Cosmos Review: “When Knowledge Conquered Fear”

Episode Three of Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on March 25, 2014

Please note: there are several instances of objectionable language in this episode of Cosmos.

Cosmos Articles and Discussion Guides

See Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey for reviews of other episodes and discussion guides for further study.

Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey spends much of episode three painting biblical Christianity with the same brush as false religions and superstitions. Then after telling about the discovery of the laws of motion and gravity that govern the movements of planets and comets, program host Neil deGrasse Tyson declares modern humanity’s independence from any need of God, saying, “Gravity is the clockmaker.”

Open Rejection of Biblical Revelation

Lest anyone get the idea that a Creator could have provided humans with trustworthy knowledge about our origins, Tyson—lifting an infant from a basket—opens this episode of Cosmos declaring,

We were born into a mystery, one that has haunted us for at least as long as we’ve been human. We awakened on this tiny world beneath a blanket of stars like an abandoned baby left on a doorstep without a note to explain where we came from, who we are, how our universe came to be, and with no idea how to end our cosmic isolation. We’ve had to figure it all out for ourselves.

How to go to the moon was something we had to figure out for ourselves. That’s where the “truth” of this statement ends. Doing so had nothing to do with scientifically discovering our origins. Like the overall Cosmos theme, the remainder of this opening is a metaphysical declaration grounded in an atheistic philosophy.

God created Adam and Eve with intelligence. With God-given intelligence, humans have sought to understand the present and the past, to learn about the earth and what lies beyond. But when it comes to learning about our origins, we cannot test and observe the past. We must rely on a historical record from an eyewitness to accurately understand “where we came from.”

God our Creator has not left us without His testimony concerning our origins. He told us what He did, how long it took, and about how long ago He did it. He created all things—including living things that reproduce after their kinds—in six days (Exodus 20:11; Genesis 1–2). By examining the interlocking genealogical information and history in the Bible, we learn that God created the heavens and the earth and all kinds of life about 6,000 years ago.

God our Creator has not left us without His testimony concerning our origins.
Knowledge of our origins is important. We cannot correctly understand why our world is full of death and suffering if we do not know what God’s Word tells us about the rebellion of Adam and Eve, the Curse their sin brought upon all creation, and the sinful nature all humans inherit. If we reject God’s explanation for death and suffering, we may turn to evolutionary explanations that paint death as the agent that weeds out the unfit and allows the strong to survive and evolve. “Death” is the hero in an evolutionary worldview. God’s Word tells us that death is an enemy and that Jesus Christ will someday put an end to death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The episode rightly debunks superstitions about comets presaging disasters. The episode explains how Edmund Halley used the laws of motion and gravity, mathematically described by Isaac Newton, to accurately predict the return of Halley’s comet every 76 years. The episode reminds us that knowing the laws of motion and gravity made space exploration possible. But then it concludes using the opening metaphor, “The baby in the basket is ready to walk and to know the cosmos.” It ties scientific progress to the notion that science has shown God to be a superfluous invention, a “First Cause” we no longer need to explain our origins or our significance.

Search for Significance

Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey’s third episode encourages scientifically minded people to reject God as Creator and His relevance to our lives. It also implies—as did episode two—that humans are insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Tyson states, “We hunger for significance. For signs that our personal existence is of special meaning to the universe. To that end we are all to eager to deceive ourselves and others. To discern a sacred image in a grilled cheese sandwich or find a divine warning in a comet.”

Human beings do not find truth in cheese sandwiches, astrological portents, or the entrails of sacrificed animals—though superstitious people have attempted such nonsense for millennia. Over the years many Christians, just like other people, have deceived themselves with superstitions. But biblical revelation is not superstition.

The Bible’s history is internally consistent and corresponds to parallels recorded in secular history. On matters where the Bible’s history is relevant to scientific matters, the Bible’s science is completely trustworthy. For this reason, the Bible is a reliable litmus test by which to gauge scientific ideas. (Read more about the way the science in the Bible is accurate and practical in “Can Bible-Based Predictions Lead to Scientific Discoveries?” and the numerous resources linked at the end of that article.)

Most importantly, we discover in God’s Word that God our Creator loves us and wants a personal relationship with us. Human beings are incredibly “significant” to God! Though we are all sinful people deserving nothing good, He offers each of us an abundant life made rich by knowing that we truly matter to the Creator God of the universe. God showed us that He loves us by sending His Son Jesus Christ into the world to suffer and die, bearing our sin guilt (John 3:16–18; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 2:9–10).

Comets Come into Our Lives

Superstitious people once thought comets were evil portents. This idea is never taught in the Bible, which instead condemns superstitious “reading of the stars” as omens (Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings 17:17–18; Jeremiah 10:2–3; Isaiah 47:13–14; Leviticus 19:26). The Cosmos program points out the folly of such superstitious fears, pointing out that comets appear and reappear according to the predictable laws of motion and gravity. It was this knowledge that enabled Edmund Halley in the 17th century to apply Newton’s mathematical description of those natural laws to predict the return of what we now know as Halley’s comet 50 years hence.

Comets are small, icy rocks that orbit the sun. Only a few miles across, comets are made of ices of substances like water, methane, and ammonia mixed with dark particles of “dust.” Comets spend much of their time far from the sun where it is very cold. Spewing evaporating gases and dust as they approach the hot sun, comets can put on quite a show. The gases glow, ionized by the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. The comet’s tail is created as solar wind and radiation push the gas and dust away from the sun.

Once a comet’s course is mapped, astronomers can predict when and where in the sky it will be most visible and when—assuming it survives its passage near the sun—it is likely to return. This is true because, like the planets, comets are held by the gravity of the sun. Like the planets, they fall toward the sun following an elliptical path due to their orbital momentum. These concepts are presented accurately in the Cosmos episode. Then the episode ventures into the imaginary realm of the Oort cloud.

Many things make the “lifespan” of comets fairly short. Not only do they lose much of their mass every time they approach the sun, but they can be destroyed by collisions or even disintegrated by their interaction with the gravity of large planets. If the solar system were really over four billion years old, all comets would have long since been destroyed. Therefore, secular scientists had to postulate a place to re-supply comets. The Oort cloud is supposed to have solved the problem of replacing billions of years of disappearing long-period comets.1

Tyson, in Cosmos, asserts, “Today we know exactly where comets come from and what they’re made of.” Well, astronomers do know what they are made of, but their Oort birthplace has never been observed. In their book Comets, Carl Sagan (the host of the original Cosmos series) and Ann Druyan (his coauthor/wife/coproducer of the new Cosmos series) wrote, “Many scientific papers are written each year about the Oort Cloud, its properties, its origin, its evolution. Yet there is not yet a shred of direct observational evidence for its existence.”2 Tyson admits this but shows us its picture—a giant sphere enveloping our solar system. He explains that we don’t even expect to see it because it is very dark and sparsely occupied by comets.

Not only has the Oort cloud never been seen by any stretch of astronomical science, studies suggest that the stock of material in the mythical cloud—supposedly leftovers from the formation of the planets—would have been destroyed by collisions with each other before they could ever have been nudged out of their nest and sent hurtling toward the sun.

Nevertheless, evolutionary scientists believe in the Oort cloud because they need it to be there. Without this cloud-of-the-imagination, every comet that shows up is a glaring testimony to the young age of the solar system.

Laws of Motion and Gravity Discovered

Newton and his contemporaries recognized in the patterns of the planetary orbits the clue that a force of attraction—gravity—must be causing them to move the way they do. Newton was able to provide the mathematical basis for describing the way gravity and interacting forces apply to planets, moons, and objects that we throw into the air or drop on the ground. (Read more about these and other discoveries in astronomer Dr. Danny Faulkner’s “Do Creationists Believe in ‘Weird’ Physics like Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and String Theory?”)

Making a mockery of Newton’s study of biblical chronology by placing it on par with his curiosity about alchemy and saying he was obsessed with finding secret codes in the Bible, Tyson implies those who have faith in a Creator are medieval throwbacks. At the time Newton lived, he says, “the world was very different. Everyone looked at the perfection of the clockwork motions of the planets in the sky and could only understand it as the work of a master clockmaker. How else to explain it? There was only one way such a thing could come about in their imagination. Only one answer for them: God. For reasons beyond our understanding God just created the solar system that way. But this explanation was the closing of a door. It doesn’t lead to other questions.”

Then Tyson concludes that even though Newton had “one foot still in the middle ages,” his “laws of gravity and motion reveal how the sun held distant worlds captive. His laws swept away the need for a master Clockmaker to explain the precision and beauty of the solar system. Gravity is the clockmaker.”

Both Johann Kepler, who discerned the laws of planetary motion, and Isaac Newton were Bible-believing men. Like most of their contemporaries,3 they had a biblical worldview that equipped them to trust that an all-powerful Creator, who had created all things in an orderly fashion, would have designed this universe to be consistently governed by natural laws. They set out to discover what those natural laws were. Far from having their scientific curiosity squelched, believing in a Creator did not “close the door” on their curiosity to explore “other questions.” On the contrary, then as now creation scientists understand there is no conflict between science and biblical faith (see “Can Bible-Based Predictions Lead to Scientific Discoveries?”).

Applying the scientific method to discover how things work is a feat readily done by any who believe that the universe is governed by predictable natural laws, whether or not they understand that God is the source of those natural laws. Men like Newton, who laid the foundations of modern science by learning to apply the scientific method to the patterns they saw in nature, were in no way hindered by a biblical worldview.

Discovering how something works—the natural laws that govern its behavior—is not the same as discovering its origin. The physical universe and the natural laws that govern it still need an origin. God in the Bible tells us that He made all things over a six-day period about 6,000 years ago. Newton and others describe how that creation functions. Knowing how the universe works doesn’t write God out of existence but rather glorifies Him as its Creator. Tyson’s universe still needs a clockmaker. Thanks to the history God provided in His Word, we can know who the Clockmaker is and know that we are each very significant to Him.

For More Information


The Bible, Science, and Scientists

Mixing Evolution with the Bible


  1. The program did not address the source of short-period comets like Halley’s comet. Evolutionists believe that they originate from the Kuiper belt, a group of icy asteroids orbiting as far away as Pluto and beyond, from 40 to 50 astronomical units. However, the objects in the Kuiper belt appear to be composed of different material than that in comets, ruling out the Kuiper belt as a source of comets. See “Comets and the Age of the Solar System” to learn more.
  2. Quoted in “The Heavens Declare . . . A Young Solar System.”
  3. In this Cosmos episode, Tyson says that Robert Hooke, also featured prominently in the story, “anticipated aspects of Darwin’s theory of evolution by almost 200 years.” Hooke, a practicing Anglican, correctly identified fossilized plant material as having once been alive due to its resemblance to the plant cell walls he saw in cork. He thought that such fossils might be a clue to what life had been like in the past. This is not an overtly evolutionary idea. Both biblical creationists and evolutionists realize that fossils are a clue to what life was like in the past. Evolutionists expect to find evolutionary transitions between kinds of creatures in the fossil record. Creationists have correctly predicted on the basis of the Bible that such transitional forms are lacking. See “Was Darwin Right?” to learn more.

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