Giordano Bruno in Neil deGrasse’s “Cosmos” is a poor martyr for science
The other night I watched the first episode of the new imagining of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” (as did quite a few other people, from the look of my feeds in social media).
I remember seeing the old series when I was younger—not a child, but as a young adult. It’s not that I was kept from Sagan or anything. My lack of interest in the miniseries from 1980 was more superficial and petty: the visual effects were too old to pique my interest.
I perked up when I learned about Seth MacFarlane’s intended remake. The inclusion of Neil deGrasse Tyson as the new series’ host was even more awesome. I put the air date in my calendar and waited. Finally, it was time and I watched it.
It was pretty good. The initial episode was a good primer of things to come—nothing overly groundbreaking. I always love efforts to get people interested in learning about the shocking immensity of our universe. It amazing to try to behold, and the concepts necessary to express the intricacies of reality are also mind boggling (link) (link).
I did have a “brow-furrowing” moment with the episode, though—not an outright problem, but one that made me question why the well-funded and much-anticipated show would go in this direction. The moment was the inclusion of the story of Dominican friar Giordano Bruno (link).
Several people reacting to the episode seem to have friction with this portion of the show as well (link)(link). Now, most are saying it came across as anti-religion. It did and I’m not bothered by that, even as a religious person. It’s just that, for a show that wants to introduce “heroes of science” to a new generation of viewers, Bruno isn’t really that scientific.
Cosmos’ treatment of Bruno’s story obscured facts and exaggerated events to appeal to people’s emotions. And the inclusion of crucifixion imagery with Bruno (see picture…twice Bruno transcended his Earthy bonds by striking up a crucifixion pose) and the religiously-tinged jargon of his ‘martyrdom’ was just cheap.
For those who haven’t seen the Cosmos episode, the show takes several minutes to tell (and adopts a new visual style to accentuate) the story of Bruno, a 16th Century monk. According to Cosmos, Bruno, influenced by Copernicus’ heliocentric model, had a dream. In this dream, he saw the Earth orbiting the sun, but also that the stars of the sky were similar to the Sun, each with possible worlds of their own. Bruno was condemned by the Church for daring to think outside of tradition and burned at the stake. Bruno was a martyr for logic and science. Religion is bad. The end.
Two reactions: 1) That’s not the real story. 2) With no evidence either way, how does holding to one superstition over another make Bruno an example for science?
On the first reaction, the Church didn’t overly care that Bruno believed in a heliocentric model of the solar system (link). They didn’t overly care in his belief of Copernicus’ views (many people did…even the Gregorian Calendar, adopted years earlier in 1582, was based on Copernicus’ observations).
What they had a problem with was Bruno’s pantheistic beliefs (link). In saying God was everywhere and not in any one place in particular, he took away emphasis on Christ as anything special. He also denied that the universe was a created thing. Say that as a Christian monk now and you’ll get kicked out of the Church too—not burned at the stake (we’ve at least come that far…not defending the practice by any means), but it wouldn’t go over well. The Church objected to Bruno because of theological reasons, not scientific ones.
On the second response, the way Bruno’s story was told in the Cosmos episode made him out to be far more of a champion of faith than of science. He had no way of testing his theory. He never could witness his theory. He didn’t even put it forward as a theory to be debated or proven. He had a dream of a metaphysical reality—a dream he believed was divinely inspired. And he exercised faith in that dream as his own brand of religion, to the point of death. Bruno was a man of faith, not science.
Changing facts and co-opting an obscure religious figure’s beliefs to fit a secular agenda is something a show championing science should be above doing. Cosmos is the one who opened the science vs religion salvo this time (MacFarlane being pretty anti-religion). It’s unfortunate that the show tried to take things in this direction right out of the gate, and in such a half-assed way. It’s distracting to what the show could be about.
By simply pointing out he thousands of things about the observable universe, you’ll naturally get people to wonder if their views from religious texts alone are adequate enough to explain reality.
The way the Bruno case was portrayed with its tweaked version of history just seemed tawdry. Galileo was a contemporary of Bruno…even beat Bruno out for a teaching job as chair of mathematics at Padua University in 1591. He was persecuted and repressed for his beliefs too–and was much more of an actual scientist. He would have been a better example to make the same point, IMO.
Day after day after day
Friday we had our latest graduation. Forty six new journalists were fired off to the field and fleet, ready to start their careers.
Apart from the royal FUBAR of the actual ceremony, on which I’ve been forbidden to blog, afterward there was enough small talk and well-wishes to make the remainder of the day as amicable as we had originally planned.
One of my students came up, thanked me for not being a total bastard and asked, “When do you pick up your new class?”
“Two weeks,” I said.
“Wow, how do you do it? How do you keep teaching the same thing over and over?”
“New class. New people. New experience.”
“Seems like it would get boring.”
Boring? Naw. Every day is new. Every day is unique. Honestly, there will never be another evening like this one—not ever another breeze, or another rain like this one. The clouds will never align and sparkle in the fading day light as they are now, nor will ever there be that hue of green or purple or red in that pattern across the sky in the history of man.
It’s the same with work. It’s the same with most matters in our lives. Every day is new. Every conversation is a completely new experience. Every talk is a chance to learn something about someone and thus increase awareness about those we love.
Part of it all is the will to find enjoyment in things. For as insurmountable of a task as it might seem to be, honestly, a lot of it is in simple will. I will myself to enjoy things. I will myself to find happiness in smiles and the in betweens. Sure I have a mountain of things that keep me busy, but ultimately, I can choose to dread the day or find satisfaction in my work.
I’m not talking about going hippy and hugging every blasted thing around, but there comes a moment where you or I can choose to get up on the board and ride the wave. It’s a joining with life, rather than trying to redirect it.
I know so many people who spend so much time decrying every moment they’ve lived. Such-n-such didn’t work out, who-n-who turned out to be a prick. There’s a healthy time to reflect and learn, but the world is full of a million reasons to stay miserable and never get up out of bed. In my corner of the universe, I can choose to complain at the drudgery of everything, or I can adapt to a new perspective that sees the beauty in nearly everything.
I know, still hippy-ish, right?
Okay, look at a kid. A kid can experience the same story, read a thousand times, and scream with glee each and every time. A child can hold on to the wonder of life. A child can kick her legs and enjoy the breeze on the swing, then kick her legs for an hour more and love each time. Again! Again! Again!
But as we grow up, we forget. We forget how to hold on to happiness. We’re worn down from reality. We abandon happiness for realism. We convince ourselves that there is nothing to smile about, only the doldrums of the never ending cycle of life.
Some say that the universe is a cold and dead machine, spinning and gyrating with predictable forces and mechanisms that force the same pattern. The sun rises; the sun sets. Surely, some say, God does not exist, because, otherwise, why the boring pattern?
Ah, but what if God has never given up his child-likeness? What if he sees the magic of a sunrise and yells “Again!” each and every day? Is it such a crime to value the beauty of every day?
So, two weeks, new class. I’m stoked.
I may have talked about this before. After two-plus years of blogging, many perspectives change, but a few stay the same. I remember realizing his particular number back in college—now some six years ago. Wow. Long time.
Do you ever get the feeling like you’re nuts? I mean, like your ideas are just way too far out there? Like you’re weird for thinking or feeling something?
I felt that way all through high school and into college. Part of it was the typical teenage angst, but I had some serious spiritual concerns and unsettling issues.
For the longest time, I just ignored the lingering questions or initial reactions to situations or circumstances—preferring to go along with the immediate group, thinking that my ideas were just crazy.
Whether it concerned sexuality or God or even friendship, I had my own flavor of things—my own faith or my own outlook on life. When it vibed with others, it was cool; but more times than naught, people would bring up points of view or political dispositions that I was flatly expected to espouse.
And I’d resist, sometimes internally, sometimes being outspoken. Whenever I did argue for a new perspective, it never ended well. I had some blow ups at church, some arguments with friends. I was different, and it was unsettling.
Then I started meeting people. One or two in high school, then a few in college, more beyond, who were wired in the exact way I was. We’d finish each others’ sentences. We’d be passionate about the same areas, approach problems in the same way, and feel the same general unease about the larger world.
I came to realize that I was not completely crazy, but that God had wired me and dozens like me for a reason. I don’t think any of us really know what that reason is. And I don’t think that it’s some sort of club or exclusive thing.
The Christian Scriptures talk about how followers are the body of Christ—that we are the mechanism that expresses God to the world. Love, charity, compassion, justice, truth, beauty, humility—the essence of God, is transmitted to the world through believers.
The Scriptures talk about how, like a human body, there are parts that serve different functions. The eyes do things the ears can’t. The arms and joints work in ways the feet and hands don’t. Each serves a purpose. Each supports each other.
There’s a notion I hear sometimes from people that describe a general malaise with the current times. “I was born in the wrong century,” or, “If only I lived back then.”
You and I were born to live now. Fully present. Aware. Now. Not just to dream of yesterday or what may come, but to be here.
And you and I were wired with personality and disposition to mirror our purpose. Our passions are aligned with a focused determination of the creator to minister in a specific function to a purposed segment of the sh*tstorm of life.
Alone this is hard to see. With others, especially others with whom we share a certain connection, this becomes easier to perceive.
Who am I? Why do I think or feel this way? Where are my passions? What need I create? Where should I go?
It’s terribly exciting to explore our part in the revolution—the restoration of humanity. Every second makes you and I who we are and who we will become. With the proper perspectives, every second grows us, every second pushes us closer to our purpose.
It helps to find others, to build relationships. It’s tremendously encouraging when you can find others of like minds. Helps us realize we’re not so close to crazy as we thought.