Religious Right figures are furious over Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. They want a little equal time for creationism in there. Remember, the muddle and conflicting creation stories found in Genesis must be true because God, an eyewitness to his own act of creation, wrote the account.
One problem here (besides the conflicting accounts) is that if Genesis is 100 percent to be trusted as accurate, the Earth is flat. A disc. It’s not a ball orbiting the sun. Heck, the sun doesn’t even orbit the earth. The Old Testament cosmos is a fixed system. No moving parts. And it is utterly – 100 percent – disproved by science.
As should be pretty obvious from the above diagram by Michael Paukner, the Hebrew conception of cosmos causes a few problems.
The preceding description of the world doesn’t share the same scientific view that we have, in which the Earth is one planet around one sun in a universe full of suns and planets. The ancient picture of the universe portrays a world in which the Earth is a disc surrounded by water not only on the sides, but underneath and above as well. A firm bowl (the firmament) keeps the upper waters back but has gates to let the rain and snow through. The Sun, Moon, and stars move in fixed tracks along the underside of this bowl. From below the disc, the waters break through as wells, rivers and the ocean, but the Earth stands firm on pillars sunk into the waters like the pillings of a pier. Deep below the Earth is Sheol, the abode of the dead, which can be entered only through the grave.
Right. So for the ancient Jews, there was no Southern hemisphere where seasons were reversed. No room for that on this flat earth. Obviously no problem either with creatures specific to South America or Australia on Noah’s Ark because those regions did not exist in the Jewish imagination. That’s a problem that came up later when we discovered those species. (Let’s not forget, by the way, that it was a Pagan scientist, Eratosthenes, not bound by the strictures of revealed religion, who proved the earth was not only round but who measured its circumference with a great degree of accuracy.)
Marco Rubio has been justifiably mocked for his idiotic climate change denialism, not only by Bernie Sanders, for embarrassing us as a country, and by our own Bill Day, but by Chan Lowe in the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
Because, presumably, the water would spill over the edge, if the world is a flat disc as the Bible insists, especially since the Bible also promises we won’t be done in by a flood again. If it’s not going to cover us humans, then it has to go somewhere.
Rubio mocked science as religion, and religion is a bad thing, but somehow, when religion is religion, religion is a good thing. It’s bad to have blind faith in something you can prove to be true, but good to have blind faith in something you only believe to be true.
There is also the problem (out of a literal multitude of problems) of satellites. We have satellites. They orbit the earth, which is demonstrably not a disk. Satellite communications would not – could not – exist in the Hebrew conception of the cosmos. Where are the satellites going to go when they orbit? Do they somehow navigate the Great Deep without us being aware of it? Do they skirt the Firmament above without somehow entering into those waters? Did Voyager I, when it left the solar system, not have to pass through those waters above the Firmament? How did NASA miss that event?
Voyager I is now in interstellar space. But according to the Old Testament, there is no interstellar space.
But if the Bible is 100 accurate, then what must be theologically true, but which is proven scientifically false, must still somehow be true even though it violates everything we know about the cosmos. Isn’t this a problem?
Not for the Religious Right, apparently, which, while it decries relativism, is more than happy to embrace the idea that some things in the Bible matter and some things don’t, even while insisting all things in the Bible matter. It is a completely untenable worldview. Yet they not only embrace it, they embrace it fanatically.
Lowe says Rubio is not to be blamed, and therefore, I suppose, neither should other Religious Right figures who embrace this view:
You can’t blame Rubio — who, surely, is a reasonably intelligent person — for espousing a viewpoint that has been discredited by just about every respectable scientist who isn’t in the employ of the petroleum industry. He’s required to parrot the dogma that man’s activities have nothing to do with climate change, simply because that’s what the small but influential group of Republican primary voters believes. It’s but one of their many litmus tests for ideological purity.
I do not think I am prepared to be quite so forgiving. There is nothing, for example, to stop Rubio from being a Charlie Crist, or one of the other many Republicans who have forsaken a party that has gone collectively insane. Nobody is forcing Rubio to embrace these views. It is his own lack of moral courage and integrity that has made him the mockery that he is.
Lowe is certainly right that blame attaches itself to the Republican Party, however:
You can blame the Republican Party, though, for consciously and cynically embracing a policy that is sure to make life much more difficult — and potentially untenable — for future generations. All this, because they don’t have the guts to renounce campaign money from those who would benefit today from tomorrow’s calamity. Some “family values.”
Paukner points out,
The Bible is not a book of science. It was written in a pre-scientific era and its main purpose was to communicate moral and spiritual lessons. The Children of Israel had no advantage over their neighbors when it came to matters of science. In fact, this erroneous concept of the cosmos was quite common for that era. The Hebrews were inspired by nothing more than their political and religious motivations. Thus, being ignorant of scientific facts, they thought the earth was flat, that sick people were possessed by demons, and that essentially everything was caused by either gods or demons.
The Jews then, like other ancient peoples, had an excuse. But even in the ancient world it was figured out by another Pagan scientist, Aristarchus, that the earth was not a disk, that it was round, and that it was not at the center of the universe, but rather rotated around the sun. Eratosthenes was so on top of cosmological matters that he even gave us the leap year. The lesson to be learned here is that if you are not bound to what you consider divine writ, you are free to change your thinking in accord to new discoveries.
The Religious Right, by insisting that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, ignores the obvious for what a Bronze Age worldview insists must be true. It is irresponsible, if not outright criminal, to continue to insist theology be put above science when it will lead to the deaths of millions. What Rubio is endorsing is murder, murder on a vast scale, in a bizarre and twisted homage to a supreme being whose “testament” hails his repeated acts of genocide as somehow holy.
Our lives, and our children’s lives, are at stake. I am unwilling to say he is not responsible for his own views.
Update [9:02 am May 15, 2014]. A previous version omitted reference to Bill Day’s editorial cartoon.
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.