When Bill Nye the “Science Guy” debates the founder of Kentucky’s Creation Museum on Tuesday, he will be defending science and reason against the anti-scientific culture – a culture prevalent among many Christian fundamentalists and in the Republican Party.
Bill Nye is afraid of creationism. He does not want to see a future where students are scientifically illiterate.
“I say to the grown-ups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it, we need them,” he said.
Ken Ham founded the apologetics ministry, Answers in Genesis, which pushes a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. They believe the world is 6,000 years old and that humans coexisted with the dinosaurs.
In 2007, he opened the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Over 250,000 people visit the museum every year, although that’s a drop from 400,000 in the first year.
Ham believes today’s students have evolution imposed upon them and there is no critical thinking involved.
“We certainly believe students should be allowed to critically analyze evolution. You can’t add millions of years to what the Bible teaches,” he said.
Deborah Haarsma, president of the BioLogos Foundation, whose motto is “science and faith in harmony,” offered a nuanced position about whether the debate should even occur.
“It looks like science versus Christianity and it ignores the people who have accepted the science of evolution and have not let go of their faith,” she said.
According to a Pew Research Poll, “60 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘humans and other living things have evolved over time.'” Compared to other countries’ acceptance of evolutionary theory, though, the United States ranked 33rd out of a surveyed 34 countries, only ahead of Turkey.
Only 43 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement, which is a drop in 11 points since 2009. Among Democrats, 67 percent agreed.
Nye’s concern about children and scientific illiteracy is a salient one. Just this year, laws were introduced in Missouri, Virginia and Oklahoma challenging evolution in public school science curricula, while Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee permit the teaching of “alternatives” to evolution.
“No school board or school administrator may prohibit a teacher in public or nonpublic school from providing instruction on intelligent design or other related topic,” said a new bill South Dakota Senate lawmakers seek to pass.
Certainly, I agree with Ham that school ought to be a bastion of critical thinking for students, but teaching creationism is like giving the Flat Earth Society room at the table with round Earth theory proponents.
I have a fervent belief in the separation of church and state. Introducing creationism alongside evolution in the classroom would constitute a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Aside from that, there is just no scientific basis for creationism.
Unfortunately, anti-science advocacy is nothing new to the Republican Party and Christian fundamentalists. Consider the propagation of the “pray away the gay” camps or climate change denial. Or this case, desiring intelligent design to be taught alongside evolution in the classroom.
Scientific illiteracy is largely the reason for confusion over evolution and the propensity toward anti-science advocacy. One often hears, “It’s not a fact; it’s just a theory.” In other words, the common usage of the term “theory” has the connotation of “abstract thought: speculation,” according to Merriam-Webster’s definition.
On the other hand, a scientific theory, in short, is “a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena,” according to dictionary.com. Essentially, a scientific theory is testable. Creationism is not.
To put it another way, I do not see those in the Christian fundamentalist movement disputing Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation as “just a theory” and offering competing alternatives.
Carl Sagan once said, “We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good.” A literal interpretation of the book of Genesis may feel good, but it is not factual.
I sincerely hope the debate Tuesday will be a fruitful endeavor for Nye and not merely a platform for the spread of inane ideas, like humans frolicking with dinosaurs.
Neither Nye nor Ham is going to change the other’s mind; they have admitted to as much. But I applaud Nye for his efforts in trying to thwart the anti-science narrative.
“The way I work, I can do my best in convincing people because I don’t have to do the convincing. God does the convincing,” Ham said.
Such is the antithesis to critical thinking, which fuels scientific illiteracy, which fuels bad policies.
I am not suggesting for someone to throw out their Bible; just leave it out of the classroom.