Neil de Grasse Tyson Responds to Critics of His Controversial Christmas Statements
Wasn’t it kind of strange that Tyson would be taking time out from spending his Christmas hours asking questions about Christians and God? Especially since he continues to walk around his own beliefs. Wonder where his family was and the celebration? What – no Christmas presents, tree, or Christmas dinner? Was he trying to impress the public by his questions?
Tyson was asked during a question session at the University of Buffalo if he believed in a higher power. His response was – Every account of a higher power that I’ve seen described, of all religions that I’ve seen, include many statements with regard to the benevolence of that power. When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.
In an interview with Big Think, Tyson said, “So what people are really after is my stance on religion or spirituality or God, and I would say if I had to find a word that came closest, I would say agnostic – at the end of the day I’ rather not be any category at all. I can’t agree to the claims by atheists that I’m one of that community. And, I don’t care!
In March, 2014, philosopher and secularism proponent Massimo Pigliucci asked Tyson, “What is it you think about God?” Tyson replied, “I remain unconvinced by any claims anyone has ever made about the existence or the power of a divine force operating in the universe.
In an undated interview at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Tyson talked about being an African-American and one of the most visible and well know scientists in the world. He told a story about being interviewed about a plasma burst from the sun in 1989. I’d never before in my life seen an interview with a black person on television for expertise that had nothing to do with being black. And at that point, I realized that one of the last stereotypes that prevailed among people who carry stereotypes is that, sort of, black people are somehow dumb. I wondered, maybe – that’s a way to undermine this sort of, this stereotype that prevailed about whose smart and who’s dumb. I said to myself, “I just have to be visible, or others like me, in that situation – “that would have a greater force on society than anything else I could imagine.
Is it this fellow has a little chip on his shoulder and has to show us by trying to be an intellect? Does anyone really care, how dumb or smart anyone is – especially Tyson or Isaac Newton. You would think with all of the accolades this fellow has earned that he would be sure of himself by now or does he feel due to his success that he has to continue to show us how smart (arrogant) he is? Or is he one of those paperless diploma guys? In the end who cares?
Or is he helping Obama out with the race problem by tweeting and retweeting? This shows Tyson with Bill Nye and Barack Obama in the White House in 2014.
Tyson’s rhetorical pokes were quickly retweeted thousands of times, bringing a sharp backlash: Only a small and uncharitable man would take time on Xmas morning 2 take shots but Merry Christmas to you anyway Neil. This is disrespectful to Christians. Jesus created the science you cherish so much. Everyone finds God eventually, you will too.. Looking fwd to witty jabs during the spiritual days of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc. Or is it reserved for the easiest target?..trolling Christians on Dec 25 is so edgy. Please let me know when you troll Muslims on Ramadan. Merry Christmas!…God is being removed from almost every aspect of society. Ppl r fed up w/this! U owe Christians an apology 4 insensitivity.”
Given Tyson’s popularity on Twitter – nearly 3 million followers – the response may not have been surprising, especially given its slight “war on Christmas” edge. His work has been criticized by creationists for its presentation of evolution, the Big Bang theory, and climate change,
But the vast majority of those who weighed in on his Christmas Day posts were positive. The Isaac Newton bit was retweeted more than 72,000 times.
By the day after Christmas, Tyson seemed to be in a more contemplative mood. “Imagine a world in which we are all enlightened by objective truths rather than offended by them,” he tweeted.
A day later, he went on Facebook, expressing his astonishment at the retweeted response to his Isaac Newton birthday wishes. “My average re-tweet rate falls between 2,500 and 3,500. My fun tweets can go somewhat higher – up to 10,000. My boring tweets barely break 1,000.”
Several people had noted that Newton in fact was not born on Christmas Day as we know it. With a professional reputation to protect, Tyson explained:
“All of England was celebrating Christmas the day Newton was born,” he wrote in his Facebook post. “But the Gregorian Calendar (an awesome accurate reckoning of Earth’s annual time), introduced in 1584 by Pope Gregory, was not yet adopted in Great Britain. To do so required removing ten days from the calendar – excess time that had accumulated over the previous 16 centuries from the mildly flawed Julian Calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. These remnants of the turbulent schism between the Anglican and Catholic churches meant that Catholic Christendom was celebrating Christmas ten days earlier than anybody was in England. If you wanted to reckon Newton’s birthday on today’s Gregorian Calendar, we would place his birth on January 4, 1643.
“Happy Holidays to you all,” he concluded. “And a humble thanks for your continued interest in what I have to say about life, the universe, and everything. But most importantly, enjoy a Happy New Year. A few days after, I’ll be tweeting about Earth’s perihelion.* Just a head’s up in case people want to avert their eyes over that one. I am, and always will be, a servant of your cosmic curiosity.”
*The point in the orbit of a planet or other astronomical body at which it comes closest to the Sun.