"Cosmic" meltdown! Neil deGrasse Tyson under siege from Christian right

Evangelicals complain "Cosmos'" excludes creationism -- as if it were the only creation myth worth exploring

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 4, 2014 12:00PM (EDT)

Neil deGrasse Tyson                                             (AP/Richard Shotwell)
Neil deGrasse Tyson (AP/Richard Shotwell)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet Conservative Christians are really mad about the reboot of the legendary science series Cosmos, starring Neil deGrasse Tyson. The complaint? That an ancient myth about creation invented by Hebrews thousands of years ago is not being included in a show that is there to teach science. Christian conservatives have been taking to the airwaves complaining about the non-inclusion of ancient myths in a science program, with Danny Faulkner of Answers in Genesis whining, “Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them,” and Elizabeth Mitchell of the same organization decrying the show for having “blind faith in evolution.” (She’s just straight up lying here. Evolution is well-established by evidence, something Cosmos covers in its second episode.)

While it’s tempting to laugh off the idea that a creation myth should be injected into what is supposed to be a science program, maybe it’s not as zany as it initially seems. After all, anthropology is a science, and a creation myth segment could be a great way to introduce the way scientists study ancient cultures. But there’s no reason it has to be the one in the Bible, which everyone knows already. There’s been thousands of creation stories throughout time, so in the interest of fair-and-balanced, why not given one of these others a chance? Here are some potential creation stories, and the pros and cons for telling each one.

1. The ancient Greeks. Chaos, a goddess who also happens to be the entire universe, gave birth to Gaia, the Earth, and Uranus, the sky. Brother and sister married and gave birth to a bunch of Titans. One of those Titans, named Cronus, had a bad habit of eating his children, but Gaia was able to hide one of those babies, named Zeus, away from him. Zeus’ wife managed to get Cronus to barf up all his eaten children, and those children ended up, alongside Zeus, defeating their father in battle to become the Greek gods we all know and love. The invention of people is something of an afterthought in this legend, but a big deal is made out of how one gentle Titan, Prometheus, gave the people fire. This irritated Zeus, because he just really didn’t like people for some reason, and so he chained Prometheus to a mountain and made a bird steal his liver on the daily. He then punished people for fire-stealing by giving them a woman named Pandora who opened a box that released sin into the world.

Pros: The image of the sky copulating with the earth is pretty cool. The animations you could come up with for Cronus vomiting up his children would also be entertaining.

Cons: Just as with the story of Eve and the apple, this is a misogynist creation myth that blames all the misery and sin in the world on women.

2. Ancient Japanese creation myth. The gods, kicking around in the formlessness of space, decided to stir Earth into being so they had something to occupy their time. Two of them, a man and woman, do this little stirring dance-like routine, but the lady steps on the man’s lines, speaking before he does. This causes their babies to be rejects they have to throw out. So the couple redoes their little stirring routine and she acts more submissive this time around. Female submission, being magic, means that this time around, she is way better at producing usable children. Those children end up being a bunch of islands, because Japan, as you know, is a bunch of islands.

Pros: Many creation myths show the gods copulating the world into being, but few really spend much time on their pre-child dating life. This story has the appeal of a rom-com, complete with a dance scene.

Cons: Misogyny, just like in the Bible and the Greek creation myth. For some reason, men the world over were fond of making up creation stories that concluded with a lesson about how women are always screwing things up and therefore should not be allowed to have power.

3. Ancient Egyptian creation myth. The first god to emerge from chaos is named Atum. He, um, spits--okay, let’s be honest, he masturbates--and out shoot his two children, Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture. (That, or he masturbates into his own mouth, rolls it around, and spits out his kids. I mean, it’s not, objectively speaking, any grosser than the methods we use today.) They commit incest, which is common in creation stories, making a god of earth and a goddess of sky. More incest results in more godly grandchildren, who get into ugly power struggles that result in the creation of the underworld, which was a big deal to ancient Egyptians.

Pros: This one is a winner for fans of body fluid. Not just because of Atum’s baby-making strategies, but because Tefnut’s name actually invokes body fluids in ancient Egyptian. Not particularly misogynist, either, suggesting that you can have a creation story without making “and women are terrible” the kicker.

Cons: People seem really unimportant to this story, so the narcissists in the audience might get bored. Also, as entertaining as Atum’s baby-making methods are, showing it on prime time TV would be impossible to get past the censors, even with Seth McFarlane’s support as a producer.

4. Ancient Norse creation myth. Fire and ice meet in the middle of nowhere to create Ymir, a large and sweaty giant who produced other giants by sweating them out. There was also a giant cow who licked salt licks until gods emerged from them. A salt lick god and a giant-sweat giantess got it on and produced Odin, who is their major god. Odin killed Ymir, the sweat creator, and built the earth out of his body, which means that if you’re taking a dip in the ocean, you’re swimming in sweat giant blood. The gods made people out of trees, which is a little nicer than the Bible’s God making people out of mud and ribs.

Pros: For one thing, the Avengers movies have made Norse mythology a little more familiar with their use of the god Thor as a character. More importantly, you can show giants emerging from another giant’s armpit while the gods bust out of salt licks. What’s not to love?

Cons: While watching a giant sweat out other beings is safer for broadcast television than watching an Egyptian god ejaculate out his children, it’s also not nearly as entertaining. Also, while you have to give points to the Norse for the loopiness of the image of a cow licking a salt lick until it ejects gods, cows just don’t make for good TV.

No one wants to hear the same old snake-and-apple routine we’ve all heard a thousand times before, but Cosmos could definitely give “equal time” to a creation myth while making it entertaining and educational. Just pick one of these four, or any of the thousands of others anthropologists have gathered over the years. Not that this would placate the conservatives demanding that ancient mythology be given a spot on a science education program. After all, a segment on creation myths would only serve to show that the myth in the Bible is just one of many, and lead many viewers to conclude that there was no more an Eve eating an apple than there was a Pandora opening her box.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Alternet Christianity Christopher Hitchens Cosmos Creationism Egypt Neil Degrasse Tyson