General Question

DigitalBlue's avatar

Was "Cosmos" with Carl Sagan as controversial as it is with Neil deGrasse Tyson?

Asked by DigitalBlue (7072points) April 4th, 2014

As asked.

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44 Answers

jerv's avatar

No. The current controversy is a sign of a resurgence of religious Fundamentalism. It’s a cyclical thing though, as anybody who remembers the PMRC’s heyday will attest. After this, things will simmer down for a few years, then another wave of religious zealotry will swell.

Pachy's avatar

I certainly don’t recall that it was. “Thanks” to the Internet and rise of social media, I think science deniers and religious fanatics are more prevalent and vocal than they were then.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@DigitalBlue I haven’t been following this story. What’s the controversy? Carl was a Prof at my college. He was cool.

jerv's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe The short version; Creationists are demanding equal airtime to counter Evolution.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Well, aren’t they entitled to express their views? Or are they being ridiculous?

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

They are being ridiculous.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Imadethisupwithnoforethought That’s what I was afraid of. Logic sometimes seems to elude them.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

How can you refute evolution when its effects are everywhere around us?

Seek's avatar

How can you claim discrimination because a television show exists?

If you want to see a TV show about creationism, make a pilot and start pitching to the networks. Good luck convincing them it will make money.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

@Buttonstc LMGTFY


tl;dr- Tipper Gore and some other hurmorless busybodies engaged in a Moral Panic over pop-song lyrics back in the late 1980s / early 90s. Predictable outcome was predictable.
It did lead to some interesting testimony by Frank Zappa and others. Apart from that, the main upshot was that certain records got “Parental Advisory” stickers on them (which sold more records), and the beginning of the end of the Dead Kennedys.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Exactly what I was going to say @Seek.

johnpowell's avatar

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a accident

I worked as a master control operator at a local ABC affiliate. This shit isn’t accidental.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It’s fascinating that proponents of literal interpretations of the Bible persist in the hope that sane people will take them seriously. It’s equivalent to Harry Potter fans demanding that Rowling’s books be adopted as physics, chemistry and biology texts. The inability to recognize the absurdity of of such notions as a 10,000 year old universe, men with pet dinosaurs and Noah’s ark is more serious than a mere opportunity for ridicule. It is an alarming indicator of the lack of basic common sense in a significant portion of our population. It’s a peculiar and rather profound sort of ignorance that leaves me wondering where the country is going with so many folks loudly proclaiming in unison “I am ignorant and demand equal time to prove it”.

LostInParadise's avatar

Don’t worry. They are a dying breed, desperately trying to make up in passion for what they are losing in numbers. In 1990, 8% of the country had no religious affiliation. In 2010 that number had risen to 18%. That is over twice as many, and the trend has to be disturbing to fundamentalists. This article from MIT blames it on the internet.

Bill1939's avatar

While my spiritual leanings are far from fundamental Christian beliefs, I found Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” to be too hostile to traditional religions. Carl Sagan’s production avoided the appearance of being disrespectful while presenting scientific facts at odds with ancient understandings.

hominid's avatar

@Bill1939: “I found Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” to be too hostile to traditional religions.”

Could you explain?

jerv's avatar

@Bill1939 Maybe the understandings of the “Young Earth” crowd anf Literalists, though he seemed respectful enough of the “Long day” views to leave plenty of room to reconcile Creationism and Evolution. Besides, how long is a day to one who creates universes? I’m just enough of a sycophant to say that it’s however long they want it to be; if they say that a timespan that we’d consider 2 billion years to be “a day”, I’m not arguing the point with them!

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Bill1939 Biblical literalism is not traditional, and is in fact quite a recent development. As such, I do not see how undermining beliefs that have only come about recently could be seen as disrespectful to ancient understandings.

LostInParadise's avatar

I question the notion that Biblical literalism is a modern idea. At the time that the Bible was written there was no concept of natural law. Anything that happened was simply due to the will of God. Since there were no natural laws that could be violated, there was no concept of miracles. There was no reason to doubt that the Bible was a factual description of events.

The Greeks were the first to suggest that things happen independently of the gods. This was a major change in how the world was viewed. After this time, religious interpretations evolved, but only out of necessity. Galileo was imprisoned because what he said went against narrow Biblical interpretation. It was only after Newton showed incontrovertibly that Galileo was right that the church accommodated itself to the new understanding. What choice did they have? The heliocentric model was better at predicting when Easter would arrive than the geocentric model.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LostInParadise It was Thales who first introduced the notion of a natural law and insisted that we stop thinking mythologically (or at least that we stop thinking exclusively in mythological terms). He lived from around 624 BCE to around 546 BCE. I hope we can agree that it is impossible for the Christian Bible to have even existed at that time, and thus a fortiori could not have been interpreted literally. Furthermore, your talk about “when the Bible was written” is nonsense. The Christian Bible is a compilation, the parts of which were written at various times. Furthermore, all of the early church leaders—particularly Augustine—insisted that scripture had to be interpreted. Thus the earliest of Christian traditions were all based on non-literalism.

What seems to be confusing you is the difference between literalism and inerrancy. One can believe that the Bible (and the scriptures that make it up) are inerrant without believing they are literal. It then becomes a matter of figuring out which parts are factual and which are metaphorical. And, of course, ideas may change over time regarding how much is fact and how much is metaphor. But it is straightforwardly false to say that literalism follows from believing that the Bible conveys factual information. (And since you seem to want to ignore the fact that we’re talking within the context of Christianity, I’ll note that even the earliest Jewish scholars noticed that the Torah could not be literal due to the fact that such an interpretation would lead to contradictions within the first three chapters.)

jerv's avatar

” the earliest Jewish scholars noticed that the Torah could not be literal due to the fact that such an interpretation would lead to contradictions within the first three chapters.)”

Those that take the Bible literally tend not to notice contradictions. They merely pick whichever side they prefer and ignore the rest. It’s easier to wage war on those that disagree than to completely read the scripture you use to justify yourself and find that it also disagrees with you.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@jerv I agree that literalists fail to notice the contradictions that their interpretive procedure yields. Fortunately, the intellectual tradition of Judaism and early Christianity was such that its participants did notice how many contradictions would follow from a literal interpretation and thus rejected literalism. This didn’t always stop them from using their scriptures as a justification for war, of course, but that’s how it has always been.

LostInParadise's avatar

@SavoirFaire , When I mentioned the time when the Bible was written, I was referring to the Old Testament. Those who would became Christian came from Judaism and other faiths, mostly formed before Thales and having a tradition of acceptance of sacred texts at face value.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LostInParadise I know what you were referring to. That’s why I pointed out that what you said was both irrelevant (because I was talking about Christianity and you were responding to me) and false (because the Old Testament is not identical with the Bible, because literalism is not the same thing as inerrancy, and because early Judaism was not literalist). That covers all bases.

LostInParadise's avatar

How do you know early (at the time the Old Testament was written) Judaism was not literalist? Unless indications are given to believe otherwise, the assumption must be that those who wrote the Bible and those who initially read it took it to mean exactly what it said.

Bill1939's avatar

@SavoirFaire my dictionary defines inerrant (adj.) as 1. Incapable of erring; infallible. 2. Containing no errors. It defines literal (adj.) as 1. Being in accordance with, conforming to, or upholding the exact or primary meaning of a word or words. 2. Word for word; verbatim: a literal translation. I do not see how “One can believe that the Bible (and the scriptures that make it up) are inerrant without believing they are literal.”

Seek's avatar


Because the stories were told by oral tradition at that point. You can’t have a literal meaning in a game of Telephone.

COMPLETELY ignoring the fact that the vast majority of people were illiterate until the last 200 years or so. And in early Christianity through the Renaissance, the Church purposely demanded that all church services be held in Latin and the Bible not translated into the vernacular specifically so they could put their own interpretations of doctrine out without being challenged.

Bill1939's avatar

@Seek is correct when stating the Church believed that one needed to be educated to accurately interpret the Bible. Likewise sciences also required one to be fluent in Latin. This began to change with the invention of the printing press. However, it has been only in recent years that in America the Mass was celebrated in English.

LostInParadise's avatar

@Seek , The Old Testament was written early in Jewish history. A major function of the Bible was to provide a set of written commands that were treated as law. The book of Leviticus is full of such commands, which are largely irrelevant to most modern day Jews. I do not know the literacy rate of early Jews, but I would guess that it was fairly high.

Seek's avatar

There was a class of people called Judges whose job it was to memorize the laws (or know how to read them) and enforce them among the people. Not every family had a copy of the Torah sitting on the mantle, checking to make sure their fish stew was Kosher approved.

jerv's avatar

@Bill1939 Define “Day” in the context of planets and stars not even existing yet. Then prove that either days are equally long on all planets, or that God is concerned only with Earth, thus negating any real need for the entire rest of the universe.

Ambiguity can be inerrant without being literal. Misinterpretations can be too; the words are inerrant, but we read them wrong.

bunnywok's avatar

Religious fanaticism has been on the rise lately it seems. I hope evolution will weed out all people susceptible to this disease.

Bill1939's avatar

@jerv I do not know why you are asking me to define day. The Book of Genesis should not be taken literally. Jewish scholars now and twenty-five hundred years ago recognize that what is written there is self contradictory. They largely agree that Genesis is allegorical. That being understood, the definition of a day is based upon how long Earth takes to rotate once on its axis. The use of a 24-hour day is a convention. At the beginning of Earth’s existence it rotated much faster than it does now.

Time is a measure of how long it takes light to travel the distance of a Planck length. At a larger scale space and time interact, with space expanding as time contracts and vice versa. Time on a satellite circling Earth is faster than time on Earth (albeit by a small amount).

LostInParadise's avatar

Do you have any evidence that Jewish scholars 2500 years ago interpreted Genesis allegorically? The default assumption is that the book meant exactly what it said. If it says there was a black cat then the assumed interpretation is that there was a black cat. Similarly, when it says that the universe was created in 6 days or that all our problems stem from a talking snake, that is what it meant. Do not confuse the people of 2500 years ago with those of today or even those at the time of Maimonides. There was a considerable amount of change in the intervening years.

Seek's avatar


Are you talking about the people who were around at the time the stories were developed, or the people around at the time the stories were written?

Because the Pentateuch was passed down by oral tradition, much like the tall tales of the American West or the Irish mythology of Cuchulainn (who fought so hard in battle his body burned red with heat, and when he took a swim in Lough Neagh to cool off the lake boiled and all the eel cooked and the army ate cooked eel for a month)

The story of Cuchulainn is about half as old as the story of Genesis, and look how crazy that got before anyone got around to writing it down.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LostInParadise We know that early Judaism was not literalist because Judaism has a long intellectual tradition of scriptural interpretation, and that tradition is decidedly non-literalist. When the scriptures were being put together, the compilers drew on a variety of stories. That’s why Genesis opens with to mutually exclusive accounts of creation. It was, from the start, an attempt to collect traditions and histories together rather than to elucidate a single story of literal history. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have included the poems.

Now, if you’re asking me to prove that no individual member of the ancient Hebrew tribes ever took the scriptures literally, you know that neither I nor anyone else can do that. It’s an unreasonable request, and one that in no way bears on the issue of what the tradition was. In any case, the interpretive principle that you keep trying to assert—i.e., that we should assume literalism unless otherwise indicated—is both useless and uncharitable (and thus must, by all the ordinary rules of reason, be discarded).

None of the religions from that era took their religions to be completely literal. Ancient Greek scholars from before Thales even noted that various stories were allegorical and scorned those who took them literally as commoners (e.g., Xenophanes). This is also why various authors felt free to embroider the stories for literary purposes (as occurred often in the Greek tradition, as well as the Levantine tradition that was so influential on early Judaism).

One final point. Neither of us believes that Old Testament is true, either literally or figuratively (though, of course, it may contain some historical truths). This means that we must believe certain things about the people who wrote it. Indeed, you keep insisting on talking about the exact moment of story creation despite the fact that it is quite irrelevant. Let us focus on that moment anyway, however. Since we don’t believe that the storytellers were conveying literal truth, the principle of charity requires us to assume that the original creators of the tales were not intending to speak literally (even if some people mistakenly took the stories that way later). Thus we should not believe that the creation of the stories was an attempt at literalism.

@Bill1939 Currently, their is a torrential downpour occurring where I live. If I were to say “it’s raining cats and dogs,” I would be saying something true. I would not, however, be speaking literally. Thus something can be true without being literal. If everything I say is true, then I could be described as inerrant. But as we’ve just seen, I can say true things without speaking literally. Thus if I uttered a succession of statements, some of which were literally true and some of which were true without being literally true, that succession of statements could be considered inerrant without being literal.

LostInParadise's avatar

We know for certain that some of the writings of the Old Testament were taken very seriously, most notably the belief that God promised the land of Israel to the Jews. We also know that belief in a messiah was widely believed, since Simon bar Kochba, who led a revolt against the Romans, was regarded by many as the messiah. What point would there be to Judaism without the belief that the first five books of the Bible were transmitted to Moses by God? How, in general, is one to determine which stories are to be taken at face value and which are to be interpreted as metaphors?

I will leave you to ponder on your own just how closely the New Testament comes to being the “gospel truth.”

jerv's avatar

@Bill1939 I think that comparing and contrasting ” I do not know why you are asking me to define day.” and “The Book of Genesis should not be taken literally.”, pretty much get to the heart of the matter, especially when followed with, “They largely agree that Genesis is allegorical.”.

Isn’t the whole debate about allegorical vs. literal? How can one believe that Creation happened in 168 hours if you do not have a definition of “day”? How can you refute that it’s possible that “day” is “billions of years” without a definition of “day”... unless use of the word “day” was allegorical rather than literal to begin with.

See why I wanted you to define “day” yet? And can you see how it’s possible to be allegorical yet still be inerrant?

Bill1939's avatar

@SavoirFaire and @jerv as I said previously, my dictionary defines inerrant as “1. Incapable of erring; infallible. 2. Containing no errors.” An allegory is a device in which characters and events stand for abstract ideas, principles, or forces, so that the literal sense has or suggests a parallel, deeper symbolic sense (also from my dictionary). For it to be considered inerrant one would have to recognize and accept the parallel.

1: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3: And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

This suggests that the sun did not exist and that water existed before the earth was formed. How can this allegory be inerrant?

jerv's avatar

@Bill1939 “Without form”.... as someone who has messed up many a baked good, I think it’s entirely possible to be “without form” while still actually existing. And “void” may well mean “featureless”, though I would expect a ball of liquid sitting in the darkness to lack things like trees, or color.

Given that most people have no real understanding of astrophysics, I think that one would almost have to explain something like the formation of the Universe in an abstract, allegorical manner.

Thing is, we are talking about a bunch of people who won’t accept anything other than their own preconceived notions. Ask Galileo how open-minded and accepting Christianity is when it comes to anything that even remotely challenges The Church. Even offering an alternative interpretation such as the Earth being the spiritual (rather than physical) center of the universe is enough to get kicked out for blasphemy, so in the end, it’s really more of a popularity contest where neither the words, nor the intended meaning of anything in the Bible has any relevance whatsoever in the first place. With that being the case, inerrancy is impossible simply because humans are humans.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that is is possible to be allegorical without being inerrant. This goes double for allegory that is vague enough to be literally true but open enough to interpretation that it’s truth value cannot be easily ascertained. I just think @SavoirFaire did a better job of proving that point than is even possible to illustrate using a blatantly self-contradictory text that has led to wars and schisms over every little detail.

It may have been better to clear up how allegory could be inerrant before trying to apply that to the Bible…

ragingloli's avatar

Given that most people have no real understanding of astrophysics, I think that one would almost have to explain something like the formation of the Universe in an abstract, allegorical manner.
In order to apply that to the bible you would first have to assume that the writers knew about the formation of the Universe in the first place, in order for them to dumb it down for their sheeples. Which they evidently did not.

jerv's avatar

@ragingloli True, but that gets into “Faith vs. Knowledge”, which is a whole other can of worms.

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