If the writers of the series were actually interested in the real history of the origins of scientific thought, there are many people whose stories would have been far more worthy of telling than Bruno – people who actually were proto-scientists. The writers of the show, Stephen Soter and Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, seem to have known enough about Bruno to know they could not present him as a scientist and DeGrasse Tyson’s narration does mention that he was “no scientist” at one point. But they delicately skim over the fact that the guy was, to our way of thinking, a complete mystical loon. In his defence of the criticism the Bruno sequence has since attracted Soter notes that several other early science figures also pursued studies that we find abjectly unscientific, such as Newton’s obsessions with alchemy and apocalyptic calculation. But the difference is that Newton and Kepler pursued those ideas as well as studies that were based on real empirical science, whereas Bruno’s hermetical mysticism, sacred geometry and garbled and largely invented ancient Egyptian religion were all of his studies – he did no actual science at all.
As with pretty much everything O'Neill writes, the whole thing is worth reading. Of course the obstacle to reasoned discussion makes itself known in the first comment on the post:
If there are any irreconcilable differences between the cosmos’ Bruno or the real Bruno, the fact still remains that he was burned for what he professed or believed. He was not burned for any other crime than blasphemy. Your whole article is a wash, you can not deliberately lighten the cruelty of the religiously convicted.
I think it would be news to both Christie and O'Neill that they are deliberately lightening any kind of cruelty! But this is a constant difficulty in historical matters: human beings have a tendency to reason by association, which is often handy as a practical matter, or for initial approximation to be examined by further study, but is also often a good way to slide off into the deep end if it's never held to stronger standards of evidence, and will get you entirely in kooksville if you use it as an excuse for not paying attention to counterarguments. Which is what we have here, since O'Neill explicitly pointed out the problem in his last paragraph (emphasis added):
Of course, anyone who points out that Bruno is a rather ridiculous icon for atheists, given his kooky mystical views and magical practices is usually ignored. And anyone who has the temerity to point out that he was executed for purely religious ideas and not any speculation about multiple worlds or a non-finite cosmos is usually (bizarrely) told they are somehow justifying his horrific execution. As I’ve often noted, for people who call themselves rationalists, many of my fellow atheists can be less than rational. Unfortunately, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan, Steven Soter and Seth MacFarlane’s silly Bruno cartoon will definitely not help in that regard.