Artwork via THE DAILY OMNIVORE
BY JONATHAN VALANIA On November 9th, the Franklin Institute will host a conversation between Maiken Scott, host of WHYY’s The Pulse and Bill Nye, bow-tied science communicator, advocate for reason and critical thinking skills, wouldbe astronaut, bane of creationists and climate science denialists, not to mention superstitious kooks and cranks of every ideological stripe. Recently, we got Dr. Nye on the horn. DISCUSSED: Why he believes in evolution and you should too, Carl Sagan, marijuana, why he wouldn’t sign up for the one-way trip to colonize Mars, why better batteries and sea water de-salinization technology are crucial to the survival of the human race, the moral cowardice of climate science denialism, the societal dangers of literal interpreters of the Bible, whether or not UFOs have been visiting Earth and probing the rectums of rednecks, why GMOs make him nervous, and why he is the U.S. patent holder for the ballet slipper.
PHAWKER: You recently published a book called Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. Let’s play devil’s advocate and pretend I’m a creationist: Give me your elevator pitch as to why I should believe in evolution.
BILL NYE: It’s not something you believe in or not; it’s a fact of nature. I would ask you, “Why don’t you believe in Evolution? What makes you think that the Earth could somehow be 6,000 years old? What made you think, for example, that a book written about 5,000 years ago that has been translated a number of times [and for hundreds of years was stored on nothing more reliable than people’s memories — The Ed.]. What makes you think the information in there is more scientifically reasonable than everything we can observe in nature?
PHAWKER: Every Sunday, my minister says it’s so.
BILL NYE: Well, I strongly encourage you to look at the facts: How could we have light from distant stars that are clearly more than 6,000 light-years away, that are only 6,000 years old? How could we have radioactive elements incorporated in frozen lava flows, if the radioactive elements weren’t chemically the same as the calcium and sodium that they replaced? What entity would rig it up so all of those systems would not work? It’s magical thinking, and I find it completely unreasonable, especially since we’re talking on the phone, which depends in every way on our understanding of science. How can you accept all of this technology without accepting the way that works?
PHAWKER: That’s true. If Alexander Graham Bell was a creationist, we probably wouldn’t be able to have this argument over the phone, would we?
BILL NYE: No. That’s interesting to me.
PHAWKER: One more question in the area of evolution and we’ll move on to some other topics— Evolution seems entirely understandable and reasonable, up until you reduce it to the very beginning. The only difficulty I personally have as far as grasping all of this is, how is it when you go back to the very beginning, to the Big Bang, how is it that something came out of nothing? Which is what happened, according to most scientists. For eons, there was nothing. Then — BOOM! — there was something, which was the beginning of the universe.
BILL NYE: How do you know there was nothing?
PHAWKER: Don’t we have to assume that was the case? Are you saying there’s always been something, the universe has always been here? Is that what you’re saying?
BILL NYE: I’m saying that whatever happened before the Big Bang we don’t understand. We know that something happened before the Big Bang. We just don’t know what that is. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The fundamental difference between my side of it and the creationist side of it is that just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Because it’s really hard to get your head around four and a half billion years doesn’t mean there weren’t four and a half billion years [between the beginning of Earth and now]. There were four and a half billion years. The thing about science is that we don’t know drives us forward, instead of making us cower in the corner.