According to a Saturday story in the Washington Post, celebrity scientist and media personality Neil deGrassse Tyson has finally admitted that he misquoted President George W. Bush. However, his “admission” has raised further questions about Tyson’s credibility as well as the blurring of the lines between science and politics. The response also merits an observation of how the former president regarded both science and religion and the relationship between the two.
Tyson has only admitted that he confused the occasion of the Columbia disaster with 9/11, dissimilar events that were separated by almost 17 months and thousands of miles. He did not confess that he was being deceitful about suggesting that Bush was attempting to marginalize Muslims. Bush’s sole purpose was to memorialize the fallen crew of the space shuttle Columbia, using a quote from the Book of Isaiah to do so. Tyson went on something of a tangent about how an “atheistic scientist” regards the possibility of the existence of God.
“Good to see that the Bush quote was found. Thanks to all who did the searching. I transposed one disaster with another (both occurring within 18 months of one another) in my assigning his quote. Perhaps that’s a measure of how upset I was in both cases. The mind is surely the next mysterious universe to be plumbed.
“Also: To Dan Schroeder about my ‘Evidence of Absence’ comment. Atheistic scientists don’t say that God doesn’t exist. They say there’s no evidence for God’s existence. Or that the evidence put forth is insufficient to convince a skeptic. Only when someone makes a testable prediction that would be true only if God exists, does the atheistic scientist then assert there’s evidence for God’s absence.”
Tyson was apparently unaware that Bush while certainly a deeply religious man, is not a fundamentalist nor a creationist. Bush said in a 2008 interview with ABC News’ Nightline, “I think that God created the earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don’t think it’s incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution.” Some critics have claimed that Bush was endorsing the concept of “intelligent design,” that a scientific basis exists for the notion that God guided the process of evolution.
The problem is that the term “intelligent design” never passed between Bush’s lips. No record exists of his advocating that the concept be taught in schools or regarded as science. Many believers like Bush reconcile God and evolution by holding to the belief that the former guided the latter as a theological concept, but not as science. They would no more advocate it being regarded as science than they would the virgin birth or the concept of bodily resurrection.
Why Tyson, a self-described man of science and a champion of reason, does not admit his entire error, that he fabricated a quote out of a different one, perhaps by accident, to make a larger point that has turned out to be false is something that is open to question. The incident, which is one of several that have been documented, proved that he is human and is capable of harboring beliefs that are not based on science, but rather raw emotion and political bias. He is not the first to confuse the two and will certainly not be the last.