Faith & Family Media Blog

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Mar 9, 2020
| by | Kate O'Hare

NatGeo's 'Cosmos: Possible Worlds': Adjusting for the Lie of the Course

 

After its last season aired in 2014 on Fox, Cosmos returns on March 9 with Cosmos: Possible Worlds, this time on National Geographic Channel -- and there's something that people of faith should remember while watching.

Golfers know that they seldom, if ever, play on a perfectly level course. It may go up or down, slant left or right, have a hump or a depression -- all features that the wise golfer takes into account. They adjust for the lie of the course. It's also a good rule of thumb when dealing with popular media.

Scientists and TV folks, like all people, have their worldviews, favorite causes and personal biases. Some of those are on display in Cosmos: Possible Worlds (a problem the series encountered in the second season, with a controversial portrayal of 16th-century Franciscan friar, cosmological theorist and occultist Giordano Bruno, more on that here). But if you know they're there, you can just, as it were, adjust for the lie of the course.

Cosmos: Possible Worlds -- like its predecessor, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey --  is based on the acclaimed 1970s PBS series Cosmos, featuring scientist and author Carl Sagan. His widow, Ann Druyan, is a writer, producer and author in her own right. She co-wrote the original Cosmos and, partnered with Brannon Braga, a veteran of the Star Trek series, on the two revivals of it.

For Possible Worlds, she and Braga share writing and directing duties. They're joined by their season-two executive-producing partner, Seth MacFarlane, along with co-executive producers Kara Vallow and producer Joe Micucci. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson returns as the on-screen host and executive science editor.

Especially on social media, Tyson has been dismissive or snarky when dealing with Christianity. Sagan was also critical of organized religion, but Druyan, to her credit, has participated in events seeking to bridge the divide that many believe exists between science and faith.

As Catholics, we have been both supporters and practitioners of science for centuries, and are to this day. We don't see faith and science, or faith and reason, as being in opposition but more rather compliments to each other (as we outlined in this episode of our online series, Catholic Central).

(If you're about to mention Galileo, here are few interesting articles on that: from UCLA, from Catholic Answers and from the Vatican Observatory. Also, in 1992, Pope John Paul II addressed the historic issue directly.)

Too often, Catholic Church doesn't get credit for its contributions to learning and science and is portrayed as a stumbling block to human flourishing.

But, that's the way it is. All that being said -- and, again, adjusting for the lie of the course -- there is much to enjoy in Cosmos, especially for science nerds (like me). There are fascinating sequences on the history of the solar system, early human exploration,  the secret life of mushrooms and forest floors, and on the amazing navigational and communication skills of bees.

Also, advances in computer animation allow the show to go outward to visualize distant planets and inward to explore the mysteries of quantum physics -- where things really get weird.

At a roundtable discussion at the recent TV Critics Association Winter Press Tour, Druyan said:

Well one of the great learning experiences for us, in the writing of the season, was exploring the quantum realm. And it struck us that when in the early 1800s when the double slit experiment was first performed, it was like finding a hole in the curtain that masks the matrix. And the fact that it's still not understood is something that we love, and that science loves, because science, unlike other things, has a great tolerance for ambiguity.

And so together we ventured into this other universe really where different laws apply. Where the laws of classical physics are, are not obeyed. And so that was a great jumping-off point for us in terms of the imagined and the imaginative journey that was possible.

Braga added:

Yeah. We felt like it was a rite of passage of sorts of pulling back the curtain of reality that quantum physics shows you. It's an impossible journey and, at the end. you just kind of have to give in.

If you're curious, here's an examination of the intersection of physics and theology by physicist and Catholic convert Dr. Robert Kurland.

When I first tweeted about the show back in January, some Christians said they wouldn't watch because Tyson was the host. That's a shame, because when he sticks to the science that he knows, he's a passionate and articulate advocate.

He may, as he says in the show, consider Charles Darwin the greatest spiritual teacher of the last thousand years, but the Catholic Church has no quarrel with Darwin. If Tyson wants to spread his love of science, it might help in his mission to know that he truly has no quarrel with us.

The 13-episode Cosmos: Possible Worlds launches with two episodes on March 9 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Click here for the official homepage. At some point, the series will likely stream on Disney+ and may air on Fox over the summer. The National Geographic companion book, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, by Druyan, went on sale Feb. 25.

Image: National Geographic Channel

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager and blog editor at Family Theater Productions.

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