"Cosmos," a highly anticipated series that explores the universe and attempts to make science entertaining for everyone, is causing some to examine the tension between religion and science.
The series, a revamped version of the immensely popular 1980 documentary, premiered Sunday. The series' host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, a renowned astrophysicist, told CNN's Brian Stelter he wants the series to appeal to everyone, including those "who don't know that they like science" and "the people who know they don't like science at all."
The Wire contributor Danielle Wiener-Bronner believes Tyson tried to meet his goal to appeal to a wide audience in the first episode by "inviting religious viewers to identify with scientists," but she also believes Tyson was attempting to persuade his religious audience to subscribe to evolution.
"There was no ambiguity about the fact that Tyson wants its viewers to see the scientifically oppressed as akin to the religiously martyred," says Wiener-Bronner. She explains that the shows' use of the story of Giordano Bruno, a monk who was persecuted and executed for having heretical views about the universe, was similar to a Christian martyr story.
Wiener-Bronner's fellow Wire contributor Abby Ohlheiser agrees with Wiener-Bronner, but she hopes religious individuals will perceive the Bruno story "as a redrawing of the boundaries between faith and science" rather than a condemnation of religion.
"Instead of putting the two in opposition, the show wants to place faith, curiosity, wonder, and questioning — what if my God is too small? to paraphrase Bruno — along with science against enforced ignorance," says Ohlheiser.
Other writers feel the new "Cosmos" is not sympathetic to religion. "The new 'Cosmos' feels like a pushback against faith’s encroachments on the intellectual terrain of science," writes Matt Zoller Seitz in Vulture.
And Tony Rossi wrote for Patheos that "Cosmos" inaccurately showed religion condemning and oppressing science, especially in the case of Bruno, who wasn’t a scientist. And, Rossi said, Bruno was outcast because of his anti-God beliefs and not his perception of the universe.
“The show’s presentation of science will likely be brilliant and visually stunning, hopefully opening people’s minds to the wonder and complexity of the universe,” wrote Rossi. “But it should have stayed within the parameters of its own expertise – or at least provided an unbiased look at the whole story of what actually happened. A show and worldview that thrive on empirical evidence should have the sense and integrity to apply that approach to all aspects of its storytelling.”
In an update to the post, Rossi argued that the show portrayed the Catholic Church in a negative light, but didn’t address any of the broader views on space from the church’s standpoint.
“Killing people who disagree with us is indefensible, and the church was wrong to do so,” Rossi said. “Still, it’s a church with a 2,000-year history that shouldn’t just be defined by the times it was wrong.”
Tyson told CNN he is frustrated by the debates about religion and science that constantly appear in op-ed articles and political campaigns.
"There was a time when science and religion kind of co-existed under the same roof," Tyson said. "I find it odd that we live in a time where people who are strongly religious want to make everyone else the same kind of religious way they are, and break down the door of the science classroom to put their religious philosophies in there."
While some might think the new show is arguing against religion and faith, Slate writer Willa Paskin argued that the show is giving a uniting message about God.
“Organized religion certainly comes in for it, but I think this segment is up to something more gentle than declaring war on blinkered anti-science evangelists,” Paskin wrote. “‘Cosmos’ is offering viewers a way to reconcile science and faith: Don’t let your god be too small.”
Religion and space have intertwined for a while now, so much so that believers are perfectly fine with new space information that comes out, Deseret News reported in December of last year. Faithful religious followers see the universe’s chaos as an example that God exists.
“It’s so perfect,” said Jennifer LeClaire, an editor and writer at the Christian magazine Charisma, to Deseret News. It’s so ordered so perfectly. What’s to keep it from melting and coming down? God.”