I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it, and as long as you give me credit.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Intelligent Design

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astronomer and author (His recent Death by Black Hole was number 96 in sales on February 25, 2007, according to Amazon.) wrote an essay on the matter of claiming that God made something, when we have no current explanation for it. Here's Tyson's web page, and here's the Wikipedia article on him.

I saw him discussing the essay on C-Span, and he said that he didn't want to enter the debate over Intelligent Design, because others were doing so, but then he felt that he could make a contribution. Hence the essay.

Here's part of his third sentence: "a careful reading of older texts, particularly those concerned with the universe itself, shows that the authors invoke divinity only when they reach the boundaries of their understanding." He cites Ptolemy, who, says Tyson, invoked Zeus to explain the apparent retrograde motion of the planets. He also cites Isaac Newton, who invoked God to explain why the planetary orbits were stable, in spite of the gravitational pull of each planet on the others. Laplace, says Tyson, later found an explanation for the stability, and, when asked why his explanation didn't mention God, famously said that he had no need of that hypothesis.

Tyson's next-to-last sentence: "I don't want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don't understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity."

There is a danger in thinking in the way that Tyson describes. But the bigger danger goes back, apparently, at least to Ptolemy. That is the danger of assuming that, because we think we understand something, that God had nothing to do with it. That's like me saying that, because I understand the rules of basketball, that it sprang up spontaneously on ESPN. Basketball has a history. It was invented, and refined.* God is just as much the God of 2 plus 2 as He is the God of infinity, DNA, and black holes.

Tyson hasn't ruled out God. He doesn't claim to have, although I suspect that he doesn't believe in His existence. However intelligent we are, God was there first, and designed the phenomena that make us possible. Can we prove this? I don't think so, but we can't disprove it, either. We can believe it, though, and I do.

*I have made a few modest proposals for changing the rules of basketball, but, so far, they have been ignored.


elbogz said...

If you did not get a chance to watch his talk at the Beyond Belief conference, it's well worth it.

look for his talk in session 2

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, elbogz. I believe that I did see this talk.

Julana said...

Good point.
Just because one says things beyond boundaries of our understanding are in God's realm doesn't mean we will never understand them.

I thought that was usually a statement of faith that things beyond our understanding were still part of an intelligent design, and we could continue to attempt to push the boundaries of knowledge forward, if we wanted.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Julana!