13 ways Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” sent the religious right off the deep end
Didn’t hear the splash, but did hear that many viewers were disappointed at how much of the series turned out not to be about the cosmos, as known today. Some of it sounded like predictable, air-time-wasting secularist causes.
Physicist Chad Orzel writes at ScienceBlogs,
Too many topics are covered at about the same level of depth as back in 1980, just with spiffier graphics. And while that approach didn’t leave too much of a gap back in the day, today there’s a vast range of stuff they haven’t even touched on– there hasn’t been more than a passing mention of dark matter, and I don’t recall anything at all about dark energy.
So, I find the choice to prioritize wildly speculative but vaguely inspirational material like panspermia and the whole “future cosmic calendar” stuff kind of disappointing.
Lots of people probably did.
Arel, after reminding readers of Tyson’s account of a meeting with Sagan that inspired him, turns to the decision to spend time on Bruno.
However, this got the least amount of attention from the naysayers, as Tyson mentions Giordano Bruno, a Catholic who dared to challenge the church’s geocentric theory of the cosmos and proposed that the earth actually revolved around the sun. Bruno was jailed, charged with heresy and eventually burned at the stake. While no Christian apologists tried to condemn the church for such a killing, instead they tried to make the killing not about science and simply about speaking out against the church.
Quite simply, that is not an argument anyone tries to “make.” It is a fact. Bruno was no Galileo; he contributed nothing to science. He was simply one of the millions who perished in the 16th/17th century wars of religion.* And far from the most innocent of complicity in his own fate.
His attraction, apart from the glamour of martyrdom, seems to be his speculations about a multiverse. Most probably do not realize how much of his thought involved the traditions of magic, not science. (Note: For a sense of the attraction atheists have felt for him, see an old poem, “For the Feast of Giordano Bruno.”
In his final push, Tyson took down religion in a way very few can: “One of things I love about science; we don’t have to pretend we have all the answers.” Dark energy, he goes on to explain, is “merely a code word for our ignorance.” He assures the viewers, “It’s okay not to have all the answers.”
Of course, this again set off the Discovery Institute, which touts ignorance as a weakness and pretends to know everything they cannot know, yet has the audacity to attack science and Tyson for making claims that are scientifically sound. David Klinghoffer, writing for Discovery Institute’s dubiously named website, Evolution News, writes that Darwinists despise free thinkers, a downright silly claim, but Klinghoffer insists that because scientists believe natural selection is the answer, they are not playing by their own rules.
One needs to read some of this stuff twice to take it in. The thing about Darwin’s followers or, say, the climate change advocates (whose views, oddly, are explored in the series), is that they do claim to have the answers. Not “all the answers,” but then no one does. But they are sure they have enough answers to accuse their critics of dishonest denial. Which pretty much tells you how likely they would be to ever question their own premises or interpretations of the evidence.
The series will be watched in classrooms around the world — much to the chagrin of science-denying Evangelicals
And much to the chagrin of people who miss the days when science was about, for example, physics and astronomy. It is too bad if students are taught as “science,” theories like panspermia or the multiverse instead.
Evangelicals will surely not be the only ones affected. NASA’s southbound budget points the way, one fears. Make science about this kind of thing instead of about moon landings, and don’t be at all surprised if the public asks, “is NASA worth funding at all? Couldn’t that money be better spent working on the economy, homelessness, or the housing market?”
Unfortunately, the Cosmos remake is not a good argument against that view. NASA? We might as well just stay home and speculate.
It will be one of history’s many ironies if atheists and secularists contribute to disenchantment with and disinterest in science, given how much they profess to love, understand, and depend on it. C’est la vie.
*A little background on the context of Bruno’s burning at the stake in 1600: The seventeenth century was no stranger to religious wars (and neither had the sixteenth been). Here’s just one example of the kind of thing that happened: In 1649, Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan general, had the king, Charles I, beheaded. He formed a republic of a sort, the Commonwealth or “rule of saints.” Then Cromwell turned his attentions to Catholic Ireland:
“The Physician-General of the Army of Cromwell, Dr. William Petty, estimated that about 504,000 of the Irish perished and were wasted by sword, plague, famine, hardship and banishment between 23rd October 1641 and the same day in 1652. Put another way, the population of Ireland in 1641 was 1,448,000 and by 1652, 616,000 perished of which 504,000 were natives and 112,000 colonists and 40,000 soldiers left Ireland to join armies on the continent.
Oliver Cromwell left Ireland on May 26, 1650. Only nine months in Ireland , Cromwell gave birth to death, exile, persecution, indentured slavery, and a form of 17th century ethnic cleansing. His name is forever associated by the Irish people with fevered anti-Catholicism and a burning hatred for the Irish people. Cromwell’s Settlement plan for Ireland can be fairly judged as being even more harmful to Ireland than his blood letting in 1649.”
By 1660, the British public had had enough of all the saintliness, under which they chafed. They restored the monarchy under Charles II, the beheaded king’s son.
And remember, this was England, the mother of Parliaments! Bruno may have been an unusual man for his period, but his fate was not. – O’Leary for News
See also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (cosmology).
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