The new Cosmos, and Neil deGrasse Tyson on science vs. religion

You might not have known that Carl Sagan’s famous television series, “Cosmos: a Personal Voyage” (13 episodes, first aired in 1980) was, at least according to Wikipedia, “the most widely watched series in the history of American public television until The Civil War (1990). As of 2009, it was still the most widely watched PBS series in the world. It won an Emmy and a Peabody Award and has since been broadcast in more than 60 countries and seen by over 500 million people.”

Those are big shoes to fill, but Neil deGrasse Tyson is going to try. I’m sure you do know that Tyson is presenting a successor to Sagan’s show, called “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.” It airs beginning March 9 on both the Fox network and the National Geographic channel.   The driving force in getting the series made, and its producer, is Ann Druyan, who was married to Sagan and collaborated with him.  In the Wikipedia article on the new show, Tyson expatiates on its purpose:

“The task for the next generation of Cosmos is a little bit different because I don’t need to teach you textbook science. There’s a lot of textbook science in the original Cosmos, but that’s not what you remember most. What most people who remember the original series remember most is the effort to present science in a way that has meaning to you that can influence your conduct as a citizen of the nation and of the world–especially of the world.” Tyson states that the new series will contain both new material and updated versions of topics in the original series, but primarily, will service the “needs of today’s population.” “We want to make a program that is not simply a sequel to the first, but issues forth from the times in which we are making it, so that it matters to those who is this emergent 21st century audience.” Tyson considered that recent successes of science-oriented shows like The Big Bang Theory, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and films like Gravity, that “science has become mainstream” and expects Cosmos “will land on hugely fertile ground.”

Well, “textbooks science” sounds a bit pejorative to me, and the evocation of shows like CSI and Gravity don’t inspire me with a lot of hope, but I trust Tyson will come through. Remember, though, that the young people who will be watching the new series haven’t seen the old one, and probably don’t know the “textbook science” (do they know what a black hole is? Or dark matter?).  I just hope it won’t be all gimmicky and grandiose with a lot of shouting about the wonder of it all.

Sadly, those fear are reinforced by what purports to be the official trailer (from Comic Con), shown below.  I hope it was just made just for the Con, because otherwise it’s grandiose, dire, and smacks of that dreadful movie “Tree of Life”:

Still, I’m hoping the show will be a hit: Ceiling Cat knows that we need more good science on television; and I hope my fears of an overweening “gee-whiziness” are unwarranted.  I also know that many of you have an interest in astronomy and cosmology and will be watching the show, so do report in when you see it (my t.v. watching is limited to the evening news and “60 Minutes”).

But on to Tyson, science, and religion.  You may remember that I’ve criticized Tyson before for backing away from any statements about religion, even when they come up, and for criticizing New Atheism.  My theory was that he wanted to be popular, and you don’t get that way in the U.S. by dissing religion.  And there’s some point to that: Tyson does, after all, want people to watch his science series. It’s his big chance to become a science media superstar like Sagan.

Happily, Tyson has redeemed himself on the science-versus-religion issue in a recent interview with Bill Moyers.  In that 26-minute segment, below, Tyson pulls no punches about the incompatibility of science and faith, and adamantly opposes having any religiously-inspired pseudoscience taught in the classroom.

The science-and-religion part, in which Tyson initiates by saying that he doesn’t think the two areas are “reconcilable,” begins at about 16:30. I think you’ll like it: I did.

Tyson’s interview with Moyers was in several parts, and you can see part 1, which deals mostly with science and the nature of the new “Cosmos” show, here. Part 3 will be aired this Friday.

h/t: Dale

92 Comments

  1. francis
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    //

  2. gbjames
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    It is welcome to hear him clearly state that attempting to make religion and science compatible is a waste of time.

  3. darrelle
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Regarding Tyson and religion, my interpretation of his position from hearing what he has said over the past decade or so is that he thinks that engaging in the confrontation of religion vs science / rationality is counterproductive to his goal. His goal is to get people interested in science, not to challenge their religious beliefs, though that will inevitably happen at some point along that road. He seems to think that if you challenge a persons religion directly, you put them in a state of mind that makes them unreceptive to learning about science. I don’t think his position on this is derived primarily from his desire to be a media star. At least I hope not. Despite his somewhat accommodationist position I have seen several instances in the past where he has made clear that religion is bunk.

    • Jonathan Houser
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      I agree with this statement. I don’t think he goes easy on religion, I just don’t think that taking religion down a notch is his goal. He doesn’t give ground to religion, or say that that religion and science are compatible or anything of that nature.

      His goal is just that of a science educator. He has on multiple occasions said pretty much what he has said in this interview. He just doesn’t shout it from the rooftops every opportunity he gets. You have to pick your battles. Science education is his battle, not religion.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 5:58 am | Permalink

        Agreed, but as Jerry says taking religion down (if just by a notch) is inherently and perhaps more useful to science education.

        The general idea is that diversity of approaches is likely useful (or at least, we know not better). A clear Tyson are just fine.

    • eric
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      He seems to think that if you challenge a persons religion directly, you put them in a state of mind that makes them unreceptive to learning abu” cec.bokut>

      IMO there is some truth in that. If you want to rationally convince someone of something, you need to get the rational part of their brain engaged. If you start a conversation by punching their “engage emotional defense mechanism” button, they are much less likely to follow your reasoning or give it appropriate weight.

      I’m reminded of a chimp experiment reported a few years back. The researchers wanted to see how complex a puzzle chimps could solve given some reward for solving it. Small reward like a fig – they did okay. Big reward like a banana – they did better (as expected). Huge reward like a bunch of bananas – oops, suddenly they did worse, because they couldn’t concentrate on the problem with all those bananas in sight. Attacking someone’s religion or politics when you’re trying to make a scientific point is somewhat analogous. You might have just put something in their face that causes them to stop concentrating on the intellectual problem you want them to solve, and so it makes them think worse, not better.

      We’re not computers, and we’re not 100% rational. You have to take into account the foibles of human psychology if you want to convince humans of something.

      • eric
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        Ack, html fail. Sorry, that first paragraph was supposed to be a quote of Darrelle, to which I was replying.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        Yes, I agree. In the “science educator” context that NdGT chooses to operate in I think this is accurate, relevant, and I don’t have any issues with it.

        There have been times, though, when I was disappointed in his unwillingness to clearly state his position, approaching waffling, in contexts other than “science educator.” Of course it is not incumbent on NdGT to meet with my approval. And from his perspective perhaps “science educator” is always the context for him.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          From what I’ve seen I think his distancing himself from the atheist label was due to the ism-ism some people thinks follows.

          Maybe he’s starting to come around and realizing that evolution isn’t the only scientific discipline that’s being challenged by woo-peddlers.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        There is nothing wrong with challenging a person’s religion directly. Nothing. It does not make sense to do it under all conditions, but you imply a blanket waiver-from-critisizm and religion and this is no more deserved than would be such a protection for alcohol use, athletic activities, or politics.

  4. Somite
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    I really liked his interview. Much better than the somewhat equivocal statements he gave in the Big Think and other interviews.

    As in damage control mode Moyers put together this page with more accomodationist scientists like Jane Goodall.

    http://billmoyers.com/2014/01/17/can-science-and-religion-be-reconciled/

    I was surprised to see Asimov in the page but it is clear that although The Good Doctor was overtly polite at the beginning, he caught himself and flat out called fundamentalism “disgraceful”. Worth a view.

  5. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I really like The Big Bang Theory and until mow I never considered it to be subversive… making scientists look as human as everyone else.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Sheldon? Human? ;-)

      /@

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      I love that show as well, but the characters are so geeky. I especially like to grok the cool sciencey stuff in the apartment. Notice the globe of the cosmic microwave background?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        I like how accurate they are in portraying geek culture. I know a lot of people like them & the science fiction references are dead on.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Some of it is silly, but sometimes it is exactly right – the recent episode where Sheldon tells Penny that in a way she’s more like Sheldon then she is like Leonard is was especially interesting. A fictional show where “creativity” is recognized as being as much of science as art? Finally! Even Star Trek and such continually do that wrong (most of the time)!

      And I think the pathos of Sheldon wanting to be the best at his love and failing anyway is too close to home for some of us. (Both in the “I discovered an element” thread and the one off when he realizes Kripke’s work is better than his.)

  6. darrelle
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Regarding the Cosmos reboot, I share Jerry’s fears.

    “There’s a lot of textbook science in the original Cosmos, but that’s not what you remember most.”

    Yeap. That definitely worries me, and I think he is dead wrong here. Of course I can only speak for myself but, the density of actual relevant information in the original Cosmos was precisely one of the things that made it different and appealing. To this day, or should I say especially these days, the typical US documentary just plain sucks. The relevant information content could typically be reduced down to about 5 minutes. The rest is pure theater, usually poorly done. The BBC typically does a much better job, much higher information content.

    Anyway, Tyson’s comments seem to me to be a dressed up way of saying that they “dumbed down” the new Cosmos for today’s audience. I really hope that is not the case. The standard formula for the typcial US made documentary these days is insulting and a disservice to the public and seems to me to fuel a self fulfilling prophecy. Treat them like idiots and eventually they will become, or continue to be, idiots.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      The BBC used to be like that, but now the documentaries seem to have the presenter constantly front & centre. Perhaps it’s smart marketing to no longer let concepts stand & fall on their own merit without a prominent talking head constantly “in frame” to “walk us through it,” but I hate it. Bring back Open University progs & kipper ties!

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      Even the BBC is not as “hard” as it used to be. Horizon has a high padding coefficient – too much dramatisation, too little exposition.

      Prof. Brian Cox’s series are pretty good, with a high information content and complex ideas simply (not simplistically) explained, but still suffer from a surfeit of The Lord of the Rings-style landscape shots and overwhelming music.

      /@

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        I think that’s written into Brian’s contracts – so many mountain scenes and so many wistful skyward gazing scenes. :D

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        But one of the reasons the original Cosmos was so wonderful (at least to me) was how visually and musically gorgeous it is (that said, I’m practically tone deaf and enjoy Vangelis, which is an aquired taste, admittedly).

        That’s the problem with a masterpiece – we don’t remember the ones which were just a little off in one of the ways, whereas Cosmos somehow got the science, the production values, the enthusiasm, and so much more “in there”. Can Tyson repeat? Dunno, but can lightning strike the same place twice? (Of course, but it is still flukey!)

    • TJR
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      Agree with the above comments. I suspect the problem is that having the presenter on camera a lot of the time worked well for David Attenborough, and of course all science presenters want to be The New David Attenborough.

      For it to work the presenter needs to be getting his hands dirty in demonstrating things, not just talking to camera.

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

        Cox certainly does that.

        He’s also not afraid of debunking nonsense such as astrology.

        /@

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

          His tweets are often pretty funny when he threatens to throw books at people who believe such nonsense or calls them twats. He said he is trying not to swear as much because a lot of kids like him.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

        It worked so well for David Attenborough because (a) his series (most notably Life on Earth) had stunning visual production values not previously seen much in nature documentaries and (b) David Attenborough’s enthusiasm was infectious and he had the gift of delivering the material in a fascinating way.

        It was just a very hard act to follow.

  7. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I saw Tyson interviewed last week on Tavis Smiley, and he stuck to his guns there, too.

    BTW, I also saw him in another interview (I don’t remember where) where he asked the question, “What is the difference between the people who wake up and the people who don’t?”, which I think is a really valid question. Although the precipitating events may be idiosyncratic, there may be some commonalities among those who ditch religion which can be supported by us in some way in people on the verge. L

  8. Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    “(my t.v. watching is limited to the evening news and “60 Minutes”)”

    So that’s how you get so much stuff done, Jerry!

    /@

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    This quote concerns me in reference to avoiding “textbook science”:

    What most people who remember the original series remember most is the effort to present science in a way that has meaning to you that can influence your conduct as a citizen of the nation and of the world–especially of the world

    It concerns me because its a motherhood statement – a feel good statement that can’t be pinned down and measured. Influence your conduct how? Make you a better person? More ethical? More thinking? What? Perhaps this is just a way to sell the new series. Motherhood statements sell and I think I get what he’s saying, that he wants to make the content more relevant. I’m hoping that is what happens because given the current scientific literacy of the population, text book science is exactly what they need.

  10. evidence2hope
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I agree with large portions of what Neil deGrasse Tyson says regarding science in the science classroom and people invoking God when science can’t explain something. If someones faith is based on what science can’t explain then they’re in serious trouble and that kind of faith is in conflict with science; but I’m not a Christian because of what science doesn’t understand but partly because of what it does know. Science is a fantastic tool but it in no way threatens my faith or the Bible.

    It definitely threatens certain interpretations of the Bible that not everyone holds to and in sections of the interview he seems to acknowledge that. The interpretations he refers to I would object to them being taught in the science classroom because they’re not scientific but theological and philosophical and should be taught in the relevant classrooms; though he seems to have gotten his theology and views on the Bible from those same people who want to bring that into the science classroom.

    The problem for me is when you try to make modern scientific findings fit with books that were written over 2000 years ago by people who had no concepts of dark matter and genomes. I agree with what Peter Enns said in an interview when talking about Genesis ” These are ancient stories that ask ancient questions and give ancient answers to those questions…..it’s a matter of expectations. The assumption that science and bible need to be in some kind of meaningful discussion, that’s exactly the problem. When we begin there we’re creating problems for ourselves that we would otherwise wisely avoid” If the authors of Genesis were not aware/interested in scientific questions, why are people reading them as if they were?

    I think Stephen Jay Gould makes some great points on this in http://www.stephenjaygould.org/reviews/gould_darwin-on-trial.html

    • darrelle
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      I am always curious when encountering a person that holds a position like you describe here. You seem to acknowledge that most of what is foundational to christianity, what christians of all earlier eras and certainly the earliest foundational era believed to be true of their religion, is not true. In other words, most of the things that are the reasons for inventing Christianity in the first place thousands of years ago, you seem to agree are not true. Given that, what good reason is there to believe any of it?

      Do you think that people thousands of years ago were more capable of discerning reality back then?

      Do you think the Christian god is capricious enough to have given The Truth to our ancestors but withold it, even hide it from us?

      Do you think the bible is really the direct words of your god and the ancients just didn’t know that most of it was supposed to be metaphorical, but that in our modern times believers like you know how to properly interpret the words?

      Does your religious belief really have any direct connection to Christianity?

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      What are the creation stories in Genesis if not attempts to answer “scientific” questions?

      Our findings from science [and archeology, if you don’t regard that as a science] are clearly in conflict with those accounts.

      So, you can say, well, the authors didn’t have our scientific [and archeological] understanding.

      But of course they didn’t. But what‘s the value of the Bible as a reliable description of historic events or as a moral compass if we know some of it is wrong? How can we trust any of it? How can we know what the Ten Commandments actually were? How can we know what Jesus actually taught? How can we know what we can wear and who we can sleep with?

      /@

      • colnago80
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        Even on the historical level, it’s pretty well agreed on by archeologists that, for instance, the exodus from Egypt by the putative future Israelites never happened. Of course, the entire saga was preposterous to begin with as it would have required the Hebrews to have marched in circles for 17 years as the distance from the present Suez canal to the border of modern day Israel can be traversed on foot in a couple of weeks.

        • Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          As I remember it, the Jews, led by Moses, wandered in the desert for 40 and not 17 years before reaching Canaan which they proceeded to massacre so as to steal their land.

          • Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

            Maybe the Ark of the Covenant was playing havoc with their compasses

            /@

            • Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

              Quite possibly so – and it also provided that huge number of people with drinking water every day. They had to wait a while before they began receiving manna, though, because it came from a different source. :D

          • Latverian Diplomat
            Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

            Yes, it was 40, but there’s good linguistic evidence that 40 was just a literary stand-in for “a lot”.

            It also occurs as the number of days of rain in the Noah story, and in the number of days of Jesus’ wanderings in the desert, and IIRC, the number of days between the resurrection and the ascension.

            Of course none of these events actually occurred, but it demonstrates that the numerological symbolism was more important to biblical writers than accuracy. Another reason to be skeptical about ancient writing.

        • Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          Quite so.

          /@

    • Sastra
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      evide4nce2hope #10 wrote:

      Science is a fantastic tool but it in no way threatens my faith or the Bible.

      True. Science doesn’t threaten your faith in ONE way — you don’t care if modern discoveries contradict a literal interpretation of the Bible. That’s fine. But I think you’re a little bit too eager to assume that it threatens your faith in “no way.” There are a lot of ‘ways’ out there.

      For example: The existence of “God” is an explanatory hypothesis. Analyze it scientifically.

      That’s going to get tricky.

  11. Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the post. The video you could not embed has a nice paper plane icon on the right upper corner that you click and it gives you the link to copy for embedding. I tried it out on my own WordPress blog as a draft and had no problem. You might want to give it a shot.
    The link is:

  12. Vaal
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Really great interview. Thanks for posting it.
    Tyson does an excellent job of getting his points across.

  13. Inga
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I was slightly put off by the trailer too. It just looks like they might have put the look of it before the content. But considering the people involved I still hope it’ll turn out great.

    As for Tyson and religion, I’m not bothered. From the videos I’ve seen of him I was never in any doubt on where he stood on that issue. As far as I can tell he’s just not interested in pushing his views on religion on the public, at least not to the degree that others do. Time spent talking about religion is time spent not talking about science which I reckon he cares about more.
    And he’s always said that there was no room for ID in *science* classes though he didn’t object to it being taught in others because to him it’s part of history (as in everytime a natural philosopher/scientists in the past couldn’t solve a problem they invoked god/ID).
    This unplanned talk is one of my favourite Tyson moments and for some reason it sums him up for me: http://youtu.be/OAbJm9-TS5A?t=1h2m6s

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      Given that the original had such eloquent narration, a nonverbal trailer for the new version is an “interesting” choice.

      And are those burning sound effects that accompany the solar closeups? That seems more like “Game of Thrones” than “Cosmos”.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

        I think I’ll start referring to my age as “a lot & three years”. The only people that ask me my age are medical professionals though & I bet they won’t find it very funny.

        • darrelle
          Posted January 22, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          Back when they were just starting to talk my twins developed the habit of saying “two and one more” for “three.” And, indeed, it became a habit. Even now they still sometimes say “two and one more” instead of merely “three.”

      • Filippo
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 5:05 am | Permalink

        ‘And are those burning sound effects that accompany the solar closeups? That seems more like “Game of Thrones” than “Cosmos”.’

        Apparently that’s what “matters” to, that’s what meets the “needs” of, today’s pop mass culture “infotainment” viewing population.

        Unlike with the original on public television, what with the new version being presented on Fox, I presume that one must needs steel him-/herself to the prospect of interruption and discontinuity brought on by an advertising onslaught. (Same for Nat’l Geog. Channel, I assume.)

  14. peltonrandy
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I too like that he said that faith and reason are not reconcilable. But I was puzzled by something else he said as well. It seemed to me to take some of the punch out of his remark about faith and reason being irreconcilable.

    Moyers asks Tyson if he doesn’t “sometimes feel sad about breaking all these myths apart?”

    Tyson’s response: “No, no, because I think it’s, some myths are, deserve to be broken apart. The, out of respect for the human intellect.”

    But then later when asked specifically about God he shies away from breaking down this myth.

    Here is the exchange that caught my attention:

    BILL MOYERS: “But do you have any sympathy for people who seem to feel, only feel safe in the vastness of the universe you describe in your show if they can infer a personal God who makes it more hospitable to them, cares for them?

    NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: In this, what we tell ourselves is a free country, which means you should have freedom of thought, I don’t care what you think. I just don’t. Go think whatever you want. Go ahead. Think that there’s one God, two Gods, ten Gods, or no Gods. That is what it means to live in a free country. The problem arises is if you have a religious philosophy that is not based on objective realities that you then want to put in a science classroom. Then I’m going to stand there and say, “No, I’m not going to allow you in the science classroom.” I’m not telling you what to think, I’m just telling you in the science class, “You’re not doing science. This is not science. Keep it out.” That’s where I, that’s when I stand up. Otherwise, go ahead. I’m not telling you how to think.”

    Perhaps I am misreading all this, but it does seem to me that he just gave the God myth a pass after earlier saying that if we are to respect the human intellect some myths should be debunked. Perhaps he doesn’t consider God to be a myth.

    I appreciate that he is willing to stand up to keep religious beliefs out of the classroom. But if it is a myth then why was he unwilling to directly say so and then offer arguments to break this myth up out of respect for the human intellect?

    Again, I find this puzzling. If I am misunderstanding this and someone has a different interpretation of this then please enlighten me.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      I don’t see those excerpts as contradictory.

      He’ll do science, disproving various myths as a result, but people are free to ignore the fact that their myths have been “broken apart” – as long as they keep it to themselves.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      So in a “free country” then “freedom of thought” means that nobody cares what you think as long as you “keep it to yourself.”

      Well, depending on what that last phrase means, a repressive totalitarian dictatorship is also a “free country.” There’s no “freedom of speech” but there is ALWAYS the ability to think whatever you want as long as you smile and obey Glorious Leader.

      Tyson can’t mean that people have to be as tight-lipped as that. But I would think a scientist would still be disturbed on some level if people kept a belief in a 10,000 year old earth — or “God” — just in the family.

      Tyson’s big happy reassurance that “I’m not telling you how to think” seems to conflict with the fact that the nature of science is a quest for objective understanding. It’s a search for consensus constrained by reality wherein we learn how to think. Sooner or later the phrase “that’s mistaken” is going to come in and OMG it looks like it DOES matter what people think, and how they got there.

      “Hey — I’m not telling you what to think” is a bad slogan for the new Cosmos. So is “The wonderful thing about science is that there are no wrong answers.”

      • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        “Keep it to yourself” is pretty common shorthand for “don’t try yo legally impose your craziness on others/don’t hinder education”.

      • Larry Gay
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        Tyson contradicts himself. Late in the interview he asserts that people in a democracy must be scientifically literate if they are going to make good decisions on issues like climate change. So he does care what people think. I think he’s a terrific educator by the way and loved his straightforward, but untrue statement to a baffled Moyers, “I don’t care what you think”. For those who don’t know, Moyers started out as a preacher in Texas.

        • Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          Yowza. I think you, Sastra and peltonrandy are taking these off-the-cuff phrases too literally.

          “I don’t care what you think” is probably shorthand for “I recognize your right to reasonable freedom and don’t want to legislate against that or impose my worldview on you”, and “keep it to yourself” means “as long as you do the same”.

          These statements are not inconsistent with demonstrating the wrongness of religion and advocating for rationality.

          • Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            (That’s pretty much my on position – and, ime, far and away the most common position among us atheists. I haven’t run across many people who actually want to force theists to give up theism.)

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

              If it is a common position among atheists, we sure are good at keeping it to ourselves.

              By far the most atheist I encounter agree that education is the name of the game, not legislation.

              • Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                Yes. That is what I’m saying, also. Getting in the way of proper education is one of the ways theists fail to keep it to themselves.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          I think that where he goes wrong is in not being clear in the distinction between having a legal right to believe anything you like and the importance of having a population that is able to think clearly.

          • Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

            I DO care what people think; but I recognize their right to believe as they wish, and it would have been better for Neil to have said something like that. But all-in-all I’m glad to see Neil acknowledging that science and religion just don’t mix.

            • Latverian Diplomat
              Posted January 21, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

              Another way to put this. I care what the people think, I’m not particularly concerned with what a single given person thinks. I care about public education, but I don’t think a person should go to jail if it doesn’t stick.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Yes, he does like to engage religious myth directly. I suspect he’s an accomodationist in the sense that he prefers to inspire people to learn about science and hopefully, they abandon the myths afterward. I’ve seen him move away from commenting on religion as false before, choosing instead to focus on fundamentalists and their Wedge Strategy.

    • Posted January 22, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Not caring what someone thinks seems to imply it stays with him and has no impact on others. Once we move from thought to action all bets are off. How to think – how to arrive at a way to value some ideas as “better” than others – becomes one of the most important goals of educating citizens who will be capable of fully and responsibly participating in a democratic society.

  15. Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I choose to hope that the series will have some hard science content that slips in between the CG graphics. NDT is capable of doing that, and remember who the producer of the series was married to Sagan. I choose to hope that she will keep what was so important about the original series.
    I thought the preview showed clips of an inquisition scene, and someone being burned at the stake (Giordano Bruno?). So maybe the series will make a plug for the historic incompatibility between religion and science. I think that is about as far as they can go for a general audience right now.
    Parts might be cheesy, but remember that Sagan would also fly around in his spaceship in the series.

  16. George
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    No, it won’t do anywhere near as well as did Sagan’s “Cosmos.” Just because you are using an alpha guy’s pick-up line, it doesn’t mean you’ll pick up a girl with the same easiness. Yes, Tyson is a “beta.”

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Umm…I’m also skeptical of its success. But that’s because of the kind of programming that proves successful these days.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Hmm, lets not forget that now there are a lot of successful shows out there with some science content. So there is now competition which the original Cosmos series did not have. Through the Wormhole comes to mind, which I think is a pretty good show for the general public. There are others as well.

  17. Bob J.
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, I see the glitz and entrainment becoming the new normal at science museums. The new Cal Academy has more floor space and less actual specimens. You get to see TV screens, hands-on computers to view and manipulate CGI exhibits, etc. Cases of butterflies are gone. Their old planetarium was a one of a kind masterpiece. The new planetarium is nothing more than an IMAX theater showing slightly out of focus movies of stars.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      I have to agree with you, even though it makes me sound like a curmudgeon! (I take solace in the fact that Steve Gould had exactly the same beef.) They’ve turned the Field Museum into Science Wonderland, but gutted most of the science, and are in the process of getting rid of many of the scientists who work there.

      I’m not sure if the museums really know that this kind of gee-whizzery really helps educate the public more about science than old-style displays. What they do know is that it brings in more dollars.

      • Bob J.
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 12:01 am | Permalink

        Anecdotal evidence – In 2011, I was in the Natural History museum in Dublin, Ireland, an old fashion cabinet of curiosities museum. The place was filled (I mean packed) with families and the parents were having a hard time dragging the kids out at closing time.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      The previously wonderful London Planetarium has gone the same way. One of my most disheartening experiences was seeing the old Zeiss projector, crudely painted over, used as only to decorate the staircase to one of the rides at Alton Towers (also owned by Tussauds).

      /@

  18. Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I absolutely love all the videos of Neil deGrasse Tyson. Thank-you so much for the link to the conversation with Bill Moyers (another person I very much like and admire).

  19. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Remember, though, that the young people who will be watching the new series haven’t seen the old one,

    Some of your older readers too. I’ve still never seen it – and I’m by no means sure that it was ever broadcast on this side of the pond. (If it was in the period between 1992 ans 2005 when I didn’t have a TV, that would explain why ; otherwise … well it never came up when I noticed it.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      It certainly was, in the same year, iirc. It inspired at least one well-known British scientist.

      /@

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        Oh, “Pretty Boy.”
        Well, a physicist without doubt.
        Ah – 1980? I think I spent that summer up in the mountains. ’81 as well. and ’82 – apart from little details like A-levels. An in between time in the mountains, I wasn’t watching much telly apart from relaxing in front of the OU on Saturday mornings. Kipper ties!
        Let’s see what some of these youtubeisms are like.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Well, all 13 episodes are available on YouTube. Here is episode 1 with an introduction by his widow:

      Cosmos, episode 1

      From that page, you can find the following episodes.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        Having a look.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          Very “arty”. Lots of music getting in the way of the presenter going over stuff that was old in 1980. If I’d seen it in 1980, I’d probably have gone back upstairs to get on with my homework.

          • Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

            How utterly snobbish!

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

              Well, I don’t waste time listening to music these days, and didn’t then. I’m sure that it’s terribly good music and wonderfully uplifting and inspirational. But it just gets in the way of hearing what the presenter is saying without adding something useful.

              • Posted January 21, 2014 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                In that case, read the book, but you’ll miss out on a lot because the book doesn’t anywhere near contain as much information as 13+ hours of video.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmos_%28book%29

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted January 22, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

                I’ll put it on my “to read” list, but it’ll have a lot of competition to stay on there.

  20. Filippo
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    “The task for the next generation of Cosmos is a little bit different because I don’t need to teach you textbook science.”

    Don’t agree. There are not a few who need it, and all too many of them, with attention deficit, usually have to be “entertained.”

    “There’s a lot of textbook science in the original Cosmos, but that’s not what you remember most. What most people who remember the original series remember most is the effort to present science in a way that has meaning to you ….”

    Doesn’t that “meaning” vary according to the person? How much meaning does science have for an adult population roughly 50
    % of which, per Lawrence Krauss, cannot correctly recognize the definition of a year? (“T or F: The Earth goes around the sun and takes a year to do it.”)

    “Tyson states that the new series will contain both new material and updated versions of topics in the original series, but primarily, will service the “needs of today’s population.”

    Just exactly what are those “needs”? Do they include the need to be “entertained”? And in an “edgy” way?

    “We want to make a program that is not simply a sequel to the first, but issues forth from the times in which we are making it, so that it matters to those who is this emergent 21st century audience.”

    Well, just what are the “times” in which we live? One characterized by a “Bread and Circuses” mass pop culture frivolity, and the need to be “entertained” and to avoid “boredom” at all costs? To take advantage of the fruits of technology brought to us by the intellectual heavy-lifting of STEM “nerds,” but can’t be bothered to understand a few basics of science for its own sake? To the extent that one can make a general statement, how does one determine what “matters”? I’m reminded of politicos and pundits – and other assorted adolescents (including a 13 year-old girl, who pronounced on the front page of the N.Y. Times, “Email is so lame”), who speak of an education “relevant” to their needs.

    Enough for now.

    • Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      “We dont need no edjucayshun…”

      /@

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      “… can’t be bothered to understand a few basics of science for its own sake?”

      In April 2013, two presenters at Gator Country 101.9, a radio station in Lee County, Florida, told listeners dihydrogen monoxide was coming out of their water taps as part of an April Fool’s Day hoax and were suspended for a few days by the station’s general manager, Tony Renda. The prank resulted in several calls by consumers to the local utility company, which sent out a release stating that the water was safe.

      • Filippo
        Posted January 22, 2014 at 4:46 am | Permalink

        I wonder what would have happened if the presenters announced that listeners would be relieved to know that dihydrogen monoxide was NOT coming out of the faucets. Also have to wonder just how tepid an April Fool’s Day hoax they’d have to pull (short of pulling none) to avoid suspension by a shadow-fearing station manager.”MONoxide” catches the slightly-informed ear, and “Carbon Monoxide” forms in the quickly-alarmed mind.

  21. cremnomaniac
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    I am glad that Tyson works to bring science education to the public. However, I have serious reservations about the new Cosmos. I am absolutely in favor of science programming that attempts to reach the masses. Although, what no one has mentioned is the personality differences between Sagan and Tyson. Carl Sagan presented himself as engaging, enthusiastic, and communicated a love for science that was genuine. He came across as a very down to Earth individual(no pun intended)even if he was not.

    Tyson, on the other hand, always seems to come across as rather egotistic and needy of attention. He seems to believe that he is the new Carl Sagan. It looks rather arrogant on his part. He demonstrates very little humility when it comes conveying his ideas. I have watched him in videos on a number of occasions now, and each time I am put off by him. I hope its only me, otherwise the new Cosmos may flop.

    As long as the gee-whizzery is kept to minimum and Tyson can keep his ego in check it may go well, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

  22. marksolock
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  23. Dale Franzwa
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Good work, Jerry. I see you got to the link before I even checked my email. Being out here on the west coast (often called the left coast), I seldom turn on my computer & check email before evening. Anyway, my email will be in your inbox by morning in Chicago. Interesting to see all the comments on the Moyers interview and thoughts on the upcoming “Cosmos” series.

  24. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    He called CSI ‘science-oriented’? Please excuse me while I hurl. I have never seen more unbelievable BS dressed up as technology than this ridiculous self-indulgent soap-dressed-up-as-drama. The writers must have a private competition to see just how ludicrous they can possibly make their ‘technology’. It makes McGyver (the previous leader in the idiocy stakes) look like gritty reality. The whole thing is a gratuitous insult to the audience’s intelligence. I think I’d rather watch the Kardashians, at least they don’t claim to to be, urrgh, ‘science-oriented’.
    [/rant]

    Trouble is, for me that reference brings NDGT’s credibility into doubt, even more than if he’d dropped a few “the good Lord’s creation” into the blurb.

  25. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 22, 2014 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Better, and as long as he doesn’t want to take to fisticuffs… (Which he threatened on stage with once, maybe in a lousy attempt at humor.)

    Of course, there may or may not be conflicts in there, e.g. “I don’t care what people thinks” since an educator does exactly that and needs to do exactly that. But on the whole, a good piece.

    Those are big shoes to fill, but Neil deGrasse Tyson is going to try.

    I read somewhere where he responded to that, paraphrasing ‘that was Sagan’s shoes, I’ll bring my own’ [e.g. the Tyson show].

  26. Tristram
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Re: Cosmos reboot

    Okay. Is it me, or did this first episode really suck meteorites or what? Am I missing something?

    NdT – no offense, and I do like you. But I don’t really want to look at you standing around on a set that looks like a recycled LG Refrigerators booth from the 2006 Home Appliance Trade Show. As a narrator Neil, I’m sad to say you’re not the best choice.

    Now the imagery—seriously—seemed more like stock images from Getty or Comstock, than the spectacular, awe inspiring imagery we’ve come to expect from high caliber productions like Planet Earth. Shouldn’t we expect this from NatGeo, instead of mediocre stock space imagery and sophomoric CGI images?

    The music – cheesy. Akin to 70s porn music from current era. Hell, hire Tricky or Massive Attack or even FSOL to do a soundtrack.

    OMG, what is this illustration style for the animation segment? Bad anime? After 10 minutes of that, combined with everything else, I changed the channel.

    I was truly disappointed and really sort of embarrassed for NdT and Seth. What are they bringing to the equation that makes the production unique? I don’t get it.

    I felt as if I was watching something that the director felt wasn’t impressive enough in terms of content, so they had to put lipstick on the pig to hold a third-grader’s attention. And the director’s execution was cheesy.

    Art Bell should narrate.

    • Posted March 10, 2014 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      Just watched it on YouTube . . . while doing something else, so I was not giving it my full attention.

      But there did not seem to be much there that *demanded* my full attention! It seemed . . . flat.

      /@


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