The first episode of the new Cosmos TV series makes it clear that imagination is its main message.
President Obama pronounced his blessing before episode one of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the re-invented TV series by Carl Sagan (Cosmos: A Personal Journey, 1980), immediately followed by a recap of Sagan’s manifesto of materialism, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” A key phrase in Obama’s appeal to viewers was (Space.com), “Open your imagination” – and that’s exactly what narrator Neil de Grasse Tyson emphasized. From the deck of his Spaceship of the Imagination (“re-imagined” for 2014, National Geographic), the New York astronomer, a proud disciple of Sagan (Space.com), told viewers, “To make this journey, we’ll need imagination, but imagination is not enough, because the reality of nature is far more wondrous than anything we can imagine” – in other words, viewers will need a super-imagination.
It would be hard to argue that Tyson was actually focusing on “the reality of nature,” because the program concentrated on imaginary realities, like the Oort Cloud, which no one can see, and rogue planets, never observed, that might have oceans below their ice: “Who knows what might be swimming there?” he teased. Most egregious of the imaginary realities was a pictorial representation of “the multiverse” in which our observable universe is but a bubble in an infinite array of imaginary universes. Like Sagan, Tyson spent a great deal of imaginary energy on an imaginary “Cosmic Calendar” in which the evolutionary scenario of the universe (from big bang to the present) is compressed into a single year. Within this imaginary timeline, life emerges somehow, though Tyson admits that the origin of life is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in science. Then, without explanation, life explodes into a variety of forms (the Cambrian explosion). An imaginary Tiktaalik crawls out onto the shore behind Tyson as he spins his tale of the evolution of life, walking on imaginary legs that even its fossil discoverer, Neil Shubin, agrees did not exist (1/14/14). As it was in 1980, the Cosmic Calendar is an expansive, imaginative panorama and audacious knowledge claim for guys whose entire lifetimes occupy the last second of the 365-day mythoid.
Tyson also led viewers through a cartoon-drawn, mythical version of the martyrdom of Giordano Bruno (refuted by Jay Richards on Evolution News & Views), aimed to limn an imaginary battle between science and religion (but see Casey Luskin’s rebuttal on Evolution News & Views). In fact, Tyson and his scriptwriters went out of their way to mention Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists as the enemies of free speech and academic freedom, determined to stifle the kind of imagination that he believes led to modern science. One problem: most of the founders of modern science, including Copernicus and Galileo, were Christians. Bruno, however, was not a scientist (Tyson admits as much). Tyson cites Lucretius (an ancient atheist, not a scientist) approvingly. This portrayal of the “warfare hypothesis” (that religion and science are at war) is, once again, imaginary. As the series unfolds, it will become clear that the producers also have intelligent design in their crosshairs (see Evolution News & Views and L.A. Times interview with Seth MacFarlane, producer).
If the opening episode is any indication, it will be difficult for viewers of the 13-part series to tell where the science ends and the imagination begins.
Casey Luskin pulled a rhetorical coup on Evolution News & Views by listing two dozen examples of Darwinian intolerance of free speech and academic freedom, including the experience of the editor of Creation-Evolution Headlines. We also like Jay Richards’ description of Cosmos as “a glossy multi-million-dollar piece of agitprop for scientific materialism.”
Tyson and his producer buddies have already destroyed their credibility, because they have violated their own standards. Tyson presented the scientific method as including these principles: test everything and keep what passes, but reject the rest; question everything; and follow the evidence wherever it leads. Most of the “science” (imagination) Tyson presented he did not test. If he had, he would have rejected Darwin, because it has been falsified by the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion (among a hundred other things). He would have rejected the big bang and the multiverse, which are untestable. He would have rejected the animation of the big bang, because even its proponents admit it is inconceivable for anyone to stand outside of it and watch it (the big bang did not explode “into” anything because there was no pre-existing space), and it did not make any audible noise. If he had questioned everything, he would have questioned his own materialist philosophy. If he had followed the evidence where it leads, he would have tested the fine-tuning of the universe, the information content of the genetic code, and the irreducible complexity of life, and become an advocate of intelligent design. If he had followed the evidence of logic, he would have realized that his own use of reason refutes materialism. Having botched the story of Giordano Bruno with simplistic cartoons that advance an agenda, Tyson has opened the series up to historical criticism as much as scientific falsification. His credibility shot, Tyson’s showmanship collapses into entertainment, not science. (There is some good CGI for Trekkies.)
Like we said in advance of the series (1/15/14), Tyson is a handsome and charismatic communicator, and his producers have all the whiz-bang gimmicks of modern video production at their command. The tours of the planets are nice; the galaxies are beautiful, and the effects are entertaining. The close-up of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter is visually compelling. None of that, however, matters in science. One must be bound to evidence, not imagination.
But is imagination bad? It depends. Imagination, the offspring of wonder, can often start the mind thinking in new directions. Many discoveries in science began with imagination. But imagination comes before science; it is (or, rather can be) an emotional impetus for hypothesis construction. That’s fine, unless the hypothesis is untestable or fails experimental test. Unfortunately, the majority of hypotheses do fail experimental tests and must be rejected, along with the imaginary scenarios that inspired them (e.g., the philosopher’s stone in alchemy, the phlogiston theory, and spontaneous generation). Tyson mixes wonder with imagination, but they are not the same. Theists should experience awe and wonder at creation, but are not encouraged to imagine mythical realities that can never be subjected to verification in any way (like the multiverse). For God’s view of imagination, see our commentary from 1/17/07 that quotes 18 Biblical references denouncing those who pursue vain imaginations or walk after the imagination of their own heart. This kind of imagination (very much on display in the new Cosmos) leads people astray from the truth and must be denounced. The Apostle Paul expressed the right attitude about new ideas—not dogmatic acceptance, but reasoned reflection: “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (I Thessalonians 5:21); “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable… think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8). Those are good principles that promote science. How can anyone get truth, honor, and logical analysis out of an imaginary big bang?
Another reason Tyson’s wonder and enthusiasm for science (or, rather his own imagination) is deplorable is because it was stolen from the Christian world view. Materialism provides despair, not joy. We leave you with one of our Darwin Hymns to make the point: “Godless Philosophy” (to the tune of God Bless America):
Godless philosophy, pointless for me,
None to cause us, but Cosmos–
All that is, was, and ever shall be.
From the big bang, to the slime soup,
To the heat death, dark and old:
Godless philosophy, it leaves me cold;
Godless philosophy, it leaves me cold.