Neil deGrasse Tyson Sets Off Social Media Firestorm With ‘Personal Delusions’ Tweet

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson occasionally says something on social media that sparks controversy — usually a tweet — that doesn’t seem to actually carry any ill intent, but expresses something about science that clashes with some religious beliefs. His latest such tweet is a little more direct.

Sunday afternoon, Tyson tweeted about people’s “personal beliefs,” calling some of them — those that contradict what can be objectively observed about the world — “personal delusions.”

It’s not clear if there was a specific trigger for Tyson’s under-140-character mini-rant. It could have been about people denying the age of the Earth, or climate change, or the recently discovered Homo Naledi fossil that scientists believe may change the timeline of human evolution and has creationist leaders, like Ken Ham, insisting that the bones tell us nothing about human history.

Whatever the case, Tyson doesn’t specify. He simply references beliefs that defy observable truths. He even reinforces the comment in later tweets.

Still, the tweet made a lot of people angry. Neil was cussed, told that “objective truths” don’t exist, and reminded that science has been wrong in the past. He was even, oddly, accused of thinking that the universe “chose him” to be an astrophysicist (which he agreed would be a deluded notion).

The tirade also set off a lot of constructive conversation about beliefs and understandings that change with new evidence.

The tweet didn’t approach the popularity of Neil’s Christmas tweet, which he said was his most popular and most controversial tweet ever, but it certainly got a lot of feedback. It has now been retweeted and favorited a total of approximately 8,000 times, and has nearly 10,000 likes and over 2,000 shares on the Facebook page that duplicates Tyson’s Twitter feed.

On Facebook, too, many missed that Tyson’s identification of beliefs as delusions was applied only to beliefs that can be proven to conflict with what is known about the world; he was scolded for bashing such beliefs as the possibility of world peace, or a belief against divorce, and some clearly read the tweet as a broad bash of all religious beliefs.

Unlike some of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s other tweets, this one seems as though it was composed to strike a nerve, and it appears to have been successful.

[Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]

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