The premiere of Neil de Grasse Tyson’s Cosmos was hailed as “spectacular” and “groundbreaking.” But it’s science, so of course conservatives hate it…. (More)

Cosmos: Conservatives See Science Through the Looking Glass

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called the Cosmos premier “spectacular,” the New York Daily News said “groundbreaking,” and the Christian Science Monitor offered “Seven Amazing Things We Learned From Watching Cosmos.”

The plaudits were well deserved … unless you’re a conservative. Oklahoma City’s Fox affiliate cut away to a commercial during the brief segment when Tyson mentioned evolution. As we’ve discussed before, conservatives have a problem with any science that doesn’t fit their worldview. And the Cosmos premiere – with its emphasis on the Big Bang, evolution and the non-creationist, non-anthropocentric history of our universe – definitely ruffled conservatives’ feathers.

Four Strawmen …

Take The Federalist’s Hank Campbell, for example, who purports to list “Five Things Neil de Grasse Tyson’s Cosmos Gets Wrong:”

No, flawed science is flawed science and Sagan wanted to hear valid criticism, just as Tyson does now. Tyson knows valid criticism either forces him to hone his argument or it reaffirms his position. “Other things being equal, it is better to be smart than to be stupid,” Sagan wrote in his famous Cosmos book, and Tyson will happily concede if you show him to be wrong about something.
In the spirit of Sagan, here are four things the new Cosmos gets wrong, plus one more thing that is a bit of a style problem.

Campbell then proceeds to trot out four strawmen.

First, Tyson never claimed “Venus was … caused by global warming.” Instead, Tyson explained how Venus’ extreme temperature – 900°F – is caused by the greenhouse effect, based on the composition of Venus’ dense atmosphere. Campbell insists that the phrase “greenhouse effect” is just “another way of saying global warming” and implies it’s a progressive dog whistle. As proof, he cites the phrase “shock and awe” in James Cameron’s Avatar, which he claims was simply a protest against President Bush and the Iraq War. So there.

Second, Tyson never claimed that multiverse theories were scientific facts. In fact Tyson made clear, as Brian Greene did in The Hidden Reality, that these theories are still speculative. But that is not, as Campbell claims, mere “codespeak for ‘we sit around and discuss it at the bar.'” Cosmologists write mathematically rigorous analyses of multiverse theories for peer-reviewed journals, and in 2010 astronomers detected an anomaly in the cosmic microwave background radiation that fits the predictions of one multiverse theory. That doesn’t prove the theory. There are other possible explanations, and more research is needed to rule them out. But that’s how science works.

Third, Tyson never claimed that sound traveled through space. Yes, there was a sound effect as Tyson’s “ship of the imagination” carried us through the universe. And guess what? There is sound in many people’s imaginations.

Fourth, Tyson never claimed the universe was created in a single year. Tyson did use the well-known metaphor of the cosmic year to shrink 13.8 billion years into a tangible time span. But Campbell insists that if Tyson and other scientists critique creationists who claim Genesis is literal truth, then scientists can’t use metaphors because … er … umm….

… and Giordano Bruno

As it happens, I agree with Campbell and other critics regarding the 10-minute segment on Giordano Bruno. Bruno was not a scientist, and Tyson said emphasized that. Tyson said Bruno “made a guess” about an infinite universe, but that wasn’t quite true either. Bruno conducted what we now call a thought experiment, positing an archer shooting an arrow across the universe, reasoning the arrow would either fly forever (if the universe were infinite) or hit a wall (if the universe were finite). But if the universe were bounded, Bruno argued, the archer could simply climb that wall and shoot another arrow, and so on.

That’s a weak thought experiment. If our universe is finite – and it is according to some multiverse theories – then Bruno’s archer would be sealed within it. In fact, theoretical physicist Leonard Susskind’s holographic universe theory proposes that everything about our universe – past, present, and future – is encoded on its boundary, and the four-dimensional spacetime we experience is merely a projection of that encoded information. While Susskind can’t yet test his theory, its mathematical rigor was enough to convince Stephen Hawking that matter does not disappear into black holes.

Still, Bruno lacked that mathematical rigor, and the Inquisition charged, convicted, and executed Bruno primarily for his claims about the Trinity and other religious topics. Campbell says “they didn’t kill to protect religion from science,” so perhaps killing to protect one set of religious beliefs from other religious beliefs is okay.

“Unconditional blind faith in evolution”

Over at Answers In Genesis, Elizabeth Mitchell also takes Tyson to task over evolution. I won’t review the wealth of scientific data that support evolution by natural selection. Mitchell would reject it all out of hand anyway, because she accepts only direct observation as evidence:

The “observational evidence” to which Tyson refers is not, however, observations that confirm big bang cosmology but interpretations of scientific data that interpret observations within a big bang model of origins.

And of course no one actually saw the Big Bang happen, so it’s “just a theory.” And so is evolution, she claims:

Despite the admonition to “question everything” and to “reject” ideas that “don’t pass the test,” the fact that abiogenesis violates the fundamental laws of biology is ignored. Evolutionary blind faith in a “great mystery” – such as that invoked by Bill Nye in the recent Nye-Ham Debate – trumps the scientific method. Why? Because molecules-to-man evolution must have happened for Darwinian notions of origins to be true.

But abiogenesis does not violate the fundamental laws of biology, and experiments have shown amino acids, the most basic biochemical building blocks, can generate spontaneously by natural processes. Given enough “Goldilocks zone” planets – astronomers estimate there are at least 8.8 billion such planets in our galaxy, and over 100 billion galaxies in our observable universe – even a ‘one-in-a-billion’ model for abiogenesis would the make spontaneous generation of life on at least one planet a near statistical certainty.

Mitchell concludes:

Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, if the first segment is any indication, will attempt to package unconditional blind faith in evolution as scientific literacy in an effort to create interest in science.
We maintain that God our Creator was the only eyewitness to the time of origins and that He has given us the truth about how He created everything in His Word.

I’m sure she’s tested that by direct observation….


Happy Friday!