The man known to a generation of Americans as “The Science Guy” is condemning efforts by some Christian groups to cast doubts on evolution and lawmakers who want to bring the Bible into science classrooms.
Bill Nye, a mechanical engineer and star of the popular 1990s TV show “Bill Nye The Science Guy,” has waded into the evolution debate with an online video that urges parents not to pass their religious-based doubts about evolution on to their children.
“The Earth is not 6,000 or 10,000 years old,” Nye said in an interview with The Associated Press, citing scientists’ estimates that it is about 4.5 billion years old. “It’s not. And if that conflicts with your beliefs, I strongly feel you should question your beliefs.”
Millions of Americans do hold those beliefs, according to a June Gallup poll that found 46 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago.
Nye, 56, also decried efforts in recent years by lawmakers and school boards in some states to present Bible stories as an alternative to evolution in public schools. Tennessee passed a law earlier this year that protects teachers who let students criticize evolution and other scientific theories. That echoes a Louisiana law passed in 2008 that allows teachers to introduce supplemental teaching materials in science classes.
“If we raise a generation of students who don’t believe in the process of science, who think everything that we’ve come to know about nature and the universe can be dismissed by a few sentences translated into English from some ancient text, you’re not going to continue to innovate,” Nye said in a wide-ranging telephone interview.
In the video he tells adults they can dismiss evolution, “but don’t make your kids do it. Because we need them.” Posted by Big Think, an online knowledge forum, the clip went viral and has 4.6 million views on YouTube. It has garnered 182,000 comments from critics and supporters.
Naturally, young earth creationists do not appreciate Nye’s plunging into this controversy.
It drew the ire of the creationism group Answers in Genesis, which built a biblically based Creation Museum in Kentucky that teaches the stories of the Old Testament and has attracted headlines for its assertion that dinosaurs roamed alongside Adam and Eve.
The group produced a response video featuring two scientists who say the Bible has the true account of Earth’s origins, and that “children should be exposed to both ideas concerning our past.”
Ken Ham, a co-founder of Answers in Genesis, said dating methods used by scientists to measure the age of the earth are contradictory and many don’t point to millions or billions of years of time.
“We say the only dating method that is absolute is the Word of God,” Ham said. “Time is the crucial factor for Bill Nye. Without the time of millions of years, you can’t postulate evolution change.”
While I am somewhat sympathetic to Bill Nye’s concerns, I nevertheless believe that that he is out of line. He does not have the authority or the right to tell parents what they should teach their children. He is saying that parents should not teach their children what they believe to be true. To his credit, Bill Nye has not suggested that the government should compel parents to teach their children the theory of evolution, at least not yet.
Frankly, I think the greatest jeopardy to science in America is the tendency to treat science as a list of facts to be memorized and orthodoxies to be accepted without question. I am afraid that the way the theory of evolution is taught is an especially bad example of this tendency.
The theory of evolution is a scientific hypothesis that purports to explain the development and adaptation of the many organisms on Earth. As a hypothesis, it is a very good one and there is quite a lot of evidence to support it. Indeed, most of what we know about the science of biology doesn’t really make sense outside of this theory. It is important to remember, however that the theory of evolution is only a hypothesis that stands or falls solely on the evidence. Charles Darwin did not receive the text of The Origin of Species on tablets of stone on Mount Sinai. However unlikely it may seem not, it is possible that the theory of evolution will be replaced or modified in the future. After all, the theory of phlogiston, the theory of the four humors, and the luminiferous ether all seemed to have plenty of evidence in their favor.
That being said then, why shouldn’t the students be encouraged to question evolution? Science ought to be taught as a means of asking the questions and getting the answers rather than as facts to be memorized for the test. Don’t just tell students that the theory of evolution is true. Show why the great majority of scientists believe it to be true and why there is not, at present, any real alternative. Better that than teach evolution as a thing that must be believed. If we are going to teach unquestioned orthodoxies in the schools, we might as well teach young earth creationism. At least, it is somewhat less controversial.
I think the progress of science, and society in general, would be better served by young people who are taught to ask questions, whatever their views on evolution .
- Bill Nye warns: Creation views threaten US science (seattlepi.com)
- ‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye condemns teaching creationism (cbc.ca)
- Bill Nye warns: Creation views threaten US science (cnsnews.com)
- Bill Nye the evolution guy (amarillo.com)