A new 'Cosmos,' same message

EDITOR'S NOTE: A new "Cosmos" documentary series, akin to one featuring the late scientist Carl Sagan more than 30 years ago, premiered March 9 and continues its 13-week run on Fox on Sunday nights.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- The first documentary by the title of "Cosmos" was broadcast in 1980. Now the show is back.

The original began with a panoramic shot of atheistic scientist Carl Sagan standing in front of the ocean. The new series features astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, also an atheist.

In the first production Carl Sagan delivered his famous maxim, "The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be," a fitting summary of a naturalistic worldview. For the sake of full disclosure, formally trained scientists are not the only ones to recount this creed. Not long ago I picked up an old copy of the "Berenstain Bears' Big Book of Science and Nature." One chapter begins these words, "Nature is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."

In the new Cosmos, Tyson encourages viewers to "Test ideas by experiment and observation; build on those ideas that pass the test, reject the ones that fail; follow the evidence wherever it leads and question everything."

For anyone who values scientific discovery, his advice is appropriate. But how can Sagan's original opening line stand up to this standard? We have not proven scientifically that nature, or the cosmos, is all there is, or was, or ever will be. So, where has this belief come from? I think we should heed Tyson's advice and question everything, including this materialistic manifesto.

Even as the remix of Cosmos is sure to fascinate and educate, it is also likely committed to regurgitating some of the old faith/science myths, and perpetuate an atheistic worldview. Even in the first of the 13 broadcasts, Tyson is already postulating the possibility of a multiverse, a theory that there is an infinite number of randomly ordered universes beyond our universe. It is interesting to see someone who reminds us to only follow the evidence proposing a theory that has zero physical evidence.

This shouldn't be overly surprising as the multiverse has become a go-to theory for many public atheists as a way of explaining away the uniqueness of our universe to host a planet that allows for life, particularly human life. And while Tyson maintains that we don't know how life began, his comments make it clear that he is committed to only one option, as he tells viewers, "You, me, everyone -- we are made of star stuff." Of course we are made of star stuff. After all, the cosmos is all there is, or ever was, or ever will be.

I look forward to the full series and I'm sure I will learn a lot. Yet, I am prepared for some measure of the popular, yet false, notion that Christianity is at odds with science to be mingled with awe-inspiring shots of the universe. While I'm certain the show will deliver on its promise to provide a fascinating tour of the cosmos, I'm also confident the new documentary will convey the old message that nature is all there is.

I think some of the historical greats from the science hall of fame who were men of great Christian commitment like Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler and even Galileo, were they alive today, would find the show captivating even while rejecting its atheistic slant. As Kepler once said: Science is thinking God's thoughts after him. Had Kepler or Newton hosted the original broadcast instead of Sagan, or the new one instead of Tyson, it is likely the opening scene would begin with the words, "The heavens declare the glory of God."


Dan DeWitt is dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Quotes from the show are taken from the following Washington Post article "Cosmos: A Fond Return to the Vastness of Space." Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).