Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Cosmos Apart

Over thirty years ago, Carl Sagan kickstarted a decade-long science boom with his show, Cosmos.  Millions were influenced, and a generation of kids wanted to become scientists when they grew up.  Now, imminent astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson takes on the mantle of science popularizer and educator with his take on the award-winning program, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, produced by Seth MacFarlane (of Family Guy fame):

I watched the first episode with bated breath.  I'm quite familiar with Tyson and Sagan, so I knew they'd do a pretty good job with keeping the "spirit" of the original series.  And they did.  With updated graphics and scientific understanding, the show is poised to once again inspire people to look deeper into how we know what we know.

Given that I converse with scientifically illiterate people regularly, I couldn't help but view the show through the eyes of an uneducated theist.  With this exercise I was able to see that, given the what the material is presented, hardcore theists and science-deniers have their work cut out for them.  The show is meant to inspire, to fill the viewer with curiosity.  When Tyson makes statements of fact, it's supposed to get the viewer to think, "how is that true?" and then go seek the answer.

But just as with Bill Nye's approach to the debate with Ken Ham, this tactic won't work; the average viewer isn't going to look any of this up.  A lot of them have their minds made up already, as one tweet read: "i can answer where life came from. God Next question."

I'm not giving into despair though.  I believe the new Cosmos will spark discussion and invite viewers into the world of science at a time when we desperately need it.  But I don't know just how big the impact will be.  It's my hope that science can once again become popular enough that people begin to understand and appreciate the methods and not just the results it give us.