As a kid, I was really interested with the universe; stars, planets, and all things out in space. That curiosity and fascination never ended. Even after watching the movie Gravity, and realizing how incredibly thankful I am for that particular law of nature keeping me grounded every day, I would still jump at the chance to travel up and out of the atmosphere in a space shuttle. So when I heard they were going to reboot an old show called Cosmos , and Neil Degrasse Tyson was going to host it, I was stoked.... and a little nervous.
Tyson is about as well known as one can be for being an astrophysicist. I mean think about it, can you even name another one? He is brilliant in his field, articulate, very witty, and a great choice to host a show on the cosmos. Unlike the old show's host, Carl Sagan, who was an outspoken atheist, Tyson claims to be agnostic, however Neil seems to me to also be a little more atheistic in his world views. The producer of the show, Seth MacFarlane, is an ardent atheist, hence my apprehension towards the reboot. Don't get me wrong, I believe atheists can produce excellent unbiased, work. For example, in spite of the controversy surrounding the recent film Noah , which was written and directed by a known atheist, I happen to like it, but that's the subject for another blog.
So Cosmos aired a few weeks ago, and since we don't have cable, I had to wait and watch the first show online. About half way through the premiere episode the show took some time to tell the story of a 16th century priest, Giordano Bruno, who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Cosmos claimed this was because he believed the earth revolved around the sun. I sighed and thought, "here we go again."
As I continued to watch, the writers of the show grossly misrepresented the Church and drug it through the mud, telling viewers that:
"the Roman Catholic Church maintained a system of courts known as the inquisition and it's sole purpose was to investigate and torment anyone who dared voice views that differed from theirs. And it wasn't long before Bruno fell into the clutches of the thought police."
It's not the ignorance about the inquisition that is shocking here, it's the fact that all the writers of Cosmos would have had to have done is listened to historians who have spent their lives researching those times. Dayton historian, and Director of Saint Louis University's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Thomas Madden writes:
"The Catholic Church as an institution had almost nothing to do with the inquisition," and that "One of the most enduring myths of the inquisition ... is that it was a tool of oppression imposed on unwilling Europeans by a power hungry church. Nothing could be more wrong. "
Giordano Bruno was a priest who dabbled in astronomy, he was not a scientist. Yes, it's true that Giordano believed that the sun revolved around the earth, he also believed in multiple universes, and plenty of other theories based on his imagination and speculation, not scientific research. The truth is that even his wild scientific tangents were not what resulted in his excommunication. Giordano Bruno excommunicated himself by holding to heretical views like pantheism, the denial of the Trinity, and the denial in the divinity of Christ. By definition, you're not Christian if you don't hold to the basic tenants of the faith like the Trinity.
This whole section of Cosmos stunned me. It had nothing to do with the advancement of science, or the evolution of astronomy or astrophysics. All it did was use Giordano Bruno's story to represent the Church as an obstacle to the advancement of science and rational thought, a representation that could not be further from the truth. It saddens me to realize that there are still intelligent people out there who think that science and the church are incompatible.
Let me briefly list a few historical facts around the Catholic Church and the natural sciences:
- Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), the originator of the heliocentric universe and its mathematical justification, was a minor Catholic cleric.
- Nicolas Steno (1638-1686), a Catholic Danish bishop, is acknowledged to be one of the founders of modern stratigraphy and geology.
- The Augustinian monk and abbot Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) is recognized as the founder of modern genetics.
- Msgr. Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest and colleague of Albert Einstein, is acknowledged to be the founder of contemporary cosmology through his discovery of the Big Bang Theory in 1927. And there were many other Catholic clerics who were integrally involved in the foundation and development of the natural sciences.
So again, I can't help but ask, why? Why was Bruno, who had nothing to do with the advancement or hindrance of science, the subject of a show meant to inspire us to dream of space, exploration, and the spirit of discovery? It feels as if Cosmos went out of its way to propagate an anti-catholic way of thinking. How are we back to the church vs science lie? No respectable historian of science buys it anymore, yet here we are with the reboot Cosmos , and Tyson at the helm, doing it all over again. I would expect this sort of thing from MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, but not Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Come on Neil you're better than this.