Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: Filling in the Intellectual Gaps | Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, SJ | CWR
The narrative of a supposed antagonism between the Church and science often relies on errors of omission.
Several people have asked me questions about the accuracy of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s portrayal of the Catholic Church in the recent series Cosmos, which is airing on FOX. There is an important adage at the foundation of logic: “There are far more errors of omission than commission.” Regrettably Tyson’s presentation of the Catholic Church—and religion in general—in opposition to science presents serious errors of omission, so much so as to be incredibly misleading. I will attempt here to fill in a few of the many intellectual gaps in that oversimplified and lacking account.
The natural sciences, and philosophical reflection upon them, have been an integral part of the Catholic intellectual tradition since the time of the Copernican revolution. Indeed, Catholic priests and clerics played a central role in the development of natural science. For example, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), the originator of the heliocentric universe and its mathematical justification, was a minor Catholic cleric. Nicolas Steno (1638-1686), a Catholic Danish bishop, is acknowledged to be one of the founders of modern stratigraphy and geology. The Augustinian monk and abbot Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) is recognized as the founder of modern genetics. Msgr. Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest and colleague of Albert Einstein, is acknowledged to be the founder of contemporary cosmology through his discovery of the Big Bang Theory in 1927. There are many other Catholic clerics who were integrally involved in the foundation and development of the natural sciences.
Some have contended that the Catholic Church manifested an “antiscientific attitude” during the controversies of Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei. But those controversies were not about the veracity of scientific method or its seeming heliocentric conclusion.