Posted by jlwile on August 29, 2012
Most people have heard about Bill Nye the Science Guy. He had a high-energy television show that ran for five years, teaching children about science with cool demonstrations, lots of great interviews, and extreme enthusiasm. Nowadays, he produces videos about science and talks about science at many different venues. While I always thought that his approach was a little short on substance, I have to admit that he has the ability to communicate great scientific truths in an exciting, easy-to-understand manner. It’s no wonder that he has a dedicated following of students and teachers.
He recently made a short video that has become extremely popular (the one posted above). It’s gotten more than 2,000,000 Youtube hits, and I have seen it all over Facebook and my E-MAIL inbox. When I watched the video, my first thought was, “How can someone who knows so much science be so confused as to what science is all about?” As I continued to watch the video, I wondered “How can someone who knows so much science be so misinformed when it comes to creationism?”
Let me start by explaining why that first question came to mind. In essence, Bill Nye is imploring creationists to stop teaching creation to their children. He is saying that we should accept the scientific consensus and move on. The vast majority of scientists today believe in evolution, so we should believe in evolution, too. When you first hear such a thing, it might sound reasonable, but it is amazingly anti-science. What if all scientists had followed the scientific consensus that Newtonian physics was a complete description of the universe, and there were just a few “nagging problems” that still had to be worked out? If they had done that, we would have never learned about quantum mechanics and relativity, which are the guiding theories for most of today’s physics.
What if all scientists had accepted the scientific consensus that it is impossible for a crystalline substance to have a structure that can be rotated by one-fifth or one-tenth and end up looking the same as it did before? If that had happened, we would have never learned about quasicrystals, for which Dr. Dan Shechtman won his Nobel Prize. What if all scientists had accepted the scientific law known as Bateman’s Principle? If they had, we would still be laboring under the false notion that males are promiscuous in their mating habits, while females are more choosy about their mates.
The fact is that those who go against the scientific consensus are often the ones who are responsible for propelling science forward, or at least correcting false notions that had been promulgated by science. To tell people to stop going against the scientific consensus, then, is one of the most unscientific things you can do.
Now let me move on to my second question: “How can someone who knows so much science be so misinformed when it comes to creationism?” In this short video, Nye makes several claims that are simply false. In fact, the first nine words in the video compose a sentence that is about as far from the truth as possible:
Denial of evolution is unique to the United States.
I don’t know whether or not Mr. Nye has ever left the United States, but if he has, he must have been very selective about where he went, because denial of evolution is worldwide. In a previous post, for example, I talked about speaking at KAIST, South Korea’s main science-and-technology-focused university. On the third floor of the student center (which is on campus), there are several permanent young-earth creationist displays. Can you imagine finding permanent young-earth-creationist displays at the student center of MIT in the United States? Yet there they were…in South Korea! You can find major creationist groups in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, the Netherlands, etc., etc. In fact, the oldest anti-evolution group in the world isn’t found in the United States. It is found in the United Kingdom! If Bill Nye had bothered to learn what creationism is, he might have found this out.
Mr. Nye also seems to think that creationists don’t believe in science:
…the United States is where most of the innovations still happens. People still move to the United States. And that’s largely because of the intellectual capital we have, the general understanding of science. When you have a portion of the population that doesn’t believe in that, it holds everybody back, really.
Of course, that is also false. There are scientists doing scientific research every day who are creationists. There is an even longer list of scientists who are not necessarily creationists but who have doubts that evolution is the end of the story when it comes to origins. These scientists clearly believe in science, but they are not 100% behind evolution.
Nye then goes on to repeat an old chestnut that has been demonstrated wrong time and time again:
Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology.
If that were really true, what would happen to a poor student who is taught that evolution is incorrect and has been given detailed instruction in creationism? If evolution were the fundamental idea in biology, wouldn’t you expect the student to do very poorly in biology after high school? The fact is, however, that students who have been taught young-earth creationism excel in their advanced studies of biology (see here, here, and here, for example). The idea that these students could excel in their advanced biological studies while missing out on the fundamental idea in biology is just nonsense.
I could go on and on pointing out additional falsehoods that Mr. Nye promotes in this video, but let me close with just one more point. Mr. Nye ends the video in this rambling way:
It’s just really hard a thing, it’s really a hard thing. You know, in another couple of centuries that world view, I’m sure, will be, it just won’t exist. There’s no evidence for it.
If that’s really the case, then why worry? If there is no evidence for anti-evolutionism, and if it won’t exist in a couple of centuries, why all the fuss? Scientists believed in spontaneous generation for 2,000 years or so, and science progressed quite nicely over the same timeframe. If there are only going to be a mere 200 years before all of us anti-evolutionist nutjobs are gone, why worry? Why implore parents to keep their children in the dark when it comes to the serious scientific flaws with evolution? Why censor students? Why not encourage the debate so that the weakness in the anti-evolution side can be shown?
It is unfortunate that Bill Nye has decided that censorship is better than open academic debate, and it is even more unfortunate that he condemned a viewpoint that he obviously knows virtually nothing about. In my view, he’s no longer the “science guy.” As far as I am concerned, he is now the “anti-science guy.”