Cosmos co-writer Steven Sotor has responded to Corey Powell’s criticism of Cosmos’s highlighting of Giordano Bruno on its opening episode. Powell published the response on his blog, and responded in turn.
Powell writes that the new Cosmos is “downright wrong” because “Bruno was not the first to link the idea of infinite space with the infinite glory of God.” But the script never says that. Bruno got the idea of infinite space from Lucretius, but he also read Nicolas of Cusa, who related the concept to an infinite God.
Bruno’s originality lay elsewhere. He was indisputably the first person to grasp that the Sun is a star and the stars are other suns with their own planets. That is arguably the greatest idea in the history of astronomy. Before Bruno, none of the other Copernicans ever imagined it.
I’ve had a few debates with people this week on this, and I’m glad to find that my side of the argument generally echoed Sotor’s. (Although I didn’t realize the certainty of Bruno being the first to realize the Sun was a star.)
One person asked me why I thought Cosmos writers were intentionally alienating Christians. I don’t think they were. I do think that they don’t plan to compromise on the message, and that will mean offending some people. If the new Cosmos follows the plan of the old one, the next episode will be about evolution, and many fundamentalists will likely ask why the show had to offend them instead of just skipping that part. I’m sure some conservatives will be also be unhappy when climate change is covered.
On Bruno, I do think the cartoon oversimplified and dramatized some pretty complex dynamics, particularly at the trial, but it was only a ten minute cartoon and nuance is hard to work into something like that. It’s also worth remembering that the church was sending people to fiery deaths for holding the wrong ideas. The grounds for complaining about them being portrayed as villainous in these events seem a bit weak to me.
One thing I’ve heard over and over was that Bruno was only condemned for his religious beliefs, not his cosmology. My response has been to link to the charges, asking that they note the third to last one. Yes, the theology was the main contention, but the multiple worlds charge wouldn’t have been there if they hadn’t cared about it.
Anyway, it should also be remembered that a lot of Christians were persecuted in the inquisition. I’m pretty sure that the beliefs of the average Christian today would have been heresy back then. I don’t know many believers who think the inquisition was a good thing.
What the Bruno sequence was actually about was an important development in cosmology, and a demonstration of why rigid dogmatism, along with suppression of ideas, is bad. As Sotor stated in his last paragraph, free thinking is the life blood of science.