Is Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Jesus Joke Any Worse Than Ellen DeGeneres’ Similar Tweet?

Neil deGrasse Tyson is surprised that his tweet about Isaac Newton’s birthday caused such a commotion on Twitter.

According to TIME, the astrophysicist upset many Christians when he shared the tweet below on December 25.

As you can see, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Jesus joke was retweeted over 70,000 times. Ellen DeGeneres posted a similar tweet on December 26, but it didn’t get nearly as much attention — her Jared Leto/Jesus joke scored just under 4,000 retweets.

Maybe her fans weren’t as offended by her joke because she waited until the day after Christmas to make it. Ellen DeGeneres also isn’t a scientist who has talked about evolution on TV — as the Inquistir previously reported, many Christians were upset with Neil deGrasse Tyson long before his Isaac Newton tweet. He angered some religious viewers by appearing on the FOX TV series Cosmos and failing to say anything about creationism.

Because his tweet caused such a stir, Neil DeGrasse Tyson decided to respond to the backlash in a lengthy Facebook post. He revealed that the Christmas message is his most retweeted tweet, and he explained why he wanted to honor Isaac Newton.

“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.”

DeGrasse Tyson made it clear that he’s not going to delete the Christmas tweet, and he explained why he doesn’t think his words were anti-Christian in any way.

“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.”

And yes, Neil deGrasse Tyson is well aware that Isaac Newton’s birthday would actually fall on January 4 on today’s Gregorian calendar. However, Great Britain wasn’t using the Gregorian calendar in 1643 when Newton was born, so everyone in England was celebrating Christmas when he entered the world.

Many unhappy Twitter users responded to deGrasse Tyson’s tweet by labeling him an atheist (some people seem to consider this an insult).

However, Neil deGrasse Tyson actually doesn’t consider himself an atheist. During an interview with Big Think, he explained his views on religion.

Instead of getting into debates about science and religion, maybe Neil deGrasse Tyson and his critics should put their heads together and try to answer life’s toughest questions. Here’s one: If Jesus were real, would he rather be compared to Jared Leto or Isaac Newton? What do you think?

[Image credit: Neil deGrasse Tyson/Facebook]