With all this football filling the air I almost forgot the last episode of Cosmos. There was noting special about it, though, just the usual fare of CGI, a quick roundup of cartoonish characters from the previous episodes (they were not just drawings, they were oversimplified and made to fit NDGT’s narrative, too), and a couple of tear jerking good-bye speeches by NDGT and Sagan himself.
The show started with a tribute to Sagan when NDGT talked about library of Alexandria, which was the topic of the first episode in Sagan’s original series. It was also the one that Sagan got wrong but NDGT was not in the mood to correct injustices so he just kept on drilling the same eurocentric, science vs religion, myth about the affair.
Sagan presented the story of Hypatia, a brilliant woman of Alexandria, and said that she was brutally murdered by a fundamentalist Christian mob for her scientific views. NDGT didn’t go into details but stayed faithful to the same narrative. When later the mob came to destroy the library, there was no one left to defend it.
Library of Alexandria was destroyed by fire many centuries earlier and whatever remained was lost to some other causes. By the time of Hypatia there was no library to speak of and when the mob came they destroyed a part of the museum that held various pagan artifacts but no scrolls.
Hypatia herself was murdered in revenge for killing a monk brought to the city by a rival of her political patron. The mob didn’t care for her scientific or religious views, she was caught in a political struggle between two Christian leaders.
Science was never under Christian attack in those days anyway, Christians treated “pagan” science as they treated Egyptian gold – it was very welcome regardless of its origins. Alexandria, btw, was not really a Greek city, it was in Egypt, after all, and although its rulers were culturally Greek eventually they have become as Egyptian as general population there. It’s just that atheist promoters can’t give any credit to non-western, undemocratic Egyptians.
They say that Alexandria declined because of slavery but fail to notice that it was build and prospered on the backs of slaves, too. None of it is in the show but it’s a popular version of history flogged in various books and even Hollywood movies (which where most people learn their history from).
One more thing – it’s very unlikely that the library held up to a million scrolls, it wasn’t simply big enough, the actual number was maybe ten percent of that. Still, it was easily the biggest and the oldest library of its time in THAT part of the world. Chinese had their own libraries but who cares, certainly not NDGT and the writers of this show.
NDGT also claimed that Alexandrian library housed Greek translations of the Old Testament that were later used to write European translations of the Bible, if not for Alexandria, there’d be no Old Testament, he implies. Wrong. Medieval scribes and later printers had access to original Hebrew manuscripts, too, and they used them along with Greek Septuagint.
Hmm, so far I covered only the first two minutes of the episode, before even the opening sequence. At this rate I won’t finish this review today.
Moving on, in no particular order.
A lot has been said in this episode about scientific outlook in life. NDGT, for example, talked about a hypothetical planet somewhere in the Milky Way and their hypothetical civilization that thinks they know everything. It’s just one small, nearly invisible dot and so their confidence looks silly to us. Similarly, NDGT said, we cannot claim to know everything, it’s okay to admit that we don’t know things, that’s what makes science so wonderful.
Good point, but there’s another way to look at it, too.
NDGT admits that science doesn’t know everything but that is not our problem with it, our problem is that whatever they do claim to know is wrong, too. He somehow misses this point when he speaks about supernovae with absolute confidence that this is indeed what happens with those stars.
Atheists somehow say that they might be wrong and claim absolute knowledge over certain matters at the same time. Whenever they lecture us on physics or evolution they never express any doubts and so they do not live by their own principles (that they might hold erroneous views).
An example of their imperfect knowledge is the dark matter and dark energy that NDGT spent a considerable time on in this episode. Yes, it’s an example of something that science admits it doesn’t know, but a better way to look at it is to admit that it is our natural laws that do not correctly describe the nature rather than expect to find something that would make nature to comply.
Dark matter and dark energy is a perfect opportunity for us to re-examine our fundamental understanding about how the world works, just as Newtonian laws had to be re-examined a hundred years ago in light of theory of relativity and quantum physics.
Newton laws were not wrong, per se, but they described nature’s behavior only under certain conditions in a narrow range of possible values. Good enough for our every day life but useless if we go too small or too big or too fast.
Similarly, dark matter is more likely to produce a more complete theory of everything rather than try to fit yet unexplained and unobserved phenomena into our current laws. At some point our quantum mechanics and our relativity would become only a subset for that new theory, good enough for our present day concerns but fundamentally wrong when trying to explain the rest of the universe.
Therefore I think we can consider NDGT’s confidence in describing the workings of the distant stars or optimism about fitting dark matter in our present theories as a bit foolish.
Oh, one more “scientific” fact – NDGT claimed that manganese nodules in the ocean grow at a steady rate, very slowly, and so we can use their composition to find what effect cosmic radiation from supernovae explosions millions of years ago had on Earth. Except that these nodules can also grow much much faster, million times faster than NDGT asserts in this show. A rock he held in this hand could be grown in a lab in a few months, not billions of years. Lab conditions are, of course, not natural, but how can we know that over the course of those billions of years natural conditions were not favorable to super fast growth of those nodules? We can’t.
There was a big segment in this episode about Voyagers, space probes that have left the solar system and continued into the interstellar space. They are awesome, alright, but they also gave rise to two important realizations that we need to re-examine.
First is the inscriptions on one of these Voyagers. Sagan, who worked on this project back in the seventies, thought it would be cool to leave a message for aliens there. NDGT describes these inscriptions in detail but I want to challenge his assumptions.
First, he says that the only language we can communicate with alien civilization is that of science, and so representations of hydrogen molecules and positions of the known pulsars in the universe were inscribed to demonstrate our scientific prowess.
Well, science is not the only language, of course. What this message conveys is that we are an atheistic civilization that relies strictly on empirical knowledge and has no idea about the existence of God. This is not true, only *some* parts of our civilization are like that, but we also have a long history of cultivating transcendental knowledge, even if most of it is forgotten.
What’s more embarrassing is that Sagan didn’t know this part of our history at all, not that he just dismissed it as inconsequential. They didn’t include ANY representations of transcendence in that Voyager inscription, no images of Gods, no OM, nor symbols from Islam or Christianity, nothing, but they got the recording of Sagan’s son and brainwaves of his lusty wife.
How self-centered of him, despite their professed humility in the face of Cosmos.
That’s another point they love to talk about – how insignificant we all look in the big scheme of things. NDGT played a famous paragraph read by Sagan himself about the Earth being a pale blue dot, a last image sent by Voyager as it was drifting out of solar system.
Yes, we are small indeed and our interests here are insignificant, but that message should also be addressed to our modern atheistic rulers and scientific preachers who think they’ve got it all figured out and that they found one true science and true democracy to rule us all, and are not hesitant to kill others in its name.
Then, at the very end, NDGT went on again about how uplifting it is to be a scientist and to marvel at the universe, how humbling it is to admit our insignificance and how encouraging it is to admit deficiencies in our knowledge. He stressed that gaps in scientific knowledge are not its downside but its strength, that by not knowing everything we strive to know more, which is presumably not true of religionists.
Well, he might not be aware of it but religions do not claim to know everything either. It’s the starting point of their inquiry – the world cannot be known just as God cannot be known in full.
We do not claim to know all the answers and we state that it is impossible to know all the answers, but we know answers to some questions, the ones that are truly important.
Here’s where we diverge with atheists – they think that knowing everything in the universe, big and small, visible and invisible, is of utmost importance and that humanity should spend all its energy on discovering those things.
We treat them as trivial instead. We say that discovering our relationships with God is far more uplifting and inspiring than discovering the creation. If that’s what NDGT wants to do with his life, fine, but for us it’s “meh”.
It’s not that we don’t understand and don’t appreciate his feelings. What he is so excited about is like sex or alcoholism – we understand the attraction and we appreciate its power but it’s not what we would consciously cultivate in ourselves. Just like scientific process, these addictions have no limits, but that is not a reason for us to value them any higher. It’s just “meh”, we’d rather do something else.
Christians are more radical in their approach here. They claim God would smite and destroy anyone who’d dare to worship the creation but not the Creator, their God is vengeful that way. We are more laid back and accepting.
If NDGT feels awe and inspiration by observing Lord’s universal form – that’s great. Not as good as being inspired by the Lord Himself but better than being a self absorbed prick who thinks he is the center of the universe.
I’ll end this review with NDGT’s lesson on reducing one’s ego:
As with everything I said about NDGT – it’s good, it’s a step in the right direction, but we, as devotees, want to step a lot further.
Unfortunately, NDGT is being used as a tool in promoting gross atheism, and I don’t know if such gradual approach to self-realization will be of any use in Kali Yuga when our lives are short and we can’t afford to go slow.
All in all, Cosmos was a great show, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a talented and intelligent man, but none of that matters if the viewers are not given enough intelligence to start chanting the Holy Name, and in this aspect the show is of very limited value.