Monday, March 10, 2014

Review of Cosmos

Let me start by saying that I encourage people to watch the Cosmos remake that's running on Sunday nights on Fox and National Geographic. Based on last night's initial installment there's much to like about it. The CGI is very good and the series will present a lot of information about the universe in which we live in an entertaining and very accessible fashion.

Unfortunately, I have to issue a caveat. The creators of the series are, like their progenitor Carl Sagan, metaphysical naturalists who evidently feel the need to not only present the science in attractive ways but also to disparage competing metaphysical views in ways that are misleading and unfair.

In last night's episode they spent an inordinate amount of time on the Giordani Bruno matter. Bruno was a 16th century Italian Catholic monk who was imprisoned and eventually burned as a heretic. This is tragic enough, but the narrator, Neil deGrasse Tyson, made it sound as if Bruno was a martyr to science. This is very misleading. Bruno was executed not because he promoted heterodox views about the universe, but because he denied most of the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

From Wikipedia:
Beginning in 1593, Bruno was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition on charges including denial of the Trinity, denial of the divinity of Christ, denial of virginity of Mary, and denial of Transubstantiation. The Inquisition found him guilty, and in 1600 he was burned at the stake. After his death he gained considerable fame, particularly among 19th- and early 20th-century commentators who, focusing on his astronomical beliefs, regarded him as a martyr for free thought and modern scientific ideas. However, scholars note that Bruno's ideas about the universe played a small role in his trial compared to his pantheist beliefs, which differed from the interpretations and scope of God held by the Catholic Church.
Tyson also makes much of the intolerance of religious thinkers toward people like Bruno and how we're much better off today now that we have a separation of church and state, but as Casey Luskin reminds us at Evolution News and Views, there sure is an awful lot of intolerance today. The difference between the 16th century and now is that today the intolerance is manifested by those who are hostile to religion, and they lack the political clout to actually imprison or execute their victims. Nevertheless, as a perusal of Luskin's essay will show, there are plenty of Giordano Brunos among those who are skeptical of Darwinian materialism and naturalism. Luskin lists the cases and the litany of repression, punishment, and closed-mindedness he documents is appalling.

Nor does Tyson mention that many if not most of the great scientists in the history of the discipline were themselves devout Christians, at least until the twentieth century.

Finally, Tyson avers that the qualities of science that have made it successful include the fact that science encourages its practitioners to follow the evidence wherever it leads and to question everything. Sadly, those who actually try to do this in the study of the history of life and the universe find that there are definite limits to exactly what sorts of data are allowed to count as evidence and what sorts of things one is allowed to call into question. Anything that challenges the naturalistic orthodoxy will be met with reprisals, and those who do question that orthodoxy are treated as heretics.

The Inquisition still lives today. It's just headquartered in American universities and media editorial offices rather than in the Vatican.

Even so, watch the second installment of Cosmos next Sunday. Just be aware of the metaphysical biases that are being smuggled into the science.