New COSMOS with Neil deGrasse Tyson

I’ve been able to see the first two episodes, and definitely plan to watch the following eleven. I haven’t watched the original yet, so I really don’t know how it compares.

I can compare Cosmos with Bill Nye’s show from the 90’s and with David Attenborough documentaries. With the ship of the imagination, it is more “gimmicky” than David Attenborough, but far less so than Bill Nye the Science Guy. It seems to be reaching for a similar audience to David Attenborough, though; at the very least, older than the kids Bill Nye was reaching out to.

All three shows are excellent and educational, though. I can see myself watching any of them at any point where I have enough spare time for the rest of my life. I’ve found myself doing puzzles while listening to David Attenborough, which is pretty relaxing. Of the three, I am probably least likely to watch Bill Nye for educational reasons, watching it mainly for nostalgia.

Anyway, while watching episode two of Cosmos, I caught myself wondering… This was the evolution episode, and whenever I see an attempt to teach someone about evolution now, I tend to think “Would that have worked on me?” When Bill Nye debated Ken Ham recently, my main criticism was that he didn’t present the evidence that convinced me, although he did present quite a bit of extremely convincing evidence.

Obviously, I know what did work on me – the book Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth Miller. That book was, I now think, the single most important thing I read, because it turned me from staunch 6-day creationist to understanding and therefore accepting evolution as true. (Ironically, the book is by a Christian and turned me into an atheist, as well, for I could not accept his arguments for why Christianity works with evolution. One day, I plan to re-read them and give my analysis of their flaws in a Rebecca Reads section.)

But would this episode of Cosmos have worked? I don’t know, and it’s essentially impossible for me to know either way, although I can speculate.

I think it would have helped, at least. The explanation for how the eye evolved was very good – I honestly never knew that our eyes evolved underwater, because I never thought about it before. It’s really obvious, in retrospect, like mice not being able to see right in front of their noses because their eyes point sideways. However, I felt that Cosmos didn’t really present the evidence that this happened – Neil deGrasse Tyson just explained how it did, which creationists are likely to take as a “well that could have happened I guess but you can’t prove it”. I’m sure this has a lot to do with the lack of time, it being only 40 minutes of air time to explain the entirety of evolution, but it would have been nice to see him present the fossils.

The wolves to dogs and brown bears to polar bears were also neat examples, but Former Me would have dismissed this as just “microevolution” and asked for proof of “macroevolution”. The latter is much harder to prove for two reasons. First, it takes a lot more time to change from a fish to a monkey than from a brown bear to a white bear, and there is a great deal more evidence to present because far more generations are involved. Second, the term “macroevolution” is not at all well defined. A wolf can’t mate with a fox successfully; are they both of the same kind? Could they have both come from a common ancestor, according to a creationist like Ken Ham? I don’t know how he would answer; I really don’t remember how I would have answered, although I might have been smart enough to say that there was an intermediary species, now extinct, that could breed with both. That might not be quite true, but it would be close to the truth. There are two general strategies for answering the macro v micro evolution argument: give an entire line of fossils for something changing from one kind to another after having the creationist define “kind” as a level of taxonomy such as genus or family, or try to explain that there is no difference between the “two kinds” of evolution except time. Examples like the one below may help:

Also, pretty colors!

I think I’ve rambled on enough. Cosmos is awesome, you should watch it. I don’t know that it was trying to convince creationists, but I think it’s great for the open minded.


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