04/02/2014 08:24 pm ET Updated Jun 02, 2014

Cosmos Peacefully Settles the Score


There has always been rancor between science and religion. One questions everything, even the very existence of God, and the other seeks divine insights from ancient theology. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey comes at a time when America is divided over the very nature of knowledge and how knowledge should influence policy making.

The argument is over proof. How do we know what we know? Cosmos intends to answer that question for millions of Americans.

Cosmos presents science as a cohesive body of verifiable knowledge. It isn't a pop-science show of lights, despite the striking visual effects. Dr. Tyson is drawing before our very eyes the map that is science, demonstrating that no scientific theory exists in a vacuum. Science is carefully plotted from concept to concept, a web of interconnected ideas that reinforce each other and point us in the direction of truth.

Cosmos does this episodically, each episode building on the one before. In just four episodes Dr. Tyson has taken us from the Dark Ages to Einstein and already laid the theoretical framework to follow the tack of proof wherever it leads. Last week was general relativity. The week before that was classical physics and Isaac Newton. Still before was evolution, and it all began with the ground rules in the first episode:

This adventure is made possible by generations of searchers strictly adherent to a simple set of rules: Test ideas by experiments and observations; build on those ideas that pass the test; reject the ones that fail; follow the evidence wherever it leads; and question everything. Accept these terms, and the cosmos is yours.

Following the map, we can look down that road to the future as well as look back to see where we've been and understand how it is that we know what we know. General relativity is built on theories established by Isaac Newton and others. Newton's laws of motion and gravitation are built on the observations and calculations of curious people like Copernicus. And quantum mechanics is built on the calculus that Newton invented.

It is all interconnected. General relativity proves the age of the observable universe, which proves that evolution has plenty of time to work, confirming our observations in the fossil record. Our evolution has gifted us with the means to recognize these things, enabling us to create models that explain the universe

Physics, chemistry, biology, astrophysics, cosmology, quantum mechanics, and general relativity are all based on the theories of each other. Chemistry is explained by physics and quantum mechanics, which also explains biology and parts of astrophysics, primarily governed by general relativity, which also governs chemistry and therefore biology, and ultimately our very evolution. One points to all the others.

To deny one is to deny them all. To challenge the age of the Earth is to challenge the speed of light.

Yet Tyson does not hide the fact that some of the greatest thinkers of our species were and are people of faith who, awestruck by the unfathomable scale of the universe, found God not in a book but in the paradoxically complex simplicity of creation and weren't afraid to question everything, including their own spirituality.

The message of Cosmos to people of faith is that divinity is a human exercise; that what makes us special isn't a book; that despite our ultimate insignificance, we can still understand the nature of the universe and our place in it; and that it is not a betrayal of faith to ask questions.