KSJ Tracker March 14, 2014

Has 'Cosmos' foundered on the tomb of Giordano Bruno?

Corey S. Powell

Has the "Spaceship of the Imagination" on FOX 's Cosmos been reduced to rubble on the tombstone of Giordano Bruno?

Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddysey, as anyone living in any of the universe's 11 dimensions must know ( or 5 or 6 or whatever), is a reboot of Carl Sagan's legendary 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Its pedigree is impeccable: The executive producers are Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow, co-writer of the original series, and part of the writing time on this one; and Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the FOX show Family Guy. And the well known science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson takes over Sagan's role as host.

And yet, and yet...

At his blog Out There at Discover magazine, the veteran space writer (and former editor of Discover) Corey S. Powell praises the show's "extended tribute to the 16th-century Italian philosopher and theologian Giordano Bruno," before dropping this bomb:

Here is where Cosmos 2.0 runs into its big problem, missing out both on a chance to set history straight and to embrace the generous, forward-looking spirit of Sagan.

Bruno, Powell writes, "is well known as a martyr to the cause of modern astronomy...Starting in the late 1500s, Bruno argued not only in favor of Copernicus’s sun-centered cosmology, he also proposed that space was infinite in extent; that stars were other suns, surrounded by other Earths; and that those other worlds were also populated." His belief in an infinite universe--reflecting the glory of God--got him shunned, exiled from one country after another, and finally burned at the stake in 1600, "10 years before Galileo announed his first observations that confirmed Copernicus was right," Powell writes.

That's the way the story is told in Cosmos, Powell writes, "but it is misleading and in some ways downright wrong." Powell gives us what he claims is a more accurate picture of an argumentative, unpleasant man was not the first to link the inifinity of space with an infinite God, and who borrowed ideas from Thomas Digges, another Copernican. "OK, you may still be thinking that this is much ado about nothing, splitting hairs over old astronomical history. I believe otherwise. The story of Bruno and Digges has a lot to say about the way science operates today, and about the spiritual side of science that Sagan was so adept at exploring."

See Powell for more. And when you're done, read the response from Steven Soter, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and a co-writer of the series along with Druyan.

The same post includes Powell's response to the response.

This is more ink than Bruno, Nicolas of Cusa, and Thomas Digges have received in, say, 400 years. And high time, too; why should Galileo get all the good press?

-Paul Raeburn


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