If you haven’t been watching Cosmos I’m deeply disappointed in you.
It is, quite frankly, one of the best things that has happened to me this winter. Neil deGrasse Tyson carries viewers through the history of our planet, our species, and our entire universe with that rare gift so few individuals have. Not only is he one of the most brilliant men alive, he has an incredible ability to communicate with less-educated individuals without talking down to them. Instead, he lifts us up to his level, not expecting us to have the background he does but also not acting as though we don’t have the ability to grasp the concepts he’s expanding on.
I love it. For a man who follows exactly two television programmes, it’s one of the best efforts at educating a populace I’ve ever seen. I appreciate the effort and motives behind Cosmos because I’m exactly the audience the programme is geared towards. As I’ve mentioned before, I went to an Evangelical high school in America after I immigrated. I was spoon-fed the whole Christianist mythos they have the gall to call ‘science.’ The earth is 6,00 years old, the Flood actually happened, God created a young earth that just appears old in order to trick you. We didn’t learn about carbon-dating, we learned what was wrong about carbon-dating. We memorised the scientific method, but added the step that the works of God were mysterious and superseded the efforts of mere men.
Sure, I knew it was wrong, I knew it was hysterically manipulative and damaging, but I never challenged it because I didn’t have the necessary information to counter it. There were no books on evolutionary biology in my school, I didn’t have access to the internet at home (it was banned for fear of the terrible enemy of pornography) and any science books from the local library had to be kept in the building. I graduated from high school at the age of eighteen, moved on to university, and was steamrolled by the terrible truth that I was essentially scientifically illiterate.
Cosmos is giving me back a little bit of the education I was cheated out of in my fundamentalist high school, and for that I thank them.
But not everyone is so happy.
Not everyone is looking up at the stars with a new sense of wonder.
Because there’s a large group of people that Cosmos threatens by its very existence.
No points for guessing who. It’s the religious. The people who demand you stop looking at the stars and instead get on your knees and bow your head. Who possibly could have guessed?
The criticism has come from multiple sources. Cosmos’ first crime was in the first episode, when it suggested that the Church’s long history of suppressing scientific advancement and discovery was sort of a bad thing. Christians came out in droves to suggest that by showing Giordano Bruno’s execution by the Christian Church as a heretic, Cosmos is nothing short of propaganda and that Tyson is historically illiterate.
So, first lesson: Tyson encourages people to learn, discover, and grow. Christians maintain that unless you depict their Church in the best possible light, you are essentially illiterate.
The second episode revolved around the Theory of Evolution, masterfully weaving the narrative of dogs with the origin of life on our planet. Again, outrage, from news syndicates that censored any suggestion that humans and apes have a common ancestor, to creationists from Answers in Genesis demanding that Cosmos give them equal airtime to voice their beliefs.
Lesson number two: Educational programmes are dishonest and incomplete if they don’t also include a talking snake. Because
the scientific method is antithesis to religious doctrine Jesus Christ our Lord says so.
Last Sunday’s episode was essentially a history lesson on the laws of science as discovered by Newton and Halley, with a special focus on comets. Comets are arguably one of the coolest and most fascinating phenomena in our solar system. Surely, no one can have an issue with comets, correct?
Oh wait, the science behind our understanding of comets flies in the face of the Word of God, so yes, you can bet the creationists are going to have a problem with these trans-Neptunian agents of Satan.
You see, comets sail through our solar systems in orbital ellipses that take many thousands of years to complete. Many are destroyed in collisions with the heavenly bodies, others run out of steam (literally) and become asteroids, but there are always more. Astronomers have theorised that many comets come from the Oort Cloud, a sphere of ice and rock chunks that orbit the sun beyond even Pluto. When one is knocked out of its orbit, it plummets towards the sun, eventually becoming a comet. The Oort Cloud is verifiable because we can see the evidence it leaves, including the existence of the Kuiper Belt.
But the existence of the Oort Cloud flies in the face of the idea that the universe is several thousands of years old, since the time it takes for a comet to travel from the cloud to the inner solar system can be many times that period. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Christian response is base denial. From the AIG website:
Actually the Oort cloud, like Peter Pan’s Neverland, has never been observed. The Oort cloud was imagined to provide a birthplace for new comets, since comets like ISON could not exist in a billions-of-years-old universe without some renewable source. The Oort cloud is thus a convenient fiction, but a fiction nonetheless.
I want to pause a moment so we can savour the rank hypocrisy in this statement. Doesn’t this sound familiar to you? Haven’t we all been told that we’re close-minded when we mention that no one has ever seen god? Supposedly, existence of God is proven through the evidence he leaves behind. Depending on who you ask this can range anywhere from the ‘perfect’ prophecies of the Old Testament to the existence of beautiful flowers. However, when it comes to the Oort Cloud, it’s absolute fantasy because no one has ever seen it. Never mind the astronomical, physical, verifiable evidence of its existence. It’s all a Satanist ploy to lead you away from Jesus.
The second hypocritical aspect of this statement is that it flies in the face of another Young Earth Doctrine: the idea that God created the universe with age. You see, there’s something else that takes a long time, millions and billions of years sometimes, to reach Earth. It’s called light. It comes from stars. Stars that are billions of light years away. Christians don’t have the luxury of explaining away the physics behind light by calling it a fantasy no one has seen because, most unfortunately, we can actually see the stars. So Christians claim that God created the light in transit, giving the appearance of a 13.5 billion year old universe. If they wanted to be consistent, AIG would claim that their deity just created comets in transit from the Oort Belt. But no, this is evangelical Christianity, and despite their claims to a superior method of science, they can’t even get their own hypotheses correct.
Lesson number three: If you can’t see it, you’re rejecting the love of God. If we can’t see it, scientists made it up to trick you.
These three lessons should put to rest an idea that more progressive Christians like to claim; the idea that religion and science are not at odds with one another. Some Christians are willing to give concessions to science, amending their holy book when it’s proven that all life evolves to adapt, or that the earth rotates around the sun, or that the stars are not fixed in the sky. But it’s done with much resentment, and always with the caveat that God definitely still exists. Many Christians claim that science is just the way we know about God’s Creation, even as they perform impressive mental gymnastics to demonstrate how a book that says the earth rests on pillars and that Joshua stopped the sun in the sky isn’t at odds with our modern understanding of the universe.
This is not just a kooky gimmick, or a eye-rolling fringe of people. This is a majority of Americans. This is another generation of children who are being denied the wonders of our world like I was. This is a crime, and it needs to stop.