete inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures — and I’ve been called a heretic by at least one Lutheran in certain comment sections.

    That was a bit of a digression, but I’m glad that you’re blogging again, Pastor.

    Keep up the good work,

    Matt

    • Nonymo says:

      What difference does it make?

      For Mr. Tyson, he identifies as agnostic. Demanding that he pick a side seems a sign of partisanship driven a bit too far. If his contribution to society is encouraging people to think for themselves and in new ways about the universe, as he says, that’s okay, isn’t it?

      For us, if we assume that there is a Divine Creator, then our sense of purpose is already decided on, at least to a certain extent. There are still open questions as to what concrete steps you want to take to align your life to that purpose.

      If however we don’t find any version of a Divine Creator convincing, we are left with the task of coming up with a purpose for our lives on our own. Many people fail in that task or don’t even recognize it, and end up following the crowd. (Not as if subscribing to a version of the Divine Creator couldn’t also be a form of following the crowd. And not to say that following the crowd is per se the worst way of living life, although in my view it’s a waste of potential.) Yet the task of taking a hard look at yourself and the world as you know it, and taking a bold step forward in committing to a purpose – this task is not insuperable and can be just as – if not more – exciting and fulfilling than following any of the major or minor “prefabricated” models of a Divine Creator.

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