Over a year ago, Bill Nye engaged in a vigorous debate with the young-earth creationist, Ken Ham. Nye has had an itch ever since, which has annoyed him so much that he wrote a book about it. Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation came out in November last year. As part of the promotion for the book, Nye recently had an interview with National Geographic magazine in late January, “Why Bill Nye Calls Evolution ‘Undeniable’ and Creationism ‘Inane’”.
Now, I could discuss here the whole young-earth creationist versus atheistic evolution debate that started Nye’s crusade in the first place. I will say that I think Nye’s performance in the debate revealed a sort of laziness in the young-earth creationist camp, which was elaborated on in his book. The problem with being as dogmatic as Ham and his associates are, is that you become so sure that you’re right, that you don’t need to wrestle with realities. That’s not just lazy science. It also happens to be rather lazy Biblical theology.
I could discuss here the fact that Nye viciously attacks “Christian creationism” as a general term, in a way that suggests that the only creationist is one who believes in a literal 6-day creation. I must say, that seems somewhat misinformed, as there are plenty of committed, evangelical Christians who are not at all like that, but believe in theistic evolution. For example, Dr Denis Alexander, a world renowned biochemist from Cambridge and committed Christian; or Dr Francis S Collins, the Christian geneticist who led the Human Genome Project, which in 2003 published the first ever completed DNA sequence. I could go on (for a very, very long time) to mention the countless significant members of the scientific community who are Christian and not young-earth creationists, but I’ll won’t. I’ll just say that any person as committed to good research as Bill Nye, cannot be “completely unaware” nor “somewhat misinformed” that people like Dr Alexander and Dr Collins are out there. It seems strange that his 320-page attack on “Christian creationism” never engages with such theistic-evolutionists at all, but rails instead at what amounts to little more than a straw man.
Instead of focussing on those things, though, I want to say, I actually like Bill Nye. I think what he’s done in popularising scientific exploration has been a great achievement. But what I really like about him, is how honest he was in his interview with National Geographic. When asked, “It’s been said that a good way of convincing people of something is to appeal to their emotions. What do you think?”, he replied:
That’s my business! In the book, I purposely spend a lot of time in the first person. The reason is, we find stories compelling. Stories are how we remember things, how we organize things.
I find this wonderfully refreshing, because it’s so honest. One of the things that irritates me immensely about many in the atheistic community, is how determined they are to claim they are being entirely rationalist in their argumentation, even as they use extremely emotional narratives to argue their case. Worse, they often use Christians’ “emotionalism” and commitment to narrative as a weapon, claiming Christians eschew evidence and reason entirely. This creates a false dichotomy, between reason and emotion. The fact is, we are all made up of both. Behind many an atheist’s cold rationalism is a long-seated hurt from their past. And behind many Christian’s claims are hours of careful, rational engagement with the evidence.
I commend Nye for his honesty, and I hope such comments can be used as a springboard for more robust and authentic dialogue between all those in this conversation. Who knows? Maybe he’ll start chatting to Dr Alexander instead. That would be a discussion worth watching.