Bill Nye Continues To Talk About Things of Which He is Ignorant

Bill Nye, who knows hardly anything about philosophy

Bill Nye, who knows hardly anything about philosophy

Bill Nye is a popular “scilebrity.” Unfortunately, he does an enormous disservice to science, frequently speaking on topics about which he knows very little. He narrated a faked experiment on global warming because he doesn’t understand the physical mechanisms governing how infrared light interacts with matter. If he did, he would have realized that the experiment he narrated couldn’t possibly have worked. He excludes ideas simply because he doesn’t care for them and encourages others to do the same. He wrote a book about evolution that is riddled with errors, and he tried to defend abortion using an argument that is demonstrably false.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. Instead of educating himself on an issue before discussing it, he continues to pontificate on things about which he knows nearly nothing. His latest silliness is on the subject of philosophy. While Olivia Goldhill has written an excellent discussion of why that video is so ludicrous, I want to add just a couple of thoughts.

A while back, I wrote about Dr. Kevin R. Grazier, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a science consultant for film and television. I briefly mentioned that he confirmed some of my thoughts regarding Bill Nye and Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, but Nye’s inane video leads me to expand on that point. In addition to discussing errors that Nye and Tyson have made regarding the science found in film and television, Grazier said that in his view, both Nye and Tyson aren’t really interested in educating the public about science. If they were, they would be more accurate in their pronouncements. Instead, they are just trying to convince the public that they are really smart guys.

I can’t say whether or not Grazier’s assessment is correct, but I can tell you that I seriously considered becoming a philosophy major when I was at university. I decided against it for several reasons, but one of the top reasons was simply this: I am not smart enough to be a philosopher. As a result, I decided to become a scientist. Yes, I said that correctly. In my estimation, it takes significantly more intellect to be a good philosopher than it does to be a good scientist. My experience as a scientist interacting with philosophers has only continued to confirm that view.

Of the people I know, for example, there are few who intimidate me intellectually. Despite the fact that I know a large number of scientists, only three people come to mind who truly make me shake in my intellectual boots. All three of them are philosophers. Don’t get me wrong. I love discussing deep topics with them. Indeed, two of them are regulars on the homeschool speaking circuit, and I take every chance I get to hang out with them. The chats we have together often result in making my head hurt, but without fail, I always learn from them. The third person is one I used to have the honor of working with, and I still try to spend time with her when I can. By discussing deep topics with people who are smarter than me, I become a tiny bit smarter myself. As a result, if this video by Nye is an attempt to make him look smart, he has only achieved the opposite.

The other point I want to make is historical. The term “scientist” first appeared (as far as I can tell) in 1834, when Dr. William Whewell of Cambridge University (a philosopher and historian) coined it. Back then, scientists understood how important philosophy was to their work, so many of them (including the great Michael Faraday) used Dr. Whewell as a terminology consultant. He suggested the term “scientist” to replace the term that had been used up until that point: natural philosopher. Yes, for the vast majority of the history of science, scientists were philosophers.

It’s unfortunate that Nye has no idea how important philosophy is when it comes to science.

14 Comments

  1. Trav Avis says:

    I completely agree with your article, Dr. Wile, but I am not even smart enough to be a scientist- I am an artist! I must ask a question, if you don’t mind- I am rather new to the debate between science and evolution, and I begun reading Mere Christianity, watching Ravi Zacharias and studying apologetics. Who is the best of the best refuters of the modern theory of evolution?

    I have seen some debates on Youtube between evolutionists and some unimpressive Christian “apologists”, many in which one or both sides show dishonesty in their arguing, like the use of loaded questions, or as Richard Dawkins would- encourage humiliation of the opposition.

    1. jlwile says:

      I personally think the best people for evaluating the theory of evolution are those whose specialities are related to it. For example, Dr. John Sanford is a well-known geneticist, and he does an excellent job of discussing how strongly the science of genetics speaks against evolution in his book, Genetic Entropy. Paul Garner is a geologist, and he does an excellent job of discussing how geology and earth science speak against evolution in his book, The New Creationism. Dr. Wyane Rossiter is a biologist, and he gives great biological arguments against evolution in his book, Shadow of Oz.

      1. Sj says:

        Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson’s “Darwin on Trial” is still a classic on the subject. Jonathan Wells’ “Icons of Evolution” is an eye-opener as well. Both are easily accessible to the layman,and both present aspects of the subject that aren’t addressed in depth elsewhere–Johnson, examining Darwinism with a lawyer’s logic, and Wells pointing out the flaws in commonly accepted examples of supposed evolution.

    2. Aaron says:

      I would have to say it is Stephen C. Meyer. He is respectful and brilliant. However I am also very curious on Dr Wiles opinion.

      1. jlwile says:

        That is also a good choice. Signature in the Cell is excellent.

  2. Tom Mayer says:

    Sure am glad I found Proslogion. It’s like diving into the deep end with a life jacket. Thanks for your plain language offerings on all these topics.

    1. Trav Avis says:

      Thank you very much! I will give them all a look! 😀

      Yeah, I recently got out of high school, and I’m making an effort to make sense out of this, as I found the evolutionist “rebuttals” against creationism, or criticism of their theory or questionable evidence any sort, to usually be vile and fallacious- not that to defend evolution is fallacious, but the way they have done, especially Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

  3. Robert Byers says:

    I respect nye because he made the great debate with Ham and it was the greatest presentation ever for yEC in history. Hugh audiences. a great gain. Ham did fantastic. Nye was not able to jab or knock out.

    Nye and others strike at creationism. Excellent. It doesn’t hurt but brings attention. all publicity is good publicity for the good guys with truth on their side. YEC has problems reaching audiences.
    Nye keeps putting us in the spotlight.
    This attack on historic philosophy surely helps and does not hurt.
    Is Nye a scientist? naw.

    Most of philosophy was stupid because it was not founded on the bible.
    They have been forgotten.
    The bible has not.

  4. Sj says:

    Name names, Dr. Wile? I’d love to know who it is you are intimidated by!

    1. jlwile says:

      Hehe. I didn’t want them getting big heads over it! Two of them are public figures, so I can mention them:

      Martin Cothran is a master logician

      Andrew Kern is the founder of the Circe Institute.

      The third person is not a public figure, so I don’t want to give her name. However, she was classically educated and has a degree in philosophy.

  5. Sj says:

    I love Martin Cothran! It’s worth getting the Memoria Press catalog, even if you don’t homeschool, just to read his articles. They’re also online, along with the other articles in the catalog: http://www.memoriapress.com/articles?field_catalog_issue_tid=All&title=

    One of my favorites is “Can Music Save your Mortal Soul?” http://www.memoriapress.com/articles/can-music-save-your-mortal-soul

    It starts out like this, and only gets better:

    “I have found, when my ears are accosted at home with unpleasant sounds purporting to be music, that Shakespeare comes in handy. “This music mads me,” I will say to my 16-year-old son, who is the most common source of the dissonance. “How irksome is this music to my heart!” I will declare to my 12-year-old, who is listening to some newly discovered band. “When such strings jar, what hope of harmony?”

    They get the message.”

    1. jlwile says:

      I will let him know his articles mean so much to you, Sj.

  6. Tim Constant says:

    Dr Wile,
    This is off topic but I wanted to hear your thoughts. I saw this article about a study on how RNA “spontaneously forms” around hydrothermal vents. Don’t know if you have read it or heard about it. I didn’t have access to the actual study. I’m usually suspicious of “middle man” science websites who take the liberty of interpreting study results.
    Do you think this closes the gap for an evolutionists looking for evidence of abiogenesis?

    Also, do you have any speaking arrangements planned for Colorado any time soon?
    Thanks
    Tim

    http://www.iflscience.com/chemistry/lab-grown-deep-sea-vents-shown-harbor-building-blocks-life

    1. jlwile says:

      Thanks for the link, Tim. Not surprisingly, the article doesn’t tell you a very important key aspect of the experiment: The authors started with the building blocks of RNA. The actual paper doesn’t claim in any way to form RNA using these artificial chimneys. What it says is that after building the chimneys, they injected ribonucleotides into the chimneys. RNA is a chain of ribonucleotides. Thus, they started with the “links” in the chain, and then showed that if you put those links in an an artificial chimney, the links will come together to make a chain.

      In addition, those chains were incredibly small. If the ribonucleotides were unmodified, they could link up in groups of two. If they were modified with another compound (imidazole), they could link up in groups of four. Without the fully-formed building blocks, however, that would never have occurred. Also, while it is nice that they could make strings of four ribonucleotides with the intervention of imidazole, the kinds of RNA that they need for the form of spontaneous generation known as abiogenesis are at least tens if not hundreds of ribonucleotides long!