In his new book, Unbelievable, 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion, science historian Michael Keas provides a lot of useful information about the anti-Christian bias of Carl Sagan’s 1980 Cosmos and the 2014 remake featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, (a projected 2019 update is coming this spring).
One thing readers may not know is that, in a series that leaned heavily on the supposed conflict between religion and science, obvious and widely noted misrepresentations were excused in the service of a “greater truth”:
At least one historian of science thinks that, for the sake of a greater good, it might be permissible for Cosmos 2014 to broadcast false history of science. Joseph D. Martin, historian and philosopher of science and technology at the University of Cambridge, wrote that he agreed with many of the criticisms of Cosmos’s representations of history, but he added, “ Cosmos is a fantastic artifact of scientific myth-making and as such provides a superb teaching tool when paired with more responsible historical presentations.” …
Martin continued: “If we [grant] Cosmos the artistic license to lie, the question is then whether it [is] doing so in service of a greater truth and if so, what is it? And what does it mean for us if it turns out that Cosmos and the history community are simply going after different truths? For the record, I myself am still very much on the fence about this issue, but if I were tasked with mounting a defence of Cosmos as it stands, one of the things I’d say is that the stakes of scientific authority are very high right now, especially in the United States. Perhaps the greater truth here is that we do need to promote greater public trust in science if we are going to tackle some of the frankly quite terrifying challenges ahead and maybe a touch of taradiddle in that direction isn’t the worst thing.” (pp. 152–53) Also: Joseph D. Martin, “We Need to Talk About Cosmos,” H-Physical Sciences, May 14, 16, 2014
“Artistic license to lie”? “Different truths”?
If you are not familiar with the term “taradiddle,” it has come to mean a blatant lie whose significance the speaker hopes to minimize, in order to keep control of — as the New York Times would put it — the Narrative.
Keep all this in mind next time you hear about a tax-funded study of supposed reasons why the public doesn’t trust science.
See also: You have to know the cosmos remake is in trouble (conceptually) when physicist Chad Orzel is saying stuff like this at ScienceBlogs (2014)
Larry Krauss? Francisco Ayala? And Now Neil DeGrasse Tyson? It will be interesting to see whether the #MeToo movement takes off any of the shine of the 2019 continuation (2018). It could be waning in significance.
A study of the causes of science skepticism sails right by the most obvious cause of skepticism: Repeated untrustworthiness