If you haven't heard about it, about a month ago, Bill Nye released a video, as part of the Big Think series, and it made quite a stir. Bill was asking people who deny evolution and instead believe in Creationism — the idea that the world was created only 6,000 to 10,000 years ago — to not pass on that belief to their children.
I don't know how many people Mr. Nye will actually convince with his video, but I understand the quest he has undertaken and I support his efforts.
Contrary to some interpretations of his message, Bill is not saying that people should not to teach their children the biblical creation story. His goal in making that video — discussed in a later CNN interview — was to talk about tax dollars meant for science education instead being used to promote ideas that undermine the basic precepts of science. He is objecting to the creation story being taught in science class as a serious alternative to what our scientific efforts have shown us to be consistent — that the Earth is over 4.5 billions years old, and that life on this planet has evolved over those billions of years into what it is today.
This subject touches on some sensitive areas, though, because many people hold their religious beliefs to be very dear to them, but his point is a valid one. Teaching children about creationism is not wrong. Teaching children alternative ideas is not wrong. However, taking time in science class, to discuss alternative ideas that are not science — ideas that do not follow the scientific method and are not parsimonious, testable and falsifiable — is not only wasting tax-payer dollars that are meant for science education, but is potentially creating confusion in children's minds about what is and isn't science.
A big part of the controversy is Bill Nye's status as "The Science Guy". For years he has been a beloved children's science educator, and a role model for many kids who want to pursue science. For many, he is now using that status to challenge their right to their beliefs and their right to pass on those beliefs to their children.
I'm sure that Bill is very aware of his status, and I'm sure it played a large part in his decision to make the video. His message may be interpreted as an attack, but he is clearly concerned for the future. He speaks specifically about the United States, but it applies to any technologically-advanced nation, Canada included. In order for society to advance, we need properly educated scientists and engineers, who have no confusion about what does and does not constitute science, who know how to recognize valid scientific evidence, and how apply the evidence to further the science. If children lose perspective on what science is or believe that fundamental principles of science can be swept aside because those principles do not agree with religious faith, it weakens their education, and it weakens the entire generation's ability to compete in the world.
His response, when asked whether this video will hurt his reputation as a science educator and cause people to turn away from him as "The Science Guy":
"Shooting the messenger isn't going to change the science."