Every night I tell myself I am the cosmos, I am the wind. — Chris Bell
My cousin, a fundamentalist Christian, was once dating a woman who had an advanced degree in engineering, yet believed that the world was 6,000 years old. She fascinated me. I had them over for dinner. "You can't miss my house," I told them. "It's the one with all the Jurassic palms out front." Oops! I never realized how many allusions I make to evolution on a daily basis until I hung out with them. Our dinner conversation somehow came around to bacteria (I'm not much of a housekeeper) and I joked about how they may seem pretty unicellular but that they've been around a lot longer than we have. My humor fell on deaf ears.
Few things depress me as much as this statistic: One-third of Americans don't believe in evolution (Pew, 2013). Some of them, perhaps, are simply not bright enough to grasp how natural selection works, or how we can measure the age of things. Others are plenty smart but locked into a narrow reading of the Bible; to accept that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old is to somehow denounce the word of their Lord. Whatever their screwy reasoning, they are probably not watching the reboot of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. The third installment in the 13-episode series was just aired on Fox on Sunday, and following the Twitter posts of all science-denying freaks is either hilarious or terrifying, depending on your current THC level. "A propaganda piece for militant Anti-Creator Evolutionists," says @Duke1CA. "Apparently #cosmos can just lie on TV. The moon was actually created by God. As was life. So yeah we do know where life came from." -@MattAlbert3. And my favorite: "If I had not heard of the Big Bang vs the Bible and was shown the differences, I would still pick the Bible. Seems way more plausible." -@c0rysmi1th.
If any of these people actually watched the freaking show, they would see host Neil deGrasse Tyson flat-out say that we still don't know the ultimate origins of life, so no one is trying to steal God's thunder... or lightning... or DNA double-helix. He also points to the awesome beauty and profundity of nature and the universe — it's spiritual. There are some Christians who get this. My mother is one of them. She's big into Jesus and also big into science. We took a trip to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming once; my mother methodically read the entire history of the region, learning about the million-year gradual changes that took place to create the mountains that surrounded us. For her, this was God.
This reboot of Cosmos is quite good, especially since it's just as corny as the original. Tyson floats through space in some strange spaceship thing, zipping in and out of time a la Fantastic Voyage. Cheeseball "Music of Importance and Portent" plays in the background, and cartoons, computer animation, and actual locations all over the world are used to illustrate each point.
The very first episode of Cosmos takes us through the sad history science has had with the church, introducing us to the 16th-century monk and cosmological theorist Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for asserting that we were not the center of the universe. To him, the fact that space was infinite and massive was a testament to God, not a denunciation. It seems not much has changed, which is perhaps the point, though Tyson shows us what a blip on the screen of existence we hominids are anyway. If the history of our universe were a calendar year, he says, we would be in the last second of the last minute of December 31. What's 400 years in the grand scheme of things?
I predict that some teacher, somewhere, is going to want to show Cosmos to his or her class, and some parent is going to have a fucking fit. They will not realize that the emotions they are having are the result of the scientific definition of altruism, the need for a parent to protect a child so as to continue their line. This is a trait passed down through natural selection for as long as mammals have existed. I also won't tell them that we are all just DNA's bitch, anyway — vessels that carry the information that will continue to exist long after we are gone. And you know what? I find this knowledge to be perfect and beautiful. Thank God.