Neil deGrasse Tyson being interviewed by Bill Maher on Real Time
Neil deGrasse Tyson being interviewed by Bill Maher on Real Time

Real Science with Bill Maher (Part 1)

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Real Time With Bill Maher. ©2012 Home Box Office, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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About This Episode

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is frequently one of the more outspoken – and scientifically literate – guests on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. So what happens when the controversial Maher stops by StarTalk Radio? A rational discussion about some of today’s most important issues. Along with co-host Astrobiologist Dr. David Grinspoon, Neil and Bill talk about climate change, squeezing into Bill’s electric car (a Tesla roadster), the value of space exploration, and whether it is possible to reconcile religion and science. You’ll also learn a few things about Carl Sagan you didn’t know – including speculation about why Harvard denied him tenure – from David, who grew up calling Sagan “Uncle Carl”, and Bill, who took Sagan’s astronomy course at Cornell.

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  • Claudio

    YES!! Another great episode!!

  • John Guglielmo

    Love the show. I think that you can have religion as long as it does not ignore scientific evidence. That is what is important. We need to keep what is known as science in education and teaching and not bring false beliefs that contradict science into education.

  • Matthew

    Just listening to Part 1 of the Bill Maher interview, and I have to agree with Bill and his analysis of space “exploration.”

    I believe humanity is suffering from a lack of compassion due to each individual’s obsession with our personal agendas. I am NOT an exception.

    Feeding everyone in the world is primarily a logistical problem; and anyone who claims we can’t, or haven’t been able to feed the world is incorrect — they just haven’t accepted the costs. So ultimately it becomes an “empathetic problem”. Someone or some group of people simply don’t care.

    Secondly, feeding the entire world doesn’t exactly solve any problems, but in fact creates many more. It would facilitate uncontrolled population growth in developed nations and this problem would not be tackled so easily either. Doesn’t then feeding the world present a catch 22 dilemma?

    So what do we do? Live for the stars, forsake the abstract compassion that keeps humans in our minds when they are out of sight, or endeavor to focus our efforts by solving humanity’s problems first and leaving exploration for later as seen in “Star Trek.” Without a doubt, the “catch” to Star Trek and most inexplicable narrative ellipse ever created was that humanity created world peace first, and only then traveled the stars to explore.

    Too bad Gene Roddenberry didn’t write down that part down, am I right? haha

    I’m not meaning to imply space exploration funding directly impacts human hunger on any significant scale, but human space exploration could directly impacts our perception of human compassion.

    One problem is that scientists often ignore the problems we are facing as humans on Earth, and only solve the general population’s problem occasionally as an unintentional side effect, and yet these programs are using the taxes dollars everyone has contributed. Scientists should feel obligated to add to human knowledge in ways that benefit as many as possible and not only to explore personal interests.

    “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root”

    Sublimating one’s personal agenda to achieve a great goals is NOT a belief we are “traditionally” exposed to in my country. But to return to my Star Trek metaphor, Khan Noonien Singh leader of the genetically enhanced during the “Eugenics Wars” taught us a very important lesson, individual ambition will be humanity’s greatest adversary if left unchecked. Personal ambition is dangerous because it is as amoral and natural to life as consuming energy and it can suppress nearly all a human’s compassion and empathy.

    I foremost envision science as a means to improve the human condition, and that it should not be used only as a logical method of exploring the universe until the human condition has reached its fullest potential for compassion. Science without compassion, a belief founded upon ethics and morality, is an unworthy endeavor in my opinion.

    Science for the sake of science is filled with facts, but devoid of meaning until applied to human lives.

    Our species hasn’t solved world hunger, perhaps humanity’s simplest problem, and I’m ashamed of that failure and I personally don’t believe humans deserve to waste our taxes or resources exploring space while we die on Earth. Call me a stick in the terra, but with an aristocracy possibly looming in my country’s near future, it seems like an unnecessary risk for an impressive number of very conspiratorial reasons.

    To put it simply, I have no problem with exploration, but I have a problem with human exploration. Humans are more than the sum of their parts and when they live permanently in space they will be different than those of us on Earth. We don’t need to open this can of worms!

    I’ll end this “rant” by encouraging you to send robots and sensors, and I’ll be excited by the space program, but put a “colony of humans” in space and I’ll be jealous of it… (Specially if that colony is filled with rich jerk-offs like Richard Branson!)

    • Jeff

      Thanks for the comment, Matthew, even if we don’t agree with everything you said. I (Jeff) do want to make one point though: when you say, “Scientists should feel obligated to add to human knowledge in ways that benefit as many as possible and not only to explore personal interests” I think you are doing a disservice to the huge number of scientists that do exactly that. Just two examples that come to mind are Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited with inventing the World Wide Web and HTTP and did not attempt to do so for personal ambition, but to enable the exchange of scientific data, and Jerome Horwitz, the recently deceased creator of the AIDS drug AZT, who did not patent the drug or ever make a dime off of it. I’m sure our fans can come up with plenty of other examples. But thank you for your rant, and please, feel free to keep them coming. We love it when this blog is used as a place for the free expression of ideas.

  • Sarah

    Bill Maher rules! Hope to see you on his show again soon Neil!

  • this is the first time I have listened to Star Talk, what a great show. Our entire family when I was young were fans of Carl Sagan’s TV series, we never missed an episode, saw most of them twice. Hope to see you creating something similar! TV needs more intelligent offerings, and fewer sitcoms. Lets have some reality in Reality TV!

    • Jeff

      The new Cosmos series that Neil is doing in 2014 is going to be a worthy successor, Charronne. We hope you enjoy it.

  • Brian

    Surprised you put the full name of the Beastie Boys song up, lol

    • Jeff

      Brian, it was an oversight that has been corrected. (Glad you got a kick out of it, though!)

  • Yawa

    If those who are religious want it taught in schools, will they allow science to be taught/preached in church??

  • Keith Wright

    Faith based on facts is formidable but facts based on faith with always be subjected to greater scrutiny.

  • Keith Wright

    I might add as an alumnus of The Bronx HS of Science Class of ’76 we’re all very proud of you, Neil!

  • Mike Cassidy

    A couple ideas many people don’t seem to correlate is this…If humans can learn to live sustainably in space… without the use of any of Earths resources. We have SUDDENLY created an ENTIRELY SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY. Whom can live ENTIRELY without the resources of Earth. I think this is a very important point considering that many of our wars are over oil and fossil fuels, much of our economic turmoil is because of fossil fuels, most of our environmental issues are because of fossil fuels.

    And Neil, the reason why that number of Scientists isn’t ZERO. Is because many people just want to do science… but don’t mind playing along in the tradition of believing in god. I believe Many scientists in history were also Atheist. Could Einstein not have been a closet Atheist?

    My 2 cents.. GREAT SHOW!

  • Great show..! I live in Colorado and my buddy from college, a former NASA and JPL employee, is currently an engineer working for a small boutique engineering firm involved in aerospace projects (including SpaceX). He has some statistics which bear on one of the things you spoke of — at his firm, about 60% of the Engineers working there have very strong conservative Republican views, including religion. I have to agree with Bill Maher that anyone who seriously believes religious mythology has to be excluded from the highest rank of thinkers.

  • Andrew

    Thanks for giving ups to Tim Berners-Lee, Jeff. I’ve been studying much of what he does in my various media and communications classes, and I now have a great respect for him and the contributions that he has made to science and communication that are so evident today.

    • Jeff

      You’re welcome, Andrew. Tim is great. Have you read his book, Weaving the Web? I loved it.

  • Brice Gilbert

    Just to get it out of the way. I find it incredibly unlikely (and in practice it seems quiet apparent) that learned people who are religious will just default to scientific answers despite their religion. It seems like a fantasy scenario. I have a problem already with inserting God into the gaps of our knowledge, but from my experience those kind of “religious” people have a hard time accepting bleeding edge new science. Research into areas of the brain and the self for example. Indeed the question of free will and determinism is colored by ones belief system. No matter how fundemantlist. Historically/politically controversial, but settled topics like Evolution are an easy thing to have made peace with. Especially if one is raised with them. The tough questions. The questions we don’t have answers to require the real fortitude. The capacity to admit temporary defeat and strive to actually answer them. Presumably with science…what else would we use? I mean if you are telling me that questions of morality should be answered by faith then i’m a little worried.

  • Steve

    Excellent show. I would argue though that Bill wasn’t making a strawman argument. We are a species prone to generalization so it is perhaps reasonable to assume that since someone believes in a grand design or heavenly clockmaker that Bill Maher thinks this person is stupid. There is a huge distance though between Deism and the fundamentalism seen in America today. Bill being Bill would probably say he doesn’t need that crutch but I suspect he would be okay with it up until you started projecting our own prejudices and insecurities onto this creative spirit. Either that or he’d say I was full of crap. 🙂

  • Great talk! I almost never take the time to listen to podcasts, but this was worth it. I’m a Christian who also believes in science. I’m able to separate the lovely poetry of Genesis from the evidence for evolution. (I would have been a paleontologist or evolutionary biologist if I’d had the math skills to get a science degree). Sometimes my mental line is hard, but often it does meld. (The previously referenced poetry of Genesis nicely dovetails with the scientific timeline).I decided when I was 9 that I had to neither deny science or my faith, and I have never felt them to be in conflict.

  • Josh

    It seemed to me, the terms “spiritual” and “religious” we’re used interchabgably. My interpretation of these words is very different. I believe the field of neuroscience can shed some light on why religion has been so dominate throughout history.

    Something I would like to see discussed is consciousness and it’s relativity to the universe/physics. What role are we to play, in this attempt of the universe to gain understanding of itself.

    Forgive my ignorance, I am new to the intellectual approach.

    • Jeff

      Josh, you’re in luck! Check out our episode Are You Out of Your Mind where Neil, neurologist and author Oliver Sacks and Cara Santa Maria, a science educator and blogger with a background in neuroscience, discuss exactly what you’re talking about.

      • I’m just now subscribing to this podcast, for the first time, having just stumbled across it today. I have high hopes.

        But I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see “Real Science” and “Bill Maher” mentioned in the same sentence. Did the subject of vaccines come up at any time? No? Dr. Tyson, you should have a nice conversation about vaccines with Mr. Maher. See how deep his understanding of “Real Science” goes. I’m afraid you’ll probably be disappointed. I suspect any discussion with Mr. Maher about medical science is likely to fall into a black hole of woo.

        • Jeff

          Hi Dan. Thanks for your comment. This is Jeff, btw, not Neil. I think it’s worth your time to listen to both parts of “Real Science with Bill Maher.” Not that there won’t be parts of it that are infuriating… that, after all, comes with the territory with Bill. But there are areas of science where Bill’s approach is highly rational.

  • John

    I’ve been listening for a few weeks on the long drive home from work, and have found the show very interesting. I almost became an ex-listener the other night when I changed the channel after hearing all the raging liberal ranting about the Governor not commenting on evolution, and on and on and on…..

    I realize now that it was just that idiot Bill Maher. I would never have tuned in to the show in the first place if I knew he was on.

    Getting past that, keep up the good work and you have another listener. Keep in mind that as scientists, we question new theories along with things long accepted as factual. Not accepting socialism, does not constitute a “war on science”.

    • Jeff

      Glad you stuck it out, John, and thanks for the comment.

  • Billy

    But, I already heard the second hour this past Sunday on the radio. Not sure why we have to wait 2 weeks for it.

    • Jeff

      Billy, just like Hollywood releases movies that go to the theatre first, and Netflix or cable second, some of our shows go out to the radio group first,
      and then onto the web afterward.

  • Normally, I’d agree with Bill Maher. But such an irrational and ill-informed thing to say about NASA. Your analogy was correct, however. Just executed falsely. If a baby just sat around for two years it wouldn’t learn how to walk. It would still be as useless and vulnerable as it was. It needs to learn how to walk, or it will never get there. And if that means falling a few times, so be it. We just need to be cautious enough that it doesn’t bang it’s head on the way down and die.

  • daniel

    oh, how excellent, the episode i’ve been waiting for!!! 🙂 🙂
    please do not lose time before posting part 2…!
    this being a spontaneous comment before listening to it, but it can only be a treat!

  • Pyro

    If people can afford making weapons they definitely can afford space exploration. At least the latter is a better use of the money.

    • Henno

      Lapsed atheist? Without without-god? or just without a clue!? I’ve got no problem with fence sitting but not trying to please everybody, grow some balls. You either believe in Santa Claus, or you don’t, or you don’t know, or don’t care, not ‘all-of-the-above.’

      Imagine if we didn’t have this history of imposing our nature onto nature (belief in superMEN in the sky) and was 100% atheistic …would any scientist today then propose “You know what, I think a supreme entity did all this! …No.

  • John

    I really enjoy the show, and will be listening to the Bill Maher (part 1) episode on my way to work this morning. Just reading the Blogs, I know I will respectfully disagree with any statement that religious beliefs are somehow a hindrance to scientific thinking. I have absolutely no problem separating the two. Anyways, I would LOVE to see Bas Lansdorp as a guest discussing his “Mars One” project. As you might infer from that last statement, I think a huge amount of military spending should be funneled into the space program instead. However, it would be so ironic if an upstart “reality show” actually beats NASA to the punch !!!! Keep up the great work.:)

    • Samuel Kimathi

      I don’t think science and religion can be reconciled, belief creates an illusion of facts and so the perveyors of religion will always strive to pass it on to the next generation. I also think the davastating tesults of religion are evident. If some dude dint come along a millenium ago and claim math was the devils weapon id have an arab made space car right now to visit my girlfriend on mars with.

  • Alain

    Grinspoon said the really smart scientist when talking about God it’s more subtle things than talking snakes.
    But if scientists do not believe that a snake can talk by some kind of miracle and dismiss it, so why not dismiss the whole book that is full of aberrant things for a scientist.

  • TLH

    Look, don’t assume that everyone who does read the Bible does so in a literalistic way. Many people of faith actually don’t. What annoys me is how the non-believers insist upon speaking for those I will call believers, telling believers what it is they think instead of letting the believer speak for him/herself. That’s kinda rude. Father Robert Barron of Mundelein University in Chicago has addressed this somewhat in some of his YouTube videos.

    Honesty compelled me to leave this comment. Fair is fair.

    • Jeff

      TLH, you make a good point. I (Jeff, not speaking for Neil), have friends who are believers (both Christian and Jewish) and treat the bible as symbolic, not literal, and we have had some very interesting and valuable conversation, while ultimately disagreeing on issues concerning the ultimate.

    • Tracie Wilke

      And yes, I think if Dr. Tyson is going to be truly fair, he should have Father George Coyne (former director of the Vatican Observatory) on his show – or some other believer who is also a scientist. Otherwise it’s just playground namecalling all the way.

  • TLH

    Oh, I’d like to add that the man who came up with the formula that became what we now call the “big bang theory” was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest/professor. Is Bill Mahr going to classify that professor as being of lesser intelligence? I find THAT to be ridiculous.

  • Martin: “This is how you keep the money coming in and your job at a Colorado museum.” Nice. What a strange and nasty thing to say. But I suppose that’s what I (a “nonbeliever”) deserve for implying that not all who discuss “God” (ya know like Einstein & Darwin & Obama) are worthless imbeciles. Well, your astute observations about the moral failings of deviant Museum curators sure do highlight the infallible logic and compassionate outlook that must be posessed by all die-hard atheists. Thank you for sharing.

  • ANONYMOUS

    I don’t agree with the bias for religion, anyone who believes something even though the default position is non-belief doesn’t deserve any respect, whether scientist or not.

  • Mary from NH

    While I acknowledge (as a good American) Bill Maher’s right to express his opinion, I find it insulting that he paints all religion with the broad brush of “a brain-fart of some guy in the desert passed on by a game of ‘telephone’”. And while unfortunately there have been some bad things done in the name of religion, one shouldn’t assume that anyone who believes in God is somehow blind to the real world.

    As Dr. Tyson mentioned, the Catholic Church, to which I belong, does recognize the validity of evolution while not downgrading the concept of a Creator. My feeling is that it goes back to your definition of God. One of my definitions is “the being who can do all things” and everything else flows from that. Because we don’t understand how we may resurrect from the dead at the end of time or how Mary brought forth the Savior, doesn’t mean it is impossible for God. He just doesn’t let us in on all the details.

    I have heard him before interview his friend the Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican and I wish he would have him on for a show to discuss how religion can reconcile itself with scientific thought.

    The problem with people like Bill Maher, and earlier Janeane Garofalo (please don’t have her on again!) is that they condemn people for being adamant in their convictions (which don’t jibe with theirs) while being just as unyielding in their own. I would rather hear intelligent discussion with some wiggle room rather than insults and nose-thumbing.

    By the way, ever look at the creation story in Genesis? It begins with light, then light separates from darkness, then the earth is formed, then land separates from the water, then plants appear, then birds, then other animals, then man. Sounds like some kind of evolution to me.

    • Tracie Wilke

      Oh, and Republicans: just a note, Mitt Romney believes in a planet called Kolob and he wears magic underwear when he goes to his church.

      Just sayin’

  • Seth K.

    I’m perfectly accepting of people’s personal viewpoints but I feel Bill Maher, while yes they are his opinions, was incredibly naive in most of what he said. Especially seen in his comment about relating science and religion. How thick-headed must you be to say that if you can say that anyone who believes in religion is an basically a moron and the only people with any intelligence are scientists who have absolutely no belief in a higher power. Even more astonishing is the fact that he claims it’s philosophically impossible to have faith or religion and be a scientist. If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is. Saying that religion and science can’t coincide is incredulous. If you believe that science and religion can’t go together or be related in ANY way, then he’s less intelligent than he says religious people are.

  • Aaron

    There’s some issues with the meeting of science and religion. As was mentioned, a number of the most distinguished historical and modern thinkers and scientists were religious or spiritual. However, there were some issues with it. Einstein, for instance, didn’t believe in quantum theory famously stating “God does not play dice”. Newton, now widely known as a great thinker, was more commonly known in his day for his pursuits in alchemy, believing that through his scientific discoveries he could become closer to god and there-by develop all manner of mystical abilities. The greatest scientists of ancient greece were religious. Galileo, when debating the papal inquisition, used the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and even after that event, remained a devout catholic, as he was before.

    I don’t believe that there’s an inherent issue with being religious and scientific, and I believe there is a lot of evidence to suggest that such a thing has not been a problem.
    Regardless, when Bill Mahr talks about “Religion” he is ostensibly referencing American Christian religious views, and on top of that, only those religious views that came to prominence during the religious revival of the 1920s.

  • Lery

    Of course you can derive E=mc2

    Check out Feynman’s lectures on physics. Lecture 15 volume 1.

    Plausibilty arguments??
    Wow are you guys really astrophysicists?

  • Glen Foy

    What hideously obnoxious editing. Would it have hurt your egos too much to just let Maher’s interview run uninterrupted and then you two could’ve added your flatulent rambling on the following episode?

  • Jack

    Einstein was an Atheist!
    His quotes like “God does not play dice” are purely metaphoricle. You need to read what Einstein said about himslef.
    Charles Darwin quit being a believer after his youg daughter died of an illness.
    Obama is a politician, he says (and probably believes) whatever…

    I “believe” a curator of any scientific exposition in Astrophysics should know what Einstein really said about religion.
    Einstein did not “believe” in quantum physics because his mindset could not deal with it. He was in denial of “reality” because it was, i his view, too shocking. Einstein was human afterall… We all have limits.

  • Tracie Wilke

    Here is the text of a meme I recently saw online:

    Dear Religion:

    This week, I safely dropped a man from space, while you were busy shooting a girl for going to school.

    Yours, Science

    This is a response that my husband Joseph and I came up with (and bear in mind, we really don’t have anything against science, but we believe a balanced perspective should be maintained and the truth should be spoken quite clearly):

    Dear Science:

    You may have safely dropped a man from space, and many terrible things have been done in my name…

    But I was conversing with History a few days ago, and History reminded me of some of the blood that’s on YOUR hands.

    First of all, I wasn’t the driving force behind the invention of the gun that shot Malala. That was all you, dude.

    Next, may I remind you that you were involved in that little “dustup” over Hiroshima and Nagasaki just a few years back, weren’t you? Does the name Robert Oppenheimer mean anything to you?

    How about the Tuskeegee syphilis experiment? I think you were in on that too, weren’t you?

    You have also been used to justify racism and sexism – plenty of people have pointed to scientific evidence to back up assertions such as “black people are inherently inferior, in many ways, to white people.” Read Dr. David Duke’s book “My Awakening” sometime. He cites you left, right and sideways in that book.

    You seem to forget that I am the force that says “just because we CAN drop BFRs* on our enemies from orbital height, does that mean we SHOULD do so?” It is the kind of thinking that I am very good at, that led to treaties between nations, agreements on *not* using space-based weapons to kick the dog snot out of one’s enemies.

    Give that some thought, Science.

    You’re not so perfect after all. But it’s my job to *forgive you* for your imperfections.

    Yours,
    Religion

    *BFRs = military jargon for Big F*cking Rocks

  • David

    This episode did nothing to improve my opinion of Maher. He is an egomaniac who is convinced that his is the superior intellect in the room no matter who else is there. According to Maher, we should not be wasting resources on space exploration until better technology is available, and he asks what did *he* get out of the space program except Tang.

    The technology doesn’t spontaneously appear. It is the result of constant R&D. What he “got out of” the space program is much of the technology that he uses in his life and livelihood. A truly selfish and deliberately myopic argument.

    Maher is the poster boy for the hypocrisy of the progressive anti-science crowd. He ridicules people for unsupported beliefs in religion and against climate change and evolution. Yet, he regurgitates anti-vaxx misinformation and puts forward utterly fallacious arguments as described above.

    Of course, just as with the rabidly anti-liberal fans of Bill O’Reilley, Maher’s fans will mindlessly assent to his every word as long he uses those words to bash Republicans and conservatives for doing the same things he does.

  • Peter Atanasov

    Bill Maher is such an idiot.”Don’t try to walk when you will fall down just wait few years when you won’t fall down”?.How would you learn to walk without trying it you moron?I seriously never heard anything more idiotic than this.

  • Jesse M

    Slowly making my way through the archives and I have a few thoughts. If you aren’t willing to stumble while you learn to walk you will never learn to walk.
    The guest co host has a fundamental flaw in his logic. He seems to believe that life has to have meaning. Look closely at not just human life, but all life. There really is no fundamental deeper meaning. Now if you choose to give your life meaning that is different to presume that we are all here for some deeper purpose is incredibly arrogant.
    So seeking answers to philosophiclc questions of why we are here and other pseudo intellectual thoughts with concepts of god is really just akin to mental masterbation.

  • Stacie

    “I still have these questions about ultimate meaning… and where morality comes from” – You do not need religion for either of these things. I am so sick of people saying that their morality comes from their religion. Morality far predates the bible and should be derived not only from various textual references but also from what seems to benefit the group or society as a whole (ie. not stealing things from others, murdering, etc). Ethics is a philosophical argument, there is no and there never will be black and white answers to ethics, as many religions would so suggest.

  • Mike Posey

    Just like the religious types, you are acknowledging only a single part of his many statements on religion. Einstein was not an atheist, he was agnostic. Takes about 5 minutes on google to get a huge list of quotes by him showing this to be true.

  • grayrain

    I can’t believe Neil associates with this guy. What a moron Maher is. He’s singlehandedly keeping people glued to their crazy faiths, because he gives such a terrible image to people who question deities and what not.

    Neil, do the world a favor. Stop going on this guy’s show, and stop bringing him onto yours. It’s folks like him who give skeptics and non-believers such a crummy name. It’s not that some of his positions are necessarily wrong or incorrect, but he just has no idea how to present himself in a competent manner.

    The sooner Maher and his ilk are gone from the media and the world, the sooner we can improve the image of rationality and make more people embrace it, rather than run away from it, since its preachers are morons.

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