An Open Letter to Bill Nye on Creationism | By Sydney Rudko

Hey Bill, I saw your video on why creationism is bad for children. I’m a scientist too, albeit I’m a bit younger than you, and I wear a little less concealer. Despite our inherent differences, I totally get why you made this video.

It’s an election year in the USA, and as always in the media the campaign has boiled down to a showdown between baby-killers and bible-thumpers. Fox News is slinging poo at MSNBC, and terms like Obamunism are making it onto Webster’s new word short list. Chaos abounds as the poor are hating the rich, the rich are vacationing in the South of France, and the average American doesn’t care enough to vote. I understand, it’s a confusing time for everyone involved, but you really missed the mark with this video. It makes me a little sad to see my childhood idol slinging poo at the religious folks.

Your message isn’t the problem. Kids should be educated in science and in evolution. Evolution is a fact and it needs to be taught in schools as such. The issue I have with your video is the delivery. I understand the need to be controversial in the hyper-politicized heat wave you all have been experiencing in the US of late, but this video doesn’t pave the way for a more open dialogue about evolution in schools. If anything, this is ammunition in the hands of school boards and religious institutions to argue against teaching evolution.

The flashy title “Creationism is not appropriate for children” is grossly over sensationalized. I understand that that was the point, that’s how you get a million hits on YouTube. Nonetheless, the statement has the same effect on religious people as the statement “equal pay for women is wrong” has on me. A statement like this backs people into a corner, it puts them on edge, and it breeds negativity and hostility. Statements like these are why people don’t trust scientists. It perpetuates a stereotype that scientists are all-knowing and elitist and should therefore be distrusted. This stereotype is the entire reason people don’t listen to scientists! No one likes to be told they’re dumb, and that’s exactly what you’re doing.

Sure, scientifically literate people on the Internet are rallying to your cause, but the people you really need to convince are the ones who have already decided you’re out of touch. And fine, you can argue that this video created some kind of a dialogue through its inherent controversy, but I feel like an Internet flame war rarely leads to social change.

The way the evolution “debate” is handled by scientists infuriates and disgusts me. When I sit at my bench during the day and do science I am constantly reminded and humbled by how little I know about the world around me. This fascinates me and drives me to learn more, discover more, and observe more. As people who are literate in science we need to spread the joy we get from discovering we were wrong, and the passion we have for learning something new. We can’t point our fingers at others and say, “You’re wrong!” even if we know they are, because its hypocritical. How many times have you been incorrect in a hypothesis? More importantly, if you were ridiculed for it, called stupid, and been shamed, would you have ever learned?

Instead, we need to teach our children to be skeptics. If you want a scientifically literate populous we need to teach our children to question everything they’re told, whether that be creationism or evolution, government legislation or overseas trade.  It is legislation like the anti-critical thinking policy by the Republicans in Texas that needs to be stopped. If our kids are taught to question everything, it won’t matter if they’re told about creationism in the classroom; once they’re done asking questions about it they won’t believe it anyway.

I’ll have to give you an A+ for effort here Bill, but an F in public relations.

Sydney is a 4th year Honours Immunology and Infection student with a passion for science and writing. Follow her on twitter @SPResistant

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  • Anonymous

    ‘We can’t point our fingers at others and say, “You’re wrong!” even if we know they are, because its hypocritical.’

  • Here in TN, they have taken steps though new legislation to allow creationism back into the classroom. This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/04/pulpit-in-classroom-biblical-agenda-in.html with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

  • Michael

    There is nothing hypocritical about insisting that the information taught to children in schools be based on a more rigorous epistemology than “because I say so”. This issue is not about who is right or wrong, it’s about whether children should be taught that ideas with no basis in evidence are on par with ideas that are based upon incredibly strong evidence.

    Nye never once ridiculed anyone’s beliefs in that video. He never called them stupid, foolish, or silly – he only identified them as exactly what they are: self-inconsistent, untenable, fundamentally obstructive to a clear understanding of the current state of biology, and not suitable to be taught to children as though they were anything but. The title of the video is in no way sensationalized, it is perfectly, if brutally, accurate. If any of what was said sounds like ridicule, it is only because the beliefs in question are actually so inconsistent with the current state of available evidence that it is impossible to realistically address them as alternatives to evolutionary theory.

    The people Nye is calling out here are not the wounded, mocked individuals who have been set on edge or backed into a corner that you have characterized. They are the ignorant who refuse to be taught, who insist they are right without considering (or by denying) evidence, and who demand the right to pass that ignorance on to their children. These are not people who will teach their children to be skeptics or critical thinkers (as even you suggest they should). They will teach their children to be blind followers, just as they are. Fighting against creationism and fighting for skepticism are one and the same battle.