On Christmas Day, NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope is the culmination of nearly three decades of development as well as billions of dollars in funding. While in space, the telescope will study the earliest origins of the universe. More specifically, it will study background radiation that will show scientists what happened between the Big Bang and the formation of stars. Neil deGrasse Tyson calls that period “the dark ages.”
Recently, the famed astrophysicist and science communicator appeared on TMZ Live to talk about the telescope. At one point in the conversation, host and TMZ founder Harvey Levin asked how the project’s findings would mesh with religious beliefs.
Neil deGrasse Tyson said that the “exquisitely tuned” telescope will tell us the origin story of the entire universe. Then, Levin wanted to know, “If you can more fully document this Big Bang Theory and the evolution of what ultimately became Earth and us on Earth… does this, in some way, challenge religion in a scientific way?”
Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Collision of Religion and Science
According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, new information won’t directly challenge religion. He went on to say that the only way it would end up challenging religion is if religious people came forward to say “From our holy books, this is how the universe has to be.”
At that point, he said they would be setting themselves up “for the data to respond.” Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t see that happening. Modern “enlightened” religious people, he said, “aren’t anchoring the truth or falsehood of their religion on what a scientist discovers through their telescope.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson went on to say that, from what he knows, most religious people are more spiritual. They find comfort and peace in their beliefs. He summed up his point by saying, “If your holy book says ‘the universe was created in six days’ yeah, I’ve got something to say about that. But, if you want to say that one person or another is your savior… no one is going to stop that.”
However, Harvey pressed the point, saying, “Except that there are a lot of people who do believe in the six-day theory. It seems to me, at least in part, this really puts that divider between religion and science.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson quickly pointed out “It’s not a new divider,” before going on. He told Harvey that you won’t see scientists and atheists picketing outside of churches due to new information. “That doesn’t happen.”
He went on to explain that scientists aren’t concerned with what religious people believe. Therefore, they’re not challenging religion by studying the origins of the universe. It is only when people try to bring their religious beliefs into the realm of science that the two clash.