"Cosmos" Episode 3: Your God is too Small

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"Cosmos" Episode 3: Your God is too Small

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Cosmos | March 24, 2014 | Comments ()


Last week Neil deGrasse Tyson fought wolves to start the episode. This week he held a baby and made it a metaphor for science. Did you feel a great disturbance in the force? As if a million geek ovaries suddenly cried out and then burst?

But the opening reminded me of a story I read online once, one that I’ve searched for on occasion and have never been able to dig up again. It was the story of a sermon given by a pastor who had come back from the wars and gave the pulpit one last try before wandering off onto the back roads when his parish couldn’t bear to hear his words.

We do not know what hell this is we are born into, he said, we are born naked and screaming into this world with no rules and no names. A vacant world with no apparent purpose but the strong annihilating the weak. This world so cruel that it killed God himself, nailed to a tree. There’s such horror to look into that abyss for the first time, to realize that whatever humanity has in this world, it has because it scratched it out of the rock and the dust. That before we first named things, there were no names. That before we first made rules, there were none at all. What a tenuous balance we have on the edge of this cliff we perch upon above the unthinking hordes.

That mystery is what Tyson gets at in the very beginning of this episode, that revelation that tiny and helpless as we are, we dared to look up at the stars and to demand answers. And there’s something beautiful about the poetry of this point: that what first made us scientists were the stars, twinkling down from the very beginning and telling us that the world was bigger than we imagined.

One of Tyson’s repeated refrains, in this and other works, is that with every step of science, we have discovered that the universe is older and bigger than we had dared previously imagine. He touches on it here again with the argument that good answers don’t close doors, they open them. They generate a new generation of questions.

The stories this time focus most on how man discovered such things, how our needs guided our science in the earliest years. How flawed and wonderfully human theses heroes of science really were in their quest for understanding how the world worked around them.

Something clicked this time for me. Tyson has geared this show very precisely towards a shadowing of religious rather than scientific documentaries. With repeated spiritual imagery: the flawed men who become martyrs, the abandoned child, the answers in the stars, the promise of prophecy. I’ve heard friends joke about how watching Cosmos is like going to Science Church, and they’ve hit the nail on the head.

What Tyson has created here is not an attempt to make a documentary, but an attempt to fight ignorance on its terms, taking the fight to its doors. Kicking in those doors at the notion that science cannot be spiritual, that knowledge cannot be as filled with wonder as small-minded ignorance.

As Tyson is fond of saying: your God is too small.

*image by Daniel Bosltad

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • e jerry powell

    I want a Gutenberg screw press in my apartment. RIGHT NOW. I need to print really old things.

  • Cheetahdriver

    People can talk about this machine changing the world, or that machine, but the one that really did it was the Gutenberg Press. A sword? Please. A Colt revolver? Nuthin. An organized world spanning religion? Give me a week with a press and I shall bring it to it's KNEES...

    The burning of the Great Library of Constantinople Alexandria destroyed a considerable amount of the total knowledge of the world. Thanks to this press, and it's descendents, the local library in any town over 8,000 has more hard STEM information than the Great Library.

  • e jerry powell

    Also, I suspect that the Gutenberg screw press works more consistently than any HP I've ever owned.

  • Cheetahdriver

    You just haven't owned the right HP. My LJ4 was old enough to order a drink when I finally gave up on it.

  • e jerry powell

    Oh, I've seen a couple of those. It's pretty sad when they have to be carted off to the retirement community after they've lost all their faculties.

  • Semilitterate

    I thought that burning library was in Alexandria, but I am sure there were others

  • Cheetahdriver

    You are, of course, right. What I get for posting while insufficiently caffeinated...

  • chanohack

    You're both right-- the libraries in Constantinople and Alexandria were burned and destroyed a lot of knowledge. And in fact, since the library in Constantinople most likely contained some of the volumes spared in Alexandria, and was destroyed after Alexandria, you are sort of more right, since it can be argued that the Constantinople fires completely wiped out both, and was the last of the great ancient libraries.

  • e jerry powell

    So many burned libraries...

  • chanohack

    Science Church. Yes. That is what I shall call it from now on. GET THEE TO CHURCH, BITCH. Hallelujah.

  • e jerry powell


  • chanohack

    When God closes a door, he opens a science. All things work together for good for those who science. God works in scientific ways. I can do all things through science which strengthens me.

    I gotta stop I'm freaking myself out.

  • wsapnin

    How this show is airing on FOX I will never understand.

  • e jerry powell

    Seth Macfarlane and all his geek money, that's how.

  • wsapnin

    Oh yeah, forgot his produces it. I hate him. This has to be the one good thing he has ever done.

  • NateMan

    He also wrote for Dexter's Labratory and a bunch of other Cartoon Network shows which were pretty great, is a passionate supporter of gay rights, won the Harvard Humanist Award in 2011, fully supported the Writers Guild strike, and created a Carl Sagan/Ann Druyan Archive at the Library of Congress. Yes, I stole all that from Wikipedia and yes he can be a tool sometimes, but he's done some pretty great things.

  • lowercase_ryan

    went looking for that print in the header and found this:


    Nobody tell TK

  • Stephen Nein

    Dead on, SLW. My Methodist pastor wife caught that unabashed bare-faced theft of theology and storytelling. The story you cite, which NDT is daring someone to call him on, is commonly used as rhetorical support for conservative, 'law & order' issues - right of rule, respect for the hierarchy, submission to authority. And he turned it upside-down and inside out in support of observational science and universal rights.

    Best part - Here's NDT doing rhetorical jujitsu, and he slides a pro-marijuana aside into it, just in case he hasn't pissed someone off enough yet.

  • BobbFrapples

    I love this show.

  • zeke_the_pig

    Science is fucking sexy.

  • chanohack

    Hell's Bells!

  • BWeaves

    Plus, he put in a little dig about how marijuana should be legalized.

    I thought the story about the book about fish sounded like something out of Monty Python.

    Also, even back in high school, when I was first struggling to learn Calculus, I was blown away with the idea that Newton invented it on a break from his university studies. So, what did YOU do on your spring break?

    I still wish they'd reuse the original music. The music in the new one is forgettable.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    yeah that's my favorite fact (calculus) that i know about Newton. he's essentially "your maths are too small, let me make a better one".

    i didn't know the particulars of his life though, which was cool to find out, especially his rivalry with Hook, and of course, his (apparent) righteous revenge after the dude died

  • BootlegGinger

    this gave me feels. especially b/c the conversation gets so polarized as if you have to choose between science and religion. there's plenty of questions for everyone.

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