Or, Can You Call Yourself a Naturalist and Still Believe in Free Will?
At its core, the most defining element of a naturalistic world-view is the idea that there exists an unbroken chain of cause and effect which determines the way that all entities in our classical universe behave.
In a naturalistic world-view, there are no forces or entities that exist outside the chain of cause and effect that can influence events in our universe. Everything that exists, has ever existed, or ever will exist, is inextricably linked in this chain; and this, of course, includes humans.
Using this idea to address the most crucial questions of our time with regard to our place in the universe, our relationship to each other, and our understanding of our selves, is to bring the full power of the naturalistic world-view to its most practical social and personal applications.
This interview was originally aired on May 20, 2007.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is an African American astrophysicist and, since 1996, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History worldview. Tyson has written a number of popular books on astronomy. In 1995, he began to write the “Universe” column for Natural History magazine. In a column for the magazine he authored in 2002, Tyson coined the term “Manhattanhenge” to describe the two days annually on which the evening sun aligns with the cross streets of the street grid in Manhattan, making sunset visible along unobstructed side streets. In 2004, he hosted the four-part “Origins” miniseries of PBS’s Nova, and co-authored, with Donald Goldsmith (renowned California astronomer and science writer/professor) the companion volume for this series, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years Of Cosmic Evolution.
As director of the Hayden Planetarium, Tyson bucked traditional thinking to keep Pluto from being referred to as the ninth planet in exhibits at the center. He has stated on “The Colbert Report” that this decision has resulted in large amounts of hate mail, much of it from children. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union confirmed this assessment by downgrading Pluto to “dwarf planet” classification. Tyson is also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Planetary Society, where he was formerly the vice president. He is the new host of the PBS program NOVA scienceNOW.
It’s widely accepted that faith and religious belief have been the most important elements sustaining the African-American community throughout their long history of subjection to oppression and adversity, but even in the Black Church, other worldly concerns were far less important than is generally believed.
The secular and humanistic traditions are long standing threads in African-American life that are hardly ever mentioned – yet it’s out of these traditions that the real world strategies and real world solutions which have yielded the greatest strides toward Black liberation and empowerment were developed and deployed.
What might happen if African-Americans today more fully embrace their rich history of naturalistic traditions; how might it make a difference for the future?
Dr. Anthony Pinn, author of “African American Humanist Principles: Living and Thinking like the Children of Nimrod” will help us trace the long and rich history of secular and humanistic traditions in African American life.
We will also be joined by Astrophysicist and Director of New York City’s Rose Planetarium and host of PBS’s “NOVA Now” series, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, and African Studies Professor, Community Activist and former Black Panther, Muntu Matsimela.
Atheism has taken a turn toward the right, some have said, as writers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and others have penned best-selling books on religion and faith which tend to see religion as the major problem in today’s society while leaving out politics and the economy. And while the Left ought to recognize the inherent dangers in religious fundamentalism, they also should understand the many complex reasons religion exists in the first place, and how fundamentalisms arise.
While on this program we have featured what some critics have dubbed the evangelical atheists in the past, we have also had folks like DS Wilson, Scott Atran, Robert Dreyfuss and Robert Pape on to take us deeper into the many facets of religion, its causes, and how we could begin to reign in the more dangerous verities.
Still, it is always useful to listen to anthropologists like Hector Avalos who cut to the roots of certain sorts of religious violence, and today’s guest, physicist Victor Stenger who takes a purely scientific view on the supernatural. Can science prove God does not, can not, exist? Many scientists, atheistic scientists in fact, disagree on the answer to this question.
For the 2-hour Equal Time for Freethought October marathon special, the bridge between science and religion will once again be crossed… this time to analyze the special relationship between the two and to find out what can go wrong when the latter steps to hard on the toes of the former. For this program, we talked to Ann Druyan and Stephenie Hendricks.
Carl Sagan is considered one of the greatest scientific minds of our time. His ability to explain science in terms easily understandable to the layman in bestselling books such as Cosmos, The Dragons of Eden, and The Demon-Haunted World won him a Pulitzer Prize and placed him firmly next to Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, and Oliver Sachs as one of the most important and enduring communicators of science. This December will mark the tenth anniversary of Sagan’s death, and Ann Druyan, his widow and longtime collaborator, will mark the occasion by releasing Sagan’s famous “Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology,” The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God.
The Varieties of Scientific Experience has been edited and updated with an introduction by Ann Druyan. In the book, Sagan discusses his views on topics ranging from manic depression, creationism and so-called intelligent design, and the likelihood of intelligent life on other planets, to the likelihood of nuclear annihilation of our own.
In Divine Destruction: Dominion Theology and American Environmental Policy, Emmy-winning broadcast journalist Stephenie Hendricks charts the important connections between “Wise Use”—a rabidly anti-environmental philosophy—and dominion theologists—far-right Christian ideologues who believe that there is no reason to protect the environment given the imminence of the Second Coming of Christ. This political collaboration reaches all the way to the Bush administration whose environmental policies are deeply influenced by dominionist thinking. Divine Destruction is an in-depth look at the radical remaking of American environmental policy already underway—in terrifying secret.
Harold Barclay discusses his book People without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy
Over the last three weeks, Equal Time for Freethought has asked scientists basic questions about human nature.
Is it within human nature to be aggressive, or is aggression the result of environmental circumstances?
Is war inevitable because humans have a natural tendency to inter-societal violence, or is there something unique in modern culture which brings out the soldier in many of us, particularly our males?
What if peace was closer to the “natural state” of human nature, and we have lived though an aberration of violence over the last few centuries?
Fund Drive Program: Religion, Science, Dubya and the “Selfish Gene”
For this special fund drive program, we will be traveling along the crossroads of religion and science, and chatting a bit about the relevance of science for a progressive understanding of political activism, and we will perhaps delve a bit into how science may become politicized, even subtly.
Joining me today for this special program will be my associate producer, Arnell Dowret, and hosts’ Neil Murphy and Sunsara Taylor, and also a special appearance from Dr. Reg.
We will be offering as a gift for your new or renewed membership to WBAI, a special presentation by evolutionary biologist Niles Eldredge recorded on CD for us by the World Can’t Wait group, and also Dr. Eldredge’s latest trade paperback, “Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene.” This book responds to what I said before about subtle politicizing of science… that is, when scientists offer seemingly apolitical information on human nature, such as E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology, Richard Dawkins’ “selfish-gene” model of evolution, or Stephen Pinker’s nature over nurture arguments a la “evolutional psychology,” are they sailing beyond science toward dangerously political waters? Dr. Eldredge seems to think they are.
Fund Drive Show: Tim Wise – Director of the “Association for White Anti-Racist Education” in Tennessee and author of White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son & Chris Mooney – senior correspondent for “American Prospect” & author of Republican War on Science.
Trials of the Monkey: An Accidental Memoir w/ Matthew Chapman (Great, Great Grandson of Charles Darwin)
Matthew Chapman was born in England… The great, great grandson of perhaps the most significant scientist of the last 200 years.. Charles Darwin.
Chapman ventured to the U.S. in 1980, and headed straight for Hollywood, where he directed several indie films with such actors as Johnny Depp, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Peter Coyote. He also wrote the screenplay for “Consenting Adults,” starring Kevin Spacey, and co-wrote the screenplay for John Grisham’s “Runaway Jury,” which starred Gene Hackman.
In 2001, Chapman went back to his roots, so to speak, and wrote “Trials of the Monkey – An Accidental Memoir” – a book about a trip he took to the town where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place.
Most recently, he has a new essay in the February issue of Harpers Magazine called, “God or Gorilla,” which is an account of the new monkey trial in Dover, Pennsylvania.
On Equal Time for Freethought this Sunday, February 5th – one week before Darwin Day, Chapman will discuss with us things from religion in the US, evolution, ID, superstition in Hollywood, and what’s its like to be the descendent of perhaps the most feared scientist .. In Red State America, at least.