‘Cosmos’ teaches science, slams church

Reading banned books used to be a lot more difficult. (Image from Fox)

Reading banned books used to be a lot more dangerous. (Image from Fox)

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.

75 comments Add your comment

(the other) Rodney

March 10th, 2014
12:45 pm

I’m waiting for the eventual “there’s a war on Christianity so let’s boycott Cosmos”. Odds are the fundies didn’t watch last night so they’ll have to wait a day or so for Fox News to tell them all to be outraged.


March 10th, 2014
12:53 pm

If Obozo was involved in any sort of way, I want nothing to do with it.

Logical Dude

March 10th, 2014
1:06 pm

(the other) Rodney: ““there’s a war on Christianity so let’s boycott Cosmos””

My family went to a church that led a boycott on the original Cosmos. Merely because it went against the belief that God created the earth about 6000 years ago.


March 10th, 2014
1:12 pm

Please do not confuse catholicism with other denominations. Catholics freely knew of the child molesting that was going on & tried to hide it by moving priests around.


March 10th, 2014
1:17 pm

Joe, its that kind of simple minded thinking that kept Obozo in office and will keep people like him in 2016.


March 10th, 2014
1:22 pm

I liked it and think they rightfully portrayed the church as they were back in those time – tryannical thought police who thought they were infallible.


March 10th, 2014
1:37 pm

The Vaiican Observatory was established in 1891. The home observatory is at Castel Gandolfo, Italy and the Vatican Observatory Research Group, is hosted by Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, Tucson and the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope is located at the Mount Graham International Observatory in southeastern Arizona.

The Vatican Observatory Research Group operates the 1.8m Alice P. Lennon Telescope with its Thomas J. Bannan Astrophysics Facility, known together as the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT). This is located at the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO) in southeastern Arizona.


March 10th, 2014
1:41 pm

George Mathis, are you sure you watched the show, or even the original?

Cosmos has always been more than just the science we know about, but the journey to coming to that understanding. This version of Cosmos wouldn’t be Cosmos without stories like Bruno’s. The host even said as much in the first few minutes of the show.

What do you want? The Catholic Church accepts it was wrong about this and many other thigns it did back then. Are you looking for another side of the coin person to come on to the show and ‘balance’ it by defending the Inquisition? Seriously?!

George Mathis

March 10th, 2014
1:49 pm

I watched the show, but I question why they used the story of a non-scientist in a show about science.


March 10th, 2014
2:15 pm

“Joe, its that kind of simple minded thinking that kept Obozo in office and will keep people like him in 2016.”

Agreed, the simple-minded thinking from the Right and lack of new ideas will likely result in another Democrat victory in 2016.


March 10th, 2014
2:16 pm

“tryannical thought police who thought they were infallible.”

The Medieval church sounds oddly like the crop of Republicans running for the GOP Senate nomination.


March 10th, 2014
2:20 pm

I find it humorous that the liberal left claims that the religious right is closed-minded, judgmental and hateful. However, most of the comments that are anti-religion are as hateful as they come. Hmm.


March 10th, 2014
2:22 pm

@George 1:49pm
I believe that the reason why they used a story of a non-scientist was stated towards the end of the show. “It gave others a target to aim at, if only to disprove it.” Tyson acknowledged that it was a lucky guess. But isn’t that what science is all about? Proving or disproving an idea, no matter how crazy it may seem at the time? Scientists aren’t the only ones that can come up with ideas that can advance what we know of ourselves, the world around us and the universe. I think using a non-scientist is a way encourage everyone to put their ideas out there without fear and see what happens.


March 10th, 2014
2:25 pm

“However, most of the comments that are anti-religion are as hateful as they come.”

Ahh yes, like the average “closed-minded, judgmental and hateful” member of the religious right, you don’t seem too keen on evidence to bolster your claims.


March 10th, 2014
2:28 pm

Science is man’s way of trying to understand what God created.


March 10th, 2014
2:29 pm

didn’t watch this one…just too busy working. However, I used to watch the original show and found it interesting. BTW, I am a fundamentalist Christian. Based only on what I’ve read here, here are my thoughts. The past was what it was. We can’t deny that. People died for all sorts of wacked ideas and, yes, the Catholic Church had a lot to do with that. Yet, there are gracious, good, Catholics who do all sorts of wonderful things. Mother Teresa was Catholic. JFK was Catholic and (morality aside) many liked his brand of presidency. Second, all organized religion isn’t the same. There are all types of “brands” out there so it can’t be lumped into one category. I am a fundy and a Baptist, but think it’s horrible (and anti-Biblical) what Westboro Baptist folks do, as an example. Beyond “religion,” you really have to look at each person also. There are bad Baptists, bad Methodists, bad Catholics, bad “unsaved,” bad agnostics and bad atheists. Just as there are good people in all categories as well.
Finally, yes, science and faith can and do mix. Science is merely the study of what God has created. There have been many Christian scientists. Sir Isaac Newton was devout, and studied Bible prophecy prolifically, but kept that private out of fear of retribution from the Catholic Church. His studies are quite public now.
As a sidenote, many of what we would call “born again Christians” were also killed in the Inquisition because they believed in individual priesthood of believers. That, according to the Catholic Church in those days, was heresy.

Hillary's Food Taster

March 10th, 2014
2:33 pm

Cosmos had more commercials than the Super Bowl. I like Tyson. Not as much as he does but I admire his knowledge, enthusiasm, and flare for showmanship. Unlike Morgan Freeman, he’s not just an actor reading a script. But it was too much. Sounds of spaceships going through a vacuum. As they said about Alien I space no one can hear you scream. Neil was shown walking through a forest and was about to say something profound. But then there was a commercial and I must have missed it. And waterfalls? What does that have to do with the Cosmos. BTW, anyone named Bruno deserves to be burned at the stake.


March 10th, 2014
2:33 pm

Earnest question, as a fundamentalist Christian, do you believe the earth is 10,000 years old?


March 10th, 2014
2:52 pm

They also aired this on fox sports 1 channel. Kinda odd if you ask me.


March 10th, 2014
2:53 pm

They added the part about Bruno because it was meant to illustrate how important imagination is for science. Theories and hypothesis have to be thought of first. While Bruno wasn’t a scientist and didn’t have the tools to test his theory, his story is still important to the story of science. He was inspired by this vision that he had of there being an infinite universe, and he questioned things. He believed in his theory so much so that he ended up being killed for it. He questioned what he was told was “the word of God”, much like the scientific community is trying to do in our age. Only now, it isn’t one man vs the world, its the scientific community vs young earth creationists. I really enjoyed learning about Bruno and thought that his story was absolutely worthy of being told.


March 10th, 2014
2:57 pm

I will note that many scientists were priests, when the Church was less insecure.

Mark Adams

March 10th, 2014
2:59 pm

Finally, some intelligent TV. Enough of the Duck Dynasty jesus-fest. It is time our children are exposed to facts (science) and push away mythology.


March 10th, 2014
3:02 pm

Religion is a bunch of superstitious nonsense. The end.


March 10th, 2014
3:02 pm

I have no problem with the “mythology” if people choose to believe. I have a problem when people begin to put their religious beliefs on equal footing with scientific data which can be proven empirically.

I’m an agnostic universalist though I currently worship with the Lutheran church.

Ricky Willamson

March 10th, 2014
3:16 pm

I loved every second of the show. My wife hated it and went to bed. I have to sit through basically 8 hours of karaoke every week where I never get a turn in the form of the voice and idol, so I was glad to get to watch something cool. I’m glad they did the Bruno piece as well. What good is the mistakes of the church in the past if they don’t acknowledge them now. They were wrong about the Earth, and the sun, and they’re wrong about evolution now. I equate it to being the kid that tells the other kid that there’s no Santa Claus. I’m telling the truth yet, I’m the bad guy.


March 10th, 2014
3:21 pm

“I currently worship with the Lutheran church.”

Ha, yep, those Lutherans are really preaching about the cosmos these days, having eliminated all things Christian and Jesus. Hey SBinF…hypocrisy called, you apparently went missing from their plantation!

Ricky Willamson

March 10th, 2014
3:24 pm

Facts are facts. Those priests were horrible people that tortured and killed in the name of god. At least with other historically evil entities and constructs like the huns, the 3rd reich, khmer rouge, etc, you can point out their mistakes against humanity and attach it to their ideals. Racism is bad, genocide is bad. However since the priests tortured and killed whom they saw fit in thename of god it’s ok. Well it may be worse, because racism is abd to begin with, but a message of peace and love contorted to the church’s will is well you get the picture. I want a cosmos shirt.


March 10th, 2014
3:32 pm

“Ha, yep, those Lutherans are really preaching about the cosmos these days, having eliminated all things Christian and Jesus. Hey SBinF…hypocrisy called, you apparently went missing from their plantation!”

I have no idea what that means. I assume you selectively chose to disregard the rest of my comment, the operative part where I say that I am an AGNOSTIC.

I choose to attend a Lutheran church because I enjoy the tradition, music, community, and the number of charitable activities in which the church engages. Most importantly, they don’t believe in forcing religion on everyone as some other Christian traditions do.

Hidden Agenda

March 10th, 2014
3:37 pm

The show lost me at…”introduced by president Obama.” You just can’t recover from that.

[...] (blog)Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey begins by going as big as science canA.V. Club Denver/Boulder‘Cosmos’ teaches science, slams churchAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Daily Beast -Christian Science Monitor -Fox Newsall 155 news [...]

Flyover Mo

March 10th, 2014
3:48 pm

It disturbs me that a positive 1980s show by Sagan, who says that “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality,” is being maligned by a new show that encourages a leftist point of view. Just because you met Sagan doesn’t mean that you know or can represent Sagan’s sense of discovery about science. A couple of images and statements spook me about this show. It wasn’t the depiction of the Catholic church. It was that Bruno turned his head from the cross that was disturbing. This was purely Seth MacFarlane. And was he there to see Bruno burn and know how he reacted? It’s not religion that was responsible for Bruno’s death but the PEOPLE WANTED TO CONTROL THOUGHT that were the issue. In Christ’s time, the Pharisees wanted to control Christ. In Bruno’s time it was the inquisition. In our time…?

Also, the statement that the dead trees that we burn now are ruining our environment. Didn’t the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs cause more green house gases than that? Yet the earth survived. For that matter, aren’t there other theories out there than the “dead tree” theory (that may not be true) that explain where petroleum-based products come from? Even NASA is saying that there is no evidence for global warming. Yet, we have policies out there based on these theories that have magically become proven that are shutting down coal plants (with nothing to replacement them). If it were true “science” it would help us explore our options rather than dig deeper into our pockets so the people in charge can jet around and have parties. If this trend continues, will we have enough money left to even be able to watch a TV show in Cosmos in the near future?

Steve Largo

March 10th, 2014
3:55 pm

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson.


March 10th, 2014
4:02 pm

Steve Largo and Science has been proven Wrong before.


March 10th, 2014
4:08 pm

If my candidate were elected by endlessly repeating “hope and change” the first time and then offering “forward” the second time around, I would not call anyone anywhere simple minded. Obama was elected and reelected by the simplest minds in America.

Class of '98

March 10th, 2014
4:28 pm

When this topic is discussed on these kinds of programs, it always bends the truth. For instance, while Galileo was imprisoned for his findings, it was at a plush villa. He wasn’t shackled in a dungeon.

I watched the show last night, and I have seen all the original “Cosmos” episodes with Sagan. I love science and astronomy, but these kinds of shows are going on blind faith when they discuss the origins of life itself.

We know nothing more about how life began than the Neanderthal did. Lightning striking pond scum does not convince me. Leading scientists “believe” this simply because they have come up with no better explanation.

If it convinces you, that’s fine. Just be aware it is not scientific and requires 100% faith at this point in our scientific knowledge of how life began

Class of '98

March 10th, 2014
4:29 pm

By the way, I realize Galileo wasn’t mentioned in last night’s show, if I’m not mistaken.


March 10th, 2014
4:34 pm

Everyone…. Not all Libs are idiots and not all Repubs are religious.

I’m a libertarian that leans right, who despises government officials wasting my money but I also do not like organized religion and I love science.

Currently both parties are in shambles if u ask me….


March 10th, 2014
4:54 pm

Geez George, the show is named “Cosmos.” It really shouldn’t be a mystery why they covered a dude who envisioned the cosmos. And brace yourself, they might mention a few other people—like ancient Greek philosophers—who aren’t strictly considered scientists.

Just FYI so you don’t bunch your undies.


March 10th, 2014
5:06 pm

“Obama was elected and reelected by the simplest minds in America.”

Thanks for proving my point. It’s a wonder, with such original thinking, why the GOP has won the popular vote only once in the last 6 presidential elections.

I get it, if I don’t support you, it’s because I’m too stupid to know better.


March 10th, 2014
5:18 pm

SBinF….hell the Kardashian Tramps are Popular & Miley Virus is Popular but that doesn’t make them Right or the people that like them SMART.


March 10th, 2014
5:36 pm

That’s certainly one way to rationalize the electoral realities. A wiser person might think of a way to include people rather than exclude them with inane, imagined insults.

“People don’t vote for us because they aren’t smart.”

Isn’t really a viable policy for winning elections and governing.


March 10th, 2014
5:49 pm

What a load of hogwash! Obamaganda masquerading as cutting edge science programming. I turned it off after about 20 min.”Hi kids! It’s me, the big guy! Your buddypal Barack Obama. Together we can save our planet.” GAK!!!


March 10th, 2014
6:06 pm

“…but we still don’t know the size of the universe, much less what spot represents its middle.”

If you subscribe to the notion of infinite space then the concept of size doesn’t apply, and there’d be no middle.


March 10th, 2014
6:42 pm

Deceiving headline.
Also bit of a difference between 16th century and today. Much more Science is accepted and discussed within many faiths today. There is a reach for balance.

Admiral Obvious

March 10th, 2014
6:59 pm

Hey Neil! It’s 2014 not 1614!


March 10th, 2014
7:27 pm

Did Peter Griffin, err Seth McFarlane do a voice over?
Seth is a funny and brilliant guy, but will be very quick to be critical, at any chance, to anyone with faith.
I’m sure he had some input as exec producer.


March 10th, 2014
7:39 pm

Wonder why they didn’t use a radical, terrorist muslim as a current day, religious example?? Hmmm
Hollyweird won’t take chances on those repercussions!


March 10th, 2014
7:56 pm

For all the hype this first episode was a disappointment. Infinite universe? Multiverse? Infinite multiverses? The mind boggles..and the heart chuckles at creation myths masquerading as science. All you need is a quantum fluctuation, add in some inflation, dark matter, dark energy, randomness, billions and billions of years and poof out pop the cosmic high priest who will bring light to us fools who still believe in a creator God. The story of Bruno was embellished and slanted, and the ’science’ more propaganda than science. Just sayin


March 10th, 2014
8:01 pm

Um except that Giordano Bruno WAS an astrologer, mathematician, and cosmologist/philosopher. Many of the most learned persons of the past were deeply involved in religion (be it Christianity, Islam or Judaism), it is when they were heretical that they faced trouble.

Chris Salzmann

March 10th, 2014
8:13 pm

The Church (and not singling out any denomination) has ALWAYS been behind the curve. In those days, the Church was the THOUGHT POLICE. Anybody who did not fall in line with their narrow minded interpretation of Scripture were condemned for heresy and killed in the most gruesome manner. That’s one of the reasons it was called the DARK AGES.

And today again, you have some people trying to drag us back to the days when theology reigned supreme and anything that is not considered in the Bible (evolution, climate change, etc) is viewed as heresy by these same people. Some even looking to drag us into a catastrophic war in the Middle East to nourish their Biblical end-of-times fantasies.

The fact that this country was founded by the brightest minds of their generation who warned us repeatedly of the dangers of mixing Church and State seems to have been lost on these ignorant fools of today.