Sunday nights have become our family night for a science lesson, thanks to Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey and the fantastic Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist who makes science easy to understand. He does it on a show, produced by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane, that uses every bell and whistle Hollywood has to make complicated scientific discoveries as easy to watch as the Avengers films. Fox is so invested in the series that it airs Sunday nights and repeats on Mondays on National Geo.
It didn't take long before Creationists started demanding equal airtime on Cosmos to discuss their beliefs on the origins of the universe. But Tyson and MacFarlane have made it clear there will be no debate because in science, there is none. "You don't talk about the spherical Earth with NASA, and then say let's give equal time to the flat Earthers," Tyson said. MacFarlane has said his hopes for the series is to counteract 'junk science' that enters political debtates.
In last week's episode, entitled "A Sky Full of Ghosts," Tyson points to the Crab Nebula, which is about 6,500 light years away, which proves that our universe is much older than a few thousand years.
"If the universe were only 6,500 years old, how could we see the light from anything more distant than the Crab Nebula?" Tyson asks during the episode. "We couldn't. There wouldn't have been enough time for the light to get to Earth from anywhere farther away than 6,500 light years in any direction. That's just enough time for light to travel a tiny portion of our Milky Way galaxy."
That, he says poetically, means that "To believe in a universe as young as 6- or 7,000 years old, is to extinguish the light of most of the galaxy."
He already attacked the Young Earth notions in the very first episode when the show did a fantastic teaching tool to explain how the universe at 13.8 billion years old would look like if it were a calendar year. If the Big Bang were Jan. 1 and present day was midnight on Dec. 31, all of recorded human history, from the pyramids to the cave men, would take place in just the last 14 seconds of that year. Mind blown.
Then in episode two of Cosmos, Tyson went there. The entire episode was a thorough explanation of evolution and DNA and it was put in his usual entertaining, thoughtful manner that made even the most complex scientific discoveries understandable.
Maybe the best outcome of the Cosmos will be that people of faith who see no conflict with science will speak up more. It doesn't get much press but Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, most seminaries, Judaism and Muslims see conflict between their faith and science. It's only the fundamentalists of all those sects who have a problem with it. And they are usually the loudest.
But that may be changing, thanks to the Fox show.
Rabbi Michael Knopf recently wrote an essay on Cosmos saying the show and Neil deGrasse Tyson have actually strengthened his faith. "As a person of faith, I appreciate Cosmos because, while it describes the sometimes-tense historical relationship between religion and science, it refuses to argue that this clash is inevitable… This relationship of integration also allows science and religion to be at their best. For example, Cosmos reminds us that the universe and all it contains originated in the Big Bang. To me, this teaching affirms the Jewish belief that if God is one, there is no other God and thus if God created the cosmos, all existence is ultimately one."
And Christian author Edward T. Bowser writes that Cosmos "isn't an affront to religion, it's divine confirmation of faith."