Neil deGrasse Tyson is the new front man for the Cosmos TV series which is more about scientific speculation than scientific fact.
It seems that the speculative nature of the series is spilling over into the areas of history and religion. In a recent tweet on December 25th, Tyson wrote:
“On this day long ago, a child who was born who, by age 30, would transform the world. Happy Birthday Isaac Newton b. Dec 25, 1642.”
Actually, Newton was not born on December 25th if we follow the Gregorian calendar, the calendar that’s in use today. Given the change from the Julian (O.S.) calendar, Newton was actually born on January 4, 1643 (N.S.).
But that’s neither here nor there.
Tyson was in a ridiculing mood as he tweeted a number of offensive slams against religion in general and Christianity in particular. His most glaring historical faux pas, however, was to choose Isaac Newton as a way to add substance to his denigrating remarks.
The first thing that Tyson gets magisterially wrong is that science developed without the operating assumptions of a theistic world worldview. He must have been reading the long ago discredited 19th century works of John William Draper’s History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology (1896).
The history of science is the history of Christianity. P. E. Hodgson, in reviewing Stanley Jaki’s book Science and Creation, wrote:
“Although we seldom recognize it, scientific research requires certain basic beliefs about the order and rationality of matter, and its accessibility to the human mind. . . . [T]hey came to us in their full force through the Judeo-Christian belief in an omnipotent God, creator and sustainer of all things. In such a world view it becomes sensible to try and understand the world, and this is the fundamental reason science developed as it did in the Middle Ages in Christian Europe, culminating in the brilliant achievements of the seventeenth century.”1
Cornelius Van Til argues, “The chief major battle between Christianity and modern science is not about a large number of individual facts, but about the principles that control science in its work. The battle today is largely that of the philosophy of science.”2
The foundation for the philosophy of science was laid down centuries ago by Christians, and one of those Christians was Isaac Newton.3
Rodney Stark writes the following in the chapter “Science Comes of Age” in his book How the West Won:
“Science arose only in Christian Europe because only medieval Europeans believed that science was possible and desirable. . . . [A]dvances in both science and technology occurred not in spite of Christianity but because of it. Contrary to conventional wisdom, science did not suddenly flourish once Europe cast aside religious ‘superstitions’ during the so-called Enlightenment. Science arose in the West—and only in the West—precisely because the Judeo-Christian conception of God encouraged and even demanded this pursuit.”4
An atheist like Neil deGrasse Tyson, like atheists before him, wants “Newton’s physics without Newton’s God.”5 Peter Gay writes: “For Newton, God was an active being; he is Creator and watchful master, wise, just, good, and holy. This ‘Being,’ Newton argued ‘governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord of all’; he is a ‘powerful, ever-living Agent.’ . . .”6.
Here’s Tyson extolling the scientific accomplishments of “his man” Isaac Newton without ever mentioning that his scientific endeavors were based on his theistic beliefs:
In time, the early Enlightenment philosophers new this and worked to eliminate “the distinctly Christian element from Newton’s thought.” Not satisfied with their cover-up, “[t]he second generation would go beyond even this and eliminate the religious element altogether.”7
Tyson is counting on historical ignorance to be able to use the Christian Newton as an anti-Christian battering ram. Of course, it’s possible that Tyson is equally ignorant of this history since there was a concerted effort to keep it hidden from the public. For a brief history of the cover-up, see Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery8.
In another tweet, Tyson wrote, “Santa knows Physics: Of all colors, Red Light penetrates fog best. That’s why Benny the Blue-nosed reindeer never got the gig.” Cute, but I wonder if he’s ever read Newton’s comments on the subject of color. In the concluding section in the second edition of Newton’s Principia, “which was devoted entirely to his ideas about God,” Newton writes, “As a blind man has no idea of colors, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things.”9
One more thing needs to be brought to light in the rewriting of the history of science and its religious origin. Newton wrote Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel and The Apocalypse of St. John and The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms. Economist John Maynard Keynes (1833-1946), who purchased much of Newton’s published and unpublished works, “was astonished by the content of the manuscripts. They revealed that even during his prime years of scientific achievement, Newton was as interested in theology and Bible prophecy as in physics—he left more than a million words on these topics.” ((Stark, For the Glory of God, 171).
The corpus of Newton’s religious writings is enormous.
I hope Neil deGrasse Tyson is a better physicist than he is an historian, because if he’s not, then his Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the sequel to the PBS program Cosmos that was hosted by the late Carl Sagan in 1980, is worse than I and others thought. For a comprehensive critique of the series, see “Nothing New Under the Cosmos” by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati.
- P. E. Hodgson, “Review of Science and Creation” by Stanley L. Jaki in Nature, vol. 251 (October 24, 1974), 747. [↩]
- Cornelius Van Til, Christian-Theistic Evidences (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed,  1978), ix. [↩]
- Newton did have some unorthodox theological and scientific beliefs. [↩]
- Rodney Stark, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. Wilmington DE: ISI Books, 2014), 315. [↩]
- Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom, 2 vols. (New York: Norton & Co., 1923), 2:140. [↩]
- Gay, The Enlightenment, 140. [↩]
- Gay, The Enlightenment, 140. [↩]
- Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 167-172. [↩]
- Stark, For the Glory of God, 167-168. [↩]