“Cosmos” and Resisting the Temptation of False Equivalence
The National Science Foundation released a survey last month that found nearly 1 out of 4 Americans mistakenly believe the Sun orbits the Earth. This was all cleared up about 500 years ago by Nicolaus Copernicus who correctly theorized that the Earth and all the other planets in our solar system orbit a largely stationary sun. Still, 25% of the country disagrees. So does this mean the media is obligated to present the other “side?”
We know by now that the earth is a spherical object. There are satellite photos that confirm it. There are still-photos from the moon. Get high enough in a jet and you can see the curvature of the earth. Yet, there is an actual Flat Earth Society that contends otherwise. This is, literally, their take on the world:
Do we carve out a few minutes to give the Flat-Earthers their “side” of the argument?
There is something called the “Creation Museum” that opened in Petersburg, Kentucky six years ago, that among other things, shows humans walking around with their friends, the dinosaurs. There is ample evidence, of course, that humans never co-existed with dinosaurs; the creatures had gone extinct by the time relatively new-fangled human beings came along. But let’s find the Museum Curator and put him on the air because, surely, this is the other “side” of the Dinosaur story.
And now, Neil deGrass Tyson, hosting a modern-day sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is under attack from some quarters for espousing Darwin’s theory of evolution with opposing groups demanding equal TV time from FOX and National Geographic to talk about creationism. That is the very definition of false equivalence.
Science and religion, fact and faith- are too entirely different realms. This does not mean there are no religious or spiritually-inclined scientists or that there are no persons of the cloth who subscribe to scientific discipline and study. It would be great to hear both “sides” on a show that deals with the controversy of creationists versus scientists. But if you’re writing a book or producing a TV series on the history of the universe- it’s about facts, not opinions.
From a philosophical point of view, I must admit I have never understood the revulsion on the part of fundamentalists toward the theory of evolution. How is it, in any way, an affront to the belief in the existence of a higher power? How amazing is a God that creates a universe that allows for the constant change and improvement of all living things through the process of natural selection?
I would go even further and wonder aloud how anyone who studies the infinite nature of our universe could be without a sense of wonder that eventually lands at a spiritual place that attempts to answer what we can’t with pure science. What came before the “big bang” is not knowable. What extends outside the edge of the universe is unfathomable, because theoretically, there is no edge of the universe.
It is in the realm of philosophy where science and spirituality rightfully mingle together. I am grateful to live in a world that considers both. There is little doubt in my mind that all of life as we know it and understand it, spiritually and scientifically, is, in fact, an amazing miracle.
But let’s not corrupt scientific fact with religious opinion by putting spiritual beliefs on some kind of equal footing with objective scientific inquiry. Those beliefs are completely legitimate. In a church. Or in a museum dedicated to Creationism. But not on a television series based on the story of our universe as we’ve come to understand it through long-established methods of scientific research, inquiry and peer review.