Monday, September 3, 2012

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Atheist or Agnostic

A video of one of my favorite science communicators, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, has hit the internet recently. In it he explains why he does not identify as an atheist or see much need for labels like that.

Here is a link to the video in question.

Dr. Tyson has gone out of his way to not adopt the atheist label for years. He is an educator who does science outreach to a very diverse audience, many of whom would not listen to him if he were identified as an activist atheist. If he is happy with a soft approach, then I'm happy to applaud his efforts. It can be a useful method of reaching people and I'm glad to have him in that role. He's good at it.

However, I do take issue with how he seemed to discount the need for the label or for organizations of atheists. Being able to be around like minded people is something humans crave. Being an atheist in most of the US means being a vilified minority. Being an atheist in other parts of the world can be a death sentence. Which is why his analogies break down, because as annoying as skiers might be to non-skiers, there is no need to organize non-skiers to stand up to discrimination, anti-science legislation, or the trampling of rights by skiers. We need educators like Dr. Tyson, but we need activists too.