Psst! Your agenda is showing! Cosmos & Bruno

When people become obsessed they begin to see everything through one lens. For example, people who are against the gay will see ‘the gay’ everywhere. And worse, they attribute it to the Gay Agenda. This makes for the comical situation of anything remotely not anti-gay becomes part of an overwhelming gay conspiracy to destroy straight families and upset the fragile balance of hetrosexuality. Those with an agenda see anything that doesn’t mesh well with their agenda as being part of the anti-agenda. Black and white. There is no middle ground. And facts often fall to the wayside.

Consider Hank Campell’s review of the first episode of Cosmos:

Then suddenly we get a claim that Giordano Bruno is responsible for the concept of the universe – because he read ‘banned’ books. Lucretious wasn’t science – there was no scientific evidence for his claim that wind caused earthquakes or worms spontaneously generated – it was philosophy, and his book was not rare in 1600 AD, people were also not martyred for reading it, and yet we get told a philosophical belief in infinity was what got Bruno into trouble.

Having watched the first episode already, I was quite amused by this. The segment being discussed clearly showed that Bruno got these ideas from already banned books. How Campell can claim that he is responsible for the idea is odd. Though it did seem to imply that after Bruno came to believe the universe was infinitely big he did populate it with stars and planets. I don’t know if this was an idea unique to Bruno or not.

Campell clearly tries to discredit the idea that the book was banned. Was the book universally banned, all copied destroyed, and was housing it a crime? No. But the book was officially blacklisted by at least one church:

The Jesuistic Florentine Synod banned Lucretius, confessing that schoolteachers might be tempted to teach De rerum natura because of its gorgeous Latin, but sentencing those who did teach it to eternal damnation, plus a fine of 10 ducats.

The book was clearly banned in schools in 1516. It is a banned book. If that definition is good enough for the American Librarian Association it’s good enough for me.

Campell in the same paragraph also slammed Cosmos by saying that Bruno’s position wasn’t based on science, it wasn’t based on evidence. It was merely a philosophical thought experiment. Neil deGrasse Tyson is going to regret when he said otherwise when he said:

Bruno was no scientist. His vision of the cosmos was a lucky guess, because he has no evidence to support it. Like most guesses it could have turned out wrong. But once the idea was in the air it gave others a target to aim at, if only to disprove it.

Oh, he didn’t say otherwise. In fact, he pointed out exactly that. I’m beginning to think that Campbell didn’t really watch Cosmos. Or, he let his hypersensitivity to the conflict churches have had with religion get in the way of seeing what was there.

Why has Bruno martyred? By now it should be clear that Campbell it speaking about what he thought he saw, and not what Cosmos actually showed. In Campbell’s Cosmos we are told that he was killed because he read the wrong book and because he thought there were planets and stars outside of our solar system, and for no other reason (emphasis mine):

his book was not rare in 1600 AD, people were also not martyred for reading it, and yet we get told a philosophical belief in infinity was what got Bruno into trouble.

It’s an immediate disconnect for people who know science history because it smacks of an agenda. I instead object because it is flat-out incorrect. To claim that Bruno promoted the concept of the universe, a “soaring vision”, despite persecution, while simultaneously being hired over and over by the institutions we are told were oppressing him, makes no sense. That segment of the show makes it sound like he was a devout Christian tormented by reason rather than what he was – a cultist who engaged in confirmation bias to pick and choose anything that matched his beliefs.

Bruno’s “science” was never mentioned during his trial, he was on trial for being a cult worshiper. He only took up the cause of Copernicus because he believed in the Egyptian god Thoth and Hermetism and their belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun, not because he had perceived anything radical. Galileo rightly dismissed most of Bruno’s teachings as philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Bruno was only revived as a ‘scientist’ and a martyr for science by anti-religious humanists in the 19th century.The church didn’t even bother to ban his writing until well after he was dead.

In reality the charges upon which Bruno was convicted were as follows (emphasis mine):

  • holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith and speaking against it and its ministers; 
  • holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith about the Trinity, divinity of Christ, and Incarnation; 
  • holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith pertaining to Jesus as Christ; 
  • holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith regarding the virginity of Mary, mother of Jesus; 
  • holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith about both Transubstantiation and Mass; 
  • claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity; 
  • believing in metempsychosis and in the transmigration of the human soul into brutes; 
  • dealing in magics and divination.

He was charged for assert things against Catholic dogma and doctrine including the existence of other planets like Earth. What did Cosmos actually say he was convicted of?

You are found guilty of questioning the holy trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, of believing that God’s wrath is not eternal and that everyone will be saved, and asserting the existence of other words.

The segment in Cosmos in question here noted that his views of the universe were a minority of charges against him, as it was in fact. But in Campbell’s Cosmos these facts were never mentioned. If I watched the documentary he watched, I might agree with him. But since that documentary was never made I cannot see it.

Instead, when Campbell says “It’s an immediate disconnect for people who know science history because it smacks of an agenda” I wonder if it isn’t Campbell who has an agenda of downplaying any conflict between churches and individuals with religious belief and science as a body of knowledge. Many people participated in the same Charge against Cosmos. And for years I’ve heard people make the same claim. There is no conflict between science and religion. And any time you think there was wrong, you are wrong.

Perhaps he is like one of these people who go around saying that Galileo was not sent to jail for his beliefs. This is true: he was sentenced to house arrest. This doesn’t change the fact that Galileo was persecuted by a church because of his beliefs that were out of line of that of the church in question at that time and politically he was annoying the church. But the fact is that his belief that the Earth was the centre of the universe was what he was specifically asked to recant. Another tactic I’ve noticed is apologists noting that Joan of Arc was not killed by the church. This is also true. The church merely supported the killing and convicted her in their own court. But civil authorities carried out the sentence. In both cases people are misleading by splitting hairs. The fact of the persecution remains.

He is so driven by the agenda that he missed a point of the segment, and of the history of the church’s persecution of science: In almost all cases they are persecuting other religious people. This is not religion vs science. It’s people who cling to doctrine and dogma attacking those who do not. Bruno was religious. As was Joan of Arc, Galileo and Copernicus. In the three Cosmos episodes that aired each one has included a religious person who pushed science forward. In some cases they were attacked by other religious people for what they believed. I see religion as neither being cased as the villain or the hero. Rather, questioning versus idoeology.

I did not see this segment as an attack on religion. But Campbell seems so obsessed with it that he thought it was, and was unable to see what was actually before his eyes.