Neil deGrasse Tyson

On this date in 1958, Neil deGrasse Tyson was born in the Bronx, N.Y. His mother was a gerontologist for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and  his father was a sociologist and human resource commissioner for New York City Mayor John Lindsay. He earned his bachelor’s in physics from Harvard University in 1980, his master’s in astronomy from the University of Texas in 1983 and his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia in 1991.

After graduation he worked as a research associate at Princeton University (1991–94) and a staff scientist for the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History (1994–95). Tyson has served on NASA’s advisory council (2005-08) and founded the American Museum of Natural History’s astrophysics department in 2007, where he heads the Hayden Planetarium. He married Alice Young in 1988 and they have two children.

He wrote “The Universe” essays for Natural History (1995–2005) and hosted PBS’ “NOVA scienceNOW” from 2006-11. In 2014 he hosted the television series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” a successor to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series. 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 he wrote The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet

In his essay “Holy Wars,” published in Natural History magazine in October 1999, Tyson wrote, “Let there be no doubt that as they are currently practiced, there is no common ground between science and religion.” On their intersection he added, “I have yet to see a successful prediction about the physical world that was inferred or extrapolated from the content of any religion’s document.” He is also a strong opponent of intelligent design, calling it in 2005 “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.”

In a September/October 2008 essay in The Humanist, Tyson wrote, “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.”

He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2004 and NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Medal in 2007. He was the recipient of the American Humanist Association’s Isaac Asimov Science Award in 2009. On a lighter note, he was People magazine’s Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive in 2000.

PHOTO: Tyson at the 2017 Starmus IV in Trondheim, Norway, where he received a Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication; photo by Thor Nielsen/NTNU under CC 2.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation