I was thrilled to learn of the new reboot of the Carl Sagan science series Cosmos, knowing that my fourteen-year-old science geek son would be over the moon about it. But as I’ve watched the first several episodes, I’ve struggled with the barely veiled animosity toward religion present in the narrative. While the show has led to some mind-stretching conversations with my son, I had so hoped for something that would transcend the age-old antagonistic pitting of science against religion. Science historian Elizabeth Yale, professor at The University of Iowa Center for the Book (a place I just have to visit!) in her essay “What the Show Cosmos Gets Wrong about Religion – and Science” sheds a helpful light. A most worthwhile read.
For Cosmos, Newton’s discovery “decoupled the motions of the heavens from their ancient connections to our fears.” Throughout the show, religion is affiliated with fear, superstition, and a reliance on authority. Science, on the other hand, is presented as a curiosity-driven enterprise that expands our knowledge of the universe. Scientists proceed by questioning received truths and testing all ideas experimentally. According to the show, scientists are those who “question authority.” ~ Elizabeth Yale