Less than a week ago I sat down with my friend, James, to watch a show that I'd been excited about seeing. Because James had never heard of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, I explained that it was a show about the universe, and everything in it. This explanation, although short and lacking any actual detail, seems accurate. But before we get into my personal experience with Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, it's important to know the context of the show.
For the sake of clarity, I should point out that there are two different versions of Cosmos. Back in 1980, a show entitled Cosmos: A Personal Voyage aired on PBS. This original Cosmos series covered a wide breadth of scientific theory and discoveries, with The New York Times calling it "a watershed moment for science-themed television programming." Seth MacFarlane praised the original series, believing that Cosmos served to "[bridge] the gap between the academic community and the general public."
Anyone familiar with MacFarlane and his work may be slightly perplexed to see his name pop up in a sentence about a 1980s science documentary. MacFarlane is known for starting popular television shows such as Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show, in addition to directing his top-tier comedy film, Ted, featuring superstar actors such as Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis. Ted went on to become the highest-grossing original R-rated comedy of all time. By this point, you should be asking: how does a successful hollywood comedy creator and producer wind up involved in Cosmos?
As it turns out, Seth MacFarlane was greatly influenced by the original Cosmos, and he wound up meeting well-known science communicator, astrophysicist, and popular scientist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. In conversation with Tyson, MacFarlane said, "I'm at a point in my career where I have some disposable income... and I’d like to spend it on something worthwhile." With his interest in science, his disposable income, and his vast array of connections to the Fox broadcasting network, MacFarlane served as a much needed catalyst to bringing about a sequel to the original Cosmos series.
The current series (which is broadcast on 10 different Fox networks including National Geographic and Fox itself) is titled Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. The show basically serves as an explanation of the universe (as far as we know) according to science.
Now would probably be the right time to mention that James came from a family that practiced Islam, and as such, his sense of context within the universe came from his religion. As we sat watching beautifully composed visuals of wormholes, faraway planets, stars, and the like -- James couldn't help from sharing his amazement with me. At several points during the episode, he would let out a gasp, followed by something like, "are you serious? so that's how the earth came about?" We had to stop watching the episode halfway through so that James could "fully digest" this new scientific perspective on the world. Our conversation culminated with James' observation: "Henry, there really isn't a God... I mean, there really isn't one, and I actually believe that now. This shattered everything that I thought before I saw it."
I had no idea that watching Neil DeGrasse Tyson narrate a scientific exploration of the universe had the possibility of "shattering" one's worldview. I asked, "is it a good change?"
"Of course. Like-- there's no such thing as hell. Seriously, no such thing."