Dawkins converses with Tyson

May 30, 2021 • 9:30 am

Here’s a 54-minute conversation, one on one, with Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins. The title is “Combatting Anti-Science with Richard Dawkins,” but the conversation goes further than this. There’s no need for me to summarize the discussion between these two well known science writers, so I’ll just highlight a few points.

Tyson first blurbs Richard’s new book, called Books Do Furnish a Life: An Electrifying Celebration of Science Writing (link to Amazon site), a collection of Richard’s book reviews and other miscellaneous pieces. I must read it, and I’m told one of the chapters is a review of my book Why Evolution is True (this is my blurb). Richard also reveals that he has two more books on the way, one about flight called Flights of Fancy; he doesn’t reveal the other one.  Tyson, who, curiously, says that he’s read only three of Richard’s 30-odd books (he names them) asks which of them was the best selling volume. I bet you can guess.

They discuss how their writing has changed, and what tips they’d give other sciences writers (Tyson’s revelation is “most people don’t read”, which conditions how he writes). Tyson also tells us why he follows his own social media, despite it often being toxic.

They then change to the topic of reason, with Tyson asking Dawkins about how he persuades people whose views aren’t based on reason. They discuss their differing views about how to deal with religion. Tyson has always been more of an accommodationist, while Richard, who’s an explicit anti-theist, is peeved because he thinks that even if people don’t inflict their religious views on others, they are depriving themselves of missing out on the true wonders of the world, including the Big Bang and evolution.

Other questions that come up:

Can you be religious and a secular humanist at the same time?

Can you base ethics on secular humanism?

Why are people religious?

Is religiosity really decreasing, or is it being replaced by stuff like woo?

Note that at 32:25, Tyson says that there’s evidence that “ducks can be superstitious”. Actually, it’s not ducks but pigeons, and you may know about this “superstitious” behavior involved with pigeon treats and Skinner boxes.

Things slow down a bit after 40 minutes, but at 52 minutes Tyson asks Richard to reprise his epitaph, which is apparently the last section of Books Do Furnish a Life. You won’t be surprised, and I won’t reveal it, but it’s a take on Dawkins’s view about how lucky we are to be alive, which you may have seen in his books.

Voilà: the discussion:

h/t: Bryan

9 thoughts on “Dawkins converses with Tyson

  1. I have always found Tyson kind of light on religion and this discussion somewhat confirms that. Dawkins takes the subject much more seriously and understands the negative affects more clearly.

      1. I enjoy NdGT, even though I know he’s not for everyone on here. I read his books, I enjoyed Cosmos, I listen to the podcast from time to time (it seems to favor comedy over science though, and full of one-upmanship joke interruptions) but his interview style i find to be unbearably stiff. I would rather him just have a conversation, which with Dawkins would undoubtedly be great. Stop trying to be the professional interviewer, just talk and listen to each other.

        And yeah, I’ve got Dawkins’ book on order from the evil empire. I hate to say it but my local independent bookseller has become uncomfortably woke. What’s a guy to do?

        Edit: this was supposed to be a stand-alone comment but Turdpress had other ideas and stuck it under the light on religion comment. Why? Only the Shadow knows.

        1. I hate to say it but my local independent bookseller has become uncomfortably woke. What’s a guy to do?

          Write to them (ink, paper, stamp, not email ; that’ll fluster them) asking for their condemnation of a nearby, independent bookseller who is less woke than them.
          Alternatively, write the message on a rather aged fish and slap them in the face with it. At the slight risk of being charged with assault, and not making your point quite so clearly. And ruining a potentially good piece of fish.

  2. Dr. Tyson was interviewed a few nights ago on a Skeptical Inquirer podcast. It was a jocular, light-hearted interaction between him and the host, nothing weighty. (In the spirit of Free Inquiry, like Skeptical Inquirer, published by the Center For Inquiry in Amherst, NY) I posted a question, asking him to address the relevance of social justice to teaching the fundamentals of science, I having recently received an email from the National Science Teaching Association notifying readers that there would be four mini-sessions in June addressing social justice in science teaching. (I presumed to think my question of some reasonable significance as compared to, say, someone asking Tyson about the art on the wall behind him, which question the podcast “gatekeeper” deemed worthy to forward to him).

    At the beginning of the podcast, from what I could tell, mine was one of the first two questions. As time passed it was one of 19 questions. I presumed that these (at that point) questions were the total number of questions asked. (At the risk of me seeming rude) I inquired when and whether my question might be answered. SI replied words to the effect that mine was one of 222 questions; that the (at the time) 19 questions were those that had been answered; and that SI was forwarding to Tyson questions SI perceived most question posters were interested in. Presumably, (the imposition of) social justice in science teaching was not of all that much interest or relevance.

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