Review of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 2: “Some of the Things Molecules Do”
This episode had a few brilliant moments, but we had to sit through a whole lot of hot air in between each. I started watching the series saying I was comfortable accepting that a TV Series like this is not a scientific document, but an evangelical piece on behalf of the church of science. Still, since a core tenant of the church of science is the sacred nature of evidence one would hope that even a TV series aired on FOX would take some trouble now and then to demonstrate its logics or present its evidence, rather than simply asserting that such things exist and are acceptable beyond reasonable doubt.
In Episode 2, the show is starting to feel like its relying too much on Tyson’s persuasive charisma and the “wow” effect of computer graphics. Still I’m hoping that this will just be the worst episode, and the rest will be better.
Dogs and Bears
It starts off a little dull, with Tyson at a camp fire explaining how breeding can cause variation within a species. He calls this “evolution by artificial selection.” I don’t know, I think a more eloquent term is “breeding.” He jumps from the explanation of breeding to saying that all life as we know it evolves from simple inert molecules, without so much as a nod to the huge distance he jumped. As if showing that wolves can be bred into dogs, or that bears can change fur color (variation within existing species) is somehow perfectly valid evidence that an inert, dead molecule can somehow transform into a viable, living organism, and that this organism can change into complex life, changing entirely from one species to another.
Sorry Mr. Neil, as handsome as you are and as smooth as your voice surely is, I would raise my hand in your class and call “bullshit” on you. Anyone on any side of the evolution issue whose thought about this with minimal sincerity will honestly admit that evidence for modification within a species is not acceptable as evidence of one species becoming a different species, much less for something without any life at all becoming something alive.
I liked the next part of it, though. The weird-mercurial Spaceship of the Imagination (Still, I think “Spaceship of Factual Proof” would be a better spaceship for exploring science) shrinks smaller and smaller, ala 1966 SciFi Classic Fantastic Voyage, and eventually enters into the nucleus of a cell within the egg of a brown bear. There we get a really, really cool animation of proteins walking along girder like molecular structures – and an amazing animation of DNA.
Fantastic stuff. Loved it.
Then it got stupid again.
Dr. Neil says that silly people think an intelligent being must have created life on the basis that life is too complex to have arisen by random chance. “Take the eye for example”… OK STOP. Why take an eye for example? Take the damn proteins and DNA you just showed us in a nucleus for example! Forget the eye. Look how amazingly complex that stuff is! No, Tyson wants us to take an eye for example — and sets out to demonstrate that the human eye really isn’t complex at all. Its a simple thing that just had a whole lot of time to become complex by little simple steps. He goes back to some bacteria who somehow (“randomly”) develop a trait that allows them to vaguely sense light, and this simple stuff that is photosensitive just became more and more specialized and perfected over time.
OK, neat. But I’m still freaked out about those little cities with construction workers you showed us 15 minutes ago all inside every singe nucleus of every single cell in my body, Neil. Remember that stuff you showed us about DNA – what an amazingly sophisticated, eloquent code it is for building a life form? And remember that amazingly NextGen animation of that protein-machine that pulls a DNA strand apart without damaging it, and then each side of the DNA replicates the missing side??? HOLY FUCKIN’ SHIT Neil!!! That stuff was awesome! I can’t focus on your whiz bangs about eyes right now, cuz I’m still dizzy over how cool that stuff inside the nucleus was.
So wait, tell me again, what’s so simple and randomly-constructable about a bacteria powered by these kinds of natural robotics, which somehow develops a photosensitive area in its body?
Please Neil… just because you’re backed up by graphics that make it look like everything you say is actually happening right before our eyes, and just because you say, “Its not a myth, its a scientific fact” – the left side of my brain ain’t buyin what you’re trying’ to sell in Episode 2. As soon as you let us peak inside the nucleus of a cell it became perfectly obvious that there’s nothing “simple” or “random” about even the simplest thing in nature – and the rest of your arguments just rang hollow in comparison to that roaring crescendo you (perhaps inadvertently) orchestrated.
It’s not just “complexity” that warrants the theory of a sentient origin of life. Its the principle of “inertia” as well. In other words, evolution means that things change. But things will not change from a settled state unless acted upon by an outside force. So evolution implies an outside force set a settled condition in motion.
Further, adaptation and so on indicates movement towards some goal. It appears obvious that life wants to exist and survive – this is the fundamental motive of evolution, is it not? Survival? (According to prevalent theories). But insentient things have no motives – by definition. Since a motive is required for change, evolution cannot originally be driven by an insentient origin. There must be will acting upon the system, spurring it to change.
– Vraja Kishor