I recently watched a somewhat interesting video of a discussion between Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins, ostensibly on "The Poetry of Science", but they weren't actually overly poetic. There were some bits of emotional impact, but Tyson has done better in other talks.
Here's the video:
I was kind of disapointed by Tyson's response to the last question from the audience (at 1:12:18). The young man introduced the issues raised in "The Consolation of Philosophy" and challenged Tyson and Dawkins to respond. It wasn't actually a question, but basically he presented the scenario "You're going to die tomorrow. How do you, using only your ability to reason, reconcile yourself to your fate?" For a couple seconds the two men on stage check each other to see who's going to take the "question", then Tyson answers with
I would request that my body, in death, be buried, not cremated. So that the energy content, contained within it, gets returned to the earth, so that flora and fauna can dine upon it, just as I have dined on flora and fauna throughout my life.
Whereupon there is much applause, and they wrap up, and head off to the book signing.
The questioner did not mention life after death, or any "religious" keywords, but he certainly seemed like a person who was attempting to point out the need for faith. When I heard the question, my feeling was that he was attempting to say something like the following, except without explicitly saying anything about heaven, or life after death.
You're going to die tomorrow. With only science, and reason, how do you reconcile yourself to death? Without faith, and some belief in a next life, how do you not despair in the face of death?
Clearly, I'm putting words in his mouth, but my sense is that this is what he was pushing for. You can view the video and judge for yourself.
In any case, here's what I wanted to hear Tyson say:
I am reconciled to my own death. I do not fear it, or at least I like to believe that I do not fear death. Fear of death is driven by ego, and I am forced to accept humility when confronted by the cosmos. The universe was here before me, and will go on without me. I am thankful that I have been able to live in this world, to learn, and experience my life. My life has been good. Not as good as some lives, but far better than many. Today I enjoy the privilege of being well respected. In this room are a couple hundred people who came to listen to me and my friend chat for an hour. I am a slightly bigger than average frog in a puddle in a very, very, very large world. But I know that in a hundred years, less than a microsecond on the cosmic scale, I will be forgotten, my lifetime contributions to humanity will likely be less than a footnote. I understand that science, like evolution, is built on a very long chain of tiny, tiny steps forward. Hopefully I add something useful to that chain. Maybe not. My additions will be forgotten in time. But I am thankful. I am thankful that I was able to be here, briefly, and try to contribute, in a small way, and to experience this vast, amazing and beautiful universe. I try to devote my life to learning and appreciating the wonder and beauty that is here, and I attempt to share that with my brothers and sisters here on our little blue ball. That is enough for me.
Or something like that. :)