I expected Cosmos to be good, but it has far exceeded my expectations. This is a wonderful series that absolutely everyone should be watching in order to gain a rounded view of science and the world. What works so well about the series is that it’s clear and accessible, presented in terms that people with no former knowledge of the subject can follow, while still being entertaining to others who may know some or a lot of the topic. It’s a visual feast that absolutely everyone can enjoy.
The second episode, titled "Some of the Things that Molecules Do", delves into that giant of science: evolution. It begins with a look at artificial selection by discussing the history of dog breeding. Dogs are the perfect choice here—not just because I happen to be a dog lover and utterly adore dogs (I have two of my own), but because dogs are things that all the viewers will be familiar with. Many will own dogs of their own, but even if they don’t, they’ll have encountered dogs in numerous ways throughout their lives. Indeed, dogs are a much better choice than the crabs of Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos because viewers will relate to them better (except perhaps for crab fishers and some biologists). They can see examples of this artificial selection right in their own lives, and that helps to make the concept of natural selection more accessible.
Earlier this week, IO9 described this episode as the one “Every young Earth creationist needs to watch”. There’s a great deal of truth to this statement. The episode goes on to explain exactly how evolution works in a straight-forward, easy-to-understand manner. It shows how complex biological systems can develop through random mutation over millions of years, and at the same time shows the lack of perfection that exists in the system by showing the evolution of the eye and how the vision of land animals has never quite been as good since we left the sea. And most importantly, it makes clear that “the Theory of Evolution, like the Theory of Gravity, is a scientific fact.” Host Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t mince words here. He states it very simply. It’s not a matter of opinion. “Evolution really happened.” This is definitely one of the best introductions to evolution I’ve seen and this episode (well, the whole series really) would make great viewing for school science classes.
After taking a look at some of the major extinction events that have happened on Earth over the aeons, the episode then takes a look at the possibility of life on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and discusses the ways such life might be very different from our own. While this segment is entirely speculative, it beautifully illustrates the way that science works, starting with an idea that is then investigated. As the Ship of the Imagination leaves Titan, Tyson wonders if he saw something moving there and comments that we’ll have to return and check again to find out. This is very much the heart of the scientific process: checking again. Results need to be replicated to be reliable. But this segment also stimulates the imagination and is the kind of thing that might attract people to becoming scientists as they ask themselves, “What kind of things might I discover?”
The episode concludes with an animation from the original Cosmos showing the journey of life from a single-celled organism to humankind—another little tribute to Carl Sagan and his original Cosmos series.
Alas, this episode won’t convert every young Earth creationist out there (as can be heard in the audio clip below), but it will provide audiences in general with a much better understanding of just what evolution is and how it works. This is great stuff!
The following radio clip makes me want to slam my head into my desk. Sigh.