Cosmos premiered on Fox News amidst rave reviews, controversy, and irony, as well as some palpable nerd excitement for those who idolize Neil Degrasse Tyson, the popular astrophysicist. Within this mish-mash of differing reactions, however, there is a serious problem with how supporters and opponents are approaching the new show. In reality, Neil Degrasse Tyson, who is an atheist himself, should really be conservatives and religious believers’ best friend and he would be, if those people were doing something more than knee-jerking based on their chosen ideology.
To see this, one need only look at the first episode of Tyson’s rebooted Cosmos. This episode spends most of its time telling the story of the Christian monk Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for believing and teaching that the universe was much, much bigger than just our tiny little galaxy. The truly memorable quote from this story is from Bruno, who tells his detractors in the Roman Catholic church that their God is “too small.”
Most conservative religious people were immediately up-in-arms about this, taking to Twitter and other social media to combat the idea that the church was somehow evil for killing Bruno for heresy. Some claimed that the entire story was edited in such a way to make science look good and the church look bad. Still others complained and have kept on complaining that the show didn’t give a fair hearing to Creationist and Intelligent Design views. With each successive episode, Cosmos just makes these shrill protestors even more frenzied.
This is a truly unfortunate situation for conservatives because science may have just handed them their best, non-religious argument for the existence of God, a scientific argument, in fact. This argument is found in the nature of the Big Bang itself. The discovery of what are being called ripples in the fabric of the universe provide evidence for the idea that the universe, matter, and all life within it had a specific start date. Basically, instead of a random collection of matter that just happened to bump into each other in the right way to create a universe with the capability of supporting life, everything started from a random point that went from no existence at all to existence. As many conservatives are now arguing, if there was a beginning there had to be something or someone to make it begin and, they believe, that beginner is God.
This is a nice and tidy argument for the existence of God that can even appeal to scientists because it is based on scientific evidence. Whether or not it actually proves a creator is a whole other story, but for now it is conservatives best hope for supporting their views in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are wrong. Conservatives should be crowing right now, should be shouting on every rooftop and biased cable news channel that they finally have a rational, science-backed reason to believe in Creationism and, therefore, to teach it in an actual science class.
Obviously, no one is doing that. Instead, most conservatives seem focused on tearing down Tyson’s scientific show and proving time after ludicrous time that they disagree with it for very little scientific reason at all. This brings us back to Cosmos’ first personality story about Giordano Bruno. The conservative God is still “too small” because conservatives still insist on attacking every new scientific idea that comes about instead of considering it at all. They are recreating the situation Bruno was in back in the sixteenth century, except they can’t burn Neil Degrasse Tyson at the stake anymore because murder is illegal.
If conservatives actually stopped for a moment and tried to find common ground with Tyson and Cosmos, to let him be their best friend, it might look something like this:
The first episode of Cosmos provides a framework with which to watch all the other episodes – a framework in which faith, religion, and science all work in tandem to create a complete view of the universe. Science helps people see the imminent grandeur, the unimaginable scale of the finite universe which reflects the grandeur and infinite qualities of the God which faith and religion believe in. Thus, when watching any of the amazing graphics and special effects Tyson has at his disposal, people will be able to see a correlation between science and faith in God.
In this case, science actually enhances people’s belief in God by refusing to confine him to ideas that we understand. Because science is more about asking questions and examining what answers might be found, it leaves space for the unanswerable contained in an omnipotent creator-God. Faith and science, then, both end up taking the same path toward knowledge by asking a myriad of questions leading up to greater, yet still unsure knowledge. After all, Tyson admits that there are still things he doesn’t know that science cannot explain. And in religion, the inability of finite man to understand infinite God is dogma. Science and religion, then, share a common purpose which is to question what no one can ultimately completely understand.
This is what it might look like if conservatives tried to find common ground with the science Tyson presents so articulately in Cosmos. It is certainly possible to do, so that begs the question, why aren’t they doing it? The answer to this lies, not coincidentally, in Texas, which has long been a conservative bastion for Creationist ideas.
In a race for state senate, Don Huffines beat the incumbent Republican for the Republican nomination and is expected to win the seat in the November mid-term elections. In an interview with a local news station, he was asked about his educational ideas, including creationism in schools which has always been a hot topic in Texas. Huffines’ response was unequivocal support for teaching creationism in schools, especially in science classes where it would be taught right alongside evolution.
This is the reason why conservatives cannot take a more thoughtful approach to Tyson or to Cosmos. They don’t object based on scientific grounds or actual evidence or any other reasonable idea, barring straight out religious conviction. Instead, conservatives want to win primaries, they want to appeal to the ideologues in their party who will hopefully vote them in to office, and they can’t do that unless they say the things those ideologues want them to say. Speaking for a more moderate approach to evolution is political suicide and ideologically forbidden.
It’s a real shame that conservatives aren’t allowed to be friends with Neil Degrasse Tyson, or watch Cosmos with pure enjoyment unsullied by ideological frenzy, or even dissent from the majority opinion like Giordano Bruno did. They are so wrapped up in their conservative and religious ideologies that no good response for them is possible. It’s too bad, because Tyson is really trying to be their best friend if they’d only let him.
Opinion By Lydia Webb