Neil deGrasse Tyson Hit by Creationist Backlash for Explaining Universe Is Billions of Years Old

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By Dan Arel

In the wake of the success of the “Cosmos” television series, which picked up four Emmy Awards earlier this week, Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed politics, religion and science in a recent interview with AlterNet.

When I asked if the success of “Cosmos” had surprised him, Tyson said he had not anticipated the kind of coverage the show would get by entertainment sites and blogs. Because of the show’s major network backing and primetime slot, he said, it was covered like any other television show. He said this forced many entertainment writers to write about all sorts of science topics not often covered in these publications, exposing the show to a new and possibly unintended audience.

Tyson was not as shocked by the backlash the show garnered from certain religious and political groups, mainly creationists who took issue with Tyson’s insistence on discussing evolution, the Big Bang theory and the history of scientific discovery. Their criticism of the show did not bother Tyson at all. “You have to ask yourself, what are the numbers behind the people making these claims? Someone like Ken Ham [owner of the Creation Museum] has beliefs that are even crazy to many Christians.”

Ken Ham’s criticisms came in the form of a weekly review on his website Answers in Genesis, a creationist organization. Ham’s comments gained some attention from the media and were often answered by science writers all over the Internet.

But Tyson wondered how Ham was even able to get anyone’s attention. He speculated it had something to do with Ham’s debate with Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

45 COMMENTS

  1. But Tyson wondered how Ham was even able to get anyone’s attention. He speculated it had something to do with Ham’s debate with Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

    There was a much earlier debate about the merits of allowing a “make-up-your-own-facts-as-you-go-along”, crank like Ham, to pose as a serious intellectual, alongside scientists presenting competently researched evidence.

    While Bill Nye conducted himself well in the debate, it did give Ham and his pseudo-science some credibility, in the eyes of the gullible uneducated.

    Richard won’t share a platform with such deluded and dishonest clowns.

  2. Even though I can see both sides of the issue whether debating totally irrational individuals has merit, I can’t help but believe there is a small group of individuals brainwashed since infancy that has enough intelligence to see the lunacy of a Ken Ham on display and discover there are large numbers of intelligent people who don’t believe in the supernatural at all. For that small group of individuals that might watch, there is probably some merit in the debate.

  3. In my opinion it comes down to people simply not being educated efficiently and adequately. I’ve known people who have said there is no way they could be distantly related to monkeys and etc, and that evolution can’t be true, becomes it seems impossible and goes against their belief system. Which I struggled to understand, since it seemed so obvious and straight forward to me. If anything understanding evolution and our cosmic status made me a more spiritual person, in my connection with nature and the sheer depths of the universe. So why did they resist even hearing about it, and refuse to listen? Well my opinion is, it’s all about presentation. I was lucky enough to have an excellent biology teacher, who made it fun, accessible, and most importantly awe inspiring to learn about the Cosmos and evolution. I think a large chunk of the skeptics could be persuaded, if they were simply educated properly. I told a very religious friend who claimed evolution was something he just couldn’t believe in (even though he has a masters in business and is an intelligent person), to watch episode one of Cosmos, and then decide. After watching the show, and having it carefully and eloquently explained (not preached to him), he later told me that it actually sparked his curiosity on the subject, and after some reading on the subject, eventually changed his outlook on the world, claiming that it made him feel more connected to God. I’m rambling now, just wanted to say, this is a great show, and more skeptics need to have access to things like this.. But I digress.

  4. Ken Ham’s criticisms came in the form of a weekly review on his website Answers in Genesis, a creationist organization. Ham’s comments gained some attention from the media and were often answered by science writers all over the Internet.

    If these people didn’t hurt anyone with their activities, I wouldn’t care. But they breach the Golden Rule. “First, do no harm” And because they do harm, they need to be resisted and neutralized from public influence, as much as possible. And I will continue to resist. I would encourage others to resist.

    If you want to practice a religion, I will support your right to do so, but your religion, in 2014, cannot be the basis of decision making about anything. We cannot let fanatic Israeli settlers or fanatic Islamic militants in Hamas decide the politics. Take these two out, and you will have a two state peace solution in weeks. You cannot have Ken Ham et al involved in science education. You cannot have religious politicians trying impose their personal god’s views on the rest of society, or the world. Those days are over.

    Documentaries like Cosmos by Neil deGrasse Tyson are vital. They can reach a far wider audience than a Twitter post.

    Religion, like sex, should be practiced by consenting adults in private. (T-Shirt Slogan??)

    • No disrespect intended, but I think you’re confusing the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.) with the Hippocratic Oath (above all else, do no harm). Either way, the sense is mostly the same and I thank you for giving me a new perspective.

      • No disrespect intended, but I think you’re confusing the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.) with the Hippocratic Oath (above all else, do no harm).

        No confusion at all. Quite deliberate. The religious Golden Rule, allows for the conquest of anyone who doesn’t believe as you do. It is the license employed by the evangelical and the missionary to go out and convert the “Heathen”, will all the consequential harm that entails. Bertrand Russell disposed of the Golden Rule years ago when he said “What if I don’t like what you are doing unto me.”

        So I argue that the secular golden rule, the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm”, is a much more appropriate rule for conduct in a modern world, and has replaced the religious Golden rule that has cause so much grief through it’s implementation.

      • Just returned from a great walk along the river. Sulphur Crested cockatoo’s screeching. The wattle is flowering. Gets the brains juices flowing. Made me think about the religious Golden Rule a whole lot more, “do unto others etc…”

        In a relationship where the religious golden rule is being applied, who is the decision maker. Who is in the driver’s seat. It is the giver, not the receiver. The giver has decided what is best for you. They have filtered the decision through their biases and beliefs, and are about to administer to the receiver, something that will in their opinion, improve the receivers life. They would expect the same to be done to them, because their own opinion leads them to believe that that was best. They are not trying to project themselves into the receivers psyche and walk in their shoes. I know best. Cop this young Harry. There is no obligation on the religious golden rule givers to ask permission.

        Hitler followed the Golden Rule. Hitler didn’t wake up one morning and think “What evil can I commit today.” He thought he was doing a great and glorious good for mankind. He thought if all the world thought as I did, it would be a wonderful place. He was doing unto others as he would have them do unto him. Similarly with ISIS in Syria / Iraq. They are following the religious golden rule. They’re doing you a favour by either converting you or killing you. They don’t think they’re evil. They think they are to the world a great good.

        I’ve seen this recently in the Amazon. American evangelists going into native villages cashed up, with gifts on the proviso that you convert to their religion. Amazonian Indians with a culture going back thousands of years, with spirits and gods, with a profound connection the earth and forest, are being dragged away from their stable culture and having their tribal religion replaced by a middle eastern tribal religion, that only by chance, has survived to this day. The introduction of sin, guilt and shame. The village is almost in civil war with factions fighting each other. The American Missionaries were following the religious golden rule. Well done the American Taliban.

        So folks, I would argue that you drop the religious golden rule in favour of a reasoned and secular rule, “First, do no harm.” The decider in this case, is the recipient. After that, seek permission to help someone.

        • Hitler followed the Golden Rule. Hitler didn’t wake up one morning and think “What evil can I commit today.” He thought he was doing a great and glorious good for mankind. He thought if all the world thought as I did, it would be a wonderful place. He was doing unto others as he would have them do unto him.

          I’m with you on this David R Allen,

          I’d add that he would have never gotten very far if he hadn’t had 1) a willing audience amount a certain percentage of the populace (those who joined his party). and 2) enough of the general population to give sufficient power to the movement to allow it flourish to the extend where no-one had any choice (other than risk death).

          What concerns me the most is not avoiding delusional nut bags (they’re everywhere – just join any club or organisation or look around in your workplace) but in avoiding these from having sufficient social capital to gain power. Something in our country, I have been very concerned about over the past decade.

          I love the sound of warbling magpi’s on my walk to work myself, but the sudden “YAAAARK!!!” of a nearby Sulphur Crested Cockatoo certainly breaks you out of any mindset you might be in at the time 😉

  5. C’mon, this Ham guy is just doing his shtick. it’s show biz, baby. I doubt HE believes his own BS. I think the people that get within his vicinity, for the most part (98% here) are doing it because of the “odd” factor. I mean, they’re not going to see him because THEY believe in his BS 100%. They’re going, damn near all of ’em, cause they NOT going to Disneyland (too worldly) or our Nation’s Capital (the kids are too young, it’s too “urban” for them at this age). He’s just doing what sells to the people that can hear him, people that aren’t “satisfied with just going to Dairy Queen this Friday night, or those eggheads in white coats running our government. You KNOW the president’s actually Kenyan, right?” Relax. Their 15 minutes are almost up. And some other nitwit will take Ham’s place.

  6. UN…believable!!! No! Not Tyson, but those who denigrate learning, science, and scientific knowledge. Where do they go when they’re sick? To a church? I’ll bet they don’t. They seek the knowledge and wisdom of medical SCIENCE. Meantime, they are maintaining a high profile among those who are increasingly getting religion a bad name.

  7. I am a Chinese. Can you imagine how many creationists in China right now? Most of them are absolute fundamentalists like Ken Ham. Oh……Thanks Ken Ham, your theory(or you) just took a dump in China, and kicked science(especially evolution and Big Bang) out of our life.
    Believe me or not, just go to the Baidu(something like the google ), search for 进化论(evolution), the first thing pops out is the stupid claim “Evolution was overthrown (进化论被推翻)”,and others like “The facts that contradict evolution(进化论无法面对的事实)” “Three major evidence of evolution is false(进化论三大证据的破灭) ” Of course none of these are true. They are either lies and rumors that have been refuted many times, or just plain pseudoarchaeology and pseudosacience (like intelligent design). The Chinese creationists are spreading the rumors everywhere on Baidu.
    Most of the claims come from the Answer in Genesis, or the CREATION.COM. Many of the Chinese creationists are still using the claim”Darwin recanted on his deathbed” “Archaeopteryx is a fraud”. Both of the claims are on the AIG “Arguments we think creationists should NOT use”. This is ridiculous.
    I really hope something like “Cosmos” television series, “Bill Nye the science guy” can be more popular in China. People need to understand what real science is, and why creationism is sometimes harmful to science.
    Sorry for my poor English.

    • Well then, I guess there are a few things you can do about it.

      It’s the new evangelism. Social Media and the Internet (even Hammy is at it. Can you imagine how much damage he could do if he stopped wasting his money in his stupid museum). They are also spreading all over Africa, Asia. Fertile grounds, not much fight back.

      Something the RD site / Aron Ra’s project could do, help and train people on how to fight the clowns on the ground. Maybe drop Aron or Seth Andews a message. I’m sure it would be worth a video or a podcast.

      • Creation museum………Hmmmmmmm
        Actually, I have a real trouble to call it a museum……I think “monument to scientific illiteracy” is the best to way to describe it. After all, the best arguement Ken Ham can come up with is”Were you there?”
        Well, thanks for your advice. Somehow, anti-evolution is becoming a fashion China

        • Yue Aug 23, 2014 at 5:41 am

          After all, the best arguement Ken Ham can come up with is”Were you there?”
          Well thanks for your advice. Somehow, anti-evolution is becoming a fashion China.

          YEC nutters have been turning up at Chinese fossil sites and posing as western experts.
          Unfortunately the Chinese were too polite to kick them off the site, so they have been able to post pseudo-reports on palaeontology which pose a “field work” in their Creation pseudo-journal!

        • Yue, this is very worrying. I would be very interested in your views as to why this is happening. Backlash from the institutional atheism of the Maoist period of Communism? Embracing without question yet another Western fashion?

          I had the obviously mistaken idea that the Chinese, as a people were far too pragmatic for such foolishness to take hold.

          I stand corrected. Oh and by the way you have no reason to apologize for your English. It is better than many, as a quick run down the creationist utube channels will demonstrate.

          • JC Sheepdog, about why this is happening, I think there are various reasons for this . Certainly, it has something to do with 【Backlash from the institutional atheism of the Maoist period of Communism】as you mentioned.
            There is a survey in China, about how many people actually know what science is, or something called “scientific literacy”. Can you imagine the result? Only 3.27% of the people know what science is, that also means, vast majority of people are scientific illiteracy. Even some of the well-educated people may have no ideas about science. A perfect fertile ground for embracing without question. The educational system in China is somewhat flawed. They don’t normally teach you what science really is, but make you devote into very advanced physics and math courses in middle school and high school,even in elementary school (You can often see a 10 years old Chinese kid learning Mathematical Olympiad, this is insane).
            Yes, they are pragmatic.I think most of them believe in God just simply because of their fear of death, they just wanna go to heaven! See? How pragmatic is that! After all, MOST of the Chinese Christians are pretty low-educated people, we also have a survey on this, and it is true.

        • Alan4discussion
          So, the Chinese experts did nothing on this? They just let the YEC pose a “field work” in their Creation pseudo-journal? How frustrating.
          Seriouly, that reminds me how creationists distort science.
          There is a Chinese guy 李洁, made a stupid anti-evolution statement on a biology forum(Not that formal, just a chatting site).
          http://tieba.baidu.com/p/56755785
          I bet he is probably a creationist, because no one but creationists would do something like this. see below:
          【李洁:There is an article on the BBC news titled”Primitive creature challenges cell evolution”】
          —-This is totally false, the true title on the BBC news is “Cell evolution puzzle”. 李洁 just substituted the title of the news with his own invention in order to making his claim more convincing.
          【李洁:Dr.Docampo(the scientist in the news) said,the new discovery contradicted the belief that all eukaryote were formed when early eukaryotes swallowed prokaryotes.”】
          —This is nonsense, and deceitful. What Dr.Docampo really said is:It appears that this organelle has been conserved in evolution from prokaryotes to eukaryotes, since it is present in both. This argues against the belief that all eukaryotic organelles were formed when early eukaryotes swallowed prokaryotes.”
          Clearly, Dr.Docampo means the 【eukaryotic organelles】 were formed, not Eukaryote. 李洁 just simply took it out of the context.
          【李洁:That means evolution could be wrong, Higher order animals didn’t come from lower order animals 】
          —Totally false, Onece again, 李洁 invented it himself. Dr.Docampo never said that, what he said is: same organelle is found in the more complicated eukaryotes implying that it may have a common evolutionary origin for both types of cell.

          See this news on BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3003946.stm

          Can you imagine anything worse than this?

          • Yue Aug 23, 2014 at 9:51 am

            Alan4discussion
            So, the Chinese experts did nothing on this? They just let the YEC pose a “field work” in their Creation pseudo-journal? How frustrating.

            I don’t know if you are aware of this, but Hammy cretinists, (some of whom have somehow acquired scientific qualifications), because no reputable scientific journal will publish their rubbish, have set up their own “Answers Research Journal” which publishes pseudo science which is then exclusively “reviewed” by their own tame YEC pseudo-scientists flashing Phd s as a badge of fake “scientific authority” to con the gullible followers.
            They even have some dishonest and rogue scientists who publish competent work in genuine peer-reviewed journals, and concoct Hammy crap for AIG as well – tarted up with scientific terms and usually in obscure areas of research.

            {Answers Research Journal (ARJ) is a professional, peer-reviewed technical journal … for Creation Research and the Creation Science Fellowship of
            Pittsburgh)
            } – According to the liars of Answers in Genesis!

            To any real scientist committed to scientific methodology, it is a con-artists YEC comic, of deception and scientific illiteracy – presenting circular thinking from preconceptions as scientific research, and making pathetic attempts to discredit most established science which debunks a “Young Earth”.

          • Yue Aug 23, 2014 at 9:51 am

            Once again, invented it himself. Dr.Docampo never said that, what he said is: same organelle is found in the more complicated eukaryotes implying that it may have a common evolutionary origin for both types of cell.

            YECs and IDiots, make up this sort of stuff all the time.
            Most of them and their followers are scientifically illiterate, so any rubbish can be uncritically swallowed and regurgitated on-line.

            Any complex evolutionary issue is likely to stimulate their clueless incredulity.
            Misreading, misquoting, and quote-mining scientific articles, is usually par for the course with YEC claims.

            Issues such as symbiosis and gene exchange, are too much for minds which believe Noah’s Flood is geology!

            The article you quote is looking at similar features to this one:-

            http://www.nature.com/scitable/content/the-origin-of-mitochondria-and-chloroplasts-14747702

            The origin of mitochondria and chloroplasts
            Mitochondria and chloroplasts likely evolved from engulfed prokaryotes that once lived as independent organisms. At some point, a eukaryotic cell engulfed an aerobic prokaryote, which then formed an endosymbiotic relationship with the host eukaryote, gradually developing into a mitochondrion. Eukaryotic cells containing mitochondria then engulfed photosynthetic prokaryotes, which evolved to become specialized chloroplast organelles.

    • Mike Aug 22, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      The Golden Rule is breached here Mike. “First, do no harm.” The creationists are doing harm to the Chinese community by spreading religious propaganda without evidence. They are trying to warp the minds of the Chinese. This is harm. They are trying to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That is, they think that because they would like someone to come to their country and tell them things like YEC, that everyone on the planet would also like this. This is why the Old Golden Rule, is now redundant.

      To quote Bertrand Russell. “What if I don’t like what you are doing unto me.” Back off Xtians.

  8. Tyson hits every last nail smack dab on the head.

    If science education was as it should be, no one would give individuals like Ham the time of day, and they would have to find other lines of huckstering.

    Ham by name and ham by nature; I’m sorry about that, but I couldn’t resist.

  9. It is very depressing to see how otherwise rational people can gobble up this creationist garbage. From my experience, I find that it is very hard to generate interest in science in adults who have a low level of intellectual curiosity and little to no scientific education. This to me is the most convincing argument for the urgent necessity of scientific education at the earliest possible age.

    And we badly need to lose those drop-dead silly “religious ethics” courses from elementary school classrooms to free up precious resources for “introduction to science” or “introduction to critical thinking”. Kids are curious by nature. With high quality creative teaching, it can be done.

    Sadly, I think that creationism like all other forms of superstition and quackery, appeal to people because they procure the illusion of having quick and easy answers to big complex questions. In general, people in the 60’s and 70’s weren’t any more scientifically literate than people are today. But back then, science benefited from general acceptance from the public because of psychological traits like the natural tendency to fall for the argument from authority and the halo effect.

    Fast forward 50 years and now those same logical fallacies plus the widespread communication powers of the internet are being used by the quacks to make them look like they know what they’re talking about. The result? A modern western 21st century society in which osteopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, reflexology, dowsing, numerology, astrology, and many other forms of quackery and outright silliness have become mainstream practice and are considered legitimate sources of knowledge and wisdom by the uneducated.

    People fell for it hook line and sinker. :-(

    Only widespread scientific literacy can get modern civilization out of the hole it has dug itself into. Sadly, it’s a very steep hill to climb and society at large hasn’t even taken the first steps yet. Worse yet, it’s going downhill right now.

  10. I watched the Ham / Nye debate, twice. In the debate, Ham refers to the finding of a much younger piece of timber being found inside a much older rock. Of course in Ham’s view such a finding would drive a coach and horses through modern rock dating methods. No need to go into the details here but, the expert geologist cited was one Dr Andrew Snelling

    Apparently a hired gun who shoots for both sides !

    As Aron Ra points out, the YECs are dishonest to their Bible rotted cores. Whatever scientific evidence is presented to a man like Ken Ham, he will never change his mind. He said so himself.

    But there are other people listening !

    • Mr DArcy Aug 23, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      I watched the Ham / Nye debate, twice. In the debate, Ham refers to the finding of a much younger piece of timber being found inside a much older rock. Of course in Ham’s view such a finding would drive a coach and horses through modern rock dating methods.

      I remember an earlier debate!

      However once you realise that YEC articles are scientifically illiterate with disregard of methodology, and the object of the exercise is to cherry=pick ANYTHING which MIGHT make the Earth look young”, you need to investigate undisclosed features which they have hidden in their so-called tests.

      Naturally for such an exercise as isotopic dating of wood to “Prove the Earth Young”, they don’t bother checking real sciency stuff – like contamination of samples by ground water! If it looks good sell it to the mugs!

      (See we’ve proooooooooved radiometric dating doesn’t work!!!)

      What a bunch of disreputable deluded incompetent muppets!

  11. A3Kr0n Aug 23, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    So he’s getting more backlash than normal? It sounds like he really doesn’t care, either.

    Why should Ham care when he is raising millions from his stupid cheer-leading faith-heads to set up his YEC Dinosaur Ark-Park. The loans are not guaranteed by Answers in Genesis, so are unsecured, supposedly going to be repaid from the gate takings – if the ridiculous place ever opens!

    http://www.newsweek.com/creationist-ken-ham-raised-enough-money-after-bill-nye-debate-build-noahs-ark-230539

    Creation Museum founder Ken Ham says he has raised enough money to begin building a 510-foot wooden “replica” of Noah’s Ark, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Ham’s evolution debate with Bill Nye turned into a fundraising bonanza for the young-Earth creationist, who says a $62 million municipal bond offering has raised enough to jumpstart his long-delayed Ark Encounter project, which is expected to cost about $73 million.

    The “high-profile debate helped encourage more of our ministry friends to get involved in the past few weeks,” Ham said in a news release Thursday.

    “We praise our creator God for His blessings and for the incredible support we just witnessed from our generous supporters around the country,” Ham said.

    Nye told the AP that he was disappointed the project would go forward, and said he hoped it “goes out of business.”

    “If he builds that ark, it’s my strong opinion, it’s bad for the commonwealth of Kentucky and bad for scientists based in Kentucky and bad for the U.S.,” Nye said. “And I’m not joking, bad for the world.”

    Ham’s claim to fame is the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which features dioramas of dinosaurs and humans coexisting, and flow charts that tell the story of God’s creation of the Earth. After completing the Creation Museum, Ham presented his plan to build a “full-size” Noah’s Ark.

    In 2012, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) proposed a $43 million tax break for the project. After a series of delays, Ham says his three-deck ark filled with animatronic animals will open in 2016.

    Last year, Slate reported that Ham’s Answers in Genesis ministry was attempting to raise money by selling risky private bonds

  12. I think that there are good arguments both for and against debates with creationists.
    Arguing against having debates:

    It gives them an appearance of credibility
    It might convince people that they are somehow on equal footing
    It gives the creationists more publicity

    Arguing for having the debates:

    It could be the only way that many creationists will learn anything about evolution
    Repeatedly beating a creationist will prevent any reasonable person from taking them seriously on evolution
    As long as they have done their homework, there is absolutely no reason why the evolutionist could lose

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