Cosmos under attack


As one might expect, the anti-science brigade in the US, commonly referred to as the religious right, is out in force and has a stake setup in some courtyard ready to burn the rebooted Cosmos. In fact, one can’t help but get the feeling that regardless of the actual content, they were ready to be offended, because unless you embrace their specific flavour of delusional “truth”, you are a heretic.

In fact, I’m rather bemused to learn that one local Fox station (now remember, this is a series funded by Fox), KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City, managed to edit out the only mention of “evolution” in the series’ first episode. I say bemused, because having now watched the second episode, one that was more or less exclusively dedicated to explaining what evolution actually is and how it works, it now leaves them with the rather stark choice of either broadcasting it all or instead just censoring the entire episode.

So what is their problem?

Well apparently science, the stuff that is evidence based, is “blind faith” and is trumped by myths written down by Late Bronze age humans, so when Mr Tyson clearly explain that there is simply no debate here at all …

Some claim that evolution is just a theory, as if it were merely an opinion. The theory of evolution — like the theory of gravity — is a scientific fact. Evolution really happened. Accepting our kinship with all life on Earth is not only solid science. In my view, it’s also a soaring spiritual experience.

… I conjure up images in my mind of religious folks having a bit of a fit and frothing at the mouth in response to such clarity.

Are all religious people like this? No, not at all, this is me simply me taking a potshot at those delusional enough to be also anti-science.

So how best to handle all this?

Hey, how about Cosmos for the religious right, and here it is …

Sometimes I do ponder the thought that perhaps satire is the best response.

So anyway, putting all that craziness aside and turning to a more serious thought, Mr Tyson is doing a great job; he has the charisma required to pull it off, and truly does communicate effectively (yes, I’m a fan). I loved that he explained in detail exactly how the human eye evolved, because this is something creationists often bring up as an example of something so complex that it could not have possibly evolved. But Cosmos is not of course all about attacking crazy ideas, but instead is really all about the awe and wonder of what we do know, how we know it and also the questions that then leads us to ponder about.

Key Point: Cosmos is not about bashing religion, but it is also not being shaped by a fear that the truth will cause some offence, instead it leaves such people behind and takes the rest of us along on the journey of awe and wonder.

Mr Tyson lays out a clear explanation about how life adopts and manifests in many amazing ways, then takes us in his ship of the imagination to the methane seas and lakes of Titan where we then speculate with him about the possibility of life there. We aren’t afraid of questions for which we simply do not know the answer, and that is perhaps a far better place to be than pretending we know all the answers.

I also liked the fact that there was a nod to Carl in this second episode – the last scene was a snippet from the original series and that was the icing on the cake that made it sufficiently tantalising and left the audience begging for more.

Ah but perhaps I should do the same as well here and also let Carl have the final word. Here are a couple of quotes from Carl Sagan’s final book, 1996′s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark …

Religions are often the state-protected nurseries of pseudoscience, although there is no reason why religions have to play that role. Anyway, it’s an artifact from times long gone.  (Page 15)

Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science–by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans–teaches that the most we can hope for is the success of improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, and asymptotic approach to the universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always be lewd us. (Page 28).

Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. (Page 25).


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