Sean Davis, writing in the Federalist, accuses Tyson of fabricating a quote of President George W. Bush. Tyson is quoted as follows:
TYSON: Here’s what happens. George Bush, within a week of [the 9/11 terrorist attacks] gave us a speech attempting to distinguish we from they. And who are they? These were sort of the Muslim fundamentalists. And he wants to distinguish we from they. And how does he do it?
He says, “Our God” — of course it’s actually the same God, but that’s a detail, let’s hold that minor fact aside for the moment. Allah of the Muslims is the same God as the God of the Old Testament. So, but let’s hold that aside. He says, “Our God is the God” — he’s loosely quoting Genesis, biblical Genesis — “Our God is the God who named the stars.”To quote Tyson more directly, from the Hayden Planetarium site:
After the 9/11 attacks, when President George W. Bush, in a speech aimed at distinguishing the U.S. from the Muslim fundamentalists, said, "Our God is the God who named the stars". The problem is two-thirds of all the stars that have names, have Arabic names. I don't think he knew this. This would confound the point that he was making.Now, did Bush attempt to distinguish we from they within a week of 9/11? On September 20, he told Congress "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them." That's nine days, not seven, but that's a quibble.
A year after 9/11, President Bush said:
Our deepest national conviction is that every life is precious, because every life is the gift of a Creator who intended us to live in liberty and equality. More than anything else, this separates us from the enemy we fight. We value every life; our enemies value none -- not even the innocent, not even their own. And we seek the freedom and opportunity that give meaning and value to life.
There is a line in our time, and in every time, between those who believe all men are created equal, and those who believe that some men and women and children are expendable in the pursuit of power. There is a line in our time, and in every time, between the defenders of human liberty and those who seek to master the minds and souls of others. Our generation has now heard history's call, and we will answer it.Did Bush try to "distinguish we from them"? Between those who would intentionaly murder innocents and those who would not? Between freedom and fear, justice and cruelty? Why yes, he did.
Did he think that God was on the side of freedom, justice, life, equality and liberty? And that the other side, "sort of Muslim fundamentalists", were against those things, and that their concept of God's will was a false and evil delusion and perversion? Yes. Read his words and you know this to be true.
Now, as far I can tell, Bush did not talk of "the God who named the stars" in the context of 9/11. But in 2003, after the Columbia disaster, he did say:
In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing."
The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.Now, which is likelier? That Tyson deliberately fabricated a false quote, or that he incorrectly remembered the context of something Bush actually said? Against the first theory, if he knew that Bush didn't say it as a rebuke of murderous Muslim fundamentalists, shouldn't he also have known that he was running a considerable risk that someone would notice the falsehood?
That said, it's pretty careless to quote a public figure as saying specific things based on your own imperfect recollection of what he said, when it is not so very difficult to find out what he actually said.
And aside from the misquote, Tyson's argument is logically flawed. If there is an omniscient personal deity, as Bush and apparently most Americans believe, then he does in fact know all the stars and has some means of identifying every single one. The question of which human culture gave human names to the nearest and brightest stars is irrelevant to that belief.
On the other hand, Bush was pretty careless in suggesting in 2001 that "we" all believe in a divine creator from whom our rights to life and liberty flowed. Or, in 2003, that he could could console all of us by referring to the God of Isaiah and the Psalms. Or, if he wasn't speaking to all of us, the exceptions were unimportant.
As far as I can tell, a significant minority of US citizens do not share his beliefs in a personal Judeo-Christian god.
Update: Tyson has now conceded that he conflated President Bush's speech after the Columbia disaster with what he said after 9/11:
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.He has apologized.
And I here publicly apologize to the President for casting his quote in the context of contrasting religions rather than as a poetic reference to the lost souls of Columbia. I have no excuse for this, other than both events-- so close to one another -- upset me greatly.