My family and I recently attended a performance of the classic play “Juno and the Paycock” by Irish playwright, Sean O’Casey. It was performed at the Vortex Theater in Albuquerque, part of the Southwest Irish Theater Festival.
Written in 1924 and originally staged at the Abbey Theater in Dublin, it follows a family living in the slums of Ireland, hoping for a financial inheritance. “Juno and the Paycock” highlights the Boyle’s-Captain Boyle, Juno Boyle, Johnny Boyle, and Mary Boyle-in the midst of turmoil during the Irish Civil War. The play goes from amusement to misfortune as heartache, death, and disillusionment take hold of the family through a series of tragic events.
In the midst of the play the father, Captain Boyle, looks to the heavens, saying, “I often looked up at the sky an’ assed meself the question: what is the moon, what is the stars?”
It’s one of the most moving and provocative lines in the entire play.
The line-and play itself-is a good metaphor for the unfortunate conflict in which people of faith are embattled, a drama similar to that found in the play: one of inheritance. The conflict people of faith are engaged in is not about financial inheritance, but intellectual inheritance. The conflict I’m referring to here is the clash between science and faith, a supposed age-old quarrel. And the inheritance I’m suggesting concerns the narrative that is passed down to future generations, the story that is told to the public, the legacy of truth.
This conflict is best seen in the new FOX mini-series, Cosmos.
Like Captain Boyle looking to the heavens, asking questions, some people see that “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be” (the opening line from the series). For them the moon and the stars are the product of chance occurrences, without meaning or purpose.
For others when they look to the heavens they see intelligent design, purpose, and meaning. Creation infers a Creator, a natural theology, if you will.
Two distinct worldviews; two understandings of the universe.
But this article is not about the pros and cons of both worldviews. For wonderful discussions concerning these issues, I recommend the Discovery Institute. Rather, as suggested above, this article is about the inherited narrative that is being passed down, the story that is being told to the public-and the way in which it is being told.
The narrative expressed by the Cosmos writers is clear: the universe is all there is. But they go further. The story they’re portraying is undoubtedly in the content of what they’re saying, but also in the medium of how they’re saying it. Put another way, they are making their point with both substance and style.
The substance is easy to express: Cosmos is portraying a materialist view of the universe. According to one popular dictionary, a materialist believes, “the philosophical theory that regards matter and its motions as constituting the universe, and all phenomena, including those of mind, as due to material agencies.” Put another way, the universe is all there was, is, and is to come. As I’ve noted in other articles, materialists hold to the fact that life is nothing more than a chance accumulation of matter-including thought, emotion, belief, and action. All life-humanity included-has no real significance or direction. To a certain extent, life is inane, futile, and senseless.
The style-the medium-they choose to enact this worldview is seen through the documentary film, Cosmos. But, more specifically, through cartoons used to attract a younger audience. The medium has a message it’s carrying, and the message is that faith and science are not compatible.
In an attempt to place a wedge between science and faith, Cosmos demonizes religion. This is best seen in the cartoon portrayal of the Roman Catholic Church. Here we find black-eyed, robed figures that spew hatred and animosity towards the freethinking Dominican monk, Giordano Bruno (sadly, Bruno was excommunicated and killed for his views).
It is clear what the writers of the series wanted to portray: religion is bad, wrong, and judgmental. It doesn’t have a place at the table of ideas. The writers of Cosmos imply-through Bruno’s character-that truth is found in free thinking minds. To demonstrate this idea they have Bruno floating in a dream-like state, grappling with real issues of the universe.
But the Roman Catholic Church is not the only target. In a short quip, the host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, takes a shot at Protestants as well. Before setting up the scene of Bruno’s dilemma, Tyson states that Bruno was opposed by “Calvinists in Switzerland” and “Lutherans in Germany.”
It is true, Bruno’s ideas were condemned by many Christians. It is also true that terrible things do occur in the name of religion. But Bruno’s condemnation was not based solely upon his progressive ideas concerning the universe. Yet I digress.
My point in all of this is that Cosmos is controlling the narrative-the inheritance of truth being passed down-without giving full disclosure to the larger history. What Tyson doesn’t say is that most of the scientists before, during, and after the Bruno incident were men of faith. In short, Cosmos wants to tell a one-sided story, demonizing that which they feel doesn’t have any input into the discussion, namely people of faith.
Put another way, Cosmos is giving people of faith what they claimed religion gave to science: trials, tribulation, and persecution. It would seem materialists are hitting back, intellectually speaking.
Either Cosmos is arguing from ignorance (which I highly doubt) or they are arguing from the fallacy of the Single Cause (among others). In the single cause argument it is assumed that an outcome (in this case, the persecution of science) is the result of a simple or singular cause. It is inferred that the church persecuted Bruno because the Church was closed-minded to the progress he made in science.
The fallacy arrives when a single cause argument may be more complicated that what is being stated. As an example, the Church didn’t persecute Bruno simply because it didn’t want scientific progress, but for a host of other reasons (theologically, sociologically, Biblically, etc.). To show you the fallacy of the single cause argument, think of this parallel: evolution is to blame for Jeffrey Dahmer’s mass murders.
In a NBC Dateline interview, Dahmer stated, “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then-then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing.”
Using a single cause argument would cause one to believe evolution is to blame for the murders. But this is nonsense. There were many factors that contributed to his crimes (mental instability, hatred, etc.), not just the evolutionary worldview. Likewise, there were many factors that led up to the Bruno case (for good or for ill).
Now hear me out: I’m not supporting the persecution of anyone, scientist or men of faith. I think both worldviews should have a place at the table-discussing viewpoints with civility, intellectual integrity, and passion.
But that is not what Cosmos is doing. It is controlling the narrative. And in doing so, it is battering the one (faith) it said battered them (science). And when one looks at this, it is a form of censorship, intellectual jousting.
In O’Neil’s play mentioned above, the inheritance the Boyle family believed they were getting from relatives ended up not coming. Sadly, the family used credit to purchase items they needed. In turn, they had to return the item. Their dreams were dashed.
This is very similar to what the Cosmos documentary is doing. The inheritance of our history-both science and faith-is being compromised. To deny one or the other is to deny-or ridicule-the intellectual property that has been passed down to the world for centuries. Rather than ridicule, we need respect.
People, as Os Guinness reminds us in the description of his book, The Case for Civility, are “torn apart by religious extremism on the one side and a strident secularism on the other, no question is more urgent than how we live with our deepest differences-especially our religious and ideological differences.. [We need to] put an end to the polarization of American politics and culture that-rather than creating a public space for real debate-threatens to reverse the very principles our founders set into motion and that have long preserved liberty, diversity, and unity in this country.”
The debate between science and faith is not exclusive to American life, though it does have strong supporters in the US on both sides of the issue. Rather, this is a universal human debate. One that affords the individual the freedom to look up to the heavens and ask, “What is the moon, what is the stars,” coming to differing views.
But both views should be based on reason, respect, and reliance, allowing all voices to be heard in the midst of a vast universe, one of mystery, marvel, and magnificence. And if we were to start here-with the three “M’s” just stated-both worldviews, science and faith, can share common ground.
For more about science and the Bible, please visit the the Discovery Institute
Want to read another entertainment article? Check out The Master Designer – God’s Amazingly Intricate World