Monicks: Unleashed

Thinking Critically


Neil deGrasse Tyson: Sir, you have failed me.

I was so disappointed to hear this argument by Neil deGrasse Tyson, that I’m almost sorry I am posting it, but I need to talk about this. Please, watch the video — it’s less than four minutes long.

[Agnosticism] and [atheism] are not the same thing, and I’ll tell you why. Atheists I know who proudly wear the badge are active atheists, they’re like in-your-face atheists, and they want to change policies and they’re having debates…

Yes, sir. Agnosticism and Atheism are not the same thing, but the reason you are giving in your speech is painfully inaccurate, you have explained it, not only subjectively, but also very poorly.

The only accurate explanation is that Agnosticism refers to knowledge, and Atheism refers to beliefs. That’s it. An Agnostic does not know, because he or she can’t prove a god exists, everyone is an agnostic in that respect. An Atheist doesn’t believe a god exists because there is no evidence to back this claim. I am _certain_ you know this.

“Agnostic” separates me from the conduct of atheists, whether or not there is strong overlap between the categories.

No, sir, it doesn’t. “Agnostic” only describes your lack of knowledge about the god-question. Just so you know, some agnostics are activists, too.

The really disgraceful thing about all this, sir, is that you sound like you are buying into the idea that atheism is a synonym for activism, and spreading this misconception.

For the record, I like this approach of yours much better:

We have the same goals, sir. Seems to me you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

20 Responses to Neil deGrasse Tyson: Sir, you have failed me.

  1. With resepct, NdGT is characterized as an atheist as an assumption, and he is asserting his own beliefs regarding the matter. Many times throughout High School when I told fellow classmates I was an Atheist, they assumed I was a Satanist. (I lived in the Bible Belt..)

    Atheism tends to be the vague answer for anyone who is Secular, Humanist, Agnostic, Non-Theist, etc etc. Dawkins became under fire for claiming the Agnostic tag simply because he asserted he could not be 100% certain. Nor can anyone for that matter. (yet?)

    There is so many different beliefs, “beliefs” and views of Atheism. Take for example Alain de Botton, ( Religion for Atheist )who tries to bring forth “Atheism 2.0” (TED Talks) by taking the “best of religions” and tries to through them in our daily lives to find a better morality among the atheist movement.

    Largely I would more or less consider myself an Agnostic purely on the reasoning that I cannot be 100% certain of a supreme being. Granted, I’m 99.99% sure there isn’t.. Telling the ill-informed christians about any other belief or view point other than their own is about as difficult as painting “The Birth of Venus” with a half empty box of used crayons.

    I was as well disheartened by this message by NdGT, but in the secular and free thinker society, I am simply happy with people finding answers in a lie that was called the Truth. Agnostic’s and Atheist both do not believe for the lack of evidence.

  2. Skatĉjo says:

    Instead of playing dictionary cop, and getting all wound up because his definitions of “atheism” and “agnosticism” don’t precisely match yours, why not listen to what he’s saying. He doesn’t CARE about religion at all, and would prefer not getting sorted into some religiously-related slot. Of which atheism counts as one. He picks “agnostic” because as far as he is concerned – and he isn’t that concerned, because he ultimately doesn’t care – it’s easier to explain “agnostic” than explain over and over a complete lack of interest in the subject at all. He’s being asked for a label, so he provides one. At the end, he’s quite clear. He’d rather not be labeled at all. Why should that be of any concern to anyone other than himself? And why should that be disappointing to you? The man has a right to not give a damn about religion, and to describe himself anyway he pleases.

  3. Interesting that he complains that being categorised as atheist means people assume all sorts of things about you, and then assumes all sorts of things about atheists later on in the video….

    I like NdGT, very smart guy, but I just think he’s missed the point on this. Of course we don’t have “non-golf players”, because golfers haven’t insisted, through the ages, often violently, that golf is the One True Way, based on their holy book of golf rules. It’s a bit of a false analogy – although, given the history of racism and sexism that golf has as a sport, maybe not so much.

    The great thing about atheism is that it leaves you free to decide who you want to be. Hey, Neil, you can be an agnostic and an atheist at the same time, even!

  4. Kyle says:

    Atheism is simply and exclusively not believing in gods, deities or divinities. Anything beyond that an atheist may say, do or think is not a function of their atheism but of something else. Atheism is not a movement, philosophy or group. When an atheist — or anyone else for that matter — makes a claim about having — or not having — special knowledge, that is a function of their gnosticism or agnosticism. The terms are not mutually exclusive. I am an agnostic and an atheist. I am also a strong advocate for both. Neither term implies any sort of level of activism.

    NdGT may not care about religion to have sufficiently researched the terms he’s using and that is certainly his prerogative. We can’t blame him for that. However, he shouldn’t really be speaking about these terms if he doesn’t fully understand them. He has a celebrity status because of his intellectualism. He should know better than to speak on matters he doesn’t understand.

    In this video he flat out states he doesn’t want to be called an atheist so he isn’t associated with the more militant types. He doesn’t want to use the term atheist because it causes confusion. Here’s a better idea, how about he uses his position to educate people on the definition of the word atheist.

    “I’m an atheist and let me tell you what that means. I simply don’t have an active believe in any god, deity or divinity and that’s all it means to be an atheist. It doesn’t mean I want to burn down churches and it doesn’t mean I’m going to call you stupid for believing in a deity and it doesn’t mean anything other than that I simply don’t believe in gods, deities or divinities.”


  5. off the topic (sorry): he says hes not an “-ist” of any sort but he is a manned space-ist, and on that i disagree with him. its just foolish, expensive, and dangerous.

  6. hoverfrog says:

    Anyone who doesn’t believe in at least one god is an atheist.

    That said I have to agree that it is odd that the word atheist even exists. If it wasn’t for the overriding entitlement that theists force on us it wouldn’t be needed.

  7. rickray1 says:

    I see nothing wrong with the way Tyson describes himself. He is an intelligent, caring, agnostic. Whether he wants to label himself an atheist or not doesn’t change the fact he is an atheist. I am 99.99999% sure there is no god of the universe. However, I am 100% sure there is no god of the Christian Bible, or the Islamic Quran, or any other bible god that mankind has created. Time for mankind to grow up and use their universal given brain for critical thinking and get the hell out of the Dark Ages. GEEEEEEEEZ !

  8. John says:

    It’s funny, I thought the same thing when I saw this video for the first time. I think Neil is great, but you’re right that his explanation is wrong. It’s one thing to say he doesn’t care or that he would LIKE to be called agnostic, but that’s irrelevant. If I say I believe in a god, but I want to be called an atheist, that doesn’t MAKE me an atheist. He doesn’t believe in a god (from my understand, that is). The fact that he’s not certain has nothing to do with it. To your point, all that means is he is ALSO agnostic.

  9. John says:

    Why use the term agnostic then? As someone else pointed out, everybody is generally agnostic about EVERYTHING. Why does he need to label himself as someone who isn’t sure? If he prefers not to use labels, then why avoid atheist and not agnostic? “Atheist” tells you nothing about someone other than that they don’t currently believe in a god. If it carries extra baggage, that’s the problem of the people adding their own baggage to it. If someone asked if he was black, I’m sure he wouldn’t say he prefers not to associate with that “label” just because some people are racists and will have preconceived notions about him. He is black. And hi is atheist. By the definitions. If he prefers not to call himself atheist that’s fine. But it’s like if someone had written in Wikipedia that he is a leading black scientist. He can take the word black out, but he can’t say he’s NOT black because he doesn’t like the label. (sorry if this came out sounding racist…I get the feeling it may have and that obviously wasn’t the intent. lol)

  10. > And why should that be disappointing to you? The man has a right to not give a damn about religion, and to describe himself anyway he pleases.

    I hate this line of bullshit so much. People like you love to discount valid critiques under the guise of “it’s their right”. Monicks has not stated any personal vendetta or cause for such, nor is there any evidence thereof. So her posting on this, like ANY posting on ANY PUBLIC FIGURE (NdGT is a public figure. derp), perfectly valid.

    Also, to ‘describe himself in anyway he pleases’ is a non-sequitor. It has no bearing on your critique of Monicks as she is criticizing NdGT for his choice of words — a choice of words, might I remind you oh so kindly, DIRECTED AT THE AUDIENCE. In other words, as part of the audience in a public setting, it is not only anticipated that you have an opinion, but encouraged.

    But hey, you’ve a right to tell people to not tell other people their opinions on another has said! We’re SO intelligent now, aren’t we? Censorship solves all ills…

  11. Atheist says:

    Are we going to start policing talking heads now? Really? This is exactly why I don’t wave my atheist flag around in my bios. You’re projecting your expectations on to Neil based on your personal standards of how atheism should be properly represented. Let the man be – every atheist out there isn’t going to have the same passion for the cause as you. He’s a scientist who clearly doesn’t want to play the Dawkins and Harris game and direct his focus to religion or lack there of, as it may be. That’s not his passion. Sure, they’ve done great things to raise awareness for atheism, but that’s not Ndt’s purpose. He’s consistently made it clear every time he has ever been questioned on this topic that his passion is science. And he has taken great strides to educate & inspire the next generation of kids. My teenager actually gets giddy when Ndt makes surprise visits on Reddit because he LOVES science and thinks Ndt is the coolest scientist on the planet. And my teen couldn’t care less about Dawkins or Harris, they both bore him to tears. They don’t speak his language at all… Ndt does. THIS is the demographic Ndt speaks to and they couldn’t care less where he stands on the fence of fairytales. I think atheism needs people like Ndt in the mix, too. So he didn’t deliver his explanation to your standards. So what. I totally respect & applaud him on his position. He has done amazing things for science and indirectly for atheism – he certainly doesn’t deserve this trivial crap from the atheist community. That’s my humble opinion, anyway. You’re free to vent all you like, but I sure won’t be getting on this slightly over zealous band wagon. #peace

  12. Kevin says:

    If he doesn’t want to use the atheist label for social/practical reasons, fine, I can understand that it carries a taboo for some people and he doesn’t want that taboo to interfere with his science communication. The point where I object is where he ‘defines’ atheism. He misrepresents atheists as a group.

  13. Atheist says:

    How did he misrepresent atheism?

  14. Kevin says:

    Do you really think that all atheists are “in your face,” politically active, and meet-up to talk about how much we don’t believe in god? I have news for you, not every atheist is politically active, attends atheist groups, or is even out of the closet for that matter, which is as far out of your face as you can get. Also, do you think that it is appropriate to define a group based on the characteristics of a small sample of those who claim the label? I hope not, but that’s what he did.

  15. He conflates atheism and activism. What is “the conduct of atheists”? Which atheists? Atheists are not all activists any more than all religious people are stupid, or that all basketballers are black. I can see what he’s saying and why, but he oversimplifies the question, and frankly has it all wrong in his definitions. I’m sorry, but semantics are very important here. It is a conversation worth getting right so we don;t ned to repeat it over and over again. Here it is in a nutshell.

    Atheist – “A” means “without”, and “theist” means “belief in god or gods”; “Without belief in god or gods.” Answer to the question “Do you believe in god or gods?”
    Agnostic – “A” means without, and “gnostic” means “knowledge” ; “Without knowledge of the conclusive proof of the existence of a god or gods”. Answer to the question “Do you know beyond doubt that a god or gods exist.”

    In this sense we are all agnostic. Nobody knows. But atheism is about belief. If you don’t believe in God or Gods, whether you are an activist or not, then you are atheist. I am an atheist in belief and agnostic in knowledge. Many people are theist in belief, but agnostic in knowledge. Anyone who claims to know for 100% certain that god exists, and that they have identified it, is lying.

    It’s really an uninteresting conversation, and I wish people would get this definition straight. It does surprise me that NGT has it so wrong to say atheists get “up in your face” all the time. Maybe if he doesn’t want to be aligned with atheism he should stop talking about god and religion in his public addresses. Maybe he should just stick to science? After all, he says the only “ist” he is, is “scientist”. If this is the case, and he truly believes this, then he should stick to it.

  16. Kyle says:

    He defined atheism as being ‘in your face’ and aggressive. So if anyone believes him and his definition, they will have that impression of me when I say I am an atheist.

    That is NOT what atheism means.

  17. “The only accurate explanation is that Agnosticism refers to knowledge, and Atheism refers to beliefs”.

    This is incorrect. Gnosticism/Agnosticism is a continuum that measures one’s strength of belief. Theism/Atheism is a continuum that measures one’s assertion that deities exist.

    From wikipedia:
    * Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities
    * Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—are unknown or unknowable

    I am an agnostic atheist. I think god doesn’t exist, but I don’t _believe_ that god doesn’t exist. Frankly, I don’t care.

    I would not care to be a gnostic atheist. The belief that god does not exist (in any form whatsoever) is to deny the fact that we can’t know what exists outside of our existence, if anything.

  18. Vielki Bezboznik says:

    >”The only accurate explanation is that Agnosticism refers to knowledge, and Atheism refers to beliefs.”

    LOL. What “knowledge” can you have of a fucking FAIRYTALE??? Yeah, ZERO, because there is no such thing as knowledge of something that doesn’t exist. What “knowledge” do you have of Santa Claus? That is how fucking stupid your paradigm sounds.

    The fact is that NDT got it right: agnostic=uncertain and atheist=DENIAL of the god idea. All you WEAK atheists, too fucking stupid to DENY the god idea 100% do so only because you’re too fucking stupid to defend yourselves against theists attacks.

    I am 100% certain the god idea is false, just like I’m 100% Santa Claus if fake not because I have “knowledge” of gods or Santa, but rather because I know the attribute these 2 share, supernatural, is 100% bullshit. It is that fucking simple, ANYTHING with a supernatural attribute CANNOT exist.

    If anyone says otherwise, take James Randi’s $1Million challenge and prove me & all like-minded others wrong. The only thing you have to lose is your hubris and being mocked publicly as a FAILURE! LOL. Many have tried, ALL have failed. You can read about the losers on his wall of shame on his website.

    All you “WEAK” atheists who are too fucking stupid to do this reality math, are NOT ATHEISTS, you are agnostics, plain and simple. The term “agnostic atheist” is an oxymoron because the 2 terms are mutually exclusive. And instead of trying to change the meaning of the word “atheist” to fit your bullshit agnostic worldview, how about you actually LEARN enough so you can DENY the god idea 100% and change yourself so you fit the meaning of “atheist” instead. Dumbfucks.

  19. hoverfrog says:

    If you are making a claim that there are no gods then you need to provide evidence that your assertion is true just as the theists must provide evidence to support their assertion that their god(s) are real. Given the the entire idea of gods is nonsensical and is little more than make believe there can be no evidence for or against it. The only honest position to take is one where a lack of knowledge is put forward. How can one have knowledge of something that we have no evidence for? That leave us as agnostics and the question of belief. Do you believe in god(s)? I do not. I am an atheist because I lack belief in gods. Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive. They answer different questions.

    The burden of proof is on the one making the claim, not the sceptic.

  20. Pingback: So, surely you’re agnostic? – Monicks: Unleashed


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