The first episode of the new Cosmos series included a short, animated story of the life of Giordano Bruno (1548–1600). While the presentation correctly related some events in Bruno’s life, it left out many important details, and it certainly misrepresented the reasons for his execution. The show explained how Bruno got his ideas via dreams, that his ideas were controversial, that he traveled extensively around Europe seeking support for his ideas, that he had many critics, and that he eventually was imprisoned for eight years while he went through a long trial process—a process that eventually led to his execution. All of this is true.
So, was science also the problem with Bruno? Hardly.
The point of including Bruno’s story was to highlight how Bruno had accepted the heliocentric theory and thought that the sun was just a star. He also thought that, like the sun, other stars had planets, and that many of those planets supported life. These ideas were accepted by almost no one at the time, but are believed by many scientists today, so some people view Bruno as a visionary. However, even Cosmos host Neil DeGrasse Tyson noted that Bruno believed all of these things without any evidence.
The animation showed Bruno being ridiculed by his critics, even being pelted with rotten fruit at Oxford. That detail was an embellishment, but how many viewers would recognize this? And the show depicted Bruno as the poor victim who was merely standing up for his ideas. In reality, Bruno himself was very sarcastic, and he frequently gave out harsh treatment of others every bit as much as he received it.
This depiction of Bruno attempted to show that it was Bruno’s science that got him into trouble with religious authorities of the time. For a long time, evolutionists have successfully mischaracterized the Galileo affair just a few years after Bruno’s death in much the same way. In reality, theologians had little or no difficulty with what Galileo taught. Rather, it was other scientists who disagreed with Galileo’s attempt to overturn much of what Aristotle and Ptolemy had taught about astronomy. In short, that was a squabble among scientists.
Bruno and Science
So, was science also the problem with Bruno? Hardly. Bruno was a mystic, arriving at his ideas through dreams. Eventually he saw his dreams as trumping the authority of Scripture, as well as the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, of which he supposedly was a member. Even though the Cosmos episode repeatedly depicted Bruno as believing that he was simply exploring God’s creation, if Bruno even believed that God created the world, Bruno’s god was very different from the God of the Bible. Bruno rejected basic doctrines of Christianity such as the trinity, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the deity of Jesus, and the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. And these are just a few of the more jarring problems with Bruno; there are many other problems. Ultimately, it was these heretical ideas that got Bruno into trouble with the Roman Catholic Church. Given that, it was amazing that it took the Roman Catholic Church eight years to execute Bruno. We do not advocate or condone punishing anyone for their beliefs about either religion or science. However, the producers of Cosmos ought to be honest and clear about the reasons why Bruno was condemned rather than making him a poster-child for supposed visionary scientists who disagree with religious authorities.
The grossly misrepresented story of Bruno does not bode well for the rest of the series. The series began with the late Carl Sagan’s words from the original series: “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” This is not a scientific statement, but rather it is a metaphysical assertion of atheism. As such, it directly attacks any theistic worldview, but particularly Christianity.