Klinghoffer Reacts to “Cosmos” Episode 10

The 10th episode of Cosmos: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, aired on Sunday. Titled “The Electric Boy,” it was mostly about the life and work of Michael Faraday.

In our preview post we wondered what the creationists would complain about, and we speculated:

Although Faraday was deeply religious, we’re not aware of any creationist attempt to claim him as their own — at least no more than they usually do when they insist that religion inspired the work of other pre-Darwin scientists, such as Kepler, Newton, etc.

We weren’t too far off, although we failed to predict the depth and intensity of the Discoveroids’ hatred for Tyson and his show. Their reaction is probably because Tyson’s Cosmos, like its predecessor hosted by Carl Sagan, is becoming a cultural symbol for the power and beauty of science.

The job of posting the attack on this episode was given to David Klinghoffer, the Discoveroids’ journalistic slasher and poo flinger. He has just written The Whitewash Continues: Cosmos Conceals the Sources of Scientific Inspiration for Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell. He says, with bold font added by us:

Last night’s Cosmos episode, “The Electric Boy,” was beautifully done, and quite moving. I got choked up more than once …

Yeah, yeah — come on, Klinghoffer, spare us the squishy stuff. Get to it! Ah, here it comes:

Do I need to tell you what Tyson leaves out of this uplifting story? Yes, of course, it’s any admission of how Faraday and Maxwell were inspired in their science by their Christian commitments. In fact, you could hardly ask for two names of great scientists whose work was more influenced by passionate religious views, including the vision that nature reflects a single unified cosmic design.

Uh, David … there are millions of people — maybe hundreds of millions — who are every bit as committed to their religion as those two guys. In fact, loads of people are far more devoted to religion, and they become clergymen instead of scientists. It’s true that Faraday and Maxwell were religious, but they chose to follow secular careers.

Aside from that, there must be more to it than mere religious faith, because those two did things that no one else had ever done. You gotta get specific, David. What was it about their religion that directly led them to their accomplishments. And please explain why, with the same bible and the same religion, none of the other religious people in all the centuries before them, or in their own generation, could do what they did?

Klinghoffer doesn’t answer us. Instead, he continues to criticize Tyson:

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.

Okay, David, we’ll say it again: If religion had scientific significance in Faraday’s work, then you need to spell it out for us. What part did religion play in his scientific work?

Finally, Klinghoffer offers what we assume is the best evidence he’s got. He gives us what he claims is a quote from Ian H. Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT:

One example of the influence of [Faraday’s] theological perspective on his science is Faraday’s preoccupation with nature’s laws. ‘God has been pleased to work in his material creation by laws’, he remarked, and ‘the Creator governs his material works by definite laws resulting from the forces impressed on matter.’ … He sought the unifying laws relating the forces of the world, and was highly successful in respect of electricity, magnetism, and light.

Ooooooh. Yeah. Just like it says in the Good Book. Somewhere — but only if we ignore all the miracles that overturn those natural laws and do things the Discoveroids claim nature can’t do — like making DNA and causing the Cambrian explosion — which the Discoveroids attribute to their magical designer. But Faraday didn’t attribute magnetism to Oogity Boogity. Was he a heretic, in the same way that Darwin ignored supernatural influence in explaining the appearance of species? Klinghoffer ignores these issues. He continues:

As for Maxwell, his faith is not mentioned in this episode at all, though he and Faraday, while coming from very different social and economic backgrounds, were equally devout. As Stephen Meyer recounts in Signature in the Cell, Maxwell insisted that a verse from Psalms, “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein,” be inscribed in Latin over the entrance to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University.

Okay. Let’s put Klinghoffer’s “bible inspiration hypothesis” to the test. Take Maxwell’s favorite scripture passage and then add all the brains assembled in the Discoveroids’ “think tank,” and what scientific wonders do they produce? So far, they’ve accomplished exactly nothing!

Now we’ll skip to the end:

Given that [whatever “that” is], there is no good reason for obscuring the place of religion in scientific discovery, and Tyson knows it. Clearly, the issue was at the very front of executive producer Seth MacFarlane’s mind. Tyson has gone out of his way, indeed twisting the facts, to depict faith as an obstacle to science. But when acknowledging its vital role in scientific history would be most appropriate, Cosmos invariably falls silent.

Perhaps we’re missing something. That must be it. Klinghoffer seems convinced that the great work of Faraday and Maxwell is directly attributable to their religious faith, but we don’t see the connection. So we call upon you, dear reader, to help your Curmudgeon out. Explain it for us. We shall be ever so grateful.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “Klinghoffer Reacts to “Cosmos” Episode 10

  1. It’s curious, isn’t it, that the Discovery Institute, which for so long claimed to be a scientific establishment, is now quite openly operating as a religious one.

  2. docbill1351

    We all know that Klinky is an ignorant chump but he’s also quite lazy. What he wrote is a fact-free opinion piece, his opinion, of course. Sure, Cosmos 10 didn’t mention much about Maxwell because that’s the subject of Cosmos 11. But, more to the point, it would seem that if only Klunkleklopper had access to somebody with the relevant academic credentials to help him out, somebody who may have studied history, philosophy or, gasp, the history and philosophy of science, then he could get his facts straight.

    Maybe someone like that Stephen Meyer guy, a PhD in the history and philosophy of science, studied right there in England and whose office is right down the hall from Kronklekrunker.

    Hmmmm, I wonder why Stephen Meyer hates Kladiddleklopper so much that he didn’t offer up some historical gems that would tie Faraday’s deep religious convictions directly to his scientific discoveries. Surely they must be there! Maybe if we all clap for Klinkletinkerbell it will all be true.

  3. Poo-flinger Klingy proclaims:

    there is no good reason for obscuring the place of religion in scientific discovery

    Indeed not. It’s well worth considering just how conventional were the religious beliefs of Charles Darwin throughout his voyage as ship’s naturalist on board HMS Beagle.

    It was following the evidence–just as the Discoveroids enjoin us to do–that led Darwin from religious orthodoxy to pioneering scientific insight.

  4. In his fervent haste to discharge his keening tirade, Klangerhuffer misses a smack-in-the-face obvious aspect of Faraday’s and Maxwell’s scientific work: None of it anywhere invokes any Oogity Boogity as an explanatory mechanism. Ergo, Klangerhuffer’s claim that these eminent guys “were inspired in their science by their Christian commitments” rests on little more than dubious extrapolation cemented by wishful association. If he wants to argue that way then he should at the very least do so consistently. However, it seems that such consistency lies beyond Klangerhuffer’s moral horizon if not his intellectual one.

    Maybe his point is that Faraday and Maxwell were driven to accomplish great works by their insatiable curiosity to “know the mind of Godà la Hawking. If so, it doesn’t in the least diminish the illusory basis of that impetus. Moreover, he would then be saying that “Christian commitments” are valued and held for pragmatic purposes, rather than for epistemically sound reasons.

  5. What is all this blather about faith, religion, bible quotes and etc. from Klinghoffer? Aren’t the folks at DI supposed to be hard at work looking for their Intelligent Designer, which has nothing to do with religion and can therefore be taught in science classes? Why has there been no progress on their Theory of Intelligent Design which, according to Jonathan Witt, “begins and ends with science”? I really do wish that they would allow comments on their ENV blogs.

  6. What “inspires” you is a rather frivolous question. People can be inspired by all manner of things: Religious faith, family, idols and heroes, science fiction novels.

    The question that matters is “What led you to your conclusions?” And the answers to that question are almost always things like the discoveries of fellow scientists past and present and the weight of raw evidence. It is never “I read it in a storybook.”

  7. Those who profess a deep devotion to scripture and its study should be the people with the most profound fear of God and His wrath. So why then do we have pedophile priests? No way to prove this, but there are probably more outrageously sinful religious leaders than there are deeply-religious scientists making breakthrough discoveries — in any field.

    A literal interpretation of scripture stifles scientific discovery. What’s the point of searching for answers in the real world when all the answers are already there in the Bible?

    Klinghoffer, get back with us when you find ANY reference in scripture to magnetism, electricity, or the electromagnetic force.

  8. Faraday may have believed that he lived in God’s universe, but he wanted to know how it worked. He experimented. He tried different things. In the end, persistence and curiosity paid off and he exposed quite a bit of the unseen forces that govern how the universe works.

    In contrast, the religious creationists at the D.I. do no experiments and are completely uninterested in how God did whatever they think he did. They refuse to even speculate as to how they believe God did his DNA interventions (or whatever he did) to design specific life forms, or how he might have brought the universe into being.

    That’s the difference between science and theologically based movements like ID. It’s not the beliefs of the practitioners, it’s the way they do their work. So, really, Tyson needn’t have mentioned Faraday’s religious beliefs at all. The mention was probably there only to point out that even fundamentalist christians can contribute to our understanding of nature if they are curious enough and take a scientific approach.

    I don’t think Kling and crew will ever grasp that.

  9. Our Curmudgeon throws down a challenge:

    Klinghoffer seems convinced that the great work of Faraday and Maxwell is directly attributable to their religious faith, but we don’t see the connection. So we call upon you, dear reader, to help your Curmudgeon out. Explain it for us.


    First off, nothing could be simpler (given 10 minutes with Google and Wikipedia) to compile a substantial list of distinguished pioneers of science whose work has enriched the store of human knowledge.

    And it would be no less difficult to then sort this list into sub-lists by ‘Religious Affiliation’–e.g., Olympian, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jainist, Declines to State, None of the Above, &c.

    Deeply distinguished scientists would appear on each of the above sub-lists. From which, one must conclude


    [A] Religious adherence (and individual strength thereof), or lack of same, is entirely immaterial to the pursuit of science, which ignores non-empirical claims about ‘transcendence’, ‘the supernatural’, ‘oogity-boogity,’ &c.; hence, the motto of the Royal Society: Nullius in verba (‘take nobody’s word for it’),


    [B] One must strive to emulate the greats of science by simultaneously believing in every religious creed–and lack of religious creed that has ever been held by some part of mankind, in a sort of hyper-mega-Orwellian Multi-Think; in other words, that Klingy is, once again, completely full of [edited out].

  10. Oops, [edited out].

  11. Anonymous asks

    Aren’t the folks at DI supposed to be hard at work looking for their Intelligent Designer, which has nothing to do with religion and can therefore be taught in science classes?

    Actually, no, they endlessly whine that actually identifying the putative Intelligent Designer is absolutely not part of ID, in part because that’s not possible empirically, but mostly because such a claim would immediately run afoul of legislation derived from the US Constitution.

    Their ’empiricism’ consists of:

    ‘If something appears designed, then by gum it was designed. Any data indicating the appearance of design has arisen from natural and undirected processes must therefore be wrong, a priori, no matter how copious and consistent such data may be. And, with purely natural processes thereby ruled insufficient to explain the world, one must embrace some form of Oogity-Boogity, though which particular variety of Oogity-Boogity one should select is a matter of personal taste as it cannot be determined by science. However, you should note that My God can not only beat up Your God, but will punish you in the Lake of Fire if you refuse to adopt my beliefs.’

  12. But when acknowledging its vital role in scientific history would be most appropriate, Cosmos invariably falls silent.

    So exactly what role does religion play in scientific history? Ah, god did it. Other than that, nothing. That some believed in a deity is irrelevant to science, but this is overlooked by our “dishonesty friends.”

  13. Col.Kling bemoans “Tyson has gone out of his way, indeed twisting the facts, to depict faith as an obstacle to science.”

    I think it’s fair to say that the D.I. have done far more twisting of facts intentionally than N.D.Tyson could ever do, even by accident. Cosmos doesn’t need to twist facts, it simply has to be able to support the information Tyson states. That is why the good guys get a super television series and the spin doctors at the D.I. feel all left out.

  14. Harrison says:

    What “inspires” you is a rather frivolous question.

    Indeed. What if Faraday were inspired by his love for his devoted wife? Does that mean we should all be in love with her too? Will that make us great scientists?

  15. Charles Deetz ;)

    I think all the possible variants of the poo flinger’s name have been used. docbill used four in just one post. To throw in my own two cents on the subject, I may be relegated to using numbers in mentioning his name.

    K1in840ffer has no clue how much text, history, and images get cut in a video production. Kli28h044er is the kind of guy who would sit for a one hour interview and then be mad that the final broadcast wasn’t the full interview minus his throat-clearing. And Kli46hoff3r would be shock that someone else’s interview was cut in.

    That Cosmos mentions Faraday’s religion at all is more than I would expect.

  16. Charles Deetz, displaying admirable lateral thinking about Klingy’s nomenclature, finds himself

    relegated to using numbers in mentioning his name.

    That works pretty well. I also find using some off-piste fonts give good results as well, but I have no idea if the following copy and paste will work until I try it. If it doesn’t work, then I really am a stupid [edited out], or else WordPress is.

    Klinghoffer in
    Webdings: 
    Wingdings: 
    Wingdings 2: 
    Wingdings 3: 

  17. Charles Deetz ;)

    Well Megalonyx, you’ve come up with a bunch of blanks. Seems fitting somehow!

  18. @Con-Tester: I would also like to add that Faraday and Maxwell not even belonged to the last generation of scientists that could assume that science was a second road to god. Even Max Planck (the guy that started Quantum Mechanics) and Werner Heisenberg (the guy who debunked causality) still could assume that.
    Hence saying that “they were inspired in their science by their christian commitments” means exactly nothing.

  19. Well, speaking of a bunch of blanks, can anyone make any sense whatsoever out of Dense O’Weirdie’s latest exercise in solipsistic stream-of-unconsciousness, Early Human Religion: A 747 Built in the Basement with an X-Acto Knife?

    I mean, credit where credit due. Klingy, for example, is obnoxious, bigoted, and dishonest–but one can at least follow his ‘argument’, howsoever slight, bent, or foolish it may be.

    But O’Leary? It’s not even a matter of her being wrong about anything, it’s that she doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense at all, it’s all just a bizarre waldorf of a word salad. F’rinstance, here’s her concluding paragraph, and I defy anyone to parse any logic in it whatsoever:

    Was the source of Göbekli Tepe divine? We can’t know that, of course, just as we can’t objectively say what subjectivity feels like. What we can do, however, is rule out explanations that don’t fit the story. Naturalist accounts of religion would certainly be one of them.

    Barking mad, or what?

  20. Megalonyx asks: “can anyone make any sense whatsoever out of Dense O’Weirdie’s latest?”

    I don’t even try to read her. I doubt that the Discoveroids’ creationist fans do either. The more she posts at their blog, the better I like it.

  21. Mega asks desperately: “can anyone make any sense”
    Alas I have to disappoint him. Suddenly WS Burroughs’ Naked Lunch has become a prime example of crystal clear writing.
    The only thing I understand is “naturalistic accounts of religion are ruled out.” But why? Beats me.

  22. How many scientists have been inspired by listening to the Yardbirds, Cream, or the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gentle Weeps?”

    Oh my goodness, Clapton *is* God.

  23. Zoiks: Clapton’s guitar *gently* wept.