By Nathaniel Torrey
Bill Nye, oft remembered as Bill Nye the Science Guy on his educational television series, has stirred up some controversy in recent comments about evolution denial and education on a video for BigThink. The video was posted in March but has recently gone viral on Youtube. He tells us grownups that if we want to deny evolution, “That’s fine but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and tax papers for the future.”
In a later interview on CNN, Nye clarified his point by saying that, “I emphasize again in that video I was talking the use of tax dollars for science education. This is a very important thing if we want to have jobs, if we want the United States to be the world leader, to the innovator, to come up with new inventions.”
Nye’s clarification makes his original point almost redundant. Do I want to pay for an expert in systematic theology to teach me quantum mechanics or a particle physicist to instruct me in Christology? Of course not and, leaving aside any ethical qualms with public education, I especially wouldn’t want tax payer dollars funding any less than excellent instruction.Leaving that aside, there are some troubling underlying assumptions in the BigThink video.
First is Nye’s opinion that if we don’t keep the specter of religion out of the classroom we’ll fall behind in the sciences, and lose in the race of invention. As a result we will decline and become less prosperous as a result. This appears to be a very narrow definition of prosperity and greatness, and I assume he means one of material wealth and comfort that is the result of technology. For a country to be truly great and prosperous in any ultimately meaningful sense, we need more than just “scientifically literate voters and tax payers.” A knowledge of empirical science does not necessarily translate to the prudence needed to pick good leaders. That requires a moral vision in education, something that a book like the Bible most certainly provides. If Nye and others suggest that we should so sanitize the education of our youth such that not only young earth creationism but all religion is unwelcome in education so that the next generation has no source for any compelling moral vision (leaving aside that this is one particular interpretation of Genesis and there have been many Christians even as early as the 4th century A.D. such as St. Augustine of Hippo who have less strictly literal or allegorical readings of that book of the Bible which in no way contradict the findings of empirical science). Quite the contrary—any material prosperity afforded to us by empirical science is worthless without religious insight and meaning.
One might suggest this problem be resolved by saying that evolution should be taught in public schools while religion is taught at home. However, this is precisely what Bill Nye is telling us not to do as well. If parents include any mention of a divine source or deity in regards to the creation of the universe, they stand accused for holding our country back from progress to America’s bright future as an innovator and job producer. It sounds a lot like sacrificing a moral education to science to bring us unparalleled material prosperity the likes of which would make Francis Bacon salivate. If teaching children at home about Faith is the only thing holding us back from some nightmare on the scale of the Tower of Babel, I’m not sure I mind.