When famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted a joking message about Sir Isaac Newton being the important historical figure born on December 25, many called him anti-Christian. But in a recent interview, Tyson said that that's simply not the case.
"On this day long ago, a child was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton b. Dec 25, 1642," Tyson wrote in his Christmas tweet. The message was retweeted over 80,000 times with many of his supporters rallying behind the message as a successful jab at Christians.
But Tyson says he didn't see it that way. During a television conference, the 56-year-old said that he was just trying to give people a cosmic perspective relative to his work, and wasn't trying to insult Christians. In fact, Tyson said he was surprised that the message struck such a nerve.
"We know Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day," he reiterated. "Who knows when Jesus was born? It's free speech, so I'm an observer of this, almost as an anthropologist."
Tyson is set to host a new late-night talk show on the National Geographic channel called Star Talk. Going along the lines of his popular podcast of the same name, Star Talk will be the first-ever late-night talk show on the channel and is said to "bridge the intersection between pop culture and science as it brings together celebrities, comedians and scientists to discuss the latest developments in our vast universe."
The television series will begin airing in April and will be recorded in front of a live studio audience at the American Museum of National History's Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
Last May, Tyson hosted Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a reboot of the original 1980 series by Carl Sagan. The show ran on Fox and only for one season, so it's believed that the popularity of that program prompted National Geographic to give Tyson a new show of his own.
"'Cosmos' allowed us to share the awesome power of the universe with a global audience in ways that we never thought possible," Tyson said. "To be able to continue to spread wonder and excitement through 'Star Talk,' which is a true passion project for me, is beyond exciting."
But while Tyson says he's not anti-Christian, most of his life's work and his level of fame has been achived by setting out to debunk those who believe in God's plan over scientific theory.
"Does it mean, if you don't understand something, and the community of physicists don't understand it, that means God did it?" Tyson said in a 2011 interview on The Science Network. "Is that how you want to play this game? [...] If that's how you want to invoke your evidence for God, then God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that's getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time moves on - so just be ready for that to happen, if that's how you want to come at the problem."
"I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences reject God, I want to know why 15% of the National Academy don't," Tyson also said during a science conference in 2006 called Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival.