Neil deGrasse Tyson

On this date in 1958, Neil deGrasse Tyson was born in the Bronx, N.Y. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University in 1980, his master’s degree in astronomy from the University of Texas in 1983 and his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University in 1991. After graduation, Tyson worked as a Research Associate at Princeton University (1991–1994) and staff scientist for the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History (1994–1995). He wrote the “Universe” essays for Natural History (1995–2005) and hosts PBS’s “NOVA scienceNOW,” beginning in 2006. Tyson has served on NASA’s advisory council (2005-2008) and has been a Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History’s Astrophysics Department since 2003, where he is director of the Hayden Planetarium. His nine books include Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (2005), Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), and his memoir, The Sky is Not The Limit: Adventure of an Urban Astrophysicist (2000). In 2009, Tyson wrote The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet. Tyson was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2004 as well as the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal in 2007. He married Alice Young in 1988 and they have two children.

“I think, based on all the folks who are agnostic historically, I come closer to the behavior of an agnostic than the behavior of an atheist,” Tyson, who prefers not to label his beliefs, wrote in an essay for the September/October 2008 Humanist. In his essay “Holy Wars,” Tyson discussed the intersection of science and religion. He was critical of religion, writing: “I have yet to see a successful prediction about the physical world that was inferred or extrapolated from the content of any religions document.” Tyson is also a strong opponent of intelligent design. He wrote, “Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. You cannot build a program of discovery on the assumption that nobody is smart enough to figure out the answer to a problem” (“The Perimiter of Ignorance,” Natural History, November 2005). Tyson continued: “I don’t want students who could make the next major breakthrough in renewable energy sources or space travel to have been taught that anything they don’t understand, and that nobody yet understands, is divinely constructed and therefore beyond their intellectual capacity. The day that happens, Americans will just sit in awe of what we don’t understand, while we watch the rest of the world boldly go where no mortal has gone before.” Tyson was awarded the American Humanist Association’s Isaac Asimov Science Award in 2009.

“Let there be no doubt that as they are currently practiced, there is no common ground between science and religion.” 

—Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Holy Wars,” published in Natural History, Oct. 1999

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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