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Popular Mechanics for Kids

on February 12, 2011
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Popular Mechanics: “Science Guy Bill Nye Explains Why Evolution Belongs in Science EducationBill Nye, the “science guy” of children’s television fame, recently answered a few questions for the magazine Popular Mechanics. Although Ken Ham tackled Nye’s answers in a blog entry, we thought our perspective could bear re-emphasizing.

The interview started with Popular Mechanics asking Nye what he thought of last week’s news showing only tepid support for teaching evolution among high school science teachers. Calling it “horrible,” Nye explained:

Science is the key to our future, and if you don’t believe in science, then you’re holding everybody back. And it’s fine if you as an adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don’t believe in evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don’t believe in science, that’s a recipe for disaster. We talk about the Internet. That comes from science. Weather forecasting. That comes from science. The main idea in all of biology is evolution.

Later, Nye discusses why he supports strong elementary school science programs:

Nearly every rocket scientist got interested in it before they were 10. Everybody who’s a physician, who makes vaccines, who wants to find the cure for cancer. Everybody who wants to do any medical good for humankind got the passion for that before he or she was 10. So we want to excite a new generation of kids . . . about the passion, beauty and joy . . . of science. These anti-evolution people are frustrating in two ways. The first way is, almost certainly they know better. Those people really do believe in flu shots. They really do understand that when you find fossil bones of ancient dinosaurs, you are looking at deep time, not just 5000 years. And secondly, and much more importantly, having raised a generation of kids who don’t understand science is bad for everyone. And with the United States having a leadership role in science and technology, having a generation of kids not believing in science is bad for the world.

Nye suggests that the root of modern creation beliefs lies in “wanting the world to be different than it is.” He adds, “We all want the world to be different. But to deny evolution is in no one’s best interest.”

Our disagreements with Nye’s comments generally fall in three categories:

Kids not accepting evolution is the same, to Nye, as “kids not believing in science”; he says much the same about all creationists.

  1. Nye implies that, at some cognitive level, we creationists realize we are in error but refuse to give up our “fairy tales,” secretly believing dinosaur fossils really are millions of years old despite what we say. Thus, he welcomes creationists to “run around pretending . . . that you don’t believe in evolution” but claims we “certainly . . . know better.” So apparently genuine, scientifically grounded opposition to evolutionary theory—the sort that impels one to speak out against the dogmatic evolutionary establishment—cannot exist in Nye’s world.
  2. Frustrating is Nye’s recurring equation of evolution with modern scientific advancements such as the Internet, flu shots, weather forecasting, etc. But this conflates two very different branches of scientific inquiry, which we usually label “operational” and “origins” (or historical) science. The former, which has a close relationship with engineering, medicine, and other fields of applied science, generates or is based on discoveries that are easily testable in real-time experiments, enabling precise evaluation of most hypotheses. The latter, which also encompasses fields like historical geology, paleontology, and cosmology, deals primarily with assumption- and theory-laden interpretations of events that cannot be easily repeated; consequently, it’s difficult to run experiments to test competing hypotheses, and both observational and experimental results are nearly always inconclusive, as the results can be interpreted in multiple theoretical frameworks. To Nye, it’s a complete contradiction for one to disagree with molecules-to-man evolution and yet get a flu shot or use a computer. But what if the research being challenged were string theory rather than evolution? Would Nye think it fair for a string theorist to rebut challengers by arguing that string theory is unassailable science, and anyone using the Internet, reading weather forecasts, getting a flu shot, etc., must be tacitly accepting of it?
  3. Related to our previous point is the question-begging way in which Nye consistently refers to evolution. Kids not accepting evolution is the same, to Nye, as “kids not believing in science”; he says much the same about all creationists. Creationists deny evolution—which he describes as the way the world “is,” not simply a theory that most scientists accept. This is a far easier way out, of course, than engaging creation as a unique perspective; why bother dealing with creationists’ critiques when you can simply play the trump card of “that’s not how the world is”?

Overall, Nye’s attitude toward young-earth creationists is typical of what we’ve seen from other prominent evolutionists over the years: no indication of awareness of or engagement with actual creationist views, the unquestioning comparison of evolutionary theory to modern technology and undisputed fields of science, and a refusal to acknowledge that any qualified scientists reject molecules-to-man evolution. Sadly, this sort of ignorance, misperception, and inaccuracy appears all the time in mainstream portrayals of creationists, and it usually goes uncorrected.

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