As it turns out, Mr. Tyson is actually a highly credentialed scientist who parrots facile opinions on religious questions, and garners all the more applause because of his degrees from Harvard and Columbia. Like so many, Mr. (that is, Dr.) Tyson illustrates that disturbingly vast chasm between intelligence and wisdom. If you doubt me, just watch this interview with Larry King.
Notice the air of confidence and scholarly authority that exudes as he completely misses the point of the question by propounding an answer most high school sophomores could give. In response to the question, "What do you think happens when we die?”, Tyson explains the "unassailable" fact that our bodies will no longer produce heat by burning calories, and that bodies in caskets feel cold because they're room temperature and live bodies are warm. Might such insights diminish the prestige of the Ivy League?
Apparently, in all his extensive scientific studies, Mr. Tyson has had little exposure to ways of thinking which contrast that of his own cultural bubble (ironically, a characteristic usually associated with uneducated people from small towns). If he had, maybe he would be familiar with the ancient Greek understanding of the two different kinds of life: "bios" - biological or biographical life, which basically covers the raw mechanics and chronology of our bodies and the timelines of our lives--and "zoe" - the spiritual life, that which animates us and constitutes our personality and convictions. Zoe is the life of the soul. In the interview, Tyson is asked about zoe and answers by explaining bios. This is very dumb.
But because we are zoe and have bios (That is, we are souls and have bodies) he cannot get away from spiritual reality, and so in the midst of his explanation that the process of decay in the physical body is all that needs to be understood about death, he gets all superstitious and starts talking about his moral obligation to be buried instead of cremated so that the "energy content" of his body which he assembled by "consuming the flora and fauna of this earth" will go back to the earth and complete the cycle of life, as if we all have some kind of responsibility to the cycle of life. He says this is better because in cremation the energy of a body is released into the atmosphere were it's "of no use to anybody." I guess he's never stopped to ask the question, if all we need to know is reducible to biology and physics, from where do we get the idea that we're supposed to be of any "use to anybody"?
Then he really whips up the supernatural fervor by talking about how the knowledge of death creates the focus that spurs him toward an "urgency of accomplishment" and the "need to express love." Certainly he is smart enough to see that unguided cellular conglomerations cannot give any moral or emotional obligation to accomplish anything or to express love, and if they can then the meaningfulness of accomplishment and love is an illusion.
Also, he begins by arguing that we have no conscience existence after death and then says he doesn't fear death but rather fears "living a life where [he] could've accomplished something but didn't"--apparently unaware of the contradiction that one would have to have a conscience existence to know that he could've accomplished something but didn't.
All this is bad, but the stream of contradictions continues. He says he wants on his tombstone the quote, "Be ashamed to die until you have scored some victory for humanity.” Ashamed? Apparently, he has not taken time to consider the real experience of shame. Shame is an inherently personal thing. In addition to the consciousness needed to experience it, shame is something that happens among people. The one who feels ashamed feels the shame toward another person or group to whom he is accountable. We don’t feel shame when a machine malfunctions, but we do feel it acutely when we disappoint another person. (By the way, when we are ashamed of something no other human person knows about, this is because we know intuitively that we have disappointed The Person to whom all of us are accountable). If life at its most basic level is only matter, since matter, by definition, cannot be a person, then experiences like shame and guilt would have to be illusions. To add to this, Mr. Tyson says he should be ashamed if he dies without scoring a victory for humanity. I wonder where he gets the idea that humanity is supposed to be victorious?
There's a whole other line of contradictions in his talk about religious believers being "embedded in belief systems" (which, of course, secular scientists are not), and the argument that disagreement among people of different religions implies that all religious belief is a fraud (in contrast to secular scientists who never disagree about anything). But these will have to wait until another day.
With this much of Mr. Tyson's illumination, we can see that clear thinking and good sense do not necessarily accompany higher education. Remember, one lesson to gain from "The Emperor's New Clothes" is not that the emperor isn't really an emperor, but that emperors are often inferior to little boys in their ability to see what's truly real.