Abby: I'm going to stand by what I said last week, that I am genuinely behind Cosmos's attempt to redraw the lines of opposition for debates on scientific subjects. In Tyson's world, religion and science are entirely compatible, and I like that. But this episode, focusing almost entirely on evolution, ups the difficulty level for that mission. My assumption is still that Tyson's rebuttals to common religious objections to evolution are directed not at the fundamentalist activists — like Ken Ham — promoting political opposition to biology education in schools, but at more mainstream religious audiences, who might be able to agree that there's an easy reconciliation between faith and evolution. Ham and his ilk aren't going to watch Cosmos and like it. But plenty of other Christians could.
I also think it's important to note that Tyson has preserved the space for speculative wonder opened up by Sagan. Take the Ship of the Imagination's visit to Titan's methane lakes — Tyson, maybe, sees something moving on the moon of Saturn. Was it life? We'll only know when real ships are able to return. This is the imagination at work, but an imagination informed by what evolutionary biology has told us about our own origins. Even this employment of the imagination serves as a rebuttal to anti-scientific advocacy: at one point, Tyson says that scientists aren't afraid of questions to which they don't (yet, perhaps) know the answer. The implication is that those who claim to have every answer are drawing some of those conclusions from fear or ignorance. That's a tricky point to make well, and we'll have to see how his attempt plays out.
Danielle: And then there’s the terrifying, mass extinctions part of the episode.
Abby: The Apocalypse! The book of Revelations! Of science, I guess.
Danielle: Forgive me if I avert my eyes during the historical apocalypses segment of the evening. But I do love the crazy resilient animals part — this tardigrade is so crazy! The tardigrade isn’t even the cockroach of the ocean, it’s the Twinkies of all living things.
But what did the Internet think?
Danielle: Like last week, people seemed pretty excited about Cosmos, and were especially vocal about Tyson's no-nonsense presentation of evolution as truth.
Notably Carl Sagan's son weighed in, commenting on the last scene in the episode which showed a snippet of the original — something I hope continues to occur throughout the series:
And though we didn't get any NASA tweets like last time, I enjoyed the tidbits (and quizzes) offered by the show's official handle, @COSMOSonTV:
Danielle: This is a super dense episode, and one that really highlights Tyson’s expertise as a teacher. Bears provide a much better example of genetic mutations than, oh, pea pods, for example, and his explanation of eyeball evolution appears to be comprehensive and is quite clear. He’s definitely more comfortable in this episode, and is possibly more comfortable on planet Earth. That makes sense, because a large part of Tyson’s charisma comes from his ability to communicate with lay people. He’s active (and funny) on Twitter and, per a recent New Yorker profile, once seriously considered paying for school by working as an exotic dancer. So he’s a people person.