Interview with Bill Nye The Science Guy

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Earlier this year, a debate took place between Bill Nye the Science Guy and creationist Ken Ham at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. The debate was watched by millions and raised questions about the merits of creationism and whether scientists can still believe in God. (Nye says God, sure, but not creationism). Since then, Nye has written a book in response to that debate called “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation.” He joined Press Play’s Madeleine Brand to talk about it. (Note: This is an automatically generated transcript in partnership with PopUp Archive. It’s been lightly edited, but is not 100 percent accurate.)

MADELEINE BRAND: Tell me. Now did this whole crazy debate is over. And it got tons and tons of attention. How do you feel about it? Do you feel like it was a good idea to debate him?

BILL NYE: Yes because it’s raised awareness of this extraordinary point of view in our midst and my concern as I’ve said many times is not for Mr Ham. He’s not going to be reachable. My concern is there are relentless diligent efforts to indoctrinate kids in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and environs around the world, and they have quizzes and lesson plans and books and D.V.D.’s and what have you and curriculum materials for this worldview or Natural History that’s obviously wrong. And when you get these ideas in your head before you’re ten years old. They’re very hard to unseat. So we had a very compelling study back in the day doing the science guy show, ten years old is about as old as you can be to get the lifelong passion for science.

MB: You mean after that, you’re finished?

BN: After that you may have an interest in science or whatever it is. But you get the passion for it before you’re ten. Ten. Maybe it’s eleven. It ain’t seventeen, people. Thing is, here’s why it matters; what keeps the United States in the game economically what allows us to have success is not our manufacturing. Our manufacturing is not unimportant – cars airplanes – you know Boeing is a big company, for example. But it’s our ability to innovate, our ability to come up with new ideas new products new ways of doing things. And so for that you need a scientifically literate populace. And I always like to say you need engineers, and engineers use science to make things and solve problems.

MB: OK. Which brings me to a point that Ken Ham raised. And he said in your debate that a number of scientists are also creationists. Can you be both. Can you believe that the Earth as we know it was created in six days six thousand years ago and still be a scientist?

BN: I don’t think you could be an especially good one. There’s no working physicist who really believes the Earth is six thousand years old.

MB: But you can believe in God and still there after just one thing.

BN: They are two different things. Religion is a completely different thing from the claim that the Earth is six thousand years old. That’s just crazy. Maybe I shouldn’t use that word is just extraordinary and obviously wrong.

MB: And yet you did debate him for two plus hours. So in a sense you sort of took him seriously by spending that amount of time debating him.

BN: Well. So keep in mind that the audience there was mostly his followers not entirely but mostly. But my audience was online – millions of views that thing has had. What is the reason to do it. And I hope and I’ve met many science teachers who say they use it in class. And here’s my claim. My audience was not him. I was not going to change his mind. My audience was online and I just want people, voters and taxpayers, especially in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, to pay attention to this because he and his organization are working very hard to indoctrinate kids to, if I may use the expression, educationally debilitate them. Certainly their science literacy.  They won’t have science science literacy. And so they won’t be able to make good judgments about Ebola or climate change. And by the way Mr. Ham and his followers deny climate change assiduously. And that is bad for everyone. So drawing attention to those guys is why I did it and people in the Commonwealth of Kentucky have the ability or the chance to change the rules. Ken Ham and his followers hope to get Commonwealth of Kentucky tax dollars. Because they’re going to bring in tourists.

MB: Because they are building this Noah’s Ark?

BN: The Ark Park and the Creation Museum — and by the way the word museum. There’s no artifacts in that museum. It’s an unusual use of that word. There’s no pencil from the Titanic that we recovered from that with the submarine.

MB: You talk a lot about natural selection and perhaps someone like Stephen Hawking would not have survived Natural Selection a few centuries ago or even a few decades ago. I want you to talk a little bit about how our scientific and medical advances have changed our life expectancy and the way we exist on this planet.

BN: So I had an appendectomy. I should be dead, but I live, I was born in a tribe that has traditions of taking out infected appendices. In the same way. I was born in a tribe that taught me algebra. It’s human. If you just take a single human and put him or her in the forest he or she might not do very well without some sort of education which he got or she got from some tribe. So Stephen Hawking, and I know what you mean, is an extreme case but he’s here because the tribe supported him and the tribe has benefited from his presence. And so by the tribe I mean humankind.

MB: Do you think we are in effect altering our biological destiny with our scientific achievements.

BN: I would clearly say yes. When you include Stephen Hawking. In your tribe and he makes discoveries about the cosmos. And this is just on the edge of what we can even imagine. That is a worthy thing. That’s like that’s a great thing for humankind to do. To allow poor people to not get medical attention and die needlessly to have a village in the country of South Africa – there are kids who have never seen a magnet. Do we have a responsibility to engage them and bring them all the scientific knowledge that allows us to have radio shows? Yes we can have radio by everybody without magnets.

MB: Why do you think. There is a large proportion of the American public in perhaps the public elsewhere who don’t believe in evolution who don’t.

BN: Well here’s a thing about that expression. Evolution is not something you can believe in or not believe in like do you believe in gravity. I mean this is argument by analogy which is the weakest form of argument give you that. But the word theory and you’ve heard this probably million times. The thing about a theory in science is it allows you make predictions. Evolutionary theory allows us to predict what apples will taste good next harvest. That’s all a result of what dog will emerge when you breed. One shape with another. So people who don’t accept evolution is more it’s worth a further evidence that I have failed. This is to say as a science educator – evolution is the fact of life. But. Many people do not adhere to that fact of life and in your in. Your debate.

BN: So we’re working on it the longest journey starts with a single step.

MB: Well the question is. You’ve just illustrated the advancements and then the advantages of believing in scientific progress law and using the scientific method using the scientific method and therefore accepting evolution as a fact. And yet many people including our former president do not accept evolution as fact. Why?

BN: Because our science education systems not been successful. And this is an irony for us on the other side. You guys use your cell phones. You get your crops raised using satellite data you. If the weather report is off six hours you start complaining. And yet there’s the fundamental idea in all of life science that you don’t exactly except electro magnetism which allows us to create electricity. You accept that different elements have different numbers of protons or whatever it is in nature that we reckon as protons, you accept all that. But then you won’t accept the fundamental idea in biology. Like if I may, dude, that’s inappropriate. And so it’s it’s a struggle. And it’s a fight. And that’s why I took on this debate. That’s why I went in there and this is important work because when I was a kid I went to the World’s Fair in New York City and the United Nations total Board reported that the human population. A just surpassed 3 billion people. Well a couple days ago we got to 7.2 billion people. So in my lifetime it’s more than doubled.  And that’s the problem we have all these people burning and breathing on the Earth and we are affecting the world’s climate. And along with that we’ve been able to carry people along who do not accept everybody benefits. The whole tribe is benefiting from our scientific understanding but not everybody is accepting it. There are school systems influenced by people. Who do not accept evolution. And they’re influential enough to exclude schoolchildren. And it is a vicious cycle. And this is where the creationists are very troubling for me because I don’t think they grasp what’s at stake if the United States doesn’t have scientifically literate kids. We are headed for economic decline.

MB: So and you’re saying that if you don’t accept the fact of evolution and the fact that this is this the earth is four and a half billion years old not six thousand years old then forget about the rest of scientific inquiry.

BN: No, you have a fundamental inconsistency that you have to reckon. And that’s your problem. Just don’t make your kids do it. As I so often say I feel that in that debate. Getting back to that. Just from a objective point of view. Like if you had the head of the law school there and the head of the English department. There’s probably an ethics professor. And they are the judges you know. And then there’s somebody you might have the head of the theater department like who was the better who waved his arms better. Then I feel that in that debate I won, I bested him from the traditional debate rules. Who made the better points. Whose points were not refuted who changed the subject of things that had nothing to it were.I think that I beat him. It’s part of a process. It’s not something you’re going to turn around in a day. So why people don’t accept evolution I think is passed on from generation to generation. And that’s why it’s so important to curtail that as much as possible. And I’ve you know I respect Ken Ham in his passion or his apparent passion. But we just we don’t want to raise a generation of students who is shocked to learn that Ebola viruses change, that you’ve got to get a flu shot every year that crops are not delicious apples or galas or braeburns do not come from the sky humans figure that stuff out very diligently. People who breed wheat have gene sequencing machines. That’s how it’s done. And you should. We’re thankful for that. Way to go and it’s all evolution.

MB:  Thank you.

BN: Thank you Madeleine.