Thanks to Our Man in Scotland, we recently read some comments on American creationism from “The Science Guy,” Bill Nye. Though we at ILYBYGTH don’t defend young-earth creationism, we do hope to understand it on its own terms. In that task, mainstream scientists like The Science Guy often seem uniquely unhelpful.
In a bit from February on Big Think, the well known TV science popularizer had some harsh words for those who believe in a young earth. Only when we understand the extreme age of the universe, Nye charged, does the story of life on Earth make sense. Those who try to stick to a young earth make things “fantastically complicated,” Nye insisted. “The idea of deep time,” Nye explained, ”of this billions of years, explains so much of the world around us. If you try to ignore that, your world view just becomes crazy, just untenable, itself inconsistent.”
Let’s take this accusation apart a little bit. As I read it, America’s favorite nerd is not quite calling young-earthers crazy, the way Richard Dawkins likes to do. Instead, Nye is saying that trying to frame a conception of the universe that takes all the evidence into a account is crazy, unless we assume an extremely long timeframe.
Nye makes other statements about creationism that are just plain wrong, though. First, Nye ends his diatribe with a familiar “progressive” fallacy. Nye asserts that young earth belief will wither away. “In another couple centuries,” Nye states, “. . . it just won’t exist. There’s no evidence for it.” But that is not how things have worked historically. Young earth belief was far less prevalent in 1920 than it became in 1980, for instance. Some evolutionists fall into this trap of assuming that young-earth belief is strictly a matter of ignorance and isolation. As more and more people are exposed to the evidence for evolution, the assumption goes, young earth belief must surely die out. But young-earth belief has grown along with America in the twentieth century. As more and more people get more and more education, a significant minority of them are educated into young-earth belief, not away from it. As I describe in my 1920s book (Now in paperback!) anti-evolutionists in the 1920s set up a durable and influential network of schools and colleges to educate American toward young-earth belief, not away from it.
The second error Nye makes is in his opening statement. “Denial of evolution,” Nye insists, “is unique to the United States.” That is simply not true. Strong creationist movements thrive world wide, especially in Australia and New Zealand. As my mentor Ronald Numbers has explored in the new edition of his classic book The Creationists, young-earth belief is also strong in countries such as Turkey.
Like a lot of evolutionists, Nye seems to be a particularly bad guide to the world of young-earth creationism. Perhaps because from his position firmly within the scientific mainstream, the ideas of creationism look particularly outlandish. Nye and his mainstream scientific colleagues have no ability to understand something that builds its intellectual structure upon a radically different foundation. To Nye and his ilk, the only explanation is that such thinking is crazy, etc. We at ILYBYGTH hope to understand it more profoundly.