Current Events, Science, TV

Cosmos: Episode I Recap and Review

cosmos-foxThe Cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be. – Carl Sagan

I will be watching the “Cosmos” TV series and providing recaps and responses as we go. I’ll evaluate the ideas presented for accuracy and give critical responses where I see necessary. Future “Recaps” will likely be shorter, with more length dedicated to the response.*

Episode I: Recap

The episode started off with the above quote from Sagan. Then, we took a trip in a spaceship with the “imagination” to see what the Earth looked like millions of years ago, followed by a picture of what it might look like in the future (apparently like the Borg invasion in “Star Trek: First Contact,” so watch out!).

Then, we got a pretty sweet CG-heavy tour of the solar system via fake spaceship that looks like Eve from Wall-E. I mean it, it was awesome! I was reminded of the majesty of a Ben Bova novel (if you haven’t read him, I would recommend it, but be aware of some rather simplistic discussion of religion). Finally, we zoomed in on Voyager I which had sound travelling from it in vacuum. I’m pretty sure that can’t happen, but I could easily be mistaken about that, so I’d be happy to be corrected.

An unimanginably awesome picture of the Milky Way through infrared really put us in perspective: there are seemingly infinite stars to be seen merely in our galaxy, which is one of an untold panoply of galaxies. As we zoomed out through the gigantic extremes of the universe (the Supercluster), we find that that supercluster is but one among untold billions of galaxies and the observable universe.

But what is meant by “observable universe”? The universe is actually so huge that we can’t actually observe the entire thing because there is more beyond what we can see. But “many… suspect” that our universe is but one in an extremely huge number of actual individual universes (here shown as little bubbles spreading out continually over the screen).

Let’s also not forget the church is a big destroyer and persecutor of science. Galileo proves that science and religion are forever enemies, right? Galileo’s story is preceded by Giordano Bruno, who is portrayed as a kind of anime graphic novel hero maverick because he went along with Copernicus. I’ll just narrate along. He “dared to read the books banned by the church… and that was his undoing.” No really, that’s what they said about him. Interestingly, they also say that Bruno reasoned that because God was infinite, creation couldn’t be anything less. But the evil church threw him out into the cold and he had to sleep on the ground and freeze at night! Then, he had a vision of science dreamland wherein he broke the universe with his finger and lifted the veil of knowledge that the idiots surrounding him had put in place. He floated around the universe and was the first person to figure out that there was vacuum and also the first person to fly in space and land on the moon and sun. (Again, I’m not making this up: this is what he does in the animated sequence in the dream.)

If Bruno was right, according to “Cosmos,” then not only is church authority overthrown, but the Bible can be brought into question *cue religious people gasping in shock.* Bruno was condemned by the church and burned at the stake but magically had powers to float throughout the universe so that’s pretty cool: throw off the chains of church oppression and what you’ll get is genius and the ability to fly in space.

The episode then walked through the history of the universe by paralleling a single year. The Big Bang: we are all made of “star stuff” which was produced through various processes during and after the Big Bang. Earth formed through a number of collisions with various asteroids and the like. The origin of life “evolved” through biochemical evolution. These “pioneering microbes” invented sex, so that’s pretty cool. December 30th (in the cosmic year) brought about the desolation of the dinosaurs with an asteroid. Humans only evolved “the last hour of the last day of the cosmic year.”


I love space. I love astronomy–my wife can attest to this as I randomly bought an astronomy textbook to read when I was in college. Yeah… I’m a nerd. I don’t claim to have science training or be a scientist, but there is something I can spot: unfounded metaphysical statements. That’s something I honestly expect to see quite a bit of when it comes to this TV series. It actually began with one from Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be.” Is that a scientific fact about the cosmos? Could you demonstrate that one for me? No. In short, the show begins with an ungrounded metaphysical statement.

Another issue I have is the personification and reification of science. “Science” does x; “Science” gives us y. I’m not at all convinced that “science” is a clearly dilineated entity such that we may speak of it as though it were a reified, ontologically extant entity. What does it mean to say that “science” does something? Don’t we mean that scientists are really the ones who do this? And are not scientists just as much people as anyone else?

The episode’s portrayal of history was very unbalanced. They depicted Giordano Bruno as a kind of hero against the church full of blundering idiots. When he was finally excommunicated, the quotes they put into the church’s mouth were interesting because they portrayed some of the actual issues happening, such as a strict adherence to Aristotelian science. At the time academia really was fully behind Aristotle, and it helped that the church had bought into his cosmology as well. However, for every minimal effort they made at showing some of the historical background, there was some significant effort made to show that the stupid church and its evil Inquisition had a “sole purpose to… torment anyone” who disagreed with the views of the Church. Bruno thought God was infinite so the universe could be infinite as well. Interesting thoughts, but these are juxtaposed against a depiction of everyone else as a bunch of religious idiots who couldn’t transcend space like Bruno could.

Moreover, what banned books that Bruno read are they referencing? Copernicus’ works weren’t put on the list of banned books until 1616 (thanks to Tim McGrew for this information). Just for reference, Bruno died in 1600. I’m curious as to what this depiction was supposed to suggest. I think they mentioned someone else earlier but the ties to Copernicus were evident throughout this section, and given that it was really the rejection of Aristotelianism which was condemning, there was some historical accuracy to be desired here.

Tim McGrew also points out a number of other historical errors, such as the notion that Bruno was burned at the stake for his astronomical views; the notion that everyone at the time thought the Earth was the center of the universe; the notion that being the “center” of the universe meant Earth had a privileged place; and several more major difficulties. I highly recommend surveying them.

The depiction of the multiverse with little-to-no qualification was alarming, for there is much debate over whether there even is such a multiverse, and if there is, to what extent it may be called a multiverse. The portrayal within this episode was essentially a fictitious account being passed off without qualification as something a lot of people believe. The wording used was that “many… suspect” there is such a universe. Well yes, that may be true, but to what extent can we test for these other universes? What models predict them and why? I am uninterested in how many people hold to a belief; I am interested in whether that belief is true.

The survey of the history of the universe was interesting, but there were some major glosses. As an apologist, let me admit my bias here: I would have loved to see some discussion of the fine-tuning involved for life. But that aside, I have to say that the brief snippet used to explore the origin of life: “biochemical evolution” was astonishingly insufficient. I’m sure we’ll get into that in the next episode, but the origin of life is one of the great unsolved mysteries within science and to just hand wave and say “biochemical evolution” is, well, notable to say the least.

Overall, I have to say I was unimpressed by this episode. The historical difficulties were great, but the metaphysical claims throughout passed off as scientific fact were more disturbing.


Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Cosmos, Giordano Bruno, and Getting it Right– A brief but incisive critique of a number of major historical errors made throughout the first episode.

Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson: Same Old Product, Bright New Packaging-  In this post, Casey Luskin takes on the notion that science and religion are at war alongside some other errors in the episode.

Is there any science in the new “Cosmos” series, or is it all naturalistic religion?– Wintery Knight takes on the episode for making a bunch of claims without evidence.


*I may miss an episode or two if I have to work.

The image with the text “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” is from Fox and belongs to them. It came from promotional material and I use it under fair use and make no claims to ownership.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.


About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


20 thoughts on “Cosmos: Episode I Recap and Review

  1. Outside of philosophical arguments can you put anything else forward not to think the Cosmos is all there will ever be etc..I think it is a statement that should be questioned but something a little more tangible would be helpful. It would help me to remove from my mind the picture ( rightly or wrongly) of philosophers feeding off the crumbs being swept of the cosmologists etc…table. Regards.

    Posted by Steve | March 10, 2014, 6:41 AM
    • First, cosmologists are actually the ones feeding off the crumbs from the philosophers. After all, every single assumption which goes into the practice of science is ultimately grounded in philosophy. Why trust what we see? How does induction work? Does it work? How do we know? All of these are questions whose answers are necessary for science to operate; yet they require philosophical answers.

      Second, the claim that the cosmos is all there is/was/will be is itself a philosophical claim. In other words, it needs to be justified. One can’t simply make that claim and then assume it needs no argument. It is a metaphysical claim, after all: that which exists is the cosmos. Period. That is about as metaphysical a claim as one can make.

      Thus, I don’t really see any reason to think that we need to move “outside of philosophical arguments.” The claim itself is philosophical.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 10, 2014, 5:02 PM
      • JW,

        The “Cosmos is all there is or ever will be” is not what I would call a metaphysical or philosophical claim. I honestly think you are completely missing the point with that. “Cosmos”, the original series, and the absolutely wonderful book of the same name, are meant to introduce people to the wonders of science primarily, and to get them inspired and to think about science and the Cosmos. It was meant for the layperson, so when he talks about the Cosmos being everything, he is really talking about it as the entirety of known reality, past and future. The classical definition!

        He isn’t trying to make any other claim… and besides, religious views would be beyond that anyway, right?

        Posted by Chris | March 12, 2014, 6:47 PM
      • Saying the cosmos is all there is or ever will be is, in fact, the height of a metaphysical claim. If you say that statement is true, then it is defining a metaphysical reality in which the cosmos is all which exists.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 17, 2014, 5:42 PM
  2. So, was there anything good about the episode at all? And I wonder whether you think the church did anything wrong or perhaps regrettable back then in the 15th and 16th centuries. You love astronomy, but where do you get this streak of hostility about science?

    Posted by John Moore | March 10, 2014, 6:57 AM
    • What streak of hostility towards science? I’m disputing the metaphysics and history in the episode. Of course the church did some things wrong, but getting the historical facts wrong and presenting them as reality is mistaken.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 10, 2014, 12:37 PM
  3. JW, thanks for keeping me abreast of this pop science development. I’ve been reading Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence, a History of Western Culture from 1500 to the Present. One valuable nugget from Barzun is that the Catholic Church was not reflexively dogmatic before the reformation. It was only with the Council of Trent that the church really ramped up scrutiny of new ideas, given the high stakes competition from Protestants. The bogeyman of the dogmatic church is not inherent to Christian religion. Rather, it is in part a result of historical accident. But that is inconvenient to the myth of philosophical naturalism that seems to be portrayed in what you’ve described.

    Posted by cogitatingduck | March 10, 2014, 1:13 PM
  4. Sounds like “same old, same old” thing. Just the usual science-is-all-powerful/religion-is-bad-and-anti-knowledge materialist propaganda, dressed up in a shiny, new tuxedo.

    Great recap/review, J.W.! At least, I assume so, since I haven’t watched the episode in question. And, now I don’t need to, since I can just read your recaps. 😉

    Posted by sirrahc | March 10, 2014, 11:33 PM
  5. The introduction of Bruno was to highlight a watershed moment when the authority for knowledge claimed by the Church was challenged and how it dealt with it: by coercion. Galileo’s findings also suffered the same fate… in spite of gaining the proper licensing from the Church for publication. The issue raised is about what merits authority – scripture of reality – and what arbitrates these sometimes contrary claims about reality.

    Overall, the point of the first episode was to try to give us some idea of just how late to the party we are and the novel way in which we now accrue knowledge: by allowing reality itself to having an ongoing arbitrating role for our claims and explanations we make about it. By fair comparison, any 400 year equivalency where the authority of scripture held power, we gained no knowledge about how reality operated from its arbitration except where the claims and explanations had no direct religious impact. That’s simply a clue about its efficacy…

    Posted by tildeb | March 11, 2014, 9:34 PM
    • Tildeb, your comment betrays a complete lack of interaction with historical works in this area. Moreover, it is also heavy on claims, light on argument.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 17, 2014, 5:43 PM
      • Well, that will be disturbing news indeed to my faculty advisers – including my astronomy prof – and board members who adjudicated my “interaction with these historical works” and found my thesis defense adequate. The fools!

        Posted by tildeb | March 18, 2014, 11:22 AM
      • Oh, my synopsis: The Nature of Things

        I would like to explore why Galileo’s rolling ball on an inclined plane was such an important philosophical and scientific breakthrough. To lay the ground work for understanding why Aristotelian physics of the senses held such sway, I will begin my examination with Plato’s forms before moving on to describe the thinking process that supports Aristotle’s physics. I will then show how Ptolemy incorporated Aristotelian physics into his Almagest and describe some of the problems that led Copernicus to offer a different model while trying to accommodate Aristotelian physics. Finally, with the stage properly set, I will introduce Galileo’s revolutionary and extremely elegant idea of the rolling ball on the inclined plane that pulled the cornerstone out of Aristotelian physics. In conclusion, I will show why Galileo’s simply idea was so important and how it forever altered mankind’s explanation of astronomy and offered new questions about our place in the universe.

        I have 27 direct published and peer reviewed academic papers, some 35 historical works, and over 120 private from seven different libraries and six pages of annotation. I understand Bruno’s role in this history. That you are able to determine from afar my complete lack of interaction with historical works in this area is truly remarkable. But if you believe it, it must be true!

        Posted by tildeb | March 18, 2014, 11:36 AM
      • Tildeb,

        Does your synopsis prove that Bruno, who died in 1600, read books which were “banned” which were not banned until more than ten years after his death? Those are the claims I’m dealing with in this post, as anyone reading it can see.

        Now, your original comment:

        “The introduction of Bruno was to highlight a watershed moment when the authority for knowledge claimed by the Church was challenged and how it dealt with it: by coercion. Galileo’s findings also suffered the same fate… in spite of gaining the proper licensing from the Church for publication. The issue raised is about what merits authority – scripture of reality – and what arbitrates these sometimes contrary claims about reality.”

        I agree that Bruno was executed for his ideas. However, he was executed by the secular authorities (which were controlled in part by the church) for denying transubstantiation, the Virgin birth, and the divinity of Christ. This episode very clearly portrayed, without qualification, that he was executed for his denial of geocentrism. Are you saying that in your published works, you have proven that this historical fact (that Bruno was executed for heresy related to denial of the divinity of Christ, etc.) is in fact a falsehood?

        Again, that’s the claim I’m dealing with.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 18, 2014, 5:20 PM
      • I’m saying the series used Bruno as an historical signpost, that his beliefs (and treatment) is an example of a very real power struggle between knowledge authorities – the cosmos or theology – and was executed for maintaining his beliefs – including heliocentrism – that were contrary to the authorized version determined by the Church.

        Posted by tildeb | March 19, 2014, 6:38 AM
  6. Hi there. My name is Christopher, I am 19 an believer in Jesus Christ. I am not Catholic, I just define myself myself as christian. We all know the Catholics were very wrong. It is sad really. But that does not mean all Christians are like that. Many Christians then an now knew the church was wrong. Anyways whenever I watch these shows they inspire me cause everyone believes something. Whether it jesus or in observations an theroys. We all have all perceptions of the past. What matters most is that we dont loose what we believe. Causd that is what hurts an destroys the most.

    Posted by Christopher | March 15, 2014, 10:44 AM


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