As you can imagine, the forces of the so-called Religious Right are really not happy with the new Fox series, Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey, which premiered Sunday night. The series is, of course, a reboot of the 1980 series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which was hosted by astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan. This time around the series is hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Of course, when Sagan produced the original series, scientists could actually talk about science without being metaphorically burned at the stake. That is no longer true, and you might have heard how one local Fox station, KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City, managed to edit out the only mention of “evolution” in the series’ first episode.
Meanwhile, deGrasse finds himself attacked for an oxymoronic “blind faith” in science. Because, apparently, blind faith in the comprehension of the Cosmos of Late Bronze and Early Iron Age humans is so much more advanced, and trustworthy, than ours. If you see something bizarrely hypocritical about creationists attacking somebody for having “blind faith,” you’re not alone.
Apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis reviewed the new series, and found it lacking, finding fault with Carl Sagan’s words (heard at the beginning of the above trailer), that, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” The producers, we are warned, “have hoisted a most unscientific flag above this ‘ship of the imagination.'”
Answers in Genesis is a huge backer of what is called “young Earth creationism” and their pet astronomer, Dr. Danny Faulkner, who, for a change, actually has some scientific credentials: a B.S. (Math), M.S. (Physics), M.A. and PhD (Astronomy, Indiana University), had this to say about the Sagan’s words:
There is not a bit of science in that statement. When Sagan said it 34 years ago and then wrote it in his book, a lot of people were saying, “Wow! What a profound scientific statement,” but it’s actually a philosophical statement. It is denial of the supernatural, saying the only thing that exists is the physical world, the natural world. But to say that with any certainty Sagan had to get outside the physical universe and see that the physical universe is all that there is. And he would have had to do that in eternity past and in eternity future in order to say that. If he could really see that, then he would be god. It’s a very bold, metaphysical statement. It’s an assertion. But it’s not science. It’s not a scientific statement.
Don’t you just wish Carl Sagan were here to respond to that statement? If you’re like me, you get chills just thinking about it. But in fact, in his final book, 1996’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, he anticipated it. There, Sagan wrote that “Religions are often the state-protected nurseries of pseudoscience,” and that pseudoscience itself “is easier to contrive than science, because distracting confrontations with reality – where we cannot control the outcome of the comparison – are more readily avoided. The standards of argument, what passes for evidence, are much more relaxed.” Also, he points out that “Pseudoscience speaks to powerful emotional need that science often leaves unfulfilled” and warns that at its heart “is the idea that wishing makes it so.”
Wishing definitely plays a role in Faulkner’s thinking. You have to wonder when, precisely, science took the supernatural into its embrace. The absurdity of the claim makes a mockery of Faulkner’s scientific credentials, because even the word “supernatural” (which is a medieval word, by the way: supernātūrālis: supra “above” + naturalis “nature”) is defined (by my Oxford American Dictionary) as “referring or relating to events, forces, or powers that cannot be explained by science or the laws of nature.”
Science, then, by its very nature, cannot include the supernatural. Notice how Faulkner tries to denigrate Sagan’s words as “philosophical” while his own embrace of the supernatural is somehow scientific. Science becomes no more than a “bold metaphysical assertion” while religion-based pseudoscience becomes – you guessed it – science.
Answers in Genesis complains,
In short, the opening of Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey spends an hour (less with commercials) summarizing the naturalistic evolutionary view of the origin of life and all things, tricks out the story with colorful computer-generated graphics and photography, and dismisses any religious-based objections by echoing Bruno’s 16th century challenge that our view of God must simply be too small, thus inviting the theistic evolutionary view to become comfortable in the notion that God used a toolkit of star stuff to create us. (Read more about the problems with compromising the plain teachings of God’s Word with the fallible and unverifiable claims of evolution and billions of years in “10 Dangers of Theistic Evolution,” “Feedback: Theistic Evolution,” “Jesus, Scripture and Error: An Implication of Theistic Evolution,” and “Theistic Evolution: An Incoherent and Inconsistent Worldview?”)
Wait just a second: Evolution is unverifiable and the claims made by unknown authors (there is more than one creation story in Genesis) based on Bronze Age religious belief IS verifiable?
We are told that,
The scientific method has led to the discoveries and technological leaps that shape our lives and our understanding of the universe. Unfortunately, when it comes to the topic of unobservable origins, mainstream scientists who believe big bang cosmology and molecules-to-man evolution think that the god-free framework they have invented is a factual reality that accurately and reliably describes a past they can never examine. They test their ideas about the past within their own concept of what the past was like, and they believe they are actually using the scientific method to make observations about the past.
Coming from a religious group that apparently knows less about science and the supernatural than did people in the 16th century, when the word “supernatural” was first used, this is a laughable statement. Answers in Genesis complains that abiogenesis “violates the fundamental laws of biology” but the book of Genesis does not. “Evolutionary blind faith in a ‘great mystery’ – such as that invoked by Bill Nye in the recent Nye-Ham Debate—trumps the scientific method.”
Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, if the first segment is any indication, will attempt to package unconditional blind faith in evolution as scientific literacy in an effort to create interest in science. We hope that future segments will spend more time showing actual scientific observations—such as the brief part of this episode showing where earth is in relation to the rest of the universe. In fact that segment of the program is reminiscent of the theme of the Creation Museum Planetarium production, Created Cosmos. In Created Cosmos we see how we as people of earth stand in relation to the immensity of God’s Creation. So seeing the enormity of what God in His power created, we get a better perspective on God’s great love for us. God made all that we have just seen, told us how and when He did it in His Word, chose to continue loving rebellious human beings, and sent Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into the this world to suffer and die to bear the sin-guilt of us all (Hebrews 2:9-10). Why should such a great God, who can create the universe and the atom and all life, care about us?
We maintain that God our Creator was the only eyewitness to the time of origins and that He has given us the truth about how He created everything in His Word. He is the one that created the natural laws that govern the physical world and make science possible. Drawing correct conclusions about the unobservable past requires evaluating ideas about the past within the framework of the Creator’s history. Drawing correct conclusions about our own nature, how we should live our lives, and what will happen to each of us when we die also requires that we get our information from the Word of the Source of life, the One who created the cosmos.
That’s fine. But that’s not science. That’s religion. That’s not fact, it’s belief. And in fact, in he Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan had something to say about that, as well:
I meet many people offended by evolution, who passionately prefer to be the personal handicraft of God than to arise by blind physical and chemical forces over aeons from slime. They also tend to be less than assiduous in exposing themselves to the evidence. Evidence has little to do with it: What they wish to be true, they believe is true.
There is a difference, after all, between belief and fact, between wishes and truth, between pseudoscience and science. And insisting on adherence to a Bronze Age level of belief about the cosmos and its origins, makes no sense at all in the face of 21st century science. And insisting, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, that the Bible is somehow science and that science is not, is about as sad and sorry an example of wishful thinking as you can imagine.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.