A couple of weeks ago, celebrity astrophysicist, podcaster, and TV host Neil deGrasse Tyson proposed an entire system of global government in a single tweet: “Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” This concept is admirable for its brevity… but not much else. While this particular hashtag hasn’t exactly gone viral (less than 400 posts so far), it has had a lot of reach (almost 800,000 viewers). It’s also generated a lot of discussion elsewhere, and US News, Slate, and Popular Science have all published op-eds attacking this popular scientist’s idea, and from several different angles.
Popular Science pointed out that science is merely an evolving tool. Slate’s Jeffrey Guhin lammed scientism, claiming that creationists are as scientifically adept as their evolutionist counterparts, and yet despite all this science they are still wrong. Robert F. Graboyes wrote for US News about several blood-soaked times that this “rational society” idea has been tried throughout history, and it’s a good read. We should never forget the “Temples of Reason” that presided over the French Reign of Terror, the sheer bodycount of “scientific socialism,” or the creeping horror of eugenic engineering.
But none of these articles criticizing the idea of science as a holy and pure ideal are complete. It is obvious that definitions of science change, and that imperfect human scientists will have flaws and foibles. It is even obvious that facts are not self-evident and statistics do not speak for themselves. Facts do not judge; they are judged. All evidence must be interpreted. All interpreters will have a lens through which they view the raw data; a worldview that shapes their conclusions.
Tyson, of course, has his own lens. As an astrophysicist, he is literally focused on the stars. However, he comments on other fields of science often, although usually about science in general, and sometimes religion. He has claimed that “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance,” and that “the stated authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” But who gets to define reason? According to Tyson’s worldview, it is pure science – hard facts and blind truths – that will somehow fully define reason and rationality, as well as morality and ethics.
Now, astrophysics is a pretty heady discipline. I am not criticizing Tyson’s brains in this post, merely his lens. His worldview is that science bestows reason regardless of worldview. He presupposes that scientific understanding is not dependent on presuppositions. As Christians, we understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that we must start with that presupposition in seeking knowledge and understanding. This is why theology has historically been referred to as the “Queen of the Sciences.”
Without a transcendent standard informing your presuppositions, you’ll never know whether to a priori or a posteriori your own arguments, and the next thing you know you find yourself assuming that super-intelligent aliens are inflicting Donald Trump on us for their own amusement. Evidently this is the most rational conclusion.
For those wanting to read more about Christian Epistemology, I suggest The Word of Flux by R.J. Rushdoony. It’s a short book that explains the problem of knowledge in science, philosophy, and theology very well.