If you haven’t been watching the reincarnation of Cosmos on Fox and National Geographic, then please, don’t walk, run to catch it from the beginning on your Cable Service’s On Demand, any of the many streaming services, or directly from their Websites at http://www.cosmosontv.com/watch/256286787977 and http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/cosmos-a-spacetime-odyssey/.
Wait…am I actually endorsing something from Fox?
Yes… from Fox’s real entertainment division, one of my favorite channels. Can you say The Simpsons, Fringe, Sleepy Hollow, Almost Human, Glee, Bones, Kitchen Nightmares, Hell’s Kitchen, etc., etc.? And Fox Sports is my favorite sports provider. After all, can you resist this lineup of Commentators for the NFL:
Curt Menefee (Studio host, 2006–present)
Terry Bradshaw (Analyst, 1994–present)
Howie Long (Analyst, 1994–present)
Jimmy Johnson (Analyst, 1994–1995; 2002–present)
Michael Strahan (Analyst, 2008–present)
Jay Glazer (NFL Insider, 2007–present)
Pam Oliver (Reporter, 1995–present)
Mike Pereira (Rules analyst, 2010–present)
Erin Andrews (Reporter, 2012–present)
Rob Riggle (Prognostication, 2012–present)
Chris Myers – Host
Michael Waltrip – Co-Host/Analyst
Darrell Waltrip – Co-Host/Analyst
Fox Entertainment shows regularly bashes Fox News, and that is one of the things that make me think that Rupert Murdoch uses Fox News just as one huge put-on, which makes him tons of money. No one could really be as benighted and venal as Fox News appears to be. (Well…Maybe…)
Anyhow, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is not to be missed. It is entertaining, instructive, beautiful, and very much-needed today. For those who might not remember, or are too young, a little background is in order.
The First Cosmos
In 1978-79 the PBS L.A. Affiliate KCET, in partnership with the BBC, produced a thirteen episode series about Science called Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan (who would marry Sagan in 1981), and Steven Soter, and hosted by Sagan. It was first broadcast in 1980.
Carl Sagan was not only an astronomer, astrophysicist and cosmologist, he was the leading science popularizer of his day, much as Leonard Bernstein was for Classical Music.
The series was wildly successful, and was the most widely watched PBS series until 1990’s The Civil War, and as of 2009 still held that title world-wide. It has been seen by more than 400 Million world-wide.
I was familiar with Carl Sagan’s work since I had earlier encountered his scholarship in my Freshman year Astronomy 101 (“Gut”) class at Yale, which we affectionately called “The Solar System is your Friend.” We studied his theories on the likelihood of communication with other intelligent life in the Universe. He was very cogent.
When the 1980 Cosmos originally aired, I appreciated the series, but was mildly critical of what I took to be Sagan’s critique of religion. That says as much about me in 1980 as it does about Sagan. In reality, he was quite balanced on the issue, from my standpoint today.
Looking back, how could I take such issue with someone whom Isaac Asimov admired? Asimov is one of my greatest
heroes, who through his books taught me about Ancient and Modern History, Science, Math, How to Use a Slide Rule, and every other subject imaginable, as well as being perhaps the greatest Science Fiction writers of all time. A brilliant autodidact and polymath, author of over 300 books and clearly very aware of his own intellectual prowess, Asimov wrote in his 1980 Autobiography that Carl Sagan was only one of two people whose intellect surpassed his own (the other was Marvin Minsky).
Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein—considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws.
An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.
My long-time view about Christianity is that it represents an amalgam of two seemingly immiscible parts, the religion of Jesus
and the religion of Paul. Thomas Jefferson attempted to excise the Pauline parts of the New Testament. There wasn’t much left when he was done, but it was an inspiring document.
Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.
In “Preserving and Cherishing the Earth”, Sagan and other noted scientists wrote that “The historical record makes clear that religious teaching, example, and leadership are powerfully able to influence personal conduct and commitment… Thus, there is a vital role for religion and science.”
Sagan sounds very balanced 30 years later. I might not agree with everything, but he is as cogent as he was when I studied his work in College. My apologies Carl!
The New Cosmos
For years, Ann Druyan, Steven Soter and Neil deGrasse Tyson had been trying to do an updated version of Cosmos. Tyson had been befriended by Sagan in his youth, and was a great inspiration to him. Tyson is a noted astrophysicist in his own right, and is currently Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Natural History Museum in NYC (a great Museum!!). He has become the best known Science Popularizer or Communicator of our day.
In 2008, Tyson introduced Druyan to Seth MacFarlane, the actor, animator, comedian, writer, producer, director, and singer, for whom the original Cosmos was a formative influence. The rest, as they say in Hollywood was history, and in 2014, the updated Cosmos: A Timespace Odyssey premiered. It was produced by Druyan, MacFarlane, Cosmos Studios’ Mitchell Cannold, and director Brannon Braga (ST:NG, ST:V, ST:E, ST:Generations, ST:First Contact [My favorite Next Generation film], 24, Terra Nova). The music is by Alan Slivestri, who is the prolific composer for many Science Fiction, Adventure and other films.
The updated version tells the story of the Cosmos, with up-to-the-moment science, special effects, graphics, animation, and historical contexts. Host Neil deGrasse Tyson certainly deserves an Emmy for his outstanding, erudite and understandable work, guiding us effortlessly through history and science. Although he points out the mistakes that Religion and Governments have made over the centuries, there is a profound respect for spirituality, and the program has the feel of Fr. Thomas Barry and Dr. Brian Swimme’s The Universe Story.
I was particularly moved by the latest episode, in which Tyson reminds us that it is our intelligence that is our most important advantage, and that we must move forward using our intelligence. On the next episode, Cosmos will give us a glimpse of what will happen if we don’t stop our causing global climate change. (I love the spectacle of Fox Entertainment slamming Fox News!)
Rosicrucians will especially appreciate Cosmos, as many of the topics, and particularly historical vignettes, are the subject of Rosicrucian studies, and many of the scientific pioneers of the past were associated with the Rosicrucian Path.
Going Forward Intelligently?
This brings me to the heart of the matter: why we should watch Cosmos (and after all, it’s great TV!), and why we should vote.
Right now, in the U.S., and to a lesser extent in Canada, some very irrational people have far too much influence on our National life. We are paying a ridiculous amount of attention to the Christian Fundamentalists and extremists and their positions, encouraged by the Politicians who are using them for their own purposes. And the Astroturf-Koch-Brothers-invented Tea Party is right in the thick of it.
Let me begin with some Caveats. I fully support freedom of speech and freedom of religion. You can believe anything you want. You can believe that the world is flat, that the universe was created in 4004 BC, that cave men rode dinosaurs, etc. Be my guest. I defend your right to be irrational.
Yes, Cave Men and Dinosaurs, together… visit the Creation Museum in Petersburg KY: http://creationmuseum.org/. And remember, Satan planted fossils and the geological record to fool us into not believing the Bible!
What we focus on, manifests. If we focus on the outlandish opinions of this minority of Christians, they will multiply. People should believe anything they want, but the rest of us have to out vote them and oppose any attempt to affect our communal life.
The U.S. has long been a laughingstock in the world for the number of people here who oppose the Theory of Evolution. As of 2008 only 40% of Americans accept that we evolved along with everything else, with 20% more unsure. Only Turkey ranked lower at 20%. Even the Roman Catholic Church accepts Evolution, as long as they hold that the Soul was a Divine Gift to Humans at the right time in Evolution.
Here in the U.S., good, complacent reasonable people have allowed these Creationists to force their non-scientific theories into science class. Our Public Schools should teach Science in Science Class. If the School wants to start a Religious Studies Class or a Philosophy Class, that’s where Creationism belongs.
Then Senator Rick Santorum tried to get Federal Funding for Intelligent Design teaching in 2001. Happily he failed. In 2005 the Kansas Board of Education ruled that Science Teachers must “instruct science students along the lines of the Discovery Institute, that evolution could not rule out a supernatural or theistic source, that evolution itself was not fact but only a theory and one in crisis, and that Intelligent Design must be considered a viable alternative to evolution.
And of course, Global Warming is a Myth, the same ilk say.
This story has a happy ending, and it illustrates how we can stop these people from imposing their ignorance on us and our children. On August 1, 2006, voters ousted 4 of the 6 conservative Republicans on the Board of Education, and, encouraged by then Governor Kathleen Sebelius, replaced them with moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats. On February 7, 2013, the Board overturned the 2005 decision (6-4 [the four dissenters were the remaining Born-Again Christians on the Board]) and returned the definition of Science to “the search for natural explanations for what is observed in the universe.” Reason triumphed, because people voted.
A Teleological Universe
I myself understand the Cosmos/Multiverse to be teleological (moving toward a goal) along the lines of Aristotle’s Final Cause. τέλος–telos–
the Goal or End is the origin of teleology, and the word that Aristotle used.
For Aristotle, there are Four Causes: material, formal, efficient and final. The Final Cause is the purpose toward which the thing is growing. This is used in science all the time. For a seed, the Final Cause is to become a full plant. You’ll recall the Acorn Story from a previous post which illustrates this.
George Holmes Howison, in The Limits of Evolution says:
Here, in seeing that Final Cause – causation at the call of self-posited aim or end – is the only full and genuine cause, we further see that Nature, the cosmic aggregate of phenomena and the cosmic bond of their law which in the mood of vague and inaccurate abstraction we call Force, is after all only an effect. … Thus teleology, or the Reign of Final Cause, the reign of ideality, is not only an element in the notion Evolution, but is the very vital cord in the notion. The conception of evolution is founded at last and essentially in the conception of Progress: but this conception has no meaning at all except in the light of a goal; there can be no goal unless there is a Beyond for everything actual; and there is no such Beyond except through a spontaneous ideal. The presupposition of Nature, as a system undergoing evolution, is therefore the causal activity of our Pure Ideals. These are our three organic and organizing conceptions called the True, the Beautiful, and the Good.
For Aristotle and Aquinas, Finality is the End to which something is ordered. A Match is ordered to Fire.
Teleology is hotly debated in the philosophy of Science.
Either way, in my philosophy, similar to that of Anthropologist and Theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ, the whole Cosmos (Multiverse) is being pulled toward the Omega Point, reintegration with its source, the Divine. Teilhard teaches in The Phenomenon of Man:
…everything is the sum of the past…nothing is comprehensible except through its history. ‘Nature’ is the equivalent of ‘becoming’, self-creation: this is the view to which experience irresistibly leads us. … There is nothing, not even the human soul, the highest spiritual manifestation we know of, that does not come within this universal law.
Teilhard and I see Evolution as the engine of this progress, both material and spiritual. I suspect Darwin did too. This is certainly in line with Rosicrucian and Martinist Ontology.
However, I would never suggest that these ideas be taught in Science class, they are philosophical concepts, especially in philosophy of science. Our High School sciences classes should teach experimental science and the scientific method, first classically enunciated by Ibn al-Haytham of Basra ( ابن الهيثم, Alhazen or Alhacen; c. 965 – c. 1040), featured in the New Cosmos. If a school wanted to start a philosophy of science class, that would be fine, but with budget cuts I doubt that is going to happen.
When Good Men do Nothing
We can no longer afford to let people who are clearly being irrational run anything. Our World is at a critical moment. It is our intelligence which will get us through. In a democracy, which I fully support, we must out-vote them, and use economic pressure to isolate any jurisdictions, which doesn’t have the sense to do that.
“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle” (Edmund Burke—1770).
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing” (John Stuart Mill—1867).
This has given rise to the modern adage: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” In this context, I understand ignorance and irrationality to be a grave and dangerous evil.
William Butler Yeats described our age to a “T”:
The Second Coming (1919)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Good, rational, progressive and liberal, broad-minded people are doing nothing, while irrational fundamentalists (Christian, Islamic, of any stripe), right-wing conservatives and Fox News are full of Passionate Intensity. Far too many are the American Idiot spoken of by Green Day:
Don’t want to be an American idiot.
One nation controlled by the media.
Information age of hysteria.
It’s calling out to idiot America.
Remember that Idiot is from the Greek ἰδιώτης (idiōtēs), an individual out of context of society, or who refuses to take part in public life. Those who are irrational are not taking part in society, they are trying to impose their Flat-Earther views on us all. Should we not have a Navy because some people maintain that the Earth is flat?
So what do we do, good rational people? Get out and vote. Vocally oppose irrationality everywhere and vote.
There are clearly things that transcend reason (Pascal: « Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point » “The Heart has its reasons, of which Reason knows nothing”). There are areas that Science does not pretend to study. These are fine. I am very much involved in those fields. But let’s let science be science.
Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant.