Christianity’s Influence on the Air Conditioner
Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos” has fueled debate between creationists and defenders of science. Creationists complain that the show doesn’t devote adequate time to Christianity and their misguided belief that the Earth is only 4,000 years old. Defenders of science rightfully respond that that creationism is a religious belief with no scientific validity — sometimes with some great humor. While I agree that creationism has no place on the show “Cosmos,” the debate after last week’s episode,”The Electric Boy,” left me frustrated with both sides.
The episode was about Michael Faraday, the man responsible for the first induction motor. The induction motor started a revolution: electric fans, air conditioning, sewing machines, and many other technologies that we now take for granted. Faraday is also responsible for the electrical generator and the initial theory that electromagnetic fields give off light.
Raised a fundamentalist Christian, religion was also very important to Faraday. According to Ian H. Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, Faraday was not a “social church-goer.” Instead he belonged to a distinctly nonconformist denomination, the Sandemanians, which believed in a strong separation between the secular and religious worlds. True to his beliefs, Faraday kept his religious faith and his scientific research distinct. But there is ample evidence that Christianity had a strong influence on his own practice of science.
Some creationists misunderstand Faraday and praise him as a hero for creationism. (Creationists are not known for being good with facts.) This is what got David Klinghoffer, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and intelligent design advocate, upset. He thought that “Cosmos” purposefully hid Faraday’s religious influences:
Faraday’s faith is mentioned at the beginning but implicitly dismissed as having anything to do with his science. Cosmos shows us his impoverished family saying grace at the dinner table and explains that he “took [their] fundamentalist Christian faith to heart. It would always remain a source of strength, comfort and humility for him.” That’s it — nothing more than a warm blanket on a cold night.
In response, Darn Arlel of Alternet said:
Organizations such as the Discovery Institute highlight why there is such a divide between religion and science. The fact that they take offense at a scientist having religious beliefs that do not influence his discoveries in the lab shows once again that truth is not their goal.
Both sides seem to have misunderstood the episode. “Cosmos” didn’t implicitly or explicitly dismiss Faraday’s faith as having anything to do with his science. And they didn’t say that his religious beliefs did not influence his discoveries. They simply described Faraday’s scientific accomplishments, which is probably how Faraday would have preferred it.
As Faraday knew, religion can serve as a wonderful source of inspiration and personal fulfillment. But it shouldn’t be imposed on us by an outside force by people like creationists. Creativity and discovery don’t work without free will. “Cosmos” is a wonderful show that explains the beauty and complexity of our universe. Perhaps we can find out own inspiration without the show’s producers telling us what to believe.
Check out the full episode here and tell us what you think!
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