Atlas Shrugged: Ayn Rand vs. Carl Sagan

Voyager2

Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter IIThe decay of Colorado is accelerating. Men that Dagny knows personally, men who love their jobs and swear that they'll never leave, that they'll resist whatever blandishment or temptation is claiming their fellows, or at the very least that they won't disappear without an explanation, are vanishing one after another without a word. Since I'm nothing if not scrupulously fair to Ayn Rand, I'll cite this passage as a well-executed example of building … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 1

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 1, "Standing Up In the Milky Way"When I first heard that Carl Sagan's Cosmos was being rebooted, I was thrilled. As much as I loved the original, even the best science series inevitably becomes dated sooner rather than later, as our knowledge advances. And this was a great opportunity to see how modern special effects, which are light-years ahead of where they were in the original, could be used for scientific storytelling. But when I heard the new series … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 8

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 8, "Sisters of the Sun"In earlier episodes, Cosmos has conspicuously missed opportunities to highlight the scientific contributions of women. I found that all the more perplexing because it's co-written by Ann Druyan, whom we know is attuned to feminist issues. In fact, it's because of her that Cosmos even has that title: Carl Sagan originally wanted to call it "Man in the Cosmos", until she persuaded him otherwise by pointing out the sexist … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 4

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 4, "A Sky Full of Ghosts"Any science show faced with time constraints has to strike a balance between breadth and depth. The process of science is always laborious and not always interesting; but if you don't show it at all, it leaves the impression that the results just dropped out of the sky like a religious revelation. The second episode of Cosmos felt overstuffed with detail; the third was just right. This one, in true Goldilocks fashion, felt a … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 3

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 3, "When Knowledge Conquered Fear"I wrote that last week's episode felt overstuffed, trying to cover a vast amount of territory in just 45 minutes of TV. This one did much better in that regard. The writing was tightly focused, telling a central story that wove throughout the episode, and using that story to provide branching-off points. This was a nearly flawless example of how science writing should be done.The central story, told mostly through … [Read more...]

New on AlterNet: Cosmos and the Creationists

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 … [Read more...]

A Richness of Planets

Exoplanets

I've been writing a lot lately about hatred and discrimination, about the small prejudices that keep humanity fractured and ignorant. It's important to fight for reason and equality, but I think it's equally important to remember why we're fighting these prejudices, and keep in mind the greater things that we can accomplish if we overcome them. Consider, then, this column about the real meaning of the exoplanet revolution by Caleb Scharf, director of astrobiology at Columbia University.The … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: March 16

Coffee

• As you all know, there's a new pope in town: Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. He talks a good game on poverty, although like all Catholic hierarchs, he doesn't seem to grasp that his opposition to birth control perpetuates the very problem he claims to want solved. As if there was any doubt, he's also a staunch social conservative who's called same-sex marriage "a move by the Father of Lies".More worrisome, though, is the accusation of Bergoglio's complicity in the Dirty … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: February 10

Coffee

• No matter how many compromises the Obama administration offers, Catholic bishops just don't want people to have access to birth control.• Beliefnet is afraid of feminism, telling liberal Christian pastor and blogger Kristine Holmgren that she wasn't allowed to use the word in her header or her blog (at which point, to her credit, she broke ties with them).• Astrophysicists have calculated, on the basis of data from NASA's Kepler telescope, that six percent of red dwarf … [Read more...]

The Atheist Cosmological Argument

In my past writings, I've made it a hobby to call attention to potent, but often overlooked, reasons to believe that atheism is true. Two of these that I've written about are the argument from mind-brain unity and the argument from locality. In the last few months, I've come to realize that there's another powerful argument for atheism that doesn't get as much attention as it should, and I want to discuss it today. As creationists have brought up ad nauseam, the Earth is very well suited for … [Read more...]


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