Neil deGrasse Tyson Exposes Myths of Christmas, Sets Off Creationist Alarm Bells
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Neil deGrasse Tyson and the producers of Cosmos have been under constant fire from creationists since the very first episode shared the beauty and wonder of our universe without crediting a higher power for any of it.
Each week, after the broadcast of each Cosmos episode, an online battle ensues between science supporters and creationists across various platforms, from Twitter to message boards. What creationists tend to lack is evidence for their claims. What do you do when you can't win the argument against scientists? Simple: you attack the non-substantial parts of Cosmos, the ones that do nothing to change the show's message.
Jay Richards, a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, a prominent organization tasked with defending religion against scientific explanations for natural phenomena, decided to attack Tyson in the Federalist. He went after Tyson, Seth McFarland, the writers and even the producers of Cosmos for some small minor historical blunders, claiming these mistakes discredit the whole show.
The producers spent one fourth of the first episode telling a misleading story about Giordano Bruno, a sixteenth-century Dominican burned at the stake for a laundry list of unrepentant heresies. He wasn’t a scientist and had virtually nothing to do with the history of science. But Cosmos needed a martyr for science, and since there were none available, Bruno would have to do.
Cosmos was not in need of a martyr for science. But if they were looking for examples, there are plenty. Top of the list would be Galileo, who was put under house arrest and forced to recant his claim that the earth revolved around the sun. While he may not have been killed for his belief, it is very damning that the church would ruin someone’s life for something we know is so obvious today and that does nothing to threaten religious belief, only doctrine.
What Richards and other defenders of organized religion do not like is that Bruno was highlighted as being killed as a heretic, yet they take no issue with his death, only that they don’t believe it had anything to do with science. Regardless of what the church killed him for, they killed him for speaking against the church; this is a stain on their history and Cosmos did nothing wrong to highlight historical examples of religions executing people for their beliefs.
Richards also took issue with the treatment of Christmas on Cosmos. Tyson claimed in Episode 7—and rightfully so—that almost all Christian holidays are stolen from pagan or other holidays from the past, and they directly focus on Christmas, one of the most sacred of Christian holidays.
In the Easter Sunday episode about how modern scientists determined the true age of the earth (and about the tenuously related twentieth century controversy over leaded gas), they inserted a segment about Christmas. We learn that the holiday celebrated by a couple billion Christians is really a camouflaged take-over of Saturnalia, the High Holy Day when ancient Romans celebrated Saturn, the god of agriculture. How is this relevant? Well, Saturn is also the name of a planet, which is part of the solar system, which is part of the cosmos.
Richards' religious views blind him from what the show was highlighting. What Tyson and writers actually set out to do was explain why creationists are wrong for trying to proclaim the age of the earth based on Biblical scriptures. To do so you must trust that the dates in the Bible are accurate and historical events, yet an event like Christmas holds no weight. The holiday itself isn’t historical in the sense of Jesus' birth marking a particular date in time, because Romans had been celebrating that time of the year for centuries before.