Real Science vs. Bill Nye the “Science Guy”
Undeniable vs. Darwin’s Doubt
By Casey Luskin
If you grew up among Generation Xers and Millennials as I did, you probably loved watching Bill Nye the Science Guy on TV. Nye’s offbeat after-school PBS program was a rare combination of humor and education.
Nobody knew there was another side to Bill. Just in the past few years he’s emerged as a celebrity spokesman not just for science — but for intolerant brands of atheism, and other extreme viewpoints. He now pops up everywhere that other celebrities do.
In 2010, he was named “Humanist of the Year” by the American Humanist Society, where he ranted about how we the human species “suck.” Recently he was on the Bill Maher show Real Time and was asked about rising anti-Semitism in Europe. Nye offered the bizarre opinion that European Jews (who have lived in Europe for thousands of years) should “Get to know [their] neighbors.”
As a typical atheist activist, Nye’s big issue is evolution. He’s staked himself out as a hardline critic of Darwin skeptics, including advocates of intelligent design who argue that life emerged on Earth not by chance but was guided by an intelligent agent. He’s got a new book out on the subject, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation.
And guess what? His advocacy of evolutionary science is almost as weak as his grasp of history. I want to show that by comparing Undeniable with a recent book by someone who knows what he’s talking about: Cambridge University-trained philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, author of Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design.
Undeniable promotes the dumbed-down atheistic narrative about how science and religion are forever in conflict. According to Nye, “evolution is not guided by a mind or a plan,” and nature even shows the “lack of evidence of a plan.” For Nye, God is irrelevant since “[e]very other aspect of life that was once attributed to divine intent is now elegantly and completely explained in the context of evolutionary science.”
The book is full of scientific errors. Nye thinks life emerged from inanimate matter. The famous Miller-Urey experiment in 1952, he says, “simulate[d] the conditions on earth in primordial times,” and “produced the natural amino acids.” Actually, it’s been known for decades that the Miller-Urey experiments did not correctly simulate the Earth’s early atmosphere. As an article in the prestigious journal Science explains, “the early atmosphere looked nothing like the Miller-Urey situation.”
Moving along, Nye promotes the unsophisticated argument that humans and apes must share a common ancestor because our gene-coding DNA is only about 1 percent different. Again, he’s wrong. A recent article in Science challenged “the myth of 1%,” suggesting the statistic is a “truism [that] should be retired.”
And if we do share DNA with chimps, so what? Common design can easily explain this, since intelligent agents regularly re-use parts in different systems. Think about wheels on cars and wheels on airplanes.
Nye also promotes an old myth that the human eye is wired backwards and poorly designed. Yet a headline at Scientific American just this month reports, “The Purpose of Our Eyes’ Strange Wiring Is Unveiled.” That purpose lies in “increasing and sharpening our color vision.” As a technical paper put it, the human retina is “an optimal structure designed for improving the sharpness of images.”
I doubt Nye has followed the current evolution debate closely. He apparently thinks anyone who’s not a Darwinian must be a “science denier.” Again, no. The proof is Stephen Meyer’s book.
Darwin’s Doubt is controversial, but it’s also a New York Times bestseller that received respectful, if critical, treatment from Science Magazine and The New Yorker. Harvard geneticist George Church praised it in a jacket cover blurb.
Meyer explains that complex animal life sprang into existence — without precursors in the fossil record — more than 500 million years ago in a mysterious event known to science as the Cambrian explosion. The Cambrian event, which puzzled Charles Darwin himself, is the subject of Darwin’s Doubt.
Meyer shows that mainstream scientific literature has produced many technical papers challenging neo-Darwinian evolution. As for the Cambrian explosion, most paleontologists agree that building all those new types of organisms, in a geological blink of an eye, would require immense volumes of new biological information. Just as computer code doesn’t write itself, neither does the genetic programming in DNA. Meyer explains:
Our uniform experience of cause and effect shows that intelligent design is the only known cause of the origin of large amounts of functionally specified digital information. It follows that the great infusion of such information in the Cambrian explosion points decisively to an intelligent cause.
Bill Nye briefly dismisses the Cambrian explosion with a strange reference comparing the emergence of animal life to smoking a marijuana cigarette. My purpose, though, is not to wade into paleontological details, but simply to highlight a fascinating scientific discussion that Nye grossly distorts.
At the same time that scientists are raising serious challenges to neo-Darwinian evolution, popularizers like Nye tell the public that those who question Darwin want to send us back to the days before electricity.
My Gen-X and Millennial friends would, I think, appreciate knowing the truth. We enjoyed watching Bill Nye do funny science experiments back in the 90s, but 21st century science is leaving Bill Nye, and Charles Darwin, behind.