Everyone thinks they know the story behind “separation of church and state,” but what about church and science?
After watching “Cosmos” Sunday night, I’m wondering if we won’t need a referee for future episodes.
During the new Fox series’ impressive debut, which was introduced by President Obama and will be seen in 181 countries, host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tells the story of a 16th Century monk put to death during the Inquisition.
The monk, Giordano Bruno, “correctly” theorized that neither the Earth or sun is the center of the universe.
Science has advanced quite a bit since Bruno was burned alive, but we still don’t know the size of the universe, much less what spot represents its middle. It would be very cool if, in the future, scientists determine the Earth was the center of the universe on the day I was born, but that seems unlikely.
The animated depiction of church leaders during Bruno’s story has some riled some people.
A Catholic cardinal in one scene is depicted in what I will call “an unfavorable light” as he orders Bruno dragged away to prison. When I saw it, I mentioned to my wife that “some folks are hating this.”
Turns out I was right.
Slate has a good writeup on how “Cosmos tries to reconcile science and faith,” which says “organized religion, and the Catholic Church in particular, are presented as rigid and corrupt—the church is described as the ‘thought police’ and the priest who sentences Bruno to death looks like a very nefarious Disney villain—but faith itself is not.”
A New York Magazine writer says the series paints organized religion “as an irrelevant and intellectually discredited means of understanding factual reality.”
Personally, I liked the show. It started a bit slow, but once it got some of the perfunctory science out of the way I really enjoyed it and even learned a few things. It’s even better that it is on a major network and airing in so many countries.
But was Bruno’s story necessary? Should Cosmos have spent several minutes telling us the story of a man who was not a scientist?
Many will say yes, that it’s time someone started fighting back against what some perceive as an anti-science political agenda.
In the original series, host Carl Sagan, an agnostic, was less confrontational and he managed to inspire generations of scientists, including Tyson himself.
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality,” Sagan once said. “The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”
Wise words, but not as funny as those of my sister-in-law who said, “Does Fox know there’s a show about science on Fox?”
Note: The first episode was watched on Fox by “a modest 5.7 million with a 2.1 rating” among 18- to 49-year-olds, according to AJC TV guru Rodney Ho. Those numbers are similar to Family Guy, said Ho.