In this episode Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes on Bible flood story and that immediately raises atheists’ appetite for some good old Bible bashing. Instead of fighting back, however, I thought that in this review I’ll just make some general comments on the topics that appear interesting from Kṛṣṇa consciousness POV because criticizing NDGT has become boring and somewhat mean.
NDGT starts with glorifying the region of Mesopotamia as a cradle of our civilization. It was the place where humans had first cities and where they invented writing. Our first reaction would probably be to object because we insist that civilization has spread out of India and there are plenty of Hindu scholars who diligently search for proof of this, not counting Bhāgavatam version. On second thought, however, we might bee seeking dubious honors here.
From modern perspective cities are signals of progress, whoever got the biggest city first is considered more advanced. From Vedic perspective, however, cities are signs of increase of the mood of passion, a sign of deterioration. In Satya Yuga there were no cities and no varṇas, everyone was a brāhmaṇa engaged in meditation, and they didn’t hunker for anything else.
Society was at best agricultural but even then sages lived on whatever they could scavenge in the forests, they didn’t need organized food production. Cities developed out of agrarian societies when there was enough stuff produced to let some people dedicate themselves to various crafts and occupations and trade their products in exchange for food and more stuff. People just wanted to have more and cities helped them to fuel their greed.
From this POV, Mesopotamians degraded first and there’s nothing to be proud of here. Similarly, inventing writing is not a sign of progress but a sign of degrading memory, I don’t think there’s a need to explain that.
One more thing, though – NDGT mentioned that Accadian Princess Enheduanna was the first one to sign her works, practically the first woman we know the name of. We should put that in proper perspective, however – people didn’t sign their work earlier because they didn’t consider themselves as authors, they simply passed the knowledge along according to paramparā system. I understand in Vedic literature it’s easier to find the names of the predecessors rather than the names of the followers who put it in writing.
Śrīmad Bhāgavatam describes how Śrila Vyāsadeva divided the Vedas and entrusted various branches to various disciples and how he complied Bhāgavatam itself, but we don’t know how it was written down and who did it. We know that it passed from Vyāsa to Śukadeva Gosvāmī to Sūta, then back to Vyāsa, and only then Vyāsa put it on paper, but that last step is omitted – the scribe himself didn’t feel that he made any contribution worth mentioning, unlike Śukadeva Gosvāmī, for example, who made Bhāgavatam sweeter than Vyāsa envisaged himself.
Anyway, Mesopotamia was mentioned for their literary creation, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and that work was mentioned because it has a story of the flood in it. By historical calculations Gilgamesh predates the Bible and so NDGT said that Bible borrowed Gilgamesh mythology. Well, that’s one way to look at it but I don’t see how it is better than saying that both books describe the same event that affected both societies. Different details would explain differences in the stories and even the Ark itself would have been remembered differently, too. We don’t care for Noah and the flood and therefore shouldn’t take sides in this argument, let Christians and scientists slug it out themselves.
Next part of the show was about life preserving itself through the metaphorical ark of DNA. For some reason NDGT went deep into panspermia fantasies. Panspermia is the idea that life is spread throughout the universe by asteroids and meteorites. There’s zero evidence for it and so it’s not even a theory, it’s strange that supposedly scientific show spent so much time on explaining it.
Actually, we shouldn’t have a problem with panspermia – according to Bhāgavatam life comes to earth from other planets via rain. It’s probably not exactly how life originated here first but that’s how living entities travel from planet to planet now, incarnating as demigods, then seeds of rice, then humans.
From the show perspective, however, panspermia doesn’t answer the question of origins of life, it just moves it away from the Earth to some distant worlds. The origin of life is a curious question – there’s a LAW of biogenesis in science which states that life comes from life but scientists refuse to accept it when it comes to life’s origin. It’s amazing to see them sidestep this obvious problem and insist that there was a case of abiogenesis somewhere many billions of years ago. They don’t allow such freedom for any other laws of nature, just this one, and only because it leads to the existence of the soul and God.
After dealing with fantasies of the past, NDGT went into fantasies of the future. Apparently he ended the episode with a key quote from Sagan himself and the build up to it was immaculate. People cried, again. Yet these fantasies sound as far removed from reality as panspermia, maybe even further.
NDGT started with the first radio signal sent into space and how it bounced back from the Moon and that gave people the idea that communicating with spaceships was possible. It happened maybe half a century before Sagan’s proud declarations, yet in this short period of time scientists imagined a great deal already. Looking back at them I can’t help but notice their extreme narcissism. Why do they assume that some fifty years of their progress would determine the future course of the entire universe? What is fifty years, or even three hundred years of modern science, on a cosmic scale? It’s nothing, it shouldn’t even register. On NDGT’s favorite cosmic calendar it’s not even a second, yet here they are, making grandiose plans of conquering the universe.
To be fair, at one point NDGT mentioned that our glorious inventions might not be used by advanced civilizations anymore, they might have moved on far better ways of communication than radio waves millions and billions years ago. Maybe they detect our radio signals but don’t answer precisely because they don’t want to talk to people who still use radios. Maybe our super duper radio telescopes broadcasting messages to the aliens are like a landline that they have disconnected a long time ago.
Another thing about this picture of progress is unhealthy optimism. NDGT makes progress a function of intelligence, according to him we just have to apply our knowledge in all seriousness. He gives an example of climate change that we know so much about yet people still refuse to acknowledge and do something about it. He gives examples of people carried away by fascist rhetorics and warns us that we shouldn’t be like them, that we should be rational.
I see two problems with this. First, it’s not clear that rationality would lead to progress. Much of the actual progress we see in everyday life is due to people being stupid and buying into all kinds of crazy ideas without thinking. That’s how scientists get their money – by inventing things and selling them to stupid people. Some of it sticks, of course, and becomes a widely recognized innovation, but I would argue that it wouldn’t be possible without mistakes and errors supported by sheer stupidity. Having lots of blind followers is not always a bad thing.
Truly intelligent people would forgo progress altogether and dedicate their lives to chanting instead, that shouldn’t be forgotten, too.
Another problem in betting on human intelligence is that as Kali Yuga progresses people’s discipline degrades. We might know a lot of good things but we do not have will power to implement them anymore. We know this from our own lives – how hard it is to follow all the rules and regulations we know are good for us. Ordinary folks are even less disciplined so I wouldn’t put any eggs into that basket.
It’s far more likely that we will end up like any civilization before us. We’ve seen the sunset of British empire already, we are looking at decline of the US going on right now. Chinese, when they overtake the world, might no be as scientifically minded and progress driven as idealists of the twentieth century. What will happen then? End of dreams?
Right now Chinese insist on their right to pollute the environment, it’s their turn to enjoy, they say, so by the time they realize that there’s a price to pay it might be too late.
I’m not saying that mad made global warming will wipe out modern civilization but the picture of eternal progress described in this show looks rather ridiculous. Everything dies, that’s another law of nature, why should our civilization be any different? Rationality fails us here again, just as in case of biogenesis.
It all comes down to the same thing – scientists proclaim their dedication to rationality and logic but fail to follow their own ideals. They say they think with their brains but as soon as they get overwhelmed by passion they forget all about that and behave as irrationally as anyone else
And that’s why truly intelligent people shouldn’t bother with any of that and take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness instead.