Tyson Gets Around the 'Cosmos'


As the war on science, empiricism and rationality being waged by what I call the “faux-Christian” right wing intensifies, the new edition of Cosmos arrives at a critical time. And it is well-suited for the considerable challenges it faces and helps to address.

The 1980 Cosmos: A Personal Voyage hosted and co-written by Carl Sagan was the most-watched public television series at the time. It arrived after two decades of space programs that launched mankind beyond earth’s atmosphere to eventually land and walk on the moon. And on the eve of the US space shuttle flights and the deployment of the international space station.

Despite all that and the fact that outer space remains the new and final frontier, substantive progress towards further exploring space, creating spacegoing civilization and utilizing its resources remains largely stalled. And mankind continues to wallow in and even exacerbate its serious earthbound issues – the indisputable fact of critically dangerous climate being just one – and make little if any forward motion towards securing a greater and better future.

The sequel Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey features eminent astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as its host, and his genial and informative presence strikes a perfect note for reminding America of the nature and origins of life on this planet and the universe. Sagan’s original collaborators Ann Druyan and Steven Soter return to co-write the new series, and executive producer Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame oversees animated sequences that depict the development of modern astronomy, physics and science in relationship to the history of mankind and how we regard the skies above.

After the first of its 13 episodes debuted on Fox TV networks – ironically, as it news channel is the primary spout for commentary that supports the chaff of ignorant anti-scientific babble and pseudo-religionist babble – brought immediate and raucous demands from creationists for equal time. Fox wisely did not accede to such silliness. Ancient myths and parables are neither the same nor comparable to science, much as conservatives are trying to not just make but institute it so. “Cosmos” provides a most needed and refreshening counterweight to the dangerous false equivalency of science and religion (there is a true one; read on).

At the same time and also ironically Cosmos is being hailed as a force to enhance the stature of atheist viewpoints. But in its fourth episode, Tyson clearly and eloquently states what those like myself who bow to both empiricism and intelligent modern progressive faith believe: That the wonder if not miracle of the birth of the universe with the Big Bang and the development of life on earth in its wondrous diversity and interwoven complexity inspire awe and deepened faith in a power so much greater than us.

It in no way disputes atheism, and the weight of the atheist accent on verifiable and provable facts about our existence is a welcome force against the all but childishly moronic belief that the Bible – a book ridden with contradictions – is all actual fact and composed by the inerrant hand of God. Cosmos basically explains what is and the why and how within that as we can best ascertain or theorize through use of the scientific method.

The show is certainly an entertaining and engaging way for those of us who are already scientifically informed to both brush up on and expand our knowledge and understanding of our world and the universe. The big issue is whether it might reach and influence the generally closed minds of doubters plus hopefully bring new generations into the miraculous wonder that is astrophysics and the vast realm that lies beyond Planet Earth.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2014


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