Neil deGrasse Tyson says he’s ‘not an Atheist’ in 2018
The well-known astrophysicist has popularised the field of science for millions of people through his books and digestible documentaries. Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Centre for Earth and Space since 1996, deGrasse Tyson has also served the US government in the aerospace industry. His decorated history was further buffed-up when he was awarded a Distinguished Public Service Medal by NASA in 2004.
As an astrophysicist, deGrasse Tyson has previously admitted he doesn’t accept anything unless scientific evidence backs it up.
Predictably, he has ruled out the chance of an intelligent designer – a God.
Yet, sparingly, the scientist has hinted that he believes in something other than scientific dogma which has sprouted atheism across the world.
His most explicit condemnation of the atheist world and its insistence on shutting down anything related to religion – even language itself came in 2018 during his appearance on the ‘PowerfulJRE’ podcast.
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Here, deGrasse Tyson recalled an anecdote of a time when he wished his friend, a NASA astronaut, good luck by sending him the message ‘Godspeed‘ on social media.
He was met with a furore.
The scientist explained: “Arguing and debating the meaning of things, for me, it’s however people are using the word that’s the meaning.
“It’s why I don’t call myself an atheist.
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“You can look up the dictionary definition of atheist and it kind of applies to me but what is the definition of atheist in practice? It is what leading atheists do and it’s their conduct and behaviour, it’s what they say, it’s their attitude – they’re the most visible exemplars of that word.
“Most of their conduct I either don’t agree with or don’t engage in.
“I don’t debate religious people and tell them they’re idiots; it’s not in me to do that, and I don’t purge myself of words that have religious foundations in them.
“I once on Facebook said to a friend going into space, ‘Godspeed’ and people wrote in, atheists, getting angry with me.”
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DeGrasse Tyson went on to detail how the phrase “Godspeed” in NASA circles has a completely different meaning to that which people perceive outside of the field; it has a long history with takeoffs and communication between the astronauts and control room.
The scientist then highlighted the irony of the argument from those who attacked him.
He said: “The atheists who argued I used Godspeed as a phrase, they all have used the phrase ‘goodbye’.
“Where does that word come from? It’s from ‘God be with you’ – it’s a contraction of those three words.
“And why would you say this? You would say this to someone leaving the city wall where it’s dangerous in the past, to bring protection for you between one city wall and another.”
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He added: “If atheists are jumping on me for having said that, clearly I’m not an atheist.”
DeGrasse Tyson has spoken at length about “otherworldly” things that happen in day-to-day life on Earth, many of which have been attributed to “divine miracles”.
Speaking to Penguin Books in 2019, he acknowledged the “fascinating phenomena” but questioned whether they truly hint towards the existence of a God.
He said: “I don’t know if God exists, deeply religious people are certain he exists – he, or it – but there are ardent atheists who are sure God does not exist too.
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“My posture is, particularly in the monotheistic traditions, that God is typically described as being all-knowing, all-powerful and all good.
“Yet, I look back through history and, in particular, the earthquake in Lisbon, in 1755, 80,000 people died.
“That earthquake took place on All Saints Day, in the morning, when most people in Lisbon – the holiest city in Europe – were in church.
“Churches were the largest structures of the day, if you have an earthquake what’s the first building to collapse? The ones that are the largest, most susceptible, so people died in churches.”