The Washington Post

It’s about time Bill Nye the Science Guy defends evolution

It’s not easy being Bill Nye the Science Guy.

When Nye told an audience in Waco, Texas in 2006 that the moon reflects light from the sun — which, of course, it does — he was booed, the Waco Tribune reported. Why? He offended some folks who believed he was criticizing Genesis 1:16, which says that “God made two great lights,” the sun and the moon.

Then last weekend he was falsely reported on Twitter to have died, perhaps because of a phony Aug. 23 article in the satirical Onion newspaper that had this headline: “Science Guy Bill Nye Killed In Massive Vinegar/Baking-Soda Explosion.”

Now Nye, a scientist and mechanical engineer who used to host the Disney/PBS science show “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” is in the news again for a video he made in which he says “evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science” and that people who choose to deny it have a “crazy” world view. He also says in the video that if adults choose to deny evolution, that is their business, but they shouldn’t indoctrinate their children.

“We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future,” he said on the video, which initially hit the Internet months ago on but only recently was widely viewed on the website’s YouTube channel.

Nye’s view of evolution isn’t popular with those who believe in one of the various strains of creationist theory, which says that God intervenes or did intervene in the creation and development of life on Earth. “Young Earth Creationists,” for example, believe that God created all life on Earth about 6,000 years ago, and that dinosaurs co-existed with humans.

Unfortunately, Nye muddies his video by saying that one reason people shouldn’t force their kids to believe in creationism is that “we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.” Why couldn’t a creationist be an engineer?

Still, Nye is right when he says that evolution is the fundamental principle underlying all of biological science, and he is right when he says there is no scientific evidence for what is called “creation science.”

Despite some state laws that say teachers should present evolution right alongside creationism, they aren’t world views that compete legitimately in the world of science.

And it’s a good thing that Nye said so. In fact, it would have been better if he had said it back in the 1990s when he hosted the popular science television show, but it’s better late than never.

On the video, Nye says:

Denial of evolution is unique to the United States.... When you have a population of people who don’t believe that, it holds everybody back, really.

Evolution is the fundamental idea in all of life science, in all of biology. 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 going to be a mystery instead of an exciting place.

... Once in a while I get people that .... claim they don’t believe in evolution, and my response generally is, ‘Well, why not?’ Really, why not? Your world just becomes fantastically complicated when you don’t believe in evolution. I mean, here are these ancient dinosaur bones or fossils, here is radioactivity, here are distant stars that are just like our star but at different points in the life cycle.

The idea of deep time, of 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. And I say to the grown-ups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. .. We need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems. It’s just really a hard thing... In another couple centuries, that world view, I’m sure ... just won’t exist. There’s no evidence for it.

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Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.


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