Neil deGrasse Tyson sparked a tiny controversy on Twitter this Christmas, throwing a little praise towards Isaac Newton on his alleged birthday and riling up the outrage machine.
In typical fashion, Tyson returned to the scene of the controversy to provide one last little jab to the populace in an effort to make people think (at least I hope so):
He also took to Facebook to address what he is calling his “most re-Tweeted Tweet,” combing over his Twitter history in an attempt to quantify and define the reaction to his Newton comment:
Everybody knows that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th. I think fewer people know that Isaac Newton shares the same birthday. Christmas day in England – 1642. And perhaps even fewer people know that before he turned 30, Newton had discovered the laws of motion, the universal law of gravitation, and invented integral and differential calculus. All of which served as the mechanistic foundation for the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries that would forever transform the world.My sense in this case is that the high rate of re-tweeting, is not to share my enthusiasm of this fact, but is driven by accusations that the tweet is somehow anti-Christian. If a person actually wanted to express anti-Christian sentiment, my guess is that alerting people of Isaac Newton’s birthday would appear nowhere on the list.
Tyson pulls out this Tweet to drive his point home, noting that it garnered only 13,000 RTs compared to the massive 62,000 for the Christmas Newton post:
I guess some folks just get a little sensitive at the holidays. The Facebook post also clears up the confusion over the “exact” date of Newton’s birthday in relation to Christmas Day, something that was a noted rebuttal to his offending tweet:
One last bit of historical fact. All of England was celebrating Christmas the day Newton was born. But the Gregorian Calendar (an awesomely accurate reckoning of Earth’s annual time), introduced in 1584 by Pope Gregory, was not yet adopted in Great Britain. To do so required removing ten days from the calendar — excess time that had accumulated over the previous 16 centuries from the mildly flawed Julian Calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. These remnants of the turbulent schism between the Anglican and Catholic churches meant that Catholic Christendom was celebrating Christmas ten days earlier than anybody was in England.If you wanted to reckon Newton’s birthday on today’s Gregorian Calendar, we would place his birth on January 4, 1643.
That’s one thing I always like about these Tyson Twitter hullabaloos, they always seem to include something to learn. You can’t say the same thing about Kanye West or Kurt Sutter’s Twitter outbursts, unless the lesson you’re looking for is, “don’t f*ck with these people.”