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Jay Richards Skewers Neil Tyson and Cosmos for History Abuse

200x200cosmos.jpgBesides the old standbys of alcohol, tobacco and firearms, you can abuse a lot of otherwise fine things. This morning my dentist warned me about "toothpaste abuse," which comes from using too much and brushing too vigorously. In a splendid piece for The Federalist, our colleague Jay Richards nails the essential and surprising thing so far about the new Cosmos with Neil Tyson: its abuse of history.

Jay points out that's not what you would have anticipated:

The atheist [Seth] MacFarlane is one of Christianity's not-so-cultured despisers, so I expected a lot of bad materialist philosophy and shots at Christianity and religion. What I did not expect was the mistreatment of history.

The Cosmos historical interludes are always presented in flat cartoon animation, reflecting MacFarlane's role in the production. The format is fitting, since the treatment of history is so often cartoonish.

We've already covered the misappropriation of historical figures including Giordano Bruno, Isaac Newton, and Mo Tze. I'm sorry to say I missed the episode airing on the night of April 20, which was Easter (and the evening of the seventh day of Passover). It was highlighted by a bizarre excursion on...Christmas. Dr. Richards observes:

We learn that the holiday celebrated by a couple billion Christians is really a camouflaged take-over of Saturnalia, the High Holy Day when ancient Romans celebrated Saturn, the god of agriculture. How is this relevant? Well, Saturn is also the name of a planet, which is part of the solar system, which is part of the cosmos.

Like several of Cosmos's previous detours into history, this one also leads off a cliff. Perhaps for the writers, the notion that Christmas is really a purloined pagan festival is one of those claims that is too good not to be true. And too good to need verification.

Jay, of course, has the necessary corrective information. I have to say I'm surprised too, given how technically and artistically first-rate the production of Cosmos is, that the treatment of history, as Jay Richards says, would actually have been improved if someone on Tyson's team had bothered to look up a few entries on Wikipedia.

Maybe they figured, why spoil things by doing that? Richards: "My guess is that Christianity is one of their targets, and, for beating some dogs, any old stick will do."