Links and Comments: Tyson v. Douthat

I started writing up a few notes about the new (small) Neil deGrasse Tyson book, ASTROPHYSICS FOR PEOPLE IN A HURRY, and got sidetracked by a passage that reminded me of a Ross Douthat column from a few weeks ago.

In the first chapter Tyson outlines the events that occurred in the few seconds following the Big Bang. Then on p32 he says:

What happened before all this? What happened before the beginning?

Astrophysicist have not idea. Or, rather, our most creative ideas have little or no grounding in experimental science. In response, some religious people assert, with a tinge of righteousness, that something must have started it all: a force greater than all the others, a source from which everything issues. A prime mover. In the mind of such a person, that something is, of course, God.

But what if the universe was always there, in a state or condition we have yet to identify—a multiverse, for instance, that continually births universes? Or what if the universe just popped into existence from nothing? Or what if everything we know and love were just a computer simulation rendered for entertainment by a superintelligent alien species?

These philosophically fund ideas usually satisfy nobody. …

Cue Ross Douthat! – the NYT’s conservative religious op-ed writer. For the past couple three months, he’s been writing a series of essays that entertain what he concedes are an ongoing series of implausible proposals. Back in April he wrote one imploring “many of this newspaper’s secular liberal readers” to go the church. Like he does.

Once somewhere I read that any author’s reason for writing any kind of book is to some degree to tell other people “how to be more like me”.

This column is a prime example. Ross Douthat is sure that if everyone were more like him, and went to church, the world would be a better place.

Near the end of this column, Douthat mocks nonbelievers.

Finally, a brief word to the really hardened atheists: Oh, come on. Sure, all that beauty and ecstasy and astonishing mathematical order is because we’re part of a multiverse or a simulation or something; that’s the ticket. Sure, consciousness and free will are illusions, but human rights and gender identities are totally real. Sure, your flying spaghetti monster joke makes you a lot smarter than Aquinas, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King. Sure.

Which resulted in a riposte from Herman Mehta: The Worst Part of Ross Douthat’s Easter Column Urging Liberals to Go Back to Church (Annotated), with an annotated graphic of the paragraph just posted here.

Mehta annotation is snarky, but then so was Douthat. And as Mehta notices, Douthat’s appeal to authorities includes no one alive today with a current understanding of the vastness of the universe, the history of the human race, or the complexities of the human mind — an appeal to ancient authority, is the best he can manage.

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