Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ upsets creationists


I shouldn’t enjoy it as much as I do, but when a highly respected scientist like Neil deGrasse Tyson takes even a very nuanced swipe at creationism, I beam. This is science, baby, front and center. Beautifully, lovingly, convincingly presented.

Not so much during the first episode, but in the second episode of “Cosmos” last weekend, I thought often of how creationists must be squirming at some of the comments. As they should. And if they want to confront Tyson about it, if they want to challenge him, well, I’m ready to buy tickets.

You see, I happened across a story today entitled “Creationists Demand Airtime On ‘Cosmos’ For The Sake Of Balance.” They can demand all they want. This is a science show, not a religious treatise. They don’t get and have no right to demand “balance” in a science show if that balance means including creationism. If they want balance, they are free to produce their own religious program and talk about creationism all they want.

A few minutes later I came across a story about an Oklahoma TV station that “accidentally” ran a station promo over the only 15 seconds in the first “Cosmos” episode that briefly referred to evolution. The remark viewers didn’t hear was:

Three and a half million years ago our ancestors, yours and mine, left these traces. We stood up, and parted ways from them. Once we stood on two feet, our eyes were no longer fixated on the ground. Now we were free to look up, and wonder.

If that upset them, they may not have tuned in for the second episode, which wasn’t nearly as circumspect. Statements I particularly enjoyed:

… This adventure is made possible by generations of searchers strictly adherent to a simple set of rules. Test ideas by experiments and observations. Build on those ideas that pass the test. Reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads, and question everything. Accept these terms, and the cosmos is yours. …

… To make this journey, we’ll need imagination, but imagination alone is not enough, because the reality of nature is far more wondrous than anything we can imagine. …

… Some claim that evolution is just a theory, as if it were merely an opinion. The theory of evolution — like the theory of gravity — is a scientific fact. Evolution really happened. Accepting our kinship with all life on Earth is not only solid science. In my view, it’s also a soaring spiritual experience. …

… Artificial selection turned the wolf into the shepherd, and the wild grasses into wheat and corn. In fact, almost every plant and animal that we eat today was bred from a wild, less edible ancestor. If artificial selection can work such profound changes in only ten or fifteen thousand years, what can natural selection do operating over billions of years? The answer is all the beauty and diversity of life. …

And my personal favorite:

… Nobody knows how life got started. Most of the evidence from that time was destroyed by impact and erosion. Science works on the frontier of knowledge and ignorance. We’re not afraid to admit what we don’t know. There’s no shame in that. The only shame is to pretend that we have all the answers. Maybe someone watching this, will be the first to solve the mystery of how life on Earth began.

Science. It’s what is taught in science classes (hence the name). Creationism, aka intelligent design, is not science. It’s religion. It belongs in church, not in our public schools. And definitely not in our science classes.

As Tyson once told Stephen Colbert, science is true “whether or not you believe in it.”

… unlike religion, which you believe in whether or not it’s true.

48 thoughts on “Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ upsets creationists

    1. It’s about time the denigration and dismantling of science in this country stopped! Pushing scientifically incorrect religion into our science classes hurts everyone. Denying science hurts everyone. Denying facts doesn’t change them; it only means we’re less prepared to deal with any negative consequences. I can’t think of a more qualified, affable individual than Tyson to reassert the truth, beauty, and sheer awe of science in a society that badly needs it. Especially the youngsters, our future leaders and scientists.

      1. johnthecook”’Science can not and does not explain how life; and to be more precise Human Life,began on Planet Earth. Science can not prove that the very first human being on planet earth evolved from a previously existing life form. Life did not evolve from chaos. You do not get order from disorder..
        Just how did the very first infant manage to survive the elements by its self? What came first,the male or the female? Just who or what protected them until they could survive without the aid of a protector? Can Science know just how it happened that a male AND a female human being came about at the same time? Did Animal and plant life come before or after human life began? How is it that Animal life had male and female species develop at the same time? So many questions and no proof positive answers from science, What came first…The chicken or the egg?

          1. johnthecook…Thank You Pied Type.. There is some homework I must get started on. Until I have gathered all the facts I can find,I can only refer to all the National Geographic History Channel documentaries I have watched that touch on some of the topics I have questions about. National Geographic can not say their research has answered those questions as actual FACT and
            are 100% correct.
            The recently departed Stephen Hawking said a newly discovered particle called “the god particle” is what started Planet earth and every life form in it It’s theory,conjecture with no actual verifiable proof this is what happened.

  1. Great post, PT! I loved all the quotes you mention. I did not know the creationists were demanding equal air-time, but it does not surprise me.

    I LOVE this show. And you know what else I love? I love that this show appeals to my teenager, who would not normally sit still and watch an educational show. (“I do enough of that in school, mom!”) And if my kid is interested, think of all the other kids who are tuning into to science and not unsubstantiated dogma.

    1. I took the story as meaning they not only want equal time, or balance, they want it on “Cosmos” itself. Not only is the full season probably already in the can, but it’s a science show. No rationale at all for including creationism. That’s a big problem with TV today, the idea that everything has to be “balanced,” and acting like any opposing view is valid and deserving of equal time simply because it exists. It drastically distorts the truth about which views are predominant by giving them all equal time. It should, theoretically, be proportionate time.

      I, too, love that your teen loves the show. How else will we inspire our young people to become scientists if not by exposing them to the wonders that are science and instilling awe and curiosity about the world — the cosmos! — around them?

        1. Just came across this relevant Tyson quote on Huffington Post:

          “I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but doesn’t really apply in science. The ethos was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced,” Tyson said, adding, “you don’t talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.”

  2. Equal air time? Are they joking? While waiting for my allergy shot this afternoon, I read in Times magazine that the TV show Resurrection pulled it over 15 million viewers (or something like that) and Cosmos only 5.9 million (or there abouts). How about science getting equal air time?

    1. Good point. I feel like “Cosmos” is sort of a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Even the so-called science channels are resorting to cheesy reality shows and fiction presented as fact (eg, “Megalodon” on the Discovery Channel). Of course, documentaries never draw like fiction, but it would be nice to at least know there are some accurate scientific documentaries available.

      1. I pay extra to my cable company just so I have access to the science programming on H2 and Discovery Science, but even those shows are becoming more and more sensationalized – to boost ratings I suppose. Apparently they never considered that anyone watching would be smart enough to notice the inconsistencies and contradictions…

        1. So do I. But these days the truth and accuracy of most “documentaries” is suspect. You can watch a very interesting show — only to discover the guy who did the show has been blown off by his colleagues as not credible.

          1. johnthecook…”documentaries” on the science of evolution for the appearance of man on planet Earth is nothing more than sensationalized speculation. It can not and should not be taught in the classrooms of American Schools as actual fact. No one can prove this theory. Can ANY ONE prove that “Creation” did not happen? Just as I can not prove it did happen,no one on Planet Earth can prove it did not happen.

          2. I consider evolution a solid refutation of the biblical creation. Evolution is proven science. Ask any anthropologist. Creation is a religious belief. The first belongs in science classes, the second in church.

  3. Oh, and I’m going to re-watch every Cosmos episode. Those words also made me proud to hear.

    FYI – Neil has a wonderful lecture about science and religion where he posits that religion has long held back science. It makes you wonder what the world would look like if religion hadn’t been so dogmatic.

    I can’t find the video right now, of course, but here’s another one that I find inspiring:

    1. Only two episodes have aired so far, so you aren’t far behind. Unless you’re talking about re-watching Sagan’s “Cosmos.” Lots more of those.

      Thanks for the video. I hadn’t seen this one before. It includes his concept that we are stardust which, as he says, is a bit more poetic than Sagan’s “starstuff.” Either way, it has great appeal to me. That and the idea I will one day return to being stardust.

  4. I’m 100% with you. An old atheist from 40 years back, I have real problems with creationists’ sanity.
    “Science is true whether or not you believe in it; unlike religion, which you believe in whether or not it’s true.”
    JUST LOVE THAT, Susan !

  5. I KNEW there more reasons to love that guy. I’ll be right there with you to buy tickets for the smackdown.
    Soooo sorry that the chances of equal time are so low.
    I’m fairly sure these guys get their news from Fox “News,” which isn’t exactly known for balance (I’m being charitable; the workweek’s over) and probably also deny climate change. Apparently if change doesn’t happen over a short period of time, it doesn’t exist; therefore, creationism and climate-change denial are the only courses that make sense (to them).
    I have my faith, but I could never deny the realities of science that are provable (I know, crazy talk!).
    Science is not evil; denying reality, on the other hand …

    1. And I wouldn’t put down anyone for their belief as long as they aren’t denying reality or being stubbornly, willfully ignorant. Or worst of all, trying to inflict their beliefs on others, whether in our classrooms or the halls of Congress.

  6. Yeesh … there *were* more reasons …
    Funny that I’d drop a word when that’s the topic of the column I’m working on right now. Wonder what creationists would say about that …

  7. In matters such as these I try to keep things much simpler than most I suppose and consequently my blood pressure seems to respond accordingly…

    With regard to the Creationist, if ‘god’ is indeed the guiding hand or force behind all that has come before to include you, me, the earth, the universe and beyond, regardless of the scientific and biological processes that got us from point A to point B, what person of sane mind and faculties including the scientific community can truly understand the awesomeness of such an entity? Secondly, it seems to me that the Creationists don’t really even believe what they profess to believe about their own god because if they truly did they could not deny and/or reject many of the scientific findings known to us today. Standing in the shadow of that god, do they not understand just how absolutely primitive they really are? Creationists, in all that they say and do, make one fatalistic error that cannot be denied in my opinion, they humanize their god.

    If in fact we as individuals choose to believe in an all powerful entity that we call god, then it is much more logical that one entertain scientific productions such as the subject “Cosmos” to give comfort and substance to such beliefs.

    As a side note, I think serious consideration should be given to changing our calendar system since the Gregorian calendar is based solely on Creationists beliefs. It is not actually a real calendar. It is based on a religious belief that the earth began around 4004 BC and it is now 2014 AD – solely a Christian proposition and not given to scientific fact.

    1. Well drat, I know I replied here and said something about the calendar. Maybe it was late and I neglected to hit “Post.”

      Yes, I’ve always thought it terribly presumptuous to pretend to understand a god awesome enough to create what we now know is our universe — much less speak for him as so many religious leaders presume to do and have for several thousand years. But of course, that’s how religion originated … a few people smart enough to realize that if they pretended to have all the answers and to understand the mind of some great god in the sky, it would give them untold power over the masses. And so it has. (Not to mention enriching them.)

  8. You caused me to tune in. This gentleman has such a pleasant and non-confrontational style it is a wonder anyone would attack him or his messages. However, we’ve long known that one of the wonders of science is how many idiots have evolved in this universe.

    1. I caused you to tune in? I’m so glad! I think Tyson is the best advocate for science to come along in a long time. He’s so likeable, not at all nerdie or weird. Just a regular guy who happens to be an astrophysicist. And he’s not a bad dancer either.

    2. johnthecook…Gabbygeezer,the term “idiot” can be applied to both creationists and evolutionists.Viva la difference.

  9. When it comes to creationists demanding equal air time with scientists I can’t help but associate that demand with the previous ridiculous claim by Rohrabacher in 2007 that is was dinosaur flatulence that created climate change. And, no I’m not shitting you.

  10. Have you watched this?
    Neil Tyson presentation about intelligent design
    This is a presentation on science, religion, and how poorly-designed humans, the Earth, and the universe really are. The presenter, Neil deGrasse Tyson, is the new host of the PBS-TV program “NOVA scienceNOW”, director of the Hayden Planetarium in the Rose Center For Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History. He is the recipient of seven honorary doctorates and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal.


    1. I hadn’t watched this video in particular, but I’d seen his shorter “god of the gaps” video. He puts it more elegantly in this one. “Science is a philosophy of discovery. Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance.”

      Thanks for sharing this. His enthusiasm is so … contagious. I wish every kid in America could get to know him.

      And thanks for tweeting this post (and others). You have a lot more followers than I do.

  11. Neil deGrasse Tyson is so great. (although I suspected in the first episode some of his script was “dumbed down” in production – parts just didn’t sound as he usually does…towards the end of the program was more normal). The NASA and other images are always mesmerizing.
    Applaud your observations and comments about some feeling “uncomfortable” (or was that outrage). Picked up a couple of things even at the very first that I laughed and said they’d start controversy.
    SInce when did every single show/event have to be “balanced” or neutral in political/social correctness? Disturbing. This is entertainment/sharing of wonder and science – not a Sunday school class or something designed for classrooms (although that’s a big market).
    If we all rigidly think, talk alike, it’s going to be very dull, boring and the end of improving life.
    Many scientists believe in God, but also in science. Those are not incompatible for a logical open mind. Many see no planned intelligent design – only what happens, happens. No conflict with science there either.
    Evolution continues to happen. How tall were the pilgrims? How tall is the average teenager today? Think people! It’s not an evil thought.
    Wish people would just be happy with their own thoughts and quit trying to force everyone else to be just exactly like them…that’s not how it’s suppose to be with freedom of though and pursuit of happiness.
    A willingness to explore thought and possibilities would also be nice.
    Grat post! (and you are not showing up in my reader for some reason -trying to keep up with you!)

    1. I, too, thought he seemed a little awkward or stilted or something at the beginning. Still saw it in the second show. I wrote it off as his not being used to working with a script and having lines. If you watch any of his videos, he’s naturally much more animated and free-flowing. Much more enthusiastic and fun to listen to. But on Cosmos, he has to be more precise, finish his thoughts, etc. I’m betting he gets much better as the series progresses.

... and that's my two cents