Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Join ASA or sign up
Sign In


6/21/2018 » 6/23/2018
“Bioethics and Being Human,” Deerfield, IL

Call for Papers for “Being human in a technological age,” Pretoria, South Africa

“Will the Machines Take Over? Human Uniqueness in the Age of Smart Machines,” Seattle, WA

7/27/2018 » 7/30/2018
2018 ASA Annual Meeting

8/13/2018 » 8/14/2018
“Our Place in the Cosmos?: Humanity, Spirituality, and the Awesome Universe,” Saskatoon, SK

Episode 3 "When Knowledge Conquered Fear"
| 2
Thread Actions

3/23/2014 at 3:35:46 PM GMT
Posts: 142
Episode 3 "When Knowledge Conquered Fear"
This topic is devoted to episode 3 of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Last edited Sunday, May 11, 2014
3/24/2014 at 2:39:38 AM GMT
Posts: 19
I am sincerely hopeful that tonight’s episode represents a bizarre and anomalous descent into mediocrity that will not be repeated in the future. I personally found nothing to like in the narrative, and quite a lot to be disturbed by. Some of the worst moments included Tyson’s assertions that Halley’s “prophecy” was far better than the prophecies of “mystics”, which had me thinking of the incredibly ignorant theology of Richard Dawkins, and wondering if Tyson (or the writers) had ever actually read anything about mysticism.

But far worse was his assertion that Newton’s discovery of the laws of motion and gravity basically "swept away" the necessity for God, when in fact Newton himself proclaimed that his laws were evidence of God’s creation. The assertion that the idea of a divine clockmaker “closes the door” to investigation is absurd, since an orderly universe created by a Clockmaker was exactly what Newton and all the other founders of modern science believed in. I also found it interesting that Tyson repeated the assertion of Hawking that gravity has replaced God as the ultimate clockmaker, although nobody quite knows exactly what this mysterious all powerful gravity actually is, or whence it came.

Aside from the general undertone of antitheism, this was simply a terribly written episode. The supposed dialog at the initial meeting between the cartoon Newton and Halley was childishly silly. The constant triumphalism of the message that science is the savior of humanity from unrelieved ignorance and fear got even me, a scientist, starting to feel annoyed at the arrogant and self-congratulatory tone. If the purpose of this series is to convince the public that science is a grand and wonderful endeavor to discover truth, I am afraid this episode was a colossal failure. The actual educational content was minimal, and the factoid that Newton may or may not have burned the portrait of Hook was an insult to the intelligence of the viewers. That is something that Sagan never did. As I said at the opening, I am hopeful that this episode was a fluke and that whoever wrote or edited it will not be back.

3/24/2014 at 11:13:07 AM GMT
Posts: 41
Sy, don't be shy -- why don't you tell us what you're really thinking?  ;-o)

Good points and well said.

Last edited Monday, March 24, 2014
3/24/2014 at 3:50:43 PM GMT
Posts: 12
Oh good, I'm glad I'm not the only one who was disappointed in this episode :)

Did you notice the not-so-subtle metaphysical statement at the beginning of the episode? I'm paraphrasing here - Dr. Tyson said (of the infant human race looking up at the night sky) that we were alone, with no one to tell us where we came from or what it all means or where it came from.

The discussion of Newton's contribution to the mathematical framework that is Classical Dynamics, was trivial and did not even scratch the surface of the elegance that scientists like Lagrange, Euler, and Hamilton (to name but three) discovered (developed?) in their formulations - the relationships between dynamical symmetries and conservation laws, for instance, and asking the deep question of why the Cosmos should be like this would have been far better, even if explaining Hamilton's principle of least action to a TV audience is a challenge. Perhaps a subsequent episode will address these topics, but I have my doubts, actually.

@Dr. Furman - I liked you post about randomness in the previous thread - keep us abreast of when you do the full blog post :)

3/24/2014 at 4:25:18 PM GMT
Posts: 53
For a general public presentation, this episode was reasonably nice. I really enjoy Tyson’s enthusiastic tone and style. I didn't find it as troubling as you, Sy, but your points are pertinent since the narrative promotes science too much at the expense of religion. The example of God being removed as the Prime Mover for the solar system was a bit more than I liked, so much so that the very next scene seemed almost as an awkward attempt by them to soften the blow by stating that Newton believed in God.

Given that we are well into the foundation of modern science including Newton’s law of gravity (first universal law), why don’t they articulate further what science is? When will we see the separation of objective arguments from subjective ones (not just a few religious claims) and the self-imposed requirements of observations, which are necessary both in the founding of a theory and its requirements for falsification? The Ptolemy model, as they correctly showed falsified by Galileo, was a legitimate scientific theoretical model, though it was shown primarily as a religious one.

Perhaps we will soon see them focus on the tenets of science, or if not, then we may very well see the door opened wider for metaphysics presented as true science, as can be seen today by many in the example of the unobservable, untestable, Multiverse “theory”, which again will imply, if not explicitly stated, a negation of God as the creator of the universe.

For fun, I do have a trivial pet peeve and I hereby predict that the Sun will not once be shown as a white star (ignoring pin points). Oddly, Tyson (elsewhere), and others, have correctly stated that the Sun is a white star. The planets, however, will likely be shown correctly – Venus is finally being shown far more correctly as artists get away from the false orange surface radar images of long ago. Our host star is not yellow or even yellow-white, not red or even orange as jam, Sam I am.

Therefore, I will bet an ice cream sundae for any takers on this claim, up to a limit of the first five, since I am trying to lose weight. :)

Last edited Monday, March 24, 2014
3/24/2014 at 5:37:29 PM GMT
Posts: 19
What worries me George, is that the producers seem to be taking the tack that in order to promote the value of science, it is useful or necessary to denigrate "the opposite view" namely religion. I agree with your points about the lack of real definition of science, which is really the way to go. It is not only false and misleading to promote the warfare model, it is in my view counterproductive. This is not supposed to be a series about the virtues of atheism. The implied conflation of atheism and science is just plain wrong. Both factually and morally.

3/24/2014 at 8:34:27 PM GMT
Posts: 53
Being active on a couple of science forums, I see this sort of stuff regularly. Perhaps I’m a little desensitized to the abuse. Regrettably, your worry seems demonstrably justified. If one puts Google to work in finding the religious viewpoints of the writers and producers then we have even less reason to be optimistic about subsequent shows.

3/24/2014 at 9:14:06 PM GMT
Posts: 41
No doubt we all take for granted the many ways we owe a dept of gratitude to knowledge gained by science.  But, the same can be said, and then some, for the knowledge gained from knowing God through scripture or even just the book of Proverbs, for example. Can science tell us that? No, even though it is obviously the way to go for knowledge of the physical world.

Instead of the warfare model, they would gain points for science if they presented a reasonable front on this, even if they melded what they did say with an acknowledgment that science is limited to the material world, essentially. Physics can tell us how the water in the beaker boils but in cannot tell us that the purpose is so that I can have a cup of tea (Polkinghorne).

Perhaps if they added what some faith-leaders have said that speak to the warfare model, like this quote from Billy Graham that Denis cites in his course.  I bolded the most relevant lines but included most of the whole quote.

"I don't think that there's any conflict at all between science today and the scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we've tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren't meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book.

The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption
, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man.

...I personally believe it's just as easy to accept the fact that God took some dust and blew on it and out came a man as it is to accept the fact that God breathed upon man and became a living soul and it started with some protoplasm and went right on up through the evolutionary process. Either way is by faith and whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God.

Billy Graham: Personal Thoughts of a Public Man, 1997. p. 72-74.  Used copies of this book are currently available on Amazon for a song.

Thank you Dr. Dassen, will do.  Still working on a follow-up to comments on my randomness post in Episode 2.

Last edited Monday, March 24, 2014
3/25/2014 at 12:33:29 AM GMT
Posts: 142
knowledge casts out fear?

I’m still baffled by the lack of a coherent thread in this series. I can’t figure out how one episode leads to the next in a systematic way. It started with cosmology in the first episode, then jumped into evolution and now back to 17th century astrophysics. They are all useful topics, but it seems to be a set of short stories rather than an overall theme.

This episode presents the message that knowledge, at least scientific knowledge, provides freedom from fear. This immediately brought to mind Jesus’ words in John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NIV) Perhaps the subcontext in the episode is an implicit message that it is scientific knowledge and truth that leads to freedom, not religious truth.

In this episode the setting is the fear of comets. It shows how ancient human civilizations saw patterns in the celestial lights that guided them in their lives. For example, the sun and the stars signal the change of the seasons. The anomalous lights called comets, from the root word for having long hair, were thought to be omens of great misfortune. Most of the episode recounts a simplified story of the development of classical mechanics in the 17th century which explained the paths of the comets, thereby removing their connection to misfortune and the need to fear them.

Consistent with the lesson on comets, Tyson focused on Edmund Halley in telling the story of how Isaac Newton’s work became public, giving Halley credit for persuading Newton to publish the Principia, despite the ongoing feud between Newton and Robert Hooke. I’m not fond of the cartoon graphics used to portray this history since it seems to trivialize these giants in the field.

Tyson made it clear that Newton had engaged in two other efforts, besides his calculus and mechanics. His work in alchemy and the Bible, Tyson tells us, ended in failure while only his scientific work endured. While it is true that we seldom consult Newton’s theological works today and that Newton was not a Trinitarian, it seemed that Tyson was content to leave the impression that a study of the Bible was in a category with alchemy rather than with the true knowledge of science. There really seems to be a thread of scientism that unfortunately may be the unifying message of this series.

3/25/2014 at 12:26:53 PM GMT
Posts: 23
I for the most part enjoyed watching this episode, though --not disagreeing with the many criticisms already expressed, I think my key to enjoying it was that I went in with lowered expectations. I even learned a few things: I never new that 'disaster' had 'bad star' as its roots! And despite the corny nature (and narration) the animations may have had, they did teach and remind me of a few things about the relationships between folks like Halley, Hooke, and Newton.

The jabs were very obvious ... having to "figure out everything for ourselves without even so much as a note to help us..."
Well, uhhh, about that Mr. Tyson, actually you may have heard ...

That was an obvious attempt at inflating science into the dogma of Scientism. But there were other parts of this episode that did manage to "get it right" despite being mixed with so much chaff. The whole emphasis on science helping to remove superstitious fears surrounding skyward portents of doom was, I thought, pretty even handed --especially considering the apparent motivations of the writers. They could have picked on Christianity specifically, but they [correctly] made a point of saying nearly all ancient cultures interpreted things that way [not just those "pesky anti-science Christians", I could imagine them wanting to add]. Granted, science cannot demonstrate that portents in the sky do NOT have meaning, but knowing something of how cosmic bodies behave has helped deflate lots of wrong-headed superstition which Christians also have a stake in debunking. The removal of gods and demons from every corner and cause was a major advance that Christianity has a stake in, after all.

Overall though, these appreciations will be totally lost on anybody vulnerable to the warfare mode of thought. They will be too busy "seeing red" to be able to appreciate any actual science in the show. In that sense the show has badly missed its mark if its intent is to widen the appreciative audience to a greater portion of the population.