Another episode of Cosmos rolled out a few days ago. The show is past its half way mark, they already covered big topics like evolution, origin of the universe, atoms etc and they have probably saved a couple of hard hitting topics for the finale, so now it’s just fluff to fill the spacetime.
This entire episode was about fight against lead contamination in consumer products. Wow, Space Time Odyssey indeed. Graphics were still superb, cartoons carried the rest, and there were a few stunning vistas, Grand Canyon included. What does Grand Canyon has got to do with lead poisoning? Quite a lot, actually, but nothing direct.
There were two converging themes to this episode and there was one man at the center of both – Clair Patterson. He lead scientific query into determining the age of the Earth and in the process discovered that we have too much lead in our environment. As if to make sure that this episode was not about origins of Earth, it was called “Clean Room” in reference to Patterson’s discovery of lead contamination in everyday objects.
Striving to build a cleanest possible lab was not going to catch many people imagination. Neither was using geology as the main science behind this episode. I’m referring to snobby attitude towards geology in communities practicing “real” science. Geology to science is like dentistry to medicine, or so the common wisdom goes.
Anyway, lets start at the beginning – on the edges of the Grand Canyon. With a little bit of help from the CGI department Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the presenter, managed to lift layers of sediments to demonstrate how they were formed over time. He picked out a couple of layers and explained how old they were and what kind of life was available on Earth when they were formed. This was a clear shoutout to Ken Ham from Nye-Ham debate earlier this year.
NDGT was a bit more generous than Bill Nye, though – he admitted that layers of sediment grow at wildly differing rates and sometimes a foot thick layer could take a thousand years to form and sometimes only a few days. He even mentioned floods – a clear tip of the hat to Young Earth Creationists.
OTOH, he also dismissed using Bible for Earth chronology but I don’t remember exactly why. He mentioned a Christian scientist who first calculated ages of Biblical dynasties and “begats” and traced them back from a real historical person but somehow it didn’t satisfy NDGT. That kind of scientific approach to history satisfied Isaac Newton but that’s not kind of history they mention on this show, which pretends that no scientist ever believed in Bible.
Instead, NDGT proposed an isotope based dating and the show explained the process very well – some radioactive elements found in nature are, well, radioactive, means they emit some rays and energy and as a result their molecular composition changes. In this case he talked about uranium and explained how it goes through a couple of such changes until it turns into lead, a stable element that does not decay anymore.
He then said that by knowing the rate of decay and the ratio of yet undecayed uranium to already decayed lead we can determine how long the process took. Then, by calculating the age of meteorites, we can guess how old is the cosmic matter that was used in forming the Earth itself.
This works only if their underlying theory of how Solar system was formed is correct, mind you. No one was able to demonstrate how exactly all those objects rotating around the Sun snowballed into planets. They say gravity did it but that’s not really an explanation until we can build some sort of a model demonstrating that it could actually be possible.
So, meteorite remains were taken from a crater in Arisona and given to that Claire Paterson to find how much lead was formed there already. Another guy was calculating the amount of uranium at the same time. His results were always consistent but Patterson’s were all over the place. That’s when he discovered that his lab must have been contaminated by lead from outside and he became a cleanliness freak, probably developed and OCD, too. In the cartoon he was shown walking around town and seeing lead contamination everywhere as if it was hallucination.
He build a clean lab, determined the age of the Earth, and continued to study lead levels in our environment. At the time lead was thought to be good for you and harmless, even though it was also developed into a chemical weapon and parts of the manufacturing for leaded petrol were handled under almost military rules.
Big oil and car companies employed their own scientists to prove that there’s nothing wrong with lead and that current levels were absolutely natural. Patterson didn’t believe that and studied lead levels in deep oceans and Antarctic ice. There was a bit of politics involved but in the end he could conclusively prove that lead epidemic was man made and therefore unnatural and dangerous. NDGT then showed a diagram of how ban on lead in consumer products affected lead levels in people.
He stopped there but there are theories now that this sudden ban on lead was responsible for crime wave of the eighties, as if lead addicts went cold turkey and couldn’t control themselves. Interesting.
That’s basically it for this episode. Nothing too controversial, no major wrongs, no obvious lies, nothing to dispute, really. We can say that uranium dating is unreliable and that we can’t know for sure that uranium’s rate of decay didn’t change over billions of years but, in principle, that is not a very strong argument. YEC people claim that dating of the same Grand Canyon using different isotopes gives its age anywhere between 500 million and 1.5 billion years but I’m too lazy to investigate if there are similar discrepancies with dating of meteorites.
Personally, my most memorable moment was when NDGT said “Earth was built”. I know he didn’t mean that but this phrasing clearly implies a creator. All his arguments cannot alter even his own basic understanding of what has happened, he just refuses to acknowledge it.
Another thing that I took from this episode is this – sometimes science looks solid and its findings indisputable, and yet they go against śāstra. What can we say then? Usually we look for errors in scientific judgment, we know they are there because conditioned life without errors is impossible, but what if we don’t find any? Should we believe science over Vedas then?
This could become a tough call for many but one thing we should remember – we live under the illusion that is meant to be believable. Actually, we can’t see past this illusion, if it wants to convince us that something is real it will always win and we will always lose. Beings far greater than us tested it and found themselves totally bewildered, so if it happens to us we shouldn’t panic. It is supposed to look this way – as solid, reliable, correct, unassailable truth.
As far as our bodies and minds go – that’s exactly what we should see in this world, and we do, every time we put our hopes into happiness derived from our senses.
So, if we remember this fact then we should rather cherish the moments when we see something clearly wrong and Vedas being clearly right, and we should not be surprised that at other times this vision goes away and illusion looks real.
Kṛṣṇa will never look as “real” as the illusion, holy name will never sound as “good” as Katy Perry and our Bhāgavatam classes will never be as well researched as modern science, that’s not what we should be going for. When we actually perceive Kṛṣṇa on the pages of Bhāgavatam He will look far more real than anything we see in this world but in a completely different way. He will appear as having a parallel existence, never quite crossing into this world but never really separated either, as per our philosophy.
What I am saying is that we shouldn’t expect to see the Lord with our material eyes and understand Him with our material brains, and so we shouldn’t expect our faith to be backed up by empirical observations either. I hope that makes sense.
Ultimately, it’s not either science or religion – both can be simultaneously true, one as part of an illusion, the other as a superior energy and a superior state of existence. We should not think that if science is winning than Kṛṣṇa is losing, they are not related that way, it’s only the materialists who think so but why should we believe them?
Their reasoning is useless for us and they won’t take us closer to Kṛṣṇa. So what if THEY like to think that way? Good for them, we have our own views and values.