Bill Nye, the Science Warrior

According to John Schwartz‘s profile on him in the New York Times, Bill Nye isn’t just a “science guy” anymore; he’s a science warrior with a massive fan base fed up with science-deniers (which often include religious leaders):

[Nye] takes on those who would demand that the public schools teach alternative theories of evolution and the origins of the earth — most famously, in a video clip from the site BigThink.com that has been viewed some five million times. In it, he flatly tells adult viewers that “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. But don’t make your kids do it, because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

Phil Plait, the creator of the Bad Astronomy blog at Slate.com and a fierce advocate himself, is more like Mr. Nye, willing to take the gloves off in rebutting those who might deny that men landed on the moon, or the evidence for human effects on climate change.

Mr. Plait said admiringly of Mr. Nye, “He will very calmly tear them apart,” adding, “His big advantage is, he’s right. We know that climate change is real. We know creationism is wrong. These are no longer scientific controversies.”

The biggest takeaway from the piece is that Bill Nye is a successful and popular science advocate. Nearly everything he’s saying should not be controversial… yet, you can bet some individuals are going to see this as an anti-Christian article. You know Ken Ham is already writing up his rebuttal piece about how he gets audiences that are also in the thousands… without mentioning that they’re mostly children who were brought there by their parents.

It’s not anti-Christian. It’s just pro-reality. And if those two things are in conflict, reality wins every time.

By the way, you can (and should) see that BigThink video about Creationism below:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Michael W Busch

    Nye does a very good job – and I say that as a professional scientist. He’s also one of the most intelligently funny people I’ve ever met.

    I’ll resist the urge to quote large segments from his show verbatim. He gets enough activity from his fandom when he shows up at science conferences.

  • WallofSleep

    “It’s not anti-Christian. It’s just pro-reality.”

    Word!

    • http://www.processdiary.com Paul Caggegi

      Would prefer to word it “it’s not anti-bullshit it’s pro-reality”. Many xians are not biblical literalists or creationists. We also need them onside.

      • WallofSleep

        I get where you’re coming from, but that doesn’t quite work. “pro-reality” is “anti-bullshit”, really.

        • http://www.processdiary.com Paul Caggegi

          You’re probably right. We need wording which doesn’t make it seem as tho we want to make atheists. We want to illustrate that science is a pursuit for anyone regardless of beliefs which are separate. Kinda like an optional extra.

          • bigcheeese

            That wording would be “It’s not anti-religion, it’s pro-reality.”

            A wording that conveys that you want them all to stop believing in their religion would be, I don’t know, somehting completely aggresive, like “it’s not anti-bullshit, it’s pro-reality.”

      • bigcheeese

        That really wouldn’t work, because it IS anti-bullshit.

        But worse than that, wording it your way completely defeats the purpose of the sentence, which is to reassure christians that teaching evolution is not an attack on their religion, but rather an aknowledgment of reality.

        Telling those who are worried the goal is not to teach unbiased science but rather to attack their beliefs, that their beleifs are bullshit, will not do anything to alleviate it.

      • TCC

        Actually, that should be exactly the wording we should use to engage with more thoughtful theists – that is, to persuade them that evolution is not anti-Christian (and therefore something they should oppose) but pro-reality (and thus something they should support). How you think that this wording will push away potential Christian allies is beyond me.

      • DavidalBarron

        “If you think it’s anti-Christian, you’re not pro-reality.”

  • A3Kr0n

    I’m with Bill!

  • sara

    I was the wrong age to be a proper fan of his show, but I am a huge fan of Bill Nye the Science Warrior.

    • curtcameron

      I’m also the wrong age to be a proper fan of the show. By the time it started, I had already been married for ten years with no kids.

    • allein

      Yeah, I was more the Mr. Wizard generation. Bill Nye’s show started the same year I finished high school.

  • Matt Bowyer

    Go Bill! Watched his show in science class in school. Those were my favorite class periods….

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      I thought he was over the top and too cheesy at the time, but rewatching some of them, younger-me was wrong. They’re awesome.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        That’s been my experience, too. Then again, I’ll happily watch classic Sesame Street, too. (So many Parental Bonuses!)

  • Heathen Mike

    I love Bill Nye! He’s persuasive because he focuses on clearly explaining factual reality, on stripping away the basis on which devout theists deny scientific truth, rather than on directly attacking anyone for their choice to identify as religious.
    It’s like the bumper sticker on my car, which says: “For God so loved the world, he sent Darwin to explain it.” Since “God” is a fabrication, a representation of whatever concepts people want “him” to be, you can invite more thoughtful theists to consider the facts of the universe and the possibility that physics, chemistry, etc. logically make things go without any need for direct guidance and “adjustment” or “steering” from any deity. You can introduce this idea without the more thoughtful theists feeling attacked; without them reacting defensively against reason. Go Bill!

  • Rain

    Sorry but Bill Nye only uses one hand, whereas Neil deGrasse Tyson implements the “full two hand” theory.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzSMC5rWvos

  • I_Remain_Skeptical

    “The evidence for human effects on climate change…These are no longer scientific controversies.”

    I’m an atheist who is still skeptical of our impact on climate change.

    • MrRoivas

      I’m sorry that you’re wrong.

    • baal

      The shear volume of lies coming out of the heartland Institute and other Koch Bros. funded groups gives you a leg to hop on. If you’ve actually looked at the science, however, it’s a settled issue and you’re doing it wrong if you’re still not convinced.

    • Michael W Busch

      I’m an atheist who is still skeptical of our impact on climate change.

      You are very wrong to be skeptical of something that is so well-established – being “skeptical of our impact on climate change” is equivalent to denying of all of physics. That’s because the basic process of anthropogenic climate change is very simple:

      1. We added a bunch of CO2 to the atmosphere. How much has been added has been measured very accurately for the last 55 years or more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keeling_Curve .

      2. CO2 absorbs infrared light at wavelengths that the other gases present in the atmosphere do not. You can derive this from the principles of quantum mechanics with a bit of work; or you can just do the experiment – look at a heat lamp with a spectrometer with a gas cell in between.

      3. Adding more IR absorber to the atmosphere decreases the fraction of heat that escapes from the surface directly to space, warming the planet. This is verified every time anyone uses an insulator to keep something warm.

      None of that is disputable. And considering just the CO2 we’ve added to the atmosphere, you can work out that the Earth is currently being heated by an extra ~1.6 W or so for every square meter of surface (as compared to 380 W/m^2 from incoming sunlight). That’s enough to warm the planet by ~0.15 C / decade, quite close to what is observed. e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Radiative-forcings.svg , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change . The arguments in climate change research right now focus on the other smaller corrections to that number, and the likely effects of warming the planet by that much that quickly.

      You appear to have confused “skeptical” with “not believing things regardless of the evidence”. Please do not make that mistake.

      • blah

        I’m confused by your usage of the the term “every square meter of surface.” Are we talking about the earth’s surface or the surface of the atmosphere? When does this “surface” begin and end?

        Also, you do know that your numbers are rounded right? If you take the raw data and perform the calculations, then there is actually a net loss in temperatures. When conveniently rounded, there is an increase of .15˚C.

        Maybe the ultimate source of wisdom that you quote that is a wikipedia page about climate change (give me a break!) forgot to mention that or else its very own existence would implode on itself.

        Besides, I why does everyone just assume a) that climate change is a bad thing? b) That it is desirable to avoid it? c) Increased CO2 is the cause rather than cosmological cycles are the sole cause for it?

        You are aware that the biggest “proponent” for climate change doesn’t give a darn, lives in an incredibly energy inefficient mansion and is raking in the money on anything that uses the word “green” in it that makes you think it’s better than the other products. Al Gore LOVES climate change!

        • Michael W Busch

          I’m confused by your usage of the the term “every square meter of surface.”

          The Earth has a surface area 5.1 x 10^14 m^2. The excess heating from anthropogenic climate change is currently 8.15 x 10^14 W. We ratio the two because that tells us how fast things are going to heat up. Most of the heating happens at and near the surface, because it is from the mismatch between the amount of sunlight that hits the surface and the amount of IR that the surface radiates that manages to get through the atmosphere to space. It also takes very little energy to heat up the entire atmosphere – about as much as it takes to heat up the upper 3 meters of ocean by the same amount.

          If you take the raw data and perform the calculations, then there is actually a net loss in temperatures.

          That is a lie. I have provided an approximation, but there is no way to take a positive number rounded to two significant digits and get a negative one.

          The global average temperature has risen by 0.45 C over the past 30 years, and 0.75 C since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The rate of warming accelerates as more excess greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere.

          You can get the data from Wikipedia, who got it from the IPCC and a bunch of other people, and look for yourself. I cited Wikipedia only to avoid having to give a thousand different links.

          a) that climate change is a bad thing? b) That it is desirable to avoid it? c) Increased CO2 is the cause rather than cosmological cycles are the sole cause for it?

          Those are not assumptions, they are conclusions based on the available data. In order: a. Because our entire society is designed to function in the current climate, and abrupt climate changes are very expensive to accommodate (relocating-two-billion-people expensive). b. See (a). c. I already explained that. Stop denying physics.

          And no, there are no “proponents for climate change”. There are only people who understand its reality at some level. That one of them is a rich politician is an irrelevant ad hominem. That ten thousand of them are professional climate scientists who have understood the problem since before Al Gore graduated elementary school is more important.

          • blah

            Thank you for the reply Michael. Two more questions for my education here: What is considered an abrupt climate change?

            I don’t really believe that .45˚C in 30 years is “abrupt”. You’re talking about less than half a degree in a generation’s time. I don’t think we have to move 2 billion people tomorrow away from the coasts.

            Also, you didn’t address my original question about cycles, but I also wasn’t very specific. From my limited understanding, I have taken that the sun has several different cycles taking place. One of which is that the radius fluctuates and therefore distance b/w earth and the sun also fluctuates. Could this also influence the rising temperatures? I won’t say that I’m against believing in climate change. I’d say that I’m skeptical on a few points: the magnitude of it’s rate of change, the cause (treating it like there’s one exclusive reasoning behind it, which seems a bit too simplistic) and the dire outcome in which all the world’s cities are going to be under water anytime soon.

            If the current climate models were accurate, then why don’t they fit well with concerning previous recorded data, aka predicting the past? Thanks, this will be my last comment as I’m interested in the topic but admittedly I don’t know enough about the subject yet.

            • Michael W Busch

              I don’t really believe that .45˚C in 30 years is “abrupt”.

              It is when compared to natural climate variations. That’s why the global temperature history looks like a hockey stick – temperature changes that usually happen on the timescale of 1000 years or more have happened in less than a century.

              We don’t need to move everyone tomorrow, but the costs are adding up already – it’s not just sea level rise, it’s also changes in weather patterns and crop yields and disease transmission.

              From my limited understanding, I have taken that the sun has several different cycles taking place. One of which is that the radius fluctuates and therefore distance b/w earth and the sun also fluctuates. Could this also influence the rising temperatures?

              No. Milkanovich cycles are long term – they produce ice ages on timescales of tens of thousands of years. It happens that there are shorter-term and smaller variations in the amount of light the Sun puts out and in the climate system on the Earth – the last one of those was the erroneously-named Little Ice Age. But those are still less rapid and far smaller in amplitude than the current anthropogenic climate change. And it happens that absent our fouling up the climate, natural variations would have Earth currently be several decades into a slight cooling phase – directly opposite the warming that has happened.

              the cause (treating it like there’s one exclusive reasoning behind it, which seems a bit too simplistic)

              There is exactly one cause – humans. There is also exactly one potential solution – humans. The details are complex. The causality is not.

              the dire outcome in which all the world’s cities are going to be under water anytime soon

              No one predicts that (there is only so much ice to be melted and water only expands so much when heated). The predictions are “sea level will rise by 50 cm or more in the next century, and a few meters in the next few hundred years” and “changes in weather patterns will endanger the food supply of a third of the population of the world”.

              If the current climate models were accurate, then why don’t they fit well with concerning previous recorded data

              They do. That’s how we know they work. Again, you need to go and actually learn the science. And again, you can learn all of this from Wikipedia and its sources. The climate change articles are well-maintained.

              • blah

                Some citations would be super useful to me, rather than just saying “go learn it.” What are some resources for seeking out such info? Thanks.

                • Michael W Busch

                  I provided the links to some of the relevant articles on Wikipedia. Scroll down to the bottom of each article, and you will find a list of references.

                • blah

                  I see those now. Thanks sir!

  • Ginger

    Bill Nye is awesome

  • Blacksheep

    Truth is truth. If science points out a FACT, it’s up to Christians to admit that we have interpreted something incorrectly. That doesn’t mean we’re not comfortable in gray areas, where God’s invisible hand might play a part.

  • blah

    Yes, Bill Nye is entertaining. It’s just that his pseudo science is not.

    • Michael W Busch

      Nye does not advocate pseudoscience. He advocates science, and does it very well. He does not understand all of the details, and often simplifies, but that is a consequence of working to make the material accessible to a general audience.

    • RobMcCune

      “I like him until his facts intrude on my preconceived notions”

  • blah

    So after watching the recommended video, if I’m only going on what he just said: His evidence for evolution is that time is big?!?! I’m failing to connect the dots with how the life-cycle of a star requires evolution to be true.

    Is his brain fried or is he just tired? He doesn’t seem quite with it.

    There are plenty of questions out there that evolution cannot or at least currently does not explain. To say evolution is the end-all be-all is stupid. Mr. Nye, the universe IS a complicated place. Stop trying to simplify and dumb it down. Evolution is a model to explain observed changes over time. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a model in the sciences that could exhaustively and accurately explain any concept. Why is the evolution model 100% correct?

    Look at the pre-1920s model of the atom. Protons and neutrons in the middle, electrons circle around the nucleus like a little solar system. Uhm. It’s not wrong, it’s just not quite complete so why is THAT model still being taught at the middle and *gulp*, even in some high school settings?

    Models are tools. They help explain portions of truth, but have a VERY difficult time explaining all aspects of truth. Take the pros and cons when thinking about maps vs globes. A map of the world is very useful and does a great job of showing all of the places of earth simultaneously. a) It’s not accurate though as the distances are skewed since earth is not flat b) Why are most world maps centered around the western world with everyone else on edges? While a globe is a bit more accurate, but not any more useful depending on what characteristics of earth you are studying. You can’t see the entire world at a given time.

    So, my point is that ALL models have limitations and that the world IS a VERY complicated place.

    Luckily for him I’m a science teacher and my wife is a DANG good engineer and our family knows science quite well and understands that any model: evolution, creationism, climate change, the atom etc. is limited in scope and only explains partially how a certain aspect functions.

    I greatly appreciate what Bill Nye does for the youth of today, but to put himself on such a high pedestal and to say that he knows how the world works and has all the answers about every science topic seems a bit ambitious to me. He should continue to be an advocate for science education. He should not try to make such large-blanket statements such as his opening one. Really, there are no other skeptics of evolution in anywhere else in the world but here? I’m impressed at his data collecting skills!

    • Michael W Busch

      If you are indeed a science teacher, you need to learn more science – I say that as a professional planetary scientist.

      If you are denying the facts of evolution and climate change with the “our understanding of them is incomplete” line, you are not teaching science well. The line is true but irrelevant to the facts – the data is not the model, and certain sets of data only allow certain models.

      Also: Creationism is not a model. It is a religious idea that does not produce useful models of the universe, because they boil down to “god did it” without having any explanatory or predictive power.

      • blah

        Maybe I’m not teaching it well. I don’t think science has all the answers is all. To think that seems a bit arrogant I believe. Are you saying that our understanding of the universe is complete?

        I teach science as a “tool” to understanding our surroundings. It is a process. To teach anything different would be to say that religion, philosophy, the arts, etc are meaningless. If you are saying that, then you are following scientism.

        I believe science is valuable, but it may or may not be the end all be all. To believe that is no scientism. Science is a common sense way to study the universe, is very useful. Scientism, is a philosophical assumption that limits and censors any every view that refers to observations or explanations involving the non-material.

        I never once said that I don’t believe in evolution at some level. But, you have to admit that Darwinian evolution can only explain changes that have some kind of organisms to start with. Where did they come from?

        Please, in your best science explanation, tell me where the creativity to create something that has never existed before comes from? What is consciousness? What is imagination? What is love? Why do we love some people and not others?

        • Michael W Busch

          Are you saying that our understanding of the universe is complete?

          No. But large sets of models are contradicted by the available evidence. To tell the students otherwise is wrong. You present the facts, explain the methods, show how the process of science works, and describe the best current understanding. Science is both a set of tools and an accumulated body of knowledge. You need to teach both accurately.

          Scientism, is a philosophical assumption that limits and censors any every view that refers to observations or explanations involving the non-material.

          There is no evidence for anything that is non-material (in the sense of being made up of fundamental particles – some of those particles don’t have mass). When we discover something new about the universe, that is just us getting a better understanding of the material world.

          More generally: by definition, anything that interacts with the observable universe in any detectable way is subject to scientific investigation. Scientism in that sense is not an assumption, but a definition.

          But, you have to admit that Darwinian evolution can only explain changes that have some kind of organisms to start with. Where did they come from?

          Abiogenesis ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis ). The chemistry there is well-constrained, although the exact details of what happened on Earth remain unknown. The basic process is simple: a set of chemicals became self-catalyzing, enabling their own production. Those chemical systems that were most effective at doing so spread throughout the environment, out-competing other chemical systems. Then evolution (in the neo-Darwinian synthesis sense) took over.

          Please, in your best science explanation, tell me where the creativity to create something that has never existed before comes from? What is consciousness? What is imagination? What is love? Why do we love some people and not others?

          Answer to all of those: neurochemistry – very complex, but entirely natural. This is quite abundantly demonstrated. e.g. I can be rendered unconscious by playing games with my neurotransmitters. The other examples you gave are more complex. Long-term attachment in humans is a complicated interaction of many different things, notably including oxytocin and vasopressin secretion in the brain ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_basis_of_love ). If you want more details, go learn something about neurochemistry, and neuroscience in general. Once again, Wikipedia has accessible summaries and a long list of references: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience .

          Edit: Much of what you have been saying falls under the logical fallacy known as “argument from incredulity” ( http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argument_from_incredulity ). Don’t do that.


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