I finally got round to watching remake of TV show Cosmos, which they call Cosmos 2.0. I believe it’s the hottest topic since Nye-Ham debate in January. The first episode was introduced by US president Obama himself, as high endorsement as possible.
I must say that I’ve never seen the original Cosmos presented by Carl Sagan, it was aired thirty four years ago, after all, nor do I care about Sagan’s personality and contribution to science. New presenter, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, is Sagan’s avid admirer and his tribute to Sagan was probably the best part of the show, lost of people admitted to shedding a tear or two when they heard the story of young Neil visiting Carl and getting a book signed. I don’t care about any of that, I just wanted to see what’s this new attack vector on religion is all about.
The first thing I remember hearing about this new Cosmos is a retweeted headline: “Cosmic terror: Why Neil deGrasse Tyson has religious fundamentalists so freaked”, and it didn’t get any better since. Is it really that challenging, I wondered? So I watched it and now I wonder whether it’s all happening in some parallel universe, which would be possible according to NDT’s introduction of multi-universe theory as a scientific fact, which it isn’t.
For a show promoting science it relies heavily on rhetoric, spin, shameless propaganda, and lots of visual effects. Anything but logic and rationality. NDT is a good presenter in this sense, likable, passionate, involved etc but some saw him as a bad actor, too. I’ll get to his personality a bit later.
If you look at online reviews they are all raving, giving it maximum stars with critical content very hard to come by. The quality of those reviews, however is highly questionable. People liked the show, that much is clear, but it is also clear that they liked not the science and reason but for all the fluff that was put into it instead.
First of all, I don’t understand who is this show meant for. Judging by the level of actual science it was probably aimed at third graders and lots of people admitted it freely, asking for the show to be made mandatory viewing in schools. Lots of people judged the show by the effect it had on their kids, too. Yet the show airs very late at night when kids are supposed to be in bed, not in front of the television.
Maybe this show is meant for really ignorant people, I saw one person talking about “redneck audience”. There’s a doubt, however, that brainwashed creationist rednecks are not going to be swayed by it no matter what it says, and they’d probably watch something else that’s on TV at the same time, like Walking Dead.
I noticed one funny thing about it all – despite being presented as promoting science we are told right from the start that we are being taken on a journey of imagination. With a disclaimer like that we can’t argue against anything shown there at all. We are being taken along with NDT traveling on a “Ship of Imagination” that looks straight out of si-fi movies, or a car key fob, so whatever happens to it can’t be taken seriously.
So here I was, looking at these cheesy CGI visuals accompanied by music that was supposed to elicit memories of good times, like Star Trek or Indiana Jones, listening to some very basic facts presented as greatest revelation on Earth, and I thought – God, I can’t sit through an hour of this. Then it got worse.
NDT was explaining our cosmic address – Earth, Solar System, Milky Galaxy, Local Group etc. With all the investment in CGi, however, they got some of the visuals horribly wrong. Passing through the asteroid belt, for example, looked like an episode from Star Wars and the ship had to maneuver between them to avoid the collision. In real life asteroids are separated by millions of kilometers, you’d probably pass through the whole belt without every seeing one let along needing to change your course.
There’s also a complaint about vague reference to Venus’s hot climate and sulphuric clouds caused by greenhouse effect. In Sagan’s times, they say, they would have referred to acid rains instead, it’s not science, it’s just pandering to politics.
Another thing is that Oort cloud is not a scientific fact, it’s just a theory, there’s no evidence for its existence whatsoever, yet there it was in all its glory as Ship of Imagination went right through it. Oort cloud, just in case, is where all our comets supposed to come from. No one has seen it, however.
The real cringer was the episode with Giordano Bruno. That wasn’t a cartoonish depiction, it was an actual cartoon presenting heroic scientist Bruno envisioning Sun being at the center of the Solar System and not only that, but Sun being just one of the stars we see in the sky, and the entire universe just being one of many. Btw, “bubble universe” is an interesting idea, we know that universes really ARE bubbles coming our of the pores on the skin of MahāViṣṇu.
Bruno is introduced as the only man in the world who thought that the Earth was not at the center of the universe and that he was jailed for this belief. “Where was he on New Year’s eve of 1600? In jail, of course” – quoting from memory. We are then shown how he got there, Copernicus that came before him was mentioned in passing and so Galileo who came after him. We are shown how he got in trouble with church, first Catholic, then Protestant, how he was ridiculed in England, how he came back to Italy, the most dangerous place in the world to do science, and how he was imprisoned for eight years but never gave up.
He is shown as some kind of Jesus, floating in the sky amongst the stars in his pure, beautiful spiritual form while his body was shacked in prison. We are shown Inquisition that eventually sentences him to death, and then he burned at a stake and his free spirit flies away, undefeated in knowledge and science.
The problem is – none of that happen, certainly not in the way presented in this so called scientific show.
Bruno wasn’t the only one who believed in heliocentric model, there were dozens of scientists before him who believed the same, not to mention the entire Vedic tradition, which, sadly, doesn’t seem to exist as part of this Cosmos’ civilization. More importantly, he subscribed to heliocentrism not because of his scientific theories but because he believed in Sun god. He was into all sorts of paganism including magic and even some sort of reincarnation and that’s what caused his rift with church, that’s what he was prosecuted for and that’s what he was asked to renounce.
Instead he was made into some sort of a martyr for freedom of thought. Even that message contradicts what was actually said in the show – he was rejected by three churches, correct, but before that happened he was ACCEPTED by those churches and they knew who they are taking on board. Likewise, he was ASKED to present his case to the audience in Cambridge, they didn’t like it but such an invitation itself is the evidence that freedom of thought was not prohibited then. Freedom of expression, sure, that’s what they had Inquisition for.
The inquisitioner was a really scary character, according to Cosmos, real anti-science guy, except that he wasn’t. He was very much into science and later was credited for correcting Galileo’s theory of tides.
So, after all this drama that lasted a quarter of the show NDT casually mentions that Bruno wasn’t really a scientists but a visionary who bla bla bla. Too late, the impression has already been made – church was the enemy of knowledge.
This is the same mistake Sagan had made, too, or so I read. In one of his episodes of original Cosmos he talked about library of Alexandria and a female scientist working there. Alexandria was a citadel of ancient knowledge, then evil, ignorant Christians came and burned it to the ground and killed the woman. Except it didn’t happen that way at all. Library was burned before Christ and episode with Christians destroying Pagan temple didn’t involve any books, and the female scientist fell victim to local politics. There were other famous women in Alexandria after her, too, so it was another cheap shot at Christianity that missed the mark. Sagan admitted the mistake, afaik, so it was all good at the end, but not after millions of people watched distorted presentation of historical facts.
This is the thing with this Cosmos – it teaches people science just like movie 300 teaches them history of ancient Greece and Persia. It’s a bad, tasteless caricature and not much more.
NDT treated Big Bang as a ball appearing in pre-existing space, for example. There was no space outside the universe, which was the size of ping pong, however. That’s just not how it looked, there was no space nor place for an observer to see the ping pong rapidly growing in size. Time was also completely distorted then, we talk about speed of expansion but to the observers at that time it might very well felt like billions and billions of years – they didn’t have the same perception of time flow as we do now. Cosmos’ presentation of Big Bang might be easy to understand but it is also wrong. Factually it’s correct, yet visually it couldn’t have possibly looked that way.
There’s another interesting thing about time – towards the end of the episode NDT presented the entire universe timeline as being compressed to one year, from Jan 1 to Dec 31. He then placed some big events like forming of the Sun and the Earth, emergence of life etc. This was in March, that was in April and so on. Our western civilization and triumph of science take only a few seconds there, four, IIRC.
Question – if Cosmos can squeeze the entire creation into one year, why can’t Bible squeeze it into six days? It’s exactly the same concept, just a different scale.
There are some good things about the show, too – I like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, as I said. He appears honest and inquisitive about the truth and he appeals to the same appreciation for the nature and universe as religious people have about God. In this sense he is more in tune with Bruno and his vision of God than with Christianity and that is not a bad thing. “Your God is too small!” is a great argument we can use ourselves, and Bruno’s idea of bubble universes each being divine and non-different from God is not too bad either.
Even if the show is misleading in many ways, it is not maliciously so. Everybody makes mistakes in their search for Absolute Truth. To NDT the Absolute appears in the form of science and in the form of universe, he is not completely wrong here. He is humble and ready to admit his own deficiencies and correct his own views, which is a great attitude when inquiring about Absolute Truth, too.
Even though it’s the age of Kali and our only dharma is chanting of the Holy Name, any quest for the Absolute should still be encouraged. So what if he denies personal God behind the universe? It’s completely natural for this kind of inquiry, he’ll get there eventually.
All considered, it’s not the worst show people can see on TV. Forget science, it’s always in a state of flux anyway, I hope people remember humility in the face of creation and appreciation for its greatness. That would be a good start.