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The Revival of Cosmos

February 16, 2014     Time: 31:20
The Revival of Cosmos


Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is the host of the new Cosmos television series, based on Carl Sagan's original program. Dr. Craig interacts with an interview with Tyson on this new prime-time series and the philosophical direction it seems to be taking.

Transcript The Revival of Cosmos


Carl Sagan:: The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.

Kevin Harris: Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Bill, we need to talk about a television event that is being revived. It is coming, as I understand, on major networks. It is a revival of Cosmos, one of the most popular series in the past which was hosted by Carl Sagan. It was enormously popular and had tremendous impact on a lot of people and still does to this day even after his death. One of the people that he really influenced and was a mentor to was Professor Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is an astrophysicist. Professor Tyson will be reviving and hosting this new Cosmos series. Did you watch any of the old series with Carl Sagan?

Dr. Craig: Oh yes, I did. I thought Sagan was a charming host. He was so intriguing and he presented things in such a way that made it so interesting. I thought the program was very well produced even though I disagreed so fundamentally with his naturalistic point of view.

Kevin Harris: His main theme that he repeated so often in this TV series and also in his public lectures is that the universe is all there is, all there was, all there will ever be. That leaves no room for God, for the supernatural.

Dr. Craig: Yes, in fact the Cosmos – which he always spelled with a capital 'C' – becomes a sort God substitute. In the Bible, God is described as he who was and is and will be. He substitutes in the place of God the Cosmos, which is all there ever was, is, or will be, which is a statement of atheism. This isn't proven. There is no argument given for it. It's definitional for him. This is the point from which he starts. He assumes that atheism is true and then works out the consequences. I thought what was interesting with Sagan is that he had an almost religious awe of the Cosmos. It really did become a sort of God surrogate, an object of religious awe and wonder and transcendence. So for Sagan, the Cosmos was more than just the universe; it really was a kind of substitute deity. The wonder and awe of the Cosmos took the form of a kind of cosmic religion.

Kevin Harris: It reminds me of a verse that Paul says that people will worship the creature rather than the Creator. In other words, the things that were created rather than the Creator who created them.

Dr. Craig: Right. The creation is something that ought to fill us with awe and wonder at its beauty and greatness and complexity. But that should redound to the glory of the God who designed and created it, rather than end simply in the created product itself.

Kevin Harris: By the way, looking at my notes here, this new program will air on Fox and the National Geographic channels. It is going to be prime time and get quite a bit of coverage.

Dr. Craig: Do you know if Professor Tyson shares the religious or philosophical presuppositions that Sagan had? Or will this be a more objective and neutral survey of contemporary cosmology.

Kevin Harris: My understanding is that he is right in line with Sagan's naturalistic philosophy.

Dr. Tyson: What people are really after is what is my stance on religion or spirituality or God. And I would say if I had to find a word that came closest it would be agnostic. Agnostic.

Kevin Harris: The producer Seth MacFarlane – he's produced Family Guy and American Dad – he will be executive producer of this. He is an ardent atheist. So this is kind of his baby as well. You can bet that the philosophy will lean one particular way.

Dr. Craig: That is so unfortunate, Kevin. Because I think what this does is continue this sort of cultural prejudice that science and an appreciation of the wonder of the cosmos lends support to naturalism or to atheism. The naturalist gets to posture himself as the one who is the true advocate and aficionado of science when in fact theists have been, and ought to be, ardent supporters of natural science and the exploration of the cosmos.

Kevin Harris: Bill, what I would like to do is go through some clips here and have you comment on them from Professor Tyson in his interview with Bill Moyers recently. Let's listen to a couple of clips form this.[1]

Dr. Tyson: If God is the mystery of the universe, we are tackling these mysteries one by one. If you are going to stay religious at the end of the conversation God has to mean more to you than just where science has yet to tread.

Kevin Harris: In other words, God of the gaps.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. That's the old God of the gaps gambit again, claiming that God is used to stop up the gaps in scientific knowledge and gets squeezed out as science advances, which is a caricature of the proper relationship between science and theology. Where do these intelligent people get this misconception of the relationship between science and theology? People who have been involved in the science and theology dialogue for decades now have been emphasizing that the relations between science and theology are a lot more sophisticated and nuanced than this simple God of the gaps idea that God plugs up the area of scientific ignorance. Yet the other side continues to perpetuate this myth.

Kevin Harris: Bill Moyers continues in the interview:

Bill Moyers: Do you give people who make this case that that was the beginning and that there had to be something that provoked the beginning, do you give them an A at least for trying to reconcile faith and reason?

Dr. Tyson: I don't think they are reconcilable.

Bill Moyers: What do you mean?

Dr. Tyson: Let me say that differently. All efforts that have been invested by brilliant people of the past have failed at that exercise. They just failed. The track record is so poor that going forward I have essentially zero confidence, near-zero confidence, that there will be fruitful things to emerge from the effort to reconcile them. So, for example, if you knew nothing about science and you read, say, the Bible – the Old Testament – which in Genesis is an account of nature. That is what that is. And I said to you give me your description of the natural world based only on this, you would say the world was created in six days and that stars are just little points of light, much lesser than the sun, and in fact they can fall out of the sky because that is what happens during the Revelation. One of the signs of the second coming is that the stars will fall out of the sky and land on earth. To even write that means you don't know what those things are. You have no concept of what the actual universe is. So everybody who tried to make proclamations about the physical universe based on Bible passages got the wrong answer. So what happened was when science discovers things and you want to stay religious or you want to continue to believe that the Bible is unerring, what you would do is you would say let me go back to the Bible and reinterpret and say, oh, they didn't mean that literally, they meant that figuratively. So this whole sort of reinterpretation of how figurative the poetic passages of the Bible are came after science showed that this is not how things unfolded. So the educated religious people are perfectly fine with that. It is the fundamentalists who want to say that the Bible is the literal truth of God and want to see the Bible as a science textbook who are knocking on the science doors of the schools trying to put that content in the science classroom. Enlightened religious people are not behaving that way. They are saying science is cool, we are good with that. Use the Bible to get your spiritual enlightenment and your emotional fulfillment.

Kevin Harris: Bill Moyers begins by saying there are a lot of people, philosophers, saying the Big Bang is a good evidence for God, which we say as well, and can't you at least give them an A for trying to reconcile the two – religion and science?

Dr. Craig: And he doesn't answer that question specifically. He just asserts that faith and reason are irreconcilable. Now, that is just an incredible claim. He doesn't even define his terms as to what he means by faith and reason. I just can't even imagine how someone could say that a person could not trust in, or make a commitment to, something that his reason tells him is true. So he needs to define his terms if he is going to make such a sweeping claim.[2] What he goes on to talk about is that we shouldn't take the Bible to be a scientific textbook. If you do so, you will be wrong in your science. Now, that is not the same as faith and reason. How in the world does he equate reading the Bible as a science book as saying faith and reason are irreconcilable. It doesn't match up. What I would say with regard to his claim about the Bible is that he is making the assumption that the purpose of the Bible is to convey scientific information. That is an assumption which one could call into question. For example, I think there are good reasons in the text itself of Genesis to think that it does not contemplate a six consecutive 24-hour day creation. We know that stars falling from the sky is part of the imagery of apocalyptic literature. This is a way in which the Jewish person would convey tremendously cataclysmic and important events by using language that is symbolic in that way.

Kevin Harris: And the language would even allow for meteors and other foreign bodies that are falling – it is also interpreted stars but it could be broader than that. So even if it is describing something falling, it is not talking about a white dwarf or the stars that we are familiar with falling

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is certainly true. Even today we talk about shooting stars – don't we? – phenomenally. More fundamentally than that though, Kevin, I think that that is just a failure to understand apocalyptic literature. Look at Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost[3] where he says that what the people in Jerusalem are witnessing is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel about how the sun will be darkened and the moon will turn to blood and things of that sort. Well, there weren't any astronomical events going on like that on the day of Pentecost. This is apocalyptic language to say that these are significant events. Even today we will say something was earth shattering. Well, we don't mean that there literally occurred an earthquake. It is imagery.

And it is simply false. It shows Dr. Tyson's ignorance when he says that this reinterpretation was forced by modern science and came only afterward. That is simply historically incorrect. St. Augustine who was writing in the early 400s proposed an interpretation of Genesis 1 according to which the creation involved God's putting seminal seeds, so to speak, into creation which then over time would develop into full-fledged animals and plants of various sorts. But he did not hold to a six day 24-hour creationist view. Neither did lots of other Jews and Christians. This is 1,500 years before Darwin and the theory of evolution came on the scene. So it is simply historically incorrect to say that understanding these narratives in figurative ways is something that came after modern science developed.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Tyson needs to be told these things. I hope he listens to this podcast because you know this is going to come up in this series. It could just cause misunderstanding to those who are seeking and to those who are people of faith confusion with this false dichotomy and these wars allegedly that have been going on that science always wins. Dr. Tyson likes to see himself on the winning side of this – science as an enterprise.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and he didn't address what you said Moyers asked – doesn't the Big Bang theory lend support to the biblical doctrine of creation that in the beginning God created the universe. That prediction at least has seemed to be verified by modern science. I think modern science is more open to the existence of a creator and designer of the universe than at any time in recent history.

Kevin Harris: Let's continue with the interview.

Bill Moyers: I have known serious religious people – not fundamentalist – who were scared when Carl Sagan opened his series with the words “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” That scared them because they interpret that to mean if this is it there is nothing else – no God and no life after.[4]

Dr. Tyson: For religious people – many people say that God is within you. There are ways people have shaped this rather than God as an old gray bearded man in the clouds. So if God is within you, what I am sure Carl would say, he's in you in your mind. In your mind, we can measure the neurosynaptic firings when you have a religious experience, we can tell you where that is happening, when it is happening, what you are feeling like at the time. So your mind of course is still within the Cosmos.

Dr. Craig: What I heard him say was that enlightened people do not turn to the Bible to be a science textbook but turn to it for spiritual reasons – their spiritual life. That seems to me to be correct and fine. So what I am puzzled at is why does he think then that faith and reason are irreconcilable? Why does he think that these so-called enlightened religious people are somehow intellectually incompetent? Because he claims faith and reason are not reconcilable. But what about these enlightened people? Isn't faith and reason reconciled in the view of the spiritually enlightened person? I don't like that language, it sounds elitist, but he is the one – this is his terminology. I would like to know, does he think that faith and reason are irreconcilable for someone who doesn't fall into what he calls a fundamentalist – that is, someone who insists on taking the Bible literally and doesn't understand things like apocalyptic imagery or figurative language.

Kevin Harris: I've heard people say wooden literalism, rather than literally. It is appropriate to take the Bible literally where it intends to be taken literally and take it metaphorically where it intends to be taken metaphorically. An extreme version of wooden literalism would say the right hand of God is mentioned and that God has fingers and fingernails and fingerprints. That would be a wooden literalism. He is actually picking on fundamentalists, as he says here, taking the Bible that way, perhaps a wooden literalism.

Dr. Craig: In fact, Kevin, even those who would classify themselves as fundamentalist don't take the Bible literally in every respect. They understand the differences between different types of literature. When the psalmist says “Let the trees of the wood clap their hands before the Lord” the fundamentalist doesn't think that the psalmist is teaching that trees have hands. He understands poetry and the genre of poetry. So you, as you say, this is the whole project of hermeneutics – how do you interpret literature, whether biblical or extra-biblical, properly? One of the principles of good hermeneutics is you need to first understand the genre, or the type of literature, that you are reading in order to understand whether it intends to be taken literally or not. When you get to apocalyptic literature, like the book of Revelation for example, even fundamentalists do not think that the book of Revelation teaches that there will literally be nine-headed monsters that will come up out of the sea and begin to devour people. They take these typically to be alliances of political states or powers that are aligned against God and so forth. They recognize symbols, that the red dragon isn't some sort of a beast with scales; that it is a satanic symbol or image. So he is being very unsophisticated in his grasp of hermeneutics here.

Kevin Harris: There seems to be two main things there, Bill. First of all, God as just an idea in your head, not really existing objectively but a source of comfort. Even Bill Moyers would want to be sympathetic with that. And then second of all, is there anything objective to your faith, is there a referent to that which you place your faith in? Since that is not the case then get it out of the science class.

Dr. Craig: You notice, Kevin, the way these issues are run together in this muddy unclear fashion by Tyson. He leaps from one issue to another without any kind of logically coherent connection. Notice first the false dichotomy that he gives us between either God is within you and is purely a subjective idea of your mind or else he is an old gray bearded man in the sky. Neither of those options represents classical theism or the traditional view that Christians have held. So it is a false dichotomy right from the beginning. I think that those who objected to Sagan's statement that the cosmos is all that ever was, is, or will be is quite right in saying that if that is true then God does not exist.[5] That is the assumption of atheism on Sagan's part and we, therefore, would be within our rights to demand what rational argument he has for thinking that.

Now, Tyson is quite happy to say, well, God is just in your mind, and he thinks therefore you can give a neurosynaptic analysis of religious experience. Now, I would point out, Kevin, that my idea of Neil deGrasse Tyson is in my mind and you can give a neurosynaptic analysis of my experience of seeing Neil deGrasse Tyson. Does that mean that therefore he is illusory? That he is just an object in my consciousness – as you say, there is no external referent for that experience? Obviously not! This is a terrible argument! To think that because you can analyze neurologically my experiences of an object that therefore the object isn't real or objective, that is a ridiculous argument and would ultimately lead to solipsism, right? The external world and everyone around me are all unreal and everything is an idea in my mind. I don't know if Tyson is a solipsist but I would hope not. Then, having described this absurd position, he then starts talking about how he supports constitutional free exercise of religion. That's wonderful, I'm glad he does. But don't let it into the classroom of science. Well, where did that come from? How does defending the objectivity of God's existence and that it is not just an idea in your mind lead to the claim that we are trying to introduce this into science classes. It is just guilt by association. He is blurring issues here. This is not representing clear thought, I think.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Tyson is in his element when he is talking about dark matter and astrophysics but, Bill, for the life of me when he starts getting into theology and philosophy and philosophy of religion and religion and science, reasonable faith, he sounds like an obnoxious kid in a Sunday School taking on the little old lady Sunday School teacher about God having a gray beard and God is just an idea and what about these stars. Come on!

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it really does, Kevin. I think this just illustrates what we've seen so often in the past – that someone who is brilliant in his narrow area of specialization and begins to pontificate on matters of religion and philosophy will often be no different from the village atheist who stands on the street corner and rants against God. That is really the level of this discourse that we have been treated to so far in this podcast.

Kevin Harris: Bill Moyers then brings up this point:

Bill Moyers: Do you have any sympathy for people who seem to only feel safe in the vastness of the universe you describe in your show if they can infer a personal God who makes it more hospitable to them, who cares for them?

Dr. Tyson: In this, what we tell ourselves is a free country, which means you should have freedom of thought, I don't care what you think. I just don't. Go think whatever you want. Go ahead. Think that there is one God, two gods, ten gods, or no gods. That is what it means to live in a free country. The problem arises is if you have a religious philosophy that is not based in objective realities, that you then want to put into the science classroom. Then I am going to stand there and say no I am not going to allow you in the science classroom. I am not telling you what to think. I am just telling you in the science classroom you are not doing science. This is not science. Keep it out. That is when I stand up. Otherwise, go ahead. I am not telling you how to think.

Bill Moyers: I think you must realize that some people that go to your show at the planetarium and they are going to say, those scientists have discovered God because God – dark matter – is what holds this universe together.

Dr. Craig: I suppose he is right in saying that there is a tendency on the part of some religious people to say the unknown is God, but I think there is a tendency, Kevin, equally on the other side to caricature religion in this way. I don't find among my colleagues in science, philosophy, or theology advocating God of the gaps. It is the people on the other side who think that if God exists he is the God of the gaps. So this is really their caricature, not something that intelligent Christians are advocating.[6]

Dr. Tyson: There tends to be an urge for people, especially religious people, to assert that across that boundary into the unknown lies the handiwork of God. This shows up a lot. Newton even said it. He had his laws of gravity and motion and he was explaining the moon and the planets. He was there. He doesn't mention God for any of that. Then he gets to the limits of what his equations can calculate. He can't quite figure this out. Maybe God steps in and makes it right every now and then. That is where he invoked God.

Dr. Craig: And with regard to Newton again, I am sorry Professor Tyson but you don't know your Newton. If you read the Scholium to Newton's Principia Mathematica Philosophia Naturalis, Newton founds his doctrine of absolute time and space, which is the grounding of his laws of motion, in the eternity and omnipresence of God. God for Newton was not just a gap filler. It was a presupposition. It was the framework of his theistic worldview which then flowed forth in his laws of motion and his views of time and space. So, again, you see this caricaturing of people to make them appear to be folks who are advocating God of the gaps when in fact that is an inaccurate characterization.

Kevin Harris: He says there is always going to be a scientific frontier and when we hit this frontier people in the past – he accuses Newton of it, Ptolemy, others – of saying, well, this is as far as we can go then God does the rest. But since the frontier keeps getting further and further out as we make discoveries, it keeps again closing the gaps. What I would like to ask on that Bill is would it be appropriate to say that theism makes certain predictions about what will be discovered? In other words, if Christian theism is true, for example, then there will not be a discovery of a natural cause of the space-time universe.

Dr. Craig: I think that you could say that with respect to the origin of the cosmos because there, as you say, you are getting into metaphysics and not physics. There is no reason to think that you couldn't have in principle a scientific description of the universe at every moment of time right back to the beginning, but that wouldn't answer the question why is there a universe at all. But I think it is important to see, Kevin, that the ways in which science and theology relate are much more nuanced than that. As I explained in my dialogue with Lawrence Krauss in Australia last year, science and theology are related in numerous, very nuanced ways. For example, theology provides the conceptual framework in which science can exist and flourish. It does this by grounding assumptions that science has to make – one might say to Professor Tyson, we make them by faith – which science cannot itself justify. Things like the orderly nature of the external world, the laws of logic, the validity of inductive reasoning, the moral values that are used in scientific research and writing. There is a whole host of these extra-scientific assumptions without which science could not even exist but which are part and parcel of a Christian worldview. That is part of the reason at least why modern science was birthed in the Christian West rather than in the Orient or in Africa where they lacked that kind of conceptual framework for the birth and flourishing of modern science.

Kevin Harris: Let's continue with the end of the interview with Bill Moyers.

Dr. Tyson: What he did was invoke – he didn't invoke Zeus to account for the rock that he is standing on or the air he is breathing – it was this point of mystery. And in gets invoked God. This over time has been described by philosophers as the God of the gaps. If that is where you are going to put your God in this world then God is an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance. If that is how you are going to invoke God. If God is the mystery of the universe, we are tackling these mysteries one by one. If you are going to stay religious at the end of the conversation God has to mean more to you than just where science has yet to tread. So to the person who says, maybe dark matter is God, if the only reason why you are saying it is because it is a mystery, then get ready to have that undone.[7]

Kevin Harris: Bill, I can agree with a lot of that. I think you probably can, too.

Dr. Craig: Absolutely. He says that if that is where you put God, the undiscovered, then he is ever receding. God has to be more to you than where science has yet to tread. Absolutely. So what I want to know, though, from Tyson is for the person whose God is more than just where science has yet to tread, is that irrational? Is faith and reason irreconcilable, as he claimed? I do not understand that opening salvo against the rationality of religious faith. For the person who doesn't believe in a God of the gaps, whose God is more than the God of the gaps, how is that person's faith and reason not reconcilable? How is that person irrational? Nothing he said supports that opening bold claim. Instead, he has attacked a caricature.[8]

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    cf. Acts 2:14-41

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    Total Running Time: 31:20 (Copyright © 2014 William Lane Craig)