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Episode 11 "The Immortals"
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5/18/2014 at 5:05:33 PM GMT
Posts: 141
Episode 11 "The Immortals"
This topic is devoted to episode 11 of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

5/19/2014 at 2:22:52 AM GMT
Posts: 12
Where's the Science?
Victoria scratches her head, puzzled, not knowing what to make of this episode.

This is supposed to be a series on scientific facts, right?  Instead, I think we were treated to unbridled speculation in the name of science; we were led down the garden path of a naturalistic worldview and unbridled optimism about human nature. Gosh, if only we could be smarter, and apply what we know - what is our problem; what is wrong with us?  I guess Tyson has never spent much time learning about God's evaluation of us, and of His solution to our real problem (c.f. Jeremiah 17:5-11, Romans 1:18-3:20, and thanks be to God for the rest of Romans and 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 5:22-25)

Last edited Sunday, May 18, 2014
5/19/2014 at 11:45:38 AM GMT
Posts: 141
Well said, Victoria! This episode certainly went beyond the bounds of science. The positive side of it was that it had some fairly creative speculation in it that helped trigger one's imagination. The down side was the rather pessimistic, naturalistic aspect.

His view of immortality was quite different from the one we normally talk about. Instead of individual immortality he talked about immortality of life forms. Reminds me of a biology teacher I once heard say that "death came into the world through sex." By which, he meant asexual reproduction was a form of immortality since it was a continual cloning, or cell replacement like our own body cells are continually regenerated. But in sexual reproduction, the offspring is different from the parents, so the parents are no longer immortal.

The closest he came to science was the discussion of meteoric transportation between earth and Mars. And it does seem feasible that microbes might be transported in that way. But interstellar transport? A bit farfetched, I think.

He did get in his sermon on climate change but I wonder if his message was blunted a bit by his view of the robustness of life and his idea of immortality. He seemed to imply that life would certainly survive, and even humans might, though our civilization would be vulnerable. But he had no basis for caring about that--so what if it does?

It did seem to be the musings on immortality from a naturalist worldview.

5/19/2014 at 2:03:30 PM GMT
Posts: 12
I like thinking outside the box as much as the next girl scientist :) , but I would make it absolutely clear that I was constructing hypothetical scenarios, playing a 'what-if' game of pushing the boundaries of established science. I'm not sure that this episode made that clear enough for a lay audience. Did you notice that Tyson spent so much time on meteoric transport -of-microbes processes that he more or less skirted the real issues of pre-biotic processes and the origin of the genetic code? He just hand-waved that aside, almost making it seem of less importance.

My real issue with the series is that it presents real, established science at such a superficial level. I get the impression that the series producers want to lead the audience to a particular worldview interpretation of science (metaphysical naturalism), and are avoiding the deep questions that challenge such an interpretation. Is anyone else coming away with a similar impression?

5/20/2014 at 11:57:12 PM GMT
Posts: 19
I agree with you entirely, Victoria. I will say that I enjoyed the "microbes in space" segment, since I happen to think that is a good explanation for how life came to Earth. And he did say that interstellar travel of microbes was not possible, but it was easy to miss. That entire idea of life spreading among galaxies (as stars pass through) was fascinating, highly speculative, but also possibly interesting in a theological sense. If there is life on other worlds (still not known) and its much like ours, perhaps there is a single source for the original life somewhere (here? far far away?). And then we would be faced with the question, whence that original life source? Natural origin? Divine creation?

Of course, what Randy and Victoria said is true, all of this is science spec, and it wasnt clearly labelled as such. Who knows what people came away with?

As for global warming, I believe that is next week's theme.

5/21/2014 at 2:48:57 PM GMT
Posts: 2
I found the story of the flood interesting. The city is identified as Uruk and thus the hero would have been Gilgamesh. The hero of the Sumerian epic was Ziusudra king of Shuruppak. According to the Gilgamesh Epic the ship was of equal dimensions, width, length and height. The artist relied more on the Noah story for the images than the discussion between Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim, the Noah of the Epic. In the Epic the number seven figures prominently. The boat was built in seven days; the storm lasted seven days; the boat came to rest on Mount Nisir after seven days; and Gilgamesh slept six nights awaking on the seventh day. As to life beginning on the Earth, Tyson acknowledged that we do not know how it began. When he discussed the possibility of life coming from other planets, it seems to me that he "kicked the can down the road." If we don't know how life began here, then we certainly have no clue as to how it might have begun on some other planet.

5/21/2014 at 7:02:03 PM GMT
Posts: 2
Great discussion! I agree with Victoria; I think sometimes that the producers are more interested in promoting metaphysical naturalism (and scientific positivism and progressivism) than the data and methodology of science. That said, I am grateful that they make science popular and introduce the public to some fascinating ideas. As a researcher on life and astrobiology, this episode covered material dear to me. At Randy's request, I jotted down a few thoughts and links to the background science from the show on my blog.

Last edited Sunday, May 25, 2014
5/21/2014 at 7:41:35 PM GMT
Posts: 12
The Tablet Theory of Genesis
Thanks for that link to your review.   You addressed an issue that I was thinking about, namely the relationship between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical account of Noah and the Flood.   There is another viewpoint that I think has merit - namely the Tablet Theory of Genesis' composition: that Moses was the compiler of Genesis, and that he did so from older records and documents (on cuneiform tablets), and that he name his sources - the authors and/or owners of the tablets.  The theory was first proposed by P. J. Wiseman, based on what archaeologists had learned about Mesopotamian and Sumerian cuneiform texts and methods of writing.  The best on-line resources that I've been able to find for the theory can be found here and here.  Wiseman wrote two small monographs on the subject, and his son republished them under the title of "Clues to Creation in Genesis" , D. J. Wiseman.

5/22/2014 at 10:43:29 AM GMT
Posts: 21
I have been reading Irving Finkel's recent book, The Ark Before Noah, which covers the whole question, leading up to the tablets that he got from a guy whose father had acquired them in Iraq decades ago. I haven't gotten far enough to contribute anything here, but it seems a worthwhile read for someone like me whose expertise is very much elsewhere.

5/22/2014 at 8:39:05 PM GMT
Posts: 19

As one spurred on in my science interests in high school by Sagan's Cosmic Connection, I found this episode, as speculative as it was, particularly intriguing. I even did my senior English class research paper on SETI. (We had a separate course whose entire purpose was researching and writing a research paper--there I covered early church history--now I know that that was way too broad of a topic--anyway, science and faith interests from an early age!)

I'm partial to the thermal vent origin of life linked with catalytic metabolic cycles which Tyson did cover for all of 15 seconds. See Nick Lane's Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution--the first chapter on the origin of life for a nice overview. Of course, there's Stuart Kauffman. I give my take on this in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation--Loren Haarsma's and my chapter on self-organization and complexity.

The possibility of rocks (with embedded bacteria) being transferred from planet to planet seems plausible. But what particularly intrigued me was the claim that life was successively wiped out several times on earth and then reseeded by recaptured ejecta containing bacteria. Could some paleogeologist who is up on all this comment? Is it really the case that there have been planet-wide sterilizations that would destroy all of life since the accepted dates of life's first appearing? Is there a fossil record for this? Or would such planet-wide sterilizations have "melted" evidence of prior history?

While Tyson denied the possibility of interstellar transfer because of the vast distances involved, he did propose the idea of ejected material from life-bearing planets seeding debris in star/planet forming regions of the galaxy as earth (or other life bearing planets) passed through those regions during galactic rotations. (So those regions don't rotate with the galaxy?--I'm not quite sure how this helps. But I'm quite the amateur galactic astronomer.)

Also intriguing was his suggestion that our electromagnetic radiation based communication system may be a short-lived blip in the history of technology and that that explains SETI's to-date negative results. One would think that an advanced civilization that no longer uses such a system would still be on the look-out for such a technology knowing its temporary usefulness. Remember how the Vulcans became interested in earth when they detected that warp signature generated by Zefram Cochran.

If I didn't know better I'd think that humans had landed on Mars and could walk around without space suits. I found it curious that there was no effort (as far as I remember) to suggest that Tyson wasn't actually on Mars in those scenes. I pity the 25% of Americans who don't know that the sun doesn't rotate around the earth who might have been watching.

Finally, the mega-volcano eruption in Indonesia that left earth soot and cloud covered for 5 years 75,000 years ago made me wonder about the wisdom of moving entirely to solar/wind energy. When the Yellowstone mega-volcano erupts, we'll be in big trouble if we've dismantled all the coal-fired and nuclear power plants. Perhaps we should just take them off-line and not actually tear them down. Of course, by the time of the next eruption perhaps we'll know how to harness all that geothermal energy and we can power the planet from that location.

Last edited Thursday, May 22, 2014