If you haven’t seen this, the core of each show is a previously recorded interview by Neil DeGrasse Tyson of some person… George Takei, Arriana Huffington, etc. Then Tyson sits down in front of an audience to talk about that interview with a panel of two—another person, supposedly chosen to provide a contrasting point of view, plus a comedian, presumably to keep things light. This format causes some problems. In one episode one of the panelists was anthropologist and sex expert Helen Fisher, and at one point she made the puzzling statement that men were more romantic than women; her research had proven it over and over again. But she didn’t have the chance to fully explain what she meant before they had breezed on to another part of the interview.
This week the interviewee was Richard Dawkins. It wasn’t as good as I expected, but I did pick out two interesting points.
1) Dawkins invites us to imagine an ophthalmologist, otherwise perfectly good at his trade, who nevertheless believes in the “stork theory” of human reproduction. While he admits that such a viewpoint wouldn’t affect his trade at all, he says that there’s something unsettling about it. You somehow imagine something dangerous lurking under the surface with someone like that, and so it “shouldn’t be allowed”. But gosh, doesn’t that strike you as a bit bigoted? Isn’t that just what Christians say about atheists, that’s there’s something dangerous lurking under the surface that can’t be trusted? I’m sure that Dawkins didn’t mean it to come out that way, and if it were pointed out to him he would have modified his statement somewhat.
2) Tyson, speaking to his other panelists now, said that he had felt profound “spiritual” experiences before, for example while on a mountain looking down at the clouds shrouding the earth below, when he felt “at one” with nature… and yet had not felt any need to invoke any supernatural diety. The panelist was Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, and he asked Tyson if he were open to the possibility that the experience was God’s way of opening communication with him. I have to say that Tyson rather ducked the question. My own personal feeling, as one of those atheists who doesn’t mind using the word “spiritual” to describe just such experiences, would answer something like… but as far as I’m concerned, the experience is complete in itself. What reason would I have to I posit something else in order to account for it? If we find a dollar bill on the sidewalk do we think, “Is this the Great God Mammon trying to communicate with me?”