Cosmos and the Cartoon Maker

It may be a breach of net etiquette to reproduce an entire entry rather than a hook line and a link, but (1) Mr Shea and I are two founding members of the Shea-Wright mutual admiration society, and, I believe, as of last meeting, still the only members and (2) the entry is short. Here is the link anyway. After you are done reading it here, read it there.

A reader writes:

What’s your take on this show? Was it overtly anti-catholic or am I being overly sensitive as a Catholic?

It’s overtly and stupidly anti-Catholic. History for people who think The Family Guy is the History Channel.

For a good all-around debunking of this simple-minded “Catholic Church vs. Science” narrative, go here.

For an honest atheist’s review of God’s Philosophers, which overwhelmingly demonstrates that, so far from being the enemy of Science, the Catholic Church is its mother, go here.

The reason the three same names–Hypatia, Bruno, and Galileo–keep getting trotted out by historical illiterates as evidence of “The Catholic War on Science” is because there was no Catholic war on science. Hypatia was killed because she was unlucky enough to live in Alexandria, where civil violence was a municipal sport. Bruno was not a scientist, but a practitioner of what has rightly been described as mystic woo woo. For Cosmos to herald him as a champion of SCIENCE[TM] persecuted by the Church is like wringing one’s hand because the Pope did not convert to Scientology. And Galileo? Well, what you want to do is read Mike Flynn’s magnificent and hilarious account of how, largely due to the work of Catholic scientists, we got from geocentrism to heliocentrism–and how Galileo being a pain in the neck who went beyond the evidence available at the time and wound up running afoul of a hierarchy reeling from the Protestant revolt and jittery about his rash theological claims.

Next time some historical illiterate talks about the Church’s “War on Science” ask for details on these three. Then give the real details. Then, ask for other names. A “war” with only three casualties is not much of a war, particularly when the Church has canonized St. Albert the Great, has a couple dozen craters on the moon named for Jesuits, was mother to Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan Nicholas of Cusa, and Louis Pasteur (not one of whom the average Cosmos-educated sophisticate has even heard of), carefully fostered the work of Gregor Mendel (the Augustinian monk who founded the science of genetics), and fully supported the work of Jesuit Msgr. Georges Lemaitre, the formulator of the Big Bang hypothesis.

In sum, the iron truth remains that the more ignorant somebody is, the more certain they are they are obviously smarter than the common herd. Seth MacFarlane, the producer of Cosmos, is certain he knows what is talking about, and therefore has never bothered to discover how wrong he is.

Someday, somebody is going to have the guts to tell the story of the history of Science and the Faith that is not a cartoon. But one can hardly expect that from a cartoon maker.


  1. Comment by Earl Wajenberg:

    In other words, the new Cosmos is following in the footsteps of the old one. It’s like Stephen Hawking deciding that being an eminent physicist qualifies him as an eminent metaphysician. Or Immanuel Velikovsky deciding that being a psychiatrist qualified him to revise geology and history.

  2. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    It must, however, be pointed out that the works of Galileo, Copernicus, and Foscarini (a Carmelite Father who was also an astronomer) continued to be placed on the Index of Prohibited Books right up until 1828. I would agree that the three examples quoted hardly amount to a war against science, but it cannot be denied that the war against the heliocentric theory was a really bad error on behalf of the Church of Rome.

    • Comment by Tom Simon:

      On the contrary: the books were removed from the Index as soon as the heliocentric theory was supported by direct observational evidence. The Coriolis effect and the parallax of the ‘fixed’ stars were first observed only in the early 19th century. Prior to that, the heliocentric model was an elegant mathematical construct, but there was no direct evidence for its validity.

      In the meantime, edited versions of the works of Galileo and Copernicus, containing all their mathematics and evidence, but deleting the claim that their theories were factual representations of reality, received the imprimatur of the Church and were not subject to the prohibition of the Index. (I don’t know, offhand, whether the same procedure was followed with Foscarini.)

      • Comment by The OFloinn:

        Foscarini’s book was essentially religious and was suppressed on the grounds that Foscarini had no standing to make such pronouncements. So was de Zuñiga’s book. Copernicus’ book, the third one mentioned in the injunction of 1616, was “suspended pending corrections,” and was back in circulation a few years later. Bellarmine had written earlier to Foscarini:
        “[I]f there were a true demonstration that the sun was in the center of the universe and the earth in the third sphere, and that the sun did not travel around the earth but the earth circled the sun, then it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false which has been demonstrated. But I do not believe that there is any such demonstration; none has been shown to me.
        – Bellarmino to Foscarini 12 April 1615

        Lorini filed a complaint with the Inquisition that Galileo and his friends were interpreting Scripture according to their private opinions. The magistrates looked into it and found no concern, but since these private interpretations were said to be motivated by Copernicus’s book, they turned the matter over to the Index.

        Paul V was inclined to declare the hypothesis as contrary to faith, “but the Cardinals Caetani and Maffeo Barberini withstood the Pope openly and checked him with the good reasons they gave.” So the decree carefully distinguished between a mathematical hypothesis and a physical fact. Only the latter was to be avoided pending actual proof.
        Eitel Friedrich Cardinal von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (known thankfully as “Zollern”) wrote to Galileo that he had met with Pope Urban and told him that the German nobles had been much upset with the injunction of 1616, and the Pope answered:
        … the Holy Church had not condemned [Copernicanism] nor was she about to condemn it now as heretical, but only as rash.  Though it was not to be feared that there would ever be anyone to demonstrate it as necessarily true.
        – Zollern to Galileo 7 June 1624

        Later, in 1630, Urban stated that the suspension decree of 1616 “was never our intention; and if it had been left to us, that decree would not have been made.”
        This Pope Urban was the same Maffeo Barberini who had saved Galileo’s butt in 1616, who had written a heroic poem in honor of Galileo, and was basically his BFF.
        It is also the same Pope Urban who will shortly after have Galileo tried before the Inquisition and will petulantly forbid his burial even years later in the Florence Cathedral. The problem is clearly not heliocentrism as such, so one must ask what changed between 1630 and the infamous trial?

  3. Comment by ECM:

    In sum, the iron truth remains that the more ignorant somebody is, the more certain they are they are obviously smarter than the common herd.

  4. Comment by Centurion13:

    I expected nothing more from McFarlane. Having seen his work over the years, I would be a fool to expect him to do any actual research – when what he wants are yocks from the hoi-polloi. It’s what makes his fortune. Always an audience and always will be.

    Seth himself is entirely too self-absorbed (despite his occasional jabs at fellow liberals and atheists, he is one of the Elite) to ever consider the actual evidence as something that could change his mind. As a matter of fact, it’s difficult to believe he’s ignorant *because* the show is so defiantly wrong.

    Yes – I am suggesting he is aware of *all* the things you pointed out. He is a very smart man. But reason can be extinguished by ego, and McFarlane ignores these facts because (a) they won’t be accepted by the majority of his audience, (b) pushing the truth is not why he produced the show and (c) he himself does not let the facts get in the way of what he wants, and wants to believe.

    • Comment by danurdan:

      You are correct, sir. McFarlane wasn’t trying to educate. He was doing a hatchet job. As soon as I saw Obama introducing the show I knew it was getting off to a bad start. Then there was the prolonged, hysterical cartoon rant against the Church. Sprinkle in a little global warming propaganda and a dig at the discovery of American “for good or ill.” Wait, what? How could the discovery of America be bad? Because Europeans conquered the paleolithic tribes inhabiting it? Migrating humans have been colonizing and conquering since they left the Garden, but somehow America is the example of evil. Puhleeze. Without America and the blessings it has bestowed, neither Barack Obama, Tyson nor McFarlane would have achieved the success they have in life. Gimme a break. I won’t be watching any more of these episodes.

  5. Comment by John Hutchins:

    While inaccurate to call Bruno anything other than a mystic, and while it is true that he wasn’t persecuted, tortured, or burnt for what Cosmos implied, the fact remains that he was still persecuted, tortured, and burnt.

    • Comment by Earl Wajenberg:

      The fact remains, but it isn’t a fact that is relevant to a supposed war of science vs. religion.

    • Comment by Mary:

      Consider how long he would last nowadays.

      Remember that he was an advocate of polygenesis — the theory that blacks are a separate species of humans, unlike Europeans.

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        Considering that very similar ideas were only officially repudiated in the church I belong to in the last few years, I can pretty much guarantee that there are people that still believe things equivalent in my faith; I can positively guarantee that there are many such people holding similar ideas in Europe currently (of most faiths and none); and it is fairly easy to find people holding those ideas online, they even show up occasionally in comment threads. So he could be elected to high office in some European nations, and would do just fine in most other places assuming he learned when it was important to not talk about such things (which is quite the assumption).

        • Comment by Mary:

          That’s YOUR church’s problem. You should take it to heart as a reason to reflect on the passage about a beam in your eye and a speck in your brother’s.

          • Comment by John Hutchins:

            Given the percentages of people in my church in Europe vs the percentages of people of your church in Europe and the places where such ideas have become popular enough to have people elected, it is very safe to say that it isn’t MY church’s problem. Also, considering the lineage of the idea, it certainly isn’t MY church’s problem. My church’s problem is throwing off ideas that had been smuggled in due to their popularity which ideas originally came from some other organization, which organization only repudiated (in a very small part) the ideological ancestor of that idea in 1964.

            • Comment by Mary:

              Considering that the Catholic Church excommunicating people for holding those views while you were fighting to hold onto them, yup it’s your Church’s problem.

              Describing your own Church’s teachings as contaminated from a very early stage is perhaps the most foolish argument you could have made. If that’s bad, what else is?

              • Comment by John Hutchins:

                “Describing your own Church’s teachings as contaminated from a very early stage is perhaps the most foolish argument you could have made. ”

                Except that is pretty central to both the basic claims of the church and to the basic claim of why the church was needed to be set up.

      • Comment by Vicq Ruiz:

        Consider how long he would last nowadays.

        Actually, he’d last long enough to die of a ripe old age. See David Duke, Tom Metzger, Matt Koehl, and many others.

        Their being denied jobs as news commentators, being effectively excluded from running for public office, and being ridiculed by comedians, is not the same thing as their being tortured and burnt alive, as was Bruno.

        And that’s a good thing.

  6. Comment by Earl Wajenberg:

    I am pleased to report that I have just now found an entry in the Out There blog on the web site for Discover magazine, criticizing Cosmos for painting Giordano Bruno as a martyr to science.

    I am less pleased, but not at all surprised, at the “religion is stupid” rants that follow in the comments section, despite the demands of the blog author for civility.

  7. Comment by Patrick Hadley:

    DeGrasse Tyson has spoken more than once to skeptic gatherings. The New Atheist movement took a wrong turn (inevitably, I suppose) when they hooked up with the skeptic/debunkding sub-culture and decided that religion was a phenomenon best dealt with the way James Randi dealt with Uri Geller. DeGrasse Tyson seems to have some sympathy for that intellectually irresponsible movement, since he’s keynoted for them, so I’m not surprised to find him fronting such juvenile hogwash as the new Cosmos.

  8. Comment by TheConductor:

    I remember hearing somewhere that Seth MacFarlane is considered to be one of the smartest people in Hollywood. If so, that says considerably more about Hollywood than it does about MacFarlane.

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