Saturday, September 27, 2014

Did Neil deGrasse Tyson Lie About President Bush?

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.

7 comments:

David Friedman said...

A nice demonstration of the willingness of Tyson's fans to lean over backwards in his defense.

None of the things you quote Bush saying was a real lie, because in each case his audience could decide for themselves whether or not they agreed with his view—at worst they were rhetorical exaggerations. Tyson's claim about Bush was either a mistake or a flat lie.

Pointing out that Bush thought we were the good guys in our conflict with some Muslims doesn't support the idea that he tried to distinguish the Christian god from the Muslim god.

The fact that Tyson appears to have invented a variety of other quotes is some evidence against the idea that this was a mistake. The fact that he has not, so far as I can tell, publicly retracted false claims when they were pointed out is evidence that he is not an honest man and some evidence that the quote were lies rather than errors.

Will McLean said...

Tyson does not actually say that Bush was trying to distinguish the Christian god from the Muslim god, but the "U.S. from the Muslim fundamentalists", and that one distinction between us and them is our beliefs about God. And Bush says exactly that in his speeches.

Will McLean said...

When 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. " he was saying an untruth, because a significant number of us don't believe in a Creator with intentions about how we should live.

David Friedman said...

Here's the Tyson quote from a talk rather than the web page you quoted:

--
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.”
---
Note that Tyson starts his point with "He says 'Our God.'" That's central to the point he is making. But Bush didn't say "Our God." In the Challenger disaster quote he said:

"The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. "

No hint of distinguishing "Our God" from any other God. So Tyson's whole point, about Arabic names for stars and the Muslim God being the same as the Old Testament God, is based on a falsehood. He is accusing Bush of making an argument Bush did not make.

Will McLean said...

if Tyson explicitly says that the distinction between "Our God" and "Allah of the Muslims" is "a detail" and a ""minor fact", how can that be ''central to the point he is making"?

Will McLean said...

Also, if you start by quoting Isaiah, that's more than a hint that you are referring to the Judeo-Christian God that President Bush and most Americans believe in.

Anonymous said...

The first quote is irrelevant and should not even be brought up. If we are discussing Tyson's misquoting then the second quote you list is the more valid and therefore the one to examine. Davis, Bush, and Tyson NEVER mentioned a difference between us and "Muslim Fundamentalists" as you erroneously insinuate
- 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. -
That is your OPINION and not fact, therefore, you are guilty of the same atheistic lapse in truth and fact that Tyson is.
And to equate the Christian God with Allah - an invented God by a pedophile rapist intent on conquering a people through political subversion, as opposed to the many prophets who throughout history have supported the idea of the Christian God as the one True God - I would say that you, yourself need to read and investigate the things that you misquote about so that you do not continue the same atheist propaganda that Tyson does. But if you really believe that a satanic god like Allah (read the Quran - every other verse is peppered with killing anyone who does not believe in Allah) is the SAME God who tried desperately to save humanity and teach us the right way to live through HIS WORD and not the word of a human, then it is obvious that you know nothing about religion and should STFU.