Neil deGrasse Tyson is not one to shy away from questions that might be profound or seemingly impossible to answer.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Simple question yet remains an enigma. But it is the kind of question that applies to “life, the Universe, and everything”, subjects Neil deGrasse Tyson tackles in his new show, Cosmos.
Cosmos, originally hosted by the late Carl Sagan over 30 years ago, has been resurrected by Tyson, the charismatic and well-spoken astrophysicist taking on the mysteries of the Universe with his uncompromising scientific point of view.
Sunday’s second episode, Some of the Things That Molecules Do, took on evolution, and creation via the concept of intelligent design – From where does life and all of its incomprehensible variables flow? Well, according to Tyson, he’s not really sure where the kayak called Life first pushed off from shore, but evolution explains everything once it gets headed down stream.
Judging by the poor ratings for Cosmos, perhaps the Intelligent Designer isn’t too pleased with Tyson’s take on the origins of life, but around the web, the second episode of Cosmos has attracted responses many and varied.
One writer, Chester Davis, praises Tyson’s support of evolution and the critique of intelligent design, writing: “Scientists and liberal religious thinkers overwhelmingly accept evolutionary theory, while certain religious groups and individuals are opposed to the idea of life evolving through natural processes over billions of years.”
Mr. Davis liked Tyson’s examples of evolution, like polar bears ending up being white which compliments their arctic environment. Another example cited by Tyson was dogs and their modern traits via artificial selection. According to Tyson, dogs evolved from wolves that humans domesticated and bred to have all the different desirable qualities they have today. Good examples that support the idea of creatures evolving over time but where the wolves and bears originally came from is never explained.
Another common point of contention between those who do, and those who do not believe in intelligent design is the eye. Creationists argue that there’s no way the human eye could just naturally have evolved into the amazing self-contained thing it is (the same could probably be said about bananas and avocados). But Tyson says nonsense, evolution explains the eye just fine.
Meanwhile, an NPR story was more critical of this episode, saying, “Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey team dropped the ball in the episode on life and evolution that just aired. It’s not that Tyson and his team said anything wrong. So what was missing?”
What they felt was missing was what Tyson didn’t say. It goes back to the chicken and the egg thing. Where did the first living organism come from?
Tyson shrugs at this and admits we don’t know how life began. He writes it off as one of science’s great mysteries and one-ups this humble assertion by noting that science would rather admit ignorance than pretend to have knowledge it doesn’t have.
But this doesn’t give Tyson a free pass as far as the NPR story is concerned. Saying nothing is actually saying something:
“Here’s what he didn’t say: Darwin’s theory of evolution doesn’t speak to the question of how life got started.
Darwin shows how environmental pressures sculpt and shape organisms. But the existence of organisms, the existence of life, is not explained in Darwin’s theory; it is presupposed. This is not a criticism of Darwin or of the power of natural selection as a force determining evolution. It’s to say that the question of life’s origins is a different kind of question than the question of the origin of the polar bear. Tyson’s presentation didn’t make that clear. Indeed, it struck me that it almost concealed it”.
This week’s episode three, When Knowledge Conquered Fear, promises to be another thought provoking, entertaining and well-produced program.
Delving into such interesting topics via Neil deGrasse Tyson’s great mind has been a welcome addition to the TV lineups of many Tyson fans. But as mentioned earlier, ratings for the show haven’t exactly been over the moon, and If this remains the case, survival of the fittest and natural selection may push Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos into extinction.
Or maybe Tyson will adapt?