I posted about this talk here.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has a doctorate in astrophysics and was a lecturer at Princeton for a number of years; now he is the director of the Hayden Planetarium in NYC, as well as having a show on PBS’s NOVA.
His talk last night was great, apparently adapted from a paper he wrote for Natural History magazine. As Tyson sees it, science’s advance always leaves a "perimeter of ignorance" around it, of stuff that we don’t yet understand. Tyson went through history showing that people tended to identify God with that perimeter. Then as the perimeter changed, people kept moving God around to the newer perimeter.
So at the beginning, not understanding lightning, people thought God threw lightning bolts. Then when we didn’t understand the motion of the heavens, the planets, etc., people thought that God moved the heavens. Tyson gave a quote from Ptolemy talking about the heavens being under the control of Zeus. Newton couldn’t make sense of more than two bodies under mutual attraction, so he put God as the sustainer of the multi-body solar system.
Now, of course, that we understand completely the physical forces that keep the solar system in motion, all of a sudden God is no longer needed to explain anything there, so he isn’t referred to. Tyson quoted someone (I forget whom, from I think the 18th or 19th c.) who basically said that God in fact doesn’t care about inanimate objects like rocks and planets—what he does care about is living things! So since we understood biology much less than chemistry and physics, God went into the gaps of biology.
That’s sort of where we still are now. I’d guess that if Tyson is right, as biology gets better understood, the "God of the gaps", as they call him, will go into psychology ... and we’ll talk about how God moves the mind even if he doesn’t have anything to do with biology ...
Tyson also gave a parallel discussion about science’s golden age in 8th to 11th c. Baghdad ... and how that came to an end with the publication of writings from an Islamic philosopher who condemned mathematics as the Devil’s work. Needless to say, science still hasn’t recovered in the Islamic world since then. (Tyson said that more books were translated into arabic during those three hundred years than have been translated into arabic since!)
Of course, the threat to America’s leadership in science and technology from our Christian Taliban should be obvious.
Kudos to Tyson for saying all this so forcefully.