The New Cosmos

I had taped the first episode of the new COSMOS with Neil deGrasse Tyson and I got around to watching it last night.  I enjoyed it a great deal, and the production values are breathtaking.  There were several interesting things that I noticed.  One was the use of animation to tell certain historical stories.  In particular the story of the Dominican monk Giordono Bruno.  He wasn’t a scientist, and his rational for believing the universe was infinite was his belief that god was infinite so his creation must also be infinite.  He also postulated that stars were other suns like ours and that there were worlds attached to those suns as well.  It was, one could argue, a mad insight into the universe, but sometimes a productive line of inquiry opens up because of just such a mad insight.  Of course technology in the form of the telescope vindicated and validated old Bruno’s insight.  But not in time to save him from being burned alive by the Inquisition.

So why the animation?  Partly because the producers of this show want children to watch and seeing a man die in hideous agony at the stake is not exactly PG.  I also think they were trying to avoid arousing the ire of religious conservatives.  If so they didn’t succeed.  A number of right wing commentators have found even this softened approach to be offensive and an attack against the church and religion.  That professional bloviator, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League was righteously upset and the article at the Catholic League‘s website even claimed that:

“One of the most enduring myths of the Inquisition,” he says, “is that it was a tool of oppression imposed on unwilling Europeans by a power-hungry Church. Nothing could be more wrong.” Because the Inquisition brought order and justice where there was none, it actually “saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule.”

Yeah, I’m sure the Albigensians or the Spanish Jews would agree that they just flourished under the Inquisition’s imposition of order and justice.  There are other apologists who have tried to claim that “Hey, he wasn’t burned because of his theories about the cosmos — he was burned because he was spouting heresy, and that’s totally okay, because it was 1600 and there were laws against that sort of thing.”  Can we maybe just all agree that burning people alive is not okay?  Just like stoning women to death because they got raped is not okay, and imprisoning gay people just because they are gay is not okay, or throwing acid or shooting a young girl for the sin of going to school is not okay, or condemning people to death because they decided to believe in a different version of god are also not okay.   

The point Tyson was making was that when dogma trumps free thought and inquiry our species is in trouble.  We are facing real problems and challenges — climate change, antibiotic resistant diseases, etc.  Instead of raising up a generation of kids who fear and distrust the scientific method maybe we ought to be firing their imaginations and encouraging them to dream big and promulgate hypotheses, find solutions to vexing problems, and never stop questioning and pushing for a deeper understanding of our universe from the tiniest atomic particle or fragment of DNA to the largest galaxy.

8 Responses to The New Cosmos

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I will be curious to see if the Oklahoma Fox affiliate that cut out the reference to evolution actually airs the entire episode tonight. It sounds like there will be a lot about evolution in tonight’s show. The affiliate claimed it was an “accident” once the story went viral. Guess we’ll find out tonight.

  • Jerry Mackey says:

    I agree that the producers wanted to engage children and adolescents; I am just not sure they cared what religious conservatives would think. It is not just evolution religious conservatives abhor; it is the Big Bang, astrophysics, and most other physics disciplines, for that matter, too. Could it be the producers were attempting to reach children before their minds could be corrupted by pseudoscience? Maybe I am being naïve, but being someone who was introduce to science at an early age, I understand how science can trump religion. The wonder that is science is far more interesting than the fanciful myths of religion. My parents rued the day I fell in love with science.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I have several friends who managed to escape from deeply fundamentalist churches who take every word in the bible as literal truth because of their love of astronomy. They could not reconcile what they were learning with what the church was claiming. I loved it when one fundie went on rant about how the theory of Relativity was a liberal plot. I laugh, but I fear this mind set and what it will do to society.

    • One of the (many) interesting things about Tyson is that he believes scientific-illiterate adults are the problem. He doesn’t worry so much about kids, who haven’t had their naturally insatiable curiosity burned out of them yet.

      I’m loving the new Cosmos. It’s great how it’s become a vital extension to the original Sagan series, and not merely a “hipper” replacement. I wish every single person on this planet would watch Cosmos 1 and 2.

  • Jerry Mackey says:

    That mindset is scary, indeed. I recently read the novel Christian Nation by Frederic Rich that presented a ‘what if’ senario in which John McCain won the 2008 presidential election and died shortly thereafter. It was chilling.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I lost almost all respect for Senator McCain when he tapped the Word Salad Queen from Wasilla as a Vice-presidential nominee. If she had had her hands on the levers of power…. After a long journey from my Roman Catholic (on my father’s side) roots, and the fundamentalist Church of Christ (on my mother’s side), through the Episcopalian church, Eastern philosophy and reincarnation I came out the other side realizing that none of the comforting origin stories or Sky Daddy stories made any damn sense. I found enough sense of wonder and awe in the very fabric of the universe. I didn’t need the “unseen and unknowable hand”. I have no problem with people of faith in fact sometimes I miss that sense of community, but this toxic stew of politics and religion is what is pushing me toward being rather militant. People are entitled to believe any damn fool thing they want, but they don’t get to set curriculum at schools are pass laws based on the creeds of their various sky daddies.

  • Check out this lunacy:

    Geocentrism is a thing again. Seriously, which millennium are we in again?

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      Yeah, this came up over on my Facebook wall. I don’t know whether to scream, beat my head on the desk or just assume there are a minor number of nuts and morons and not worry too much. But I’m worried. We have big and real problems facing us, and this rejection of evidence and science could end up dooming us.

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