My latest column is now up on AlterNet, Neil deGrasse Tyson Shows Why Small-Minded Religious Fundamentalists Are Threatened by Wonders of Universe. It’s about the new Cosmos TV series, and its reminder that those who advocate new ideas have always met fierce violent resistance from the credulous masses and the elite guardians of popular orthodoxy, from the persecutors of Galileo and Giordano Bruno in the medieval era to creationists, climate-change deniers and anti-vaxers today. Read the excerpt below, then click through to see the rest:
For the vast majority of our history as a species, we were wanderers, small hunter-gatherer bands. Civilization is a recent innovation, arising within the last few thousand years, and science is more recent still, appearing only in the last few hundred. But in just those few short centuries, we’ve made dramatic strides, from wooden sailing ships to space shuttles, bloodletting to bionic limbs, quill pens to the Internet. We’ve drawn back the curtain on ancient mythologies and glimpsed the true immensity of time and space. Compared to that vastness, we’re unimaginably small and insignificant; yet we possess an intelligence and a power of understanding that, as far as we still know, is unique among all the countless worlds. As Carl Sagan said, “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
However, not everyone accepts this as a positive development. There have always been those who prefer a small, comprehensible cosmos, with human beings placed firmly at the center. The religious belief systems that posit such a universe were our first, fumbling attempts to explain the origin of the world, and they rarely share power gladly. Those who clash against conventional wisdom, who dare to suggest that the cosmos holds wonders undreamed of in conventional mythology, have always found themselves in grave peril from the gatekeepers of dogma who presume to dictate the thoughts human beings should be permitted to think.