Bill Nye, famed as “The Science Guy” is gaining lots of headlines for this video in which he laments disbelief in evolution in the United States. “Evolution” can be a tricky word. Sometimes it’s used to mean the changing of an organism over time. Sometimes it is used to mean the changing of one organism into other organisms over time. And sometimes it’s used more broadly to signify all of these things and a materialist worldview in which the universe around us was the result of processes that have nothing to do with any kind of intelligence but merely are.
I get the impression from the video that Mr. Nye is using “evolution” interchangeably to mean each of these things.
Clearly, Bill Nye cares about science and equally clearly, he has had a remarkable career making it fun and interesting to kids. But are the assertions he is making in this video scientific opinions or political opinions? Even if you accept that his view on evolution is correct, most of his assertions are political.
Let’s take a look
1. Denial of evolution is unique to the United States.
Is it? Clearly not. There are plenty of people who deny a materialist view of the universe throughout the world. People disagree with evolution for different reasons as well. Some challenge it as a theory and believe that an examination of life shows complexity that suggests an intelligent design (for example, The Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture). Others will challenge it based solely on religious texts (Creationism). In any case, it’s clear that the United States is not unique in this matter.
2. When you have a portion of the population that doesn’t believe in that (evolution), it holds everybody back, really.
Strangely, immediately after acknowledging that “we’re the world’s most advanced technological, “I mean, you could say Japan, but generally, the United States is where most of the innovations still happens,” Nye makes the assertion that everybody is being held back. How is this so? If anything, religious belief was stronger earlier in our history, yet we are on the technological top. We continue to advance in engineering, medicine and science. How has that progress been “held back” by those who doubt “evolution” in any of its meanings? The Soviet Union was officially an atheist state and yet it lagged behind the more religious United States. Even today, Communist China discourages religious beliefs but is more famous for stealing technology that leading in it. So can you assert that “everybody” has been held back because of those who doubt evolution? If you can, let me know how because I do not see it.
3. “Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology. It’s like, it’s very much analogous to trying to do geology without believing in tectonic plates. You’re just not going to get the right answer. Your whole world is just going to be a mystery instead of an exciting place.”
By “evolution” here does he mean “things change over time” or the broader materialist world view here? Clearly, changes through mutations and genetics are fundamental to modern biology. But I get the impression that Nye is using a broader definition of evolution. Whether you would get the “wrong answer” seems to depend on more than a full embrace of evolutionary theory. People studying biology who believe in Intelligent Design, for example, may explore the complexities of life at the micro scale. Would their failure to subscribe to an all-encompassing definition of evolution mean they couldn’t make observations about the inner workings of micro-organisms? I’ve spoken and worked with many people from and attended events of The Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and I’ve never been under the impression that they were content somehow to just chalk life up to “mystery” and stop studying it.
I also recently interviewed Dr. Ben Carson, the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins and the first person to ever successfully separate conjoined twins who were connected at the skull. He does not embrace evolution, yet came up with a correct answer to the biological question he was facing and continues to study the brain with wonder and enthusiasm.
4.The idea of deep time, of this billions of years, explains so much of the world around us. If you try to ignore that, your world view just becomes crazy, just untenable, itself inconsistent.
Plenty of people who do not fully embrace evolution seem to live fulfilled, meaningful, and hopeful lives. Does that mean they live life through a “crazy” prism? I don’t think so. You might argue it’s incomplete or blurry, but clearly they’ve got some things right. For many, just adding Sagan’s “billions and billions” of years is not a satisfactory explanation for “Why?”
5.1 And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine…
So those who deny evolution live in a world that’s “completely inconsistent with everything we observe?” EVERYTHING? Really? Some people see the universe and see the hand of God. Some see intelligence inherent in DNA coding. Some don’t. But I’m not sure they’re living in a world “completely inconsistent” with the observable universe. Human behavior suggests there is a benefit to religious beliefs–might that be something that gives pause as to why some might have faith?
5.2 …but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that canâ€”we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.
The assertion here is only if children fully embrace materialist evolutionary theory can they be good voters and taxpayers and successful engineers and people who “solve problems.” As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Ben Carson “solved problems” that were very complex– is he the wrong kind of American? I’m guessing a significant number of engineers around the United States who have worked on our most complicated challenges did not fully subscribe to evolutionary theory. I’ve spoken with engineers from NASA and Boeing that were believers and yet, they solved great problems. Nye acknowledges that America is the worlds technological innovator, yet we got this way AS a religious nation. So how is it we have been held back?
Are the children of religious voters less likely to do well? Less likely to go to college? Less likely to “build stuff” or solve problems? Less likely to vote? Less likely to support ethical medical research or space exploration? If so, I’ve not seen the evidence of it.
Nye might be embarrassed about the beliefs of others and may wish to convince them to change. He seems sincere in this. But if so, he should consider focusing on his arguments instead of asserting the worthlessness of those who disagree with his worldview. Nye usually does better. And those he disagrees with deserve better.