If you are of a certain age, you hear the old theme music for the “National Geographic Specials” and immediately images of grizzly bears cavorting in Yellowstone, sherpas scaling Everest or Egyptian tombs being investigated fill your head. Well, at least my head. here was a time when “National Geographic Specials” were actually special.   

When there were only three national networks, the very word “special” meant a lot more than it does now. In our household, “National Geographic Specials” were eagerly anticipated … well, I eagerly anticipated them.

The iconic theme music would come on and you just knew you were in for something unique as the special graced the 19-inch color television set that had just recently replaced the larger but black-and-white console unit.

It might be Jane Goodall with chimps or Jacques Cousteau with his cool underwater apparatus, but whatever it was, it filled me with a sense of wonder and I believe gave me my lifelong interest in travel.

Now there is a National Geographic Channel and it contains a lot of good programming, or at least programming that interests me. Although it may be a case of too much of a good thing, as there is a little too much emphasis on the flora and fauna of places, rather than on the people who eat the flora and fauna of places.

Having an entire television channel dedicated to all things geographic does seem to have overloaded the system as one National Geographic series tends to resemble the other until my interest-meter needle gets stuck on ho-hum.

That may be changing with a new series called “Breakthrough.” Great production values, first-rate talent in front of and behind the camera, and interesting topics that range from how human beings do battle with the microscopic menace of the Ebola virus to how they reach for the stars with machines that roam the Martian surface.

The first episode, which was about combating pandemics, was reminiscent of the old “National Geographic Specials” as we were taken to a distant land and exposed to a variety of different cultures, all within the context of how science has evolved to fight disease. The disease itself was as much of a character as any of the chimps in the ape families Jane Goodall used to study.

What I really liked about “Breakthrough” is that it was, at least in its first installment, most interested in the sober scientific approach to a problem. So far so good.

No other political agendas were detected and although I may be slightly hypersensitive to that and to subtle and not so subtle anti-religious digs in science reporting, “Breakthrough” seemed to have been sufficiently inoculated.

If things change I’ll let you know. But for now I just want to revel in a little quality television programming which is enlightening and entertaining.

Future episodes are bound to wander off the scientific method with topics such as aging and the pros and cons of science spending so much time, money and human capital to attempt to control it.

But it wouldn’t be fair to pass judgement on something I haven’t seen yet. I will do the very unscientific thing of crossing my fingers in the hopes “Breakthrough” remains true on its scientific course.  

If “Breakthrough” does stay on target as a top-notch National Geographic series with excellent production values and captivating scientific content, then in a roundabout way it will be serving a spiritual and religious purpose.

The reason our world is something to marvel at is because there are receptors (us) around to be marveled. California grey whales never alter their course from Mexico to Alaska and back again because one of them says, “You know what fellas, let’s do the Caribbean this season.”

Only humans celebrate creation. Only humans, who we, as Catholics, have been taught had this marvelous world built especially for us, can appreciate it in a way no ape — even with their opposable thumbs — or dolphin (let’s see how smart they are out of water) can claim.

Whenever science inserts itself to a more complete understanding of nature, it cannot be a bad thing, as Pope Benedict XVI reasoned several years past.

“A correct relationship between science and faith is also based on this fruitful interaction between comprehension and belief. Scientific research leads to the knowledge of new truths regarding mankind and the cosmos. The true good of mankind, accessible through faith, indicates the direction his path of discovery must follow.”

Those words came to life in the first episode of “Breakthrough” as I watched researchers encapsulate the deadly Ebola virus within the confines of a hardened crystal to safely attempt to defang its danger.

Upcoming episodes dealing with mechanizing human bodies that have been debilitated by accident or disease, may seem to suggest losing our humanity to science I think actually demonstrate us as being more human.

Or at the very least no less human than I am when I get behind the wheel of a compact car that has more computer memory in its engine systems than the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon possessed.

In short, scientific discovery is all about the search for objective truth. And since the ultimate objective truth resides within the Holy Trinity, the more we know … the more we know.