I don't go to church any more. But last Sunday I experienced an inspiring sermon... about the cosmic wonders discovered by science.
Here's the best thing about the new series featuring Neil Degrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist: "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" is all about reality. Not religious fantasy.
(First uplifting episode can be viewed online.)
The computer graphics are excellent. Sure, these are simulations of how the universe appears beyond Earth's immediate surroundings. But given the immensity of the cosmos, there's no other way to describe expanses of space and time far beyond everyday understanding.
I was deeply moved. Particularly, by the part where Tyson starts from Earth and then shows the scale of the universe: solar system, Milky Way galaxy, local cluster of galaxies, supercluster of clusters, entire universe.
I felt really, really small. Which is reality. To say that Earth is a speck in the cosmic scheme of things gives our planet too prominent a place in the cosmos. (See my post, "Scale of the universe.")
One of the arguments against a Judeo-Christian-Islamic personal creator God is that the universe is way too large if it was created just for us humans. Often religious believers of both a western and eastern persuasion talk about the Homo sapiens species as being the top of creation.
Well, after watching the first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey I find that exceedingly hard to believe. Even if we're just talking about physical reality.
The universe is so vast, almost certainly it contains beings and civilizations that would boggle our human minds if we were able to know about them. Tyson said that if the age of the universe, about 14 billion years, were compressed to a single year, all of human recorded history would fit into the last 14 seconds.
Amazingly, though, modern science has learned a tremendous amount about the universe in a fraction of the last second of that cosmic year.
Pre-scientific myths have been revealed to be false. Like, the Earth being the center of everything. Tyson spent quite a bit of time explaining how the Church freaked out when Copernicus, Bruno, and Galileo spoke the truth about the Earth revolving around the Sun.
Bruno was burned at the stake because he dared to challenge religious dogmatism.
He correctly surmised that the universe was filled with countless worlds other than our own. However, it appears that Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey failed to point out that Bruno's heresies went considerably beyond cosmological ones.
But the truth is that Bruno's scientific theories weren't what got him killed. Sure, his refusal to recant his belief in a plurality of worlds contributed to his sentence. But it's important to note that the Catholic Church didn't even have an official position on the heliocentric universe in 1600, and support for it was not considered heresy during Bruno's trial.
On top of that, his support for Copernican cosmology was the least heretical position he propagated. His opinions on theology were far more pyrotechnic. For example, Bruno had the balls to suggest that Satan was destined to be saved and redeemed by God.
He didn't think Jesus was the son of God, but rather “an unusually skilled magician.” He even publicly disputed Mary's virginity. The Church could let astronomical theories slide, but calling the Mother of God out on her sex life? There's no doubt that these were the ideas that landed Bruno on the stake.
I liked how blunt Neal Degrasse Tyson was about religion. It's a crappy way of learning about reality. Truth seekers need to embrace the scientific method, which is the only way of sorting out true from false when it comes to the world outside our subjective psyches.
Stelter showed a clip of President Obama’s climate speech last year, in which he decried climate deniers by saying the country didn’t have time for a “meeting of the flat Earth society.” Tyson said the president’s reference was a good example of how the idea of “balance” in scientific stories doesn’t make sense.
“In the clip you showed of the president — you don’t talk about the spherical Earth with NASA, and then say ‘now let’s give equal time to the flat Earthers,” he said. “Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick…You can decide whether or not to believe in it but that doesn’t change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.”
...Tyson also said he hopes Cosmos, which premiered March 9, can help Americans learn how to decipher scientific facts from political spin and that it can help Americans become better stewards of the Earth.
“The goal is to convey why science matters to the person, to our society, to us as shepherds of this planet,” he said. “It involves presenting science in ways that connect to you, so Cosmos can influence you not only intellectually but emotionally, with a celebration of wonder and awe.”
Absolutely. There's no need to go to church to worship the Creator. Here and now, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, what the Big Bang has wrought is what you are experiencing.
Further, science reveals mysteries of the cosmos beyond our capacity to know with unaided senses. But when we appreciate how amazing the universe is, every bit of it, whether near or far, can seem filled with the wonder and awe Tyson speaks of.
There's no need to call that a spiritual sensibility.
To me, it is simply a natural response to understanding reality. However, if you want to be "spiritual," whatever that word means, embracing science is the way to go.