Undeniably Nye.

[Notable New Media]

by Kenneth W. Krause.

Kenneth W. Krause is a contributing editor and “Science Watch” columnist for the Skeptical Inquirer.  Formerly a contributing editor and books columnist for the Humanist, Kenneth contributes regularly to Skeptic as well.  He may be contacted at krausekc@msn.com.

In Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (St. Martin’s 2014), recently-celebrated creationist debater, Bill Nye (“the Science Guy”), has collected a few dozen frustratingly brief essays on a wide variety of scientific topics with special emphasis, of course, on evolution.  Undeniable could inspire very casual readers of full-length non-fiction–if such creatures really exist.  But it might disappoint certain others.

I can’t help but conclude that Nye’s primary motive was to cash in quickly on his recent popularity among science literates and left-leaning political ideologues.  Which is absolutely fine–better him than Oprah’s spawn, for example.  First, he includes precious few references that discriminating and truly curious readers not only crave, but require.  Second, Nye’s opinions on GMOs, for example, were apparently premature.  Indeed, he changed his mind around February of this year, shortly after his visit to Monsanto’s headquarters.  “GMOs are not inherently bad,” he finally concluded in an interview with HuffPost Live. “We are able to feed 7.2 billion people, which a century and a half ago you could barely feed 1 and a half billion people and [it’s] largely because of the success of modern farming.”  True, but why would that fact surprise anyone, let alone Bill Nye?

In any case, Nye remains an exceptional science communicator, perhaps because of his wonderfully geeky bow-tie, or maybe because he claims to empathize with the many religiously-abused deniers of evolution–including his debate opponent, Ken Ham, who still insists that the Earth is no more than 6000 years old.  Nye understands “the troubling nature of the shortness of our lives,” for instance.  But human mortality can either “make you want to listen to old country western songs about how miserable life can be,” he says, “or it can fill you with joy.”

I don’t know about any of that–mortality is a pretty tough nut to crack, regardless of one’s musical tastes.  But Nye’s certainly correct that humans as a species–most individuals excluded, of course–have made great strides in comprehending the objective truths of our existence in just the last 150 of our 100,000 total years on planet Earth–thanks to the methods of science.  “Think what lies ahead for our species,” he prescribes hopefully, “if we preserve biodiversity and raise the standard of living for everyone.”  That could be great, I suppose–depending.  But maybe a great deal to ask of a species whose adult members continue to think of “science” as merely a subject they studied (or not so much) in school.


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